Is tithing voluntary?
Yes, in the sense that everyone who honors God by obeying His instructions does so on a voluntary basis. God never forces anyone to act against his or her will. At the same time, however, He expects us to tithe and equates failure to tithe with robbing Him, explaining that not tithing will bring a curse (Malachi 3:8 Malachi 3:8Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings.
American King James Version×). So tithing is not voluntary in the sense of something that is optional. Nor does God allow us to arbitrarily decide the minimum amount we should give Him. Through His tithing system He reveals the minimum amount we should return to Him from all He gives us. Since God is our Creator and because everything belongs to Him (Psalms 24:1 Psalms 24:1The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
American King James Version×; Haggai 2:8 Haggai 2:8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×), He has the right to establish this system of financial support for His spiritual purposes.
Was tithing practiced before God’s national covenant with Israel?
Abraham and Jacob both understood and practiced tithing. Abraham gave a tithe of all the spoils of a rescue mission (Genesis 14:20 Genesis 14:20And blessed be the most high God, which has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
American King James Version×); and Jacob, upon coming to a closer relationship with God, promised to give God a tithe (a 10th, 10 percent) of the blessings God would pour out on him (Genesis 28:22 Genesis 28:22And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that you shall give me I will surely give the tenth to you.
American King James Version×).
Did the priests and Levites tithe?
God gave a tithe to the Levites for their work in the tabernacle and as an inheritance (Numbers 18:21-24 Numbers 18:21-24 21 And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
22 Neither must the children of Israel from now on come near the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, and die.
23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance.
24 But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said to them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.
American King James Version×). From the tithes they received, they were also to pay tithes (Numbers 18:26 Numbers 18:26Thus speak to the Levites, and say to them, When you take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.
American King James Version×). Among the Levites God selected Aaron and his family to serve as priests (Exodus 4:14 Exodus 4:14And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he comes forth to meet you: and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.
American King James Version×; Numbers 3:10 Numbers 3:10And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest’s office: and the stranger that comes near shall be put to death.
American King James Version×). Because Aaron and his family were also Levites, they, too, would have been expected to tithe.
Was tithing just for Israel?
God’s intent was for Israel to be a model for other nations (Deuteronomy 28:1 Deuteronomy 28:1And it shall come to pass, if you shall listen diligently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command you this day, that the LORD your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth:
American King James Version×). In Romans 2:6-15 Romans 2:6-15 6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: 8 But to them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, 9 Tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10 But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: 11 For there is no respect of persons with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; 13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law to themselves: 15 Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
American King James Version×the apostle Paul explains that all nations will be judged by the same law of God. The Christianity of the Bible does not deny that law or its connection with Israel. Instead, those who became part of the New Testament Church were called “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16 Galatians 6:16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.
American King James Version×).
Was tithing limited to agricultural products?
In Genesis 14 Abraham recovered people and goods (Genesis 14:16 Genesis 14:16And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.
American King James Version×). Of these spoils Abraham gave a tithe “of all” (Genesis 14:20 Genesis 14:20And blessed be the most high God, which has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 7:2 Hebrews 7:2To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
American King James Version×). His tithing was not limited to agricultural products. In 2 Chronicles 31:5 2 Chronicles 31:5And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the first fruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.
American King James Version×we read that Israel “brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.”
Since the economy of ancient Israel was predominantly agricultural, this verse appropriately identifies such products. But we should also note that the phrase “the tithe of everything” allows for nonagricultural products. Similarly, Proverbs 3:9 Proverbs 3:9Honor the LORD with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase:
American King James Version×tells us to “honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase.” God wants us to honor Him with all our increase, not just agricultural increase. It is inconsistent to assume that God expected only farmers to tithe while excusing everyone else from this command.
How many tithes are discussed in the Bible?
The Bible explains that tithes (tenths, Leviticus 27:32 Leviticus 27:32And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy to the LORD.
American King James Version×) were used for three purposes: to support the Levitical ministry (Numbers 18:21 Numbers 18:21And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
American King James Version×), to provide for God’s people to observe His commanded festivals (Deuteronomy 14:22-27 Deuteronomy 14:22-27 22 You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you: 25 Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which the LORD your God shall choose: 26 And you shall bestow that money for whatever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household, 27 And the Levite that is within your gates; you shall not forsake him; for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
American King James Version×) and to help the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 Deuteronomy 14:28-29 28 At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates: 29 And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
American King James Version×). Though some have assumed just one tithe was saved and then divided by the individual among these three categories as he saw fit, the Bible’s instructions contradict this assumption.
