What does the New Testament say about tithing, meaning giving a tenth of your income, to the church?

Must Christians give ten percent of their income to the church?

Your local church and full-time ministers may need your financial support [1 Corinthians 9:14]. However, there is nothing in the New Testament that obligates Christians to give a tenth of their income, and there is nothing in the New Testament that entitles church leaders, or anyone else, to receive that tithe. Tithing, meaning giving 10%, is a concept taken from the Law of Moses. Christians are not under the Law [Romans 6:14; Galatians 2:16].

1 Corinthians 9:14

In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

Romans 6:14

... you are not under Law, but under grace.

Galatians 2:16

... a man is not justified by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the Law, because by observing the Law no one will be justified.

In the New Testament:

  • Christians are encouraged to be generous [1 Timothy 6:17-19].
    1 Timothy 6:17-19

    Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

  • Those who have more are encouraged to give more [2 Corinthians 8:7-15].
    2 Corinthians 8:7-15

    But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

    I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

    And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

    Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”

  • There is a blessing for generosity [2 Corinthians 9:6-11].
    2 Corinthians 9:6-11

    Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

    “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

    Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

As with everything to do with the New Covenant, it is not a legal requirement, but a matter of the heart, of the Spirit – faith expressing itself through love [Galatians 5:6].

Galatians 5:6

For in Christ Jesus ... the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Christians should pray for discernment in their giving and they should be wise enough to weigh up whether particular churches, ministries and ministers are worthy of financial support and accountable for what they receive.

“But, three times, the New Testament mentions people who gave a tenth”

Yes, it does. However, none of these references is presented in a way that indicates a requirement for Christians to give ten percent of their income.

First, Jesus had occasion to rebuke Pharisees and teachers of the Law. He said they should have observed the important heart matters of the Law, while not neglecting to give a tenth of their income. [Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42].

Matthew 23:23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the Law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Luke 11:42

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

Jesus was not speaking to New Testament believers. Jesus was speaking to Jews who were under the Law of Moses. The Law required Jews to tithe to the priests of the tribe of Levi.

Second, Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. [Luke 18:9-14].

Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Again, Jesus was speaking about Jews who were under the Law. This is not a teaching about tithing for New Testament believers.

Third, in the book of Hebrews there is an example about Abraham and Melchizedek, where Abraham gave a tenth to the High Priest. [Hebrews 7:1-10].

Hebrews 7:1-10

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people – that is, their brothers – even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

This text is not a lesson about tithing. It is a proof that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham.

Abraham gave ten percent of the plunder of battle to Melchizedek, as his way of thanking God for victory. Scripture does not indicate that Abraham consistently tithed to Melchizedek. Abraham made an offering. He was not paying a spiritual tax.

“What about Jacob in the Old Testament? Jacob gave ten percent to God.”

Scripture records that Jacob, who is honored as a patriarch, because of his faith in God, tried to strike a deal with God and he vowed to give a tenth (ie, a tithe) back to God [Genesis 28:18-22]. Note the words: “If God will be with me and will keep me ...” (vs 20), “then ...” (vs 21) “... and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Genesis 28:18-22

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth.”

This is an interesting insight into the character of Jacob. It says much more about how, in God’s sight, belief in Him over-rides flaws rooted in our fleshly nature, than it does about establishing any sort of principle that might require us to give a set amount of our income.

Who did Jacob give the ten percent to? Scripture doesn’t say. There wasn’t a “church” or “priesthood” to give to. I guess Jacob sacrificed part of his flocks and herds and he and his family all ate together. Or perhaps it was the “gift” he sent ahead to his brother Esau.

Anyway, do be a good giver. Blessings flow from being generous – both the Old and New Testaments reflect this truth.

One final thing – please don’t quote [Malachi 3:10-11]to me.

Malachi 3:10-11

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty.

Of the, let’s say, 27,842 pentecostal sermons I have heard based on this piece of Scripture, not one has made mention of the fact that God is speaking, through the prophet, to His people Israel who were under the Law of Moses. This Law required them to tithe, and every Jewish male agrees to abide by it on making their Bar Mitzvah at age 13.

This is not a new covenant commandment. It does not even establish a principle. As a Christian, with the Holy Spirit directing your steps, I’d be cautious about “testing” God in anything. Asking for confirmations in His urgings by the Spirit, yes; doing “deals” with God, no.

Remove far from your thinking any idea of ten percent required giving, of a spiritual or church “tax”. Open your heart to be led by the Spirit, to be generous in all your ways, expecting nothing in return, but thanking God for the mighty blessings we have today, and for all eternity, in Christ Jesus.

Psst! Here’s a thought.

The apostle Paul gratefully received monetary gifts. He said that he was glad that the givers would be blessed (Philippians 4:17). But Paul never asked for money for himself or for his ministry. Spiritual parents should support their children in the Lord, he said (2 Corinthians 12:14-15) – not the other way around.

Psst again!

God is super-generous. He even gave His Son Jesus that we might live (Romans 8:32). Is there a characteristic nearer to the heart of God than generosity?

Giving is not just money. It’s love, service, encouragement and more. Giving costs you, but its blessings cannot be measured.

Christians won’t agree on all doctrines, but if we love, not with words but with deeds (1 John 3:18), we prove our love for God.