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What Does the Bible Say About the Tithe or Tithing?

Frequently Asked Questions

Old Testament

"Tithe" means a tenth or 10 percent. The tithing system described in the Bible was designed specifically to meet the needs of the religious, economic and political system of ancient Israel. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel, except the tribe of Levi, initially received an allotment of land in the promised land of Canaan. The Levites were assistants to Israel's priests and were supported by a tithe offering from other eleven tribes. All families of those eleven tribes were to give a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle to the Levites. In turn, the Levites were to give a tenth of that to support the priests (Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21-28). Tithes were also used to meet the needs of foreigners, orphans and widows. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)

In addition, everyone was to be generous with those in need:

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (NIV, Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

New Testament

There are several mentions of tithing in the New Testament (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, 18:12; Hebrews 7:5-9), but all refer to the Old Testament system. The New Testament does not give any specific rules about tithing, and most aspects of the Old Testament Law do not apply to Christians. (See What Does the Bible Say About the Old Testament Law?)

Jesus seems to support the tithe in Matthew 23:23-24, but these verses are primarily intended as a criticism of the Pharisees as hypocrites who obeyed the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. They were so meticulous about the law that they tithed even the small amounts of spices they grew in household gardens, but they ignored the more important matters of justice, mercy and faith!

However, Jesus made it clear that we are obligated to be generous to those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (NIV, Matthew 5:42)

Giving is to be done cheerfully, rather than as an obligation (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), and not for the purpose of public recognition (Matthew 6:1-4). The right amount to give may be more or less than ten percent, depending on one's circumstances (Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22, 21:1-4, Hebrews 13:16, 1 John 3:17). Generous giving is an acknowledgment that everything we have is a gift from God, and is to be used in His service (Luke 12:33, Acts 20:35, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, James 1:17, 1:27, 1 Peter 4:10).

Rather than give a certain amount as an obligation, we are urged to share generously of whatever talents, abilities and wealth God has entrusted to us:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV, Romans 12:6-8)

Questions

Does the Bible require me to give 10 percent of my income to my church? Should my offering be computed on gross or net income?

The Bible does not require Christians to give any certain percentage. Modern day questions about what percentage we should give and whether it should be computed on gross income, net income or wealth are not answered in the Bible. Nor does the Bible tell us how much of our giving should go to a church and how much to help the needy. (See What Does the Bible Say About Generosity and Duty to the Poor?)

In Biblical times Christians typically held their meetings in private homes or public spaces (Acts 2:46, 12:12) and did not have significant operating expenses. However, modern churches do need money to pay for salaries, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, maintenance, supplies and other expenses. Churches also need volunteers for many ministries and tasks. The apostle Paul urged Christians to diligently use their God-given gifts to support the work of the Church (Romans 12:4-8).

Am I obligated to give to my church even if I am having trouble paying my bills?

No. We must pray and listen to our consciences and consider the needs of ourselves and our families (1 Timothy 5:8) when deciding how much to give. No one should feel pressured to give a certain amount of money or a certain percentage of income to a church or other ministry.

Will I receive blessings if I give a donation or "seed money" to a church or ministry?

No. There is no requirement in the Bible to give "seed money" to a church, preacher or ministry, and no promise that any wealth or other blessings of any kind will come as a result. Verses like Matthew 13:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 are sometimes cited to support requests for seed money or other donations, but the blessings promised here are spiritual blessings, not material blessings.

The Bible does urge us to be generous with our wealth and time. However, any claim that wealth, health, good fortune or other blessings will come as a result of a donation should be looked at with suspicion.

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