Numbers 18:21 Numbers 18:21And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
American King James Version×speaks of God giving the children of Levi all the tithes, or tenths, of the increase. If the Levites were only going to receive part of a tithe, God would not have promised them 10 percent. God, of course, does not lie (Numbers 23:19 Numbers 23:19God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: has he said, and shall he not do it? or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
American King James Version×; Titus 1:2 Titus 1:2In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
American King James Version×). Similarly, Deuteronomy 14:23 Deuteronomy 14:23And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
American King James Version×speaks of a person using a 10th, 10 percent, of his increase for festivals, and Deuteronomy 14:28-29 Deuteronomy 14:28-29 28 At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates: 29 And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
American King James Version×speaks of 10 percent, every third year, to be used to help those in need. Only three distinct tithes adequately accounts for the different instructions given in these passages.
Is there historical evidence outside the Bible for more than one tithe?
Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian who wrote extensively of Jewish history and customs, twice explains that there was more than one tithe. First, he writes: “Let there be taken out of your fruits a tenth, besides that which you have allotted to give to the priest and Levites. This you may indeed sell in the country, but it is to be used in those feasts and sacrifices that are to be celebrated in the holy city: for it is fit that you should enjoy those fruits of the earth which God gives you to possess, so as may be to the honour of the donor” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 4, chapter 8, section 8).
He continues: “Besides those two tithes, which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a third tithe to be distributed to those that want [i.e., lack]; to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans” ( Antiquities, Book4, chapter 8, section 22).
Other ancient historical sources, including the Septuagent (mid-second century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the Book of Jubilees (a mid-second century B.C. pseudepigraphical work), describe multiple tithes. The later church writers Jerome (ca. 347-420, primary translator of the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible) and Chrysostom (347-407) also taught that the Israelites gave multiple tithes.
How important is tithing to God?
In Malachi 3:8 Malachi 3:8Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings.
American King James Version×God says: “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” God says those who refuse to give Him tithes and offerings are stealing —breaking one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:15 Exodus 20:15You shall not steal.
American King James Version×; Deuteronomy 5:19 Deuteronomy 5:19Neither shall you steal.
American King James Version×).
Do comments about tithing in the book of Malachi refer to only the priesthood or do they also refer to others?
Some of God’s instruction in the book of Malachi was directed toward the priests (Malachi 1:8 Malachi 1:8And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now to your governor; will he be pleased with you, or accept your person? said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×) because they had the responsibility of teaching the people God’s law (Deuteronomy 33:8-10 Deuteronomy 33:8-10 8 And of Levi he said, Let your Thummim and your Urim be with your holy one, whom you did prove at Massah, and with whom you did strive at the waters of Meribah; 9 Who said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brothers, nor knew his own children: for they have observed your word, and kept your covenant. 10 They shall teach Jacob your judgments, and Israel your law: they shall put incense before you, and whole burnt sacrifice on your altar.
American King James Version×; Malachi 2:7 Malachi 2:7For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×). But God did not single out the priests as the only ones guilty of disobedience. In reference to not giving tithes and offerings, God said “this whole nation” was guilty of this sin (Malachi 3:9 Malachi 3:9You are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.
American King James Version×).
Although the first two chapters of Malachi address sins of Israel at that time, the last two chapters speak of Christ’s second coming and the lake of fire. Interestingly, God’s rebuke concerning tithing is found within this clearly prophetic section. Furthermore, the issues addressed in Malachi (respect for God’s law, faithful teachers, avoiding divorce, paying one’s tithes) were important issues for all Israelites at the time Malachi was written and continue to be important issues for God’s people.
Has tithing been abolished under the New Covenant?
No, it has not. Though some assume that God’s laws have been abolished by the New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:31-33 Jeremiah 31:31-33 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version×and Hebrews 8 and 10 all confirm that under the New Covenant God’s laws would be written upon believers’ hearts—not abrogated or done away.
Although the New Covenant included changes from a physical priesthood to the spiritual priesthood of Jesus Christ and the superseding of the sacrifices that pointed toward Him, these adjustments are all documented in the New Testament. Hebrews 7 discusses the change regarding the priesthood. Jesus Christ, a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (the preincarnate Jesus Christ as the priest who received tithes from Abraham), has replaced the family of Aaron. The obvious implication is that, as Jesus Christ has now superseded Aaron’s family as High Priest, the ministry of Jesus Christ has similarly taken over the role of the Levites and so would receive tithes to do God’s continuing work.
It is also important to note that, even though God temporarily gave the tithe to the Levites for their service, it remained holy and ultimately belonged to Him (Leviticus 27:30 Leviticus 27:30And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s: it is holy to the LORD.
American King James Version×). When God gave it to the Levites and the people refused to pay it to them, God said the people were robbing Him —not robbing the Levites (Malachi 3:8 Malachi 3:8Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings.
American King James Version×). Christians, who are under the terms of the New Covenant, continue to honor God through their tithes and offerings.
What did Jesus say about tithing?
In Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×Jesus sternly criticized the religious authorities of His day for their distorted spiritual understanding. They were meticulous in tithing on tiny spices and herbs, Jesus said, but “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” They should have placed more emphasis on these more important spiritual principles, He said, “without leaving the others undone.” Here Christ upheld tithing as a practice that should be followed.
Why doesn’t Paul mention tithing in his letters?
Realizing that all Scripture was inspired by God and profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-17 2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.
American King James Version×) and that the only Scripture available at the time were the books we know as the Old Testament, Paul did not consider it necessary to repeat all of God’s laws in his letters. His letters contain answers to specific issues and were not written as a new set of laws to replace God’s instruction found in the earlier books of the Bible.
Why didn’t Paul take tithes from the Corinthians? Is this the New Testament model for ministers?
Some in Corinth were among the apostle Paul’s most vicious detractors. In 1 Corinthians 9:1-23 1 Corinthians 9:1-23 1 Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not you my work in the Lord?
2 If I be not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of my apostleship are you in the Lord.
3 My answer to them that do examine me is this,
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
7 Who goes a warfare any time at his own charges? who plants a vineyard, and eats not of the fruit thereof? or who feeds a flock, and eats not of the milk of the flock?
8 Say I these things as a man? or said not the law the same also?
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn. Does God take care for oxen?
10 Or said he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that plows should plow in hope; and that he that threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.
11 If we have sown to you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
13 Do you not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14 Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done to me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid on me; yes, woe is to me, if I preach not the gospel!
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed to me.
18 What is my reward then? Truly that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant to all, that I might gain the more.
20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
American King James Version×he defended his ministerial role and argued that he and Barnabas had the right to receive financial support from the Corinthians for their service to the Church (verses 13-14). Even though they had this right, Paul explained they didn’t exercise it because they were concerned that it might “hinder the gospel” (verse 12). He didn’t want to be accused of greed or wanting to be supported by the members there. To avoid such accusations, he took no financial support from them.
To support himself financially, Paul worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3 Acts 18:1-3 1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;
2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came to them.
3 And because he was of the same craft, he stayed with them, and worked: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
American King James Version×). In 2 Corinthians 11:5-13 2 Corinthians 11:5-13 5 For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very most chief apostles. 6 But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been thoroughly made manifest among you in all things. 7 Have I committed an offense in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. 9 And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brothers which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so will I keep myself. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. 11 Why? because I love you not? God knows. 12 But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
American King James Version×Paul reflects on his decision: “Was this my offense, that I made no charge for preaching the gospel of God, humbling myself in order to exalt you? I robbed other churches—by accepting support from them to serve you” (Revised English Bible). He then explains that brethren in Macedonia paid the expenses that he could not meet while in Corinth: “If I ran short while I was with you, I did not become a charge on anyone; my needs were fully met by friends from Macedonia; I made it a rule, as I always shall, never to be a burden to you” (verse 9, REB).
Paul’s decision not to take financial support from the Corinthians was an unusual situation prompted by the accusatory attitudes of others.
How should I calculate and pay my tithes?
Tithes are calculated on one’s “increase” (Deuteronomy 14:22-28 Deuteronomy 14:22-28 22 You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year.
23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
24 And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you:
25 Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which the LORD your God shall choose:
26 And you shall bestow that money for whatever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household,
27 And the Levite that is within your gates; you shall not forsake him; for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
28 At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates:
American King James Version×; 2 Chronicles 31:5 2 Chronicles 31:5And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the first fruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.
American King James Version×). To determine one’s increase one must deduct the costs of doing business from gross income. For example, in the case of a farmer, the cost of seed, fertilizer, equipment and other farm-related expenses would be deducted from the profit of a crop to determine the increase.
After we determine our increase, we should give a 10th to God for the support of His work. If we receive regular paychecks, it is best to send our tithes and our offerings (contributions above 10 percent) when our paychecks arrive. Self-employed people who experience significant fluctuations in income and expense may not be able to accurately figure their increase until the end of a year.
In addition to giving God a 10th of our increase, God tells us to save another 10th for observing His festivals. We should likewise faithfully set these funds aside throughout the year so they will be readily available for our use when those times arrive.
Finally, if we are able, God expects us to help the poor through a third tithe saved on the third and sixth years of a seven-year cycle (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 Deuteronomy 14:28-29 28 At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates:
29 And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
American King James Version×; Deuteronomy 15:1 Deuteronomy 15:1At the end of every seven years you shall make a release.
American King James Version×). Today, almost all governments collect taxes in excess of this percentage to help the needy. Under these circumstances, most people are paying this third tithe in the form of taxes. While we still retain Christian obligations to help those in need, it is unnecessary to also contribute additional funding for the poor beyond our taxes if we are unable to do so.