*Depending on your background, a two-part post on tithing may have no interest to you. But here it is for anyone who may be interested.*
Awhile back, I was at a barbeque with two unbelieving families. The one family did not know we are Christians nor that I was a seminary student. Somehow the subject of “church” came up, and the big complaint was tithing. These people just went on and on complaining about the church wanting money. I didn’t join in the conversation but just listened and was actually a little amused by it all. So…this got me thinking about tithing and how it rubs people the wrong way. It also saddens me that this is one of the first things some people think of when they think of church!
Did you know tithing is not a teaching of the New Testament? It is mentioned in the Gospels, but only in a backhanded way, when Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for tithing herbs while neglecting weightier matters such as justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). After the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, the New Testament has no commands or explicit statements on tithing for believers.*
Instead, the New Testament provides us with general principles for giving. As applicable to other issues, we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit and by the principles of the Scriptures. Perhaps if this was the emphasis in more of our churches (rather than tithing), there wouldn’t be such a negative view?
Tithing is an Old Testament principle, and it was not nearly as simple or clear cut as some people like to make it.
“We are to give 10% like they did.”
There were several major components of tithing for ancient Jews. There was the Levitical tithe which set aside produce, income and livestock for the maintenance of the priesthood.  After coming into the Promised Land, a second tithe of all produce was to be taken to Jerusalem. On every third year, called the year of tithing, another tenth of all the produce was to be set aside for the Levites who dwelled in the country, the poor, aliens and widows. In addition, at harvest time they were to leave the corners of the field for sojourners and the poor. There is also mention of a temple tax of one-third sheckle to buy showbread, grain and sacrifices.
Thus, the total required giving by the Jews was likely closer to about 25% of annual income. On top of this there were free-will or “first-fruit” offerings where the focus was not on the amount but rather the attitude of the giver.
Ancient Israel was also a theocracy. Tithing could be considered similar to taxation for them. It was a detailed system instituted by God to support the national religious structure and those in need as well. Yet today a theocracy no longer exists. Church and state are separate, and we have a government with its own taxation laws to support the civic structure of society, as well as some of the poor and elderly.
Not only are we living under different circumstances today, but as New Testament believers we are no longer under the Law.
As you can see, the Old Testament tithe system does not easily transfer over to our modern day. But general principles for giving found in the New Testament can more easily be applied to a variety of societies and times.
I’ll share some things on this in the next post (part 2).
* For those who are precise, a tithe is also mentioned in Hebrews 7, but this is referring to how Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek. It is illustrating the superiority of Melchizedek and Jesus Christ over the Levitical priesthood. The section goes on to note that “when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also” (7:12). So this section can not be viewed as a New Testament command to tithe.
 Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24, 26-28
 Deuteronomy 12:6-7, 17-18; 14:22-27
 Deuteronomy 14:28-29
 Leviticus 19:9-10
 Nehemiah 10:32-33
 Exodus 25:2; Numbers 18:12; 1 Chronicles 29:9