Answering Objections to the Tithe

Via Flickr, by user david_shankbone. Used under Creative Commons License.

Does God really want you to tithe? Apparently, many people think that He does not.

We’ve said several things about tithing — the act of giving 10 percent of your income to God — in various posts. We teach, according to scripture, that the tithe belongs to God, that tithing is necessary to fund the work of the kingdom, and that God attaches a promise of blessing along with the command to tithe.

Apparently, a lot of people really, really take issue with these teachings, and have let us know in great length in the comments sections on our posts. So while we’re not looking to start a nitty-gritty theological debate, we thought we’d take this chance to answer some of their criticisms.

Here are some of the most common arguments we hear against tithing:

  • Tithing was only required of people who farmed in the Old Testament. No one else had to tithe… so neither should we.
  • Tithing was a command given to Israel under the law and the Old Covenant. Jesus replaced the law, so under the New Covenant we’re not bound to tithe anymore.
  • The command to tithe appears only in the Old Testament. Since it isn’t re-affirmed in the New Testament, the modern church doesn’t have to do it.
  • We don’t have priests anymore, so the command to tithe in order to support the priests is no longer valid.
  • The New Testament says we can just give whatever we want. We should follow the New Testament pattern of giving.

There are other arguments out there, but they tend to get pretty esoteric, scholarly and confusing. We’ll address the objections above, and then talk about some heart issues that we believe are at the root of this in an upcoming article.

1. Tithing was only required of people who farmed in the Old Testament. No one else had to tithe… so neither should we.

We find this pretty silly. Yes, Leviticus 27:30-33 does talk about tithes coming from the fruit of the land and from the livestock. But that in no way indicates that God intended for only farmers to tithe. Remember, the first tithe was not a levitical tithe; it was given by Abraham after a military victory (Gen. 14). It was a tithe of the spoils of war (not agricultural product), and was given out of gratitude, the way that all tithes should be. To make claims that “Jesus, Peter and Paul didn’t tithe” is to take enormous liberties with a relatively minor point of scripture. The historical record simply doesn’t bear that out; this seems to be a case of people who are hell-bent against tithing trying to extrapolate a historical and theological teaching out of a thin scrap of scripture.

2. Tithing was a command given to Israel under the law and the Old Covenant. Jesus replaced the law, so under the New Covenant we’re not bound to tithe anymore.

Tithing is commanded under the law, but it does not exist only within the law. As we mentioned, Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, the priest at Salem. Melchizedek is a representation of Christ in the story (“You are a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek“) — a fact that some people use to support the New Testament duty to tithe. And the underpinning of tithing is the idea of firstfruits, which goes back to Cain and Able in Gen. 4. So while the command may be most explicit in the law, the heart attitude behind the tithe gifts both predates and postdates the law of Moses.

The bigger question is this, though: Did Jesus abolish the commandment to tithe? Well, we know that Jesus did set us free from the Law when He died for our sins. But the freedom he bought was from the bondage of the law, and the death that it demanded as a result of our sin. The law was powerful to condemn us, but not powerful to create change in our hearts. That heart change required the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

What we can say, then, is that we can no longer be condemned as sinners if we fail to uphold the law’s commandment to tithe. Tithing, in other words, should not be taught as a factor in one’s salvation (and we disapprove of any church that teaches it as such). But again, that doesn’t mean that God intend for the New Testament church not to tithe — it simply means we are not condemned by the law for failing to tithe, because the law has lost its power to condemn us.

3. The command to tithe appears only in the Old Testament. Since it isn’t re-affirmed in the New Testament, the modern church doesn’t have to do it.

This is a dangerous line of thought. We often see people use this kind of reasoning (along with a lot of esoteric theology and questionable historical references) to wiggle their way out of all kinds of biblical commands that are made plain in the Old Testament. Taken to its extreme, this line of reasoning is used to argue that homosexual sin is permissible for New Testament Christians — an outrage indeed.

Simply put, the absence of a New Testament affirmation doesn’t negate the presence of an Old Testament command. The New Testament doesn’t contain the prohibitions against incest that we find in the Old Testament law… but that doesn’t mean we are free to sin sexually with family members.

Besides, there is strong evidence that Jesus himself affirmed the tithe. In Matthew 22, some Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus by asking him a question about who taxes should be payed to. Jesus says “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” This is a statement made in the context of a financial question. And the Pharisees, who were experts in the law, knew that God lays claim to the tithe as His own in the Old Testament. So we read Jesus’ command “give to God what is God’s” as His affirmation of the tithe.

4.We don’t have priests anymore, so the command to tithe in order to support the priests is no longer valid.

Some people claim that the since the tithe was used to support the Levites, the necessity of the tithe vanished when the Levitical priesthood ended. That doesn’t make much sense, though, because even though the genealogical requirements have been loosened from the time of the Old Testament, God still calls people into full-time work in His service. The basis of the tithe is that God owns it all (Ps. 24:1), God gives us all that we have (Deut. 8:18), and that He requires 10 percent of those resources be given to support the work of ministry (Num. 18:21). Even though we now live under a New Testament priesthood, none of that basis has changed. God still owns everything; He still gives us everything that we have; and He still uses the financial resources of His people to support the lives of those whom He has set apart for full-time ministry. The fact that those people are not Jews or Levites does not change the way that God intends for us to meet their needs.

5. The New Testament says we can just give whatever we want. We should follow the New Testament pattern of giving.

Some people like to use II Cor. 9:7 as an excuse not to tithe — “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” But that point of view focuses so narrowly on individual choice that it misses the greater point that Paul is making. Look at the rest of the passage, and you’ll see that Paul is encouraging abundant generosity. It says that in all things, at all times, having all we need, we should abound in every good work (v.8). It also says that we have been blessed so that we will be generous on every occasion.

Throughout the New Testament, we see that God constantly raises the standard for believers. Jesus raised the standard from “don’t murder” to “don’t hate;” from “don’t commit adultery” to “don’t lust.” And if we’re going to really bind ourselves to the financial pattern set in the New Testament, we better pay heed to the example of the early church, who sold their possessions and shared everything among themselves (Acts 4:32-35).

Sadly, most people who argue for the “New Testament” model of giving aren’t looking for a way to raise the standard, but seeking a way to wiggle out of the principle of the tithe. If you’re sincerely willing to follow the New Testament model, sell all your stuff, give to everyone who has need and be generous on every occasion, we’ll go there with you. We’ll even help you pack the truck. But sadly, this is not what most anti-tithers have in mind.

Closing thoughts

To sum up: Nothing about the Old Testament or the New Testament tells us that God no longer intends for His people to tithe. True, we are not bound to the law, and we are not condemned if we don’t tithe. It isn’t a matter of salvation. But even if the effect of the law has passed away, God promises a blessing to those who tithe, and that blessing remains. Because we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, and heirs to the promises of God (Gal. 3:29). And His word endures forever.

In the end, if you don’t want to tithe, nothing we can say or argue from scripture is going to talk you into it. We’re okay with that. The bigger question, though, is where is your heart?