The concept of tithing still generates controversy in some Christian circles. The idea of giving ten percent of our income, or any percent for that matter, can be difficult to accept. Even though they acknowledge that tithing is a Biblical concept, there are those who wonder whether or not tithing is still applicable. Before we talk about what the New Testament says about tithing, a bigger question that we often hear is, “Isn’t tithing a principle that started in the Old Testament? And aren’t we free from the Law as Christians?”
While the law does provide guidelines for tithing, the principle of tithing actually existed many years before the Law was ever given. The first place that tithing was mentioned was in Genesis in the life of Abraham. “After Abram [later Abraham] returned from his victory over Kedorlaomer and all his allies, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.’ Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods he had recovered.” (Genesis 14:17-20)
Abraham returned from a battle and was met by the enigmatic figure of Melchizedek. He refreshed Abraham with some bread and wine. In return, he gave him a tenth of all the goods that he had recovered. This was hundreds of years before the law was given. Here, we can clearly see that tithing preceded the law.
Abrahams’s grandson, Jacob, also committed to give a tithe. While Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, Jacob vowed to give his tithe to God. We will talk more about Melchizedek and who he represents later. Here is the passage that mentions Jacob’s tithe.
“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”” (Genesis 28:20-22)
It is important to note again that this was many years before God gave the law to Moses. Tithing came before the Law and the people of God practiced it before the law was given to provide guidelines for the practice and to make sure that it was not neglected by later generations.
Another important question for us to look at is “Does the New Testament discuss tithing?” I have heard well-meaning Christians, including some pastors, say that the New Testament does not teach the principle of tithing. They believe that under the new covenant of grace we should give and that we should be generous but that we are not bound by the tithe.
The problem with this line of thought is that it is wrong. One hundred percent, completely wrong. Yes, we are under a covenant of grace but the New Testament does discuss tithing in several places. Jesus mentions it, Paul alludes to it, and the letter to the Hebrews provides in-depth teaching on it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)
Here, Jesus is rebuking the religious leaders for neglecting the spirit of the law. They prided themselves on the fact that they tithed everything. What is interesting, though, is that Jesus does not tell them not to tithe. He says, “These [things] you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” He was telling them, “Don’t pat yourselves on the back because you tithe. Keep doing it but make sure you do not neglect justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”
A similar passage is found in Luke 11:42. In Luke’s passage, Jesus tells the Pharisees not to neglect justice and the love of God, but also not to neglect their tithe. In two of the four Gospels, Jesus mentions tithing. He does not provide an in-depth teaching on it because it appears that he expects people to understand how important it is.
The Apostle Paul does not mention tithing by name but he does seem to allude to it in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”
Paul also wrote extensively on giving and generosity in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. He doesn’t use the term “tithing” because he is not writing to Jewish audiences. He was writing to Greeks who did not have an understanding of the Jewish Scriptures. Instead of mentioning “tithing” he talks about setting “aside a portion of the money you have earned” in the verse quoted above. This sounds a lot like what is often referred to as “‘percentage based giving” in some churches today. This terminology does not carry with it the baggage that some associate with the word “tithing.”
The most extensive discussion of the subject in the New Testament is found in the letter to the Hebrews. Almost the entirety of chapter seven is devoted to the subjects of Abraham, Melchizedek, tithing, and the high priesthood. Melchizedek is identified as a type of Christ and was, possibly, even a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. “He is without father and mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)
In the teaching on tithing in this chapter, it is interesting that Abraham is held up as an example. As we mentioned earlier, this incident took place hundreds of years before the law was given and here, in the New Testament, it is pointed to as an illustration for us to follow. Of course, people can still argue that this is not a clear command for Christians to tithe.
Even in the story of Abraham and Melchizedek, Abraham wasn’t commanded to give a tithe. He did it willingly, out of a generous spirit. There is no record of Melchizedek asking for it, just Abraham giving in response to the kindness that he had been shown.
Maybe, that is how we should view the tithes today. Not as a command. Not as law. Not as legalism. Rather, we should give out of the gratitude that fills our hearts. Tithing is just one way that we can show our gratitude, but if we are grateful with our finances, we will likely be grateful in other areas as well.
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