Be Careful If You Tithe
Last Sunday we talked about tithing, giving 10 percent of our income to God. If we do it as a way to honor him or draw closer to him, then tithing with this attitude is a great idea and an example of a spiritual discipline. However if you tithe because the Bible commands it, then be careful. You may owe a lot more.
First, know that the New Testament doesn’t command us to tithe. The early church effectively replaces the tithe with a spirit of generosity and good stewardship. Whenever the New Testament writers mention tithing, they always refer to the Old Testament practice. Tithing is part of the Jewish Law that Jesus came to fulfill.
Today people think a tithe is 10 percent of their income. But the Bible says it’s one tenth of their land’s produce. People who lived in outlying areas would sell their tithe and give the proceeds to God.
However the Law requires multiple tithes at various times and for different purposes. There are two annual tithes and a third tithe every three years. (See Leviticus 27:30-32, Deuteronomy 14:22, Deuteronomy 14:28.) So the result of all this tithing averages out to 23.3 percent a year, almost one quarter and far more than one tenth.The three biblical tithes average out to 23.3 percent a year. Click To Tweet
Furthermore, if we are to be biblically accurate, we must present our tithes at the temple. So technically we have no place to give our tithes to today.
Perhaps this is why many pastors say we need to tithe to the local church. They reframe the Law of Moses to fit their context (and meet their church’s budget). Also, since we no longer live in an agrarian society, they restate that a tithe means 10 percent of income instead of the land’s produce. And they skip the parts about the second tithe and the third tithe every three years. Maybe that’s because they know it would be a hard sell to preach that people need to give 23.3 percent of their income to them. Of course if we’re not farmers and want to take the Law literally, then our tithe is zero.
Applying the Old Testament Laws about tithing becomes a murky endeavor. To do so literally presents two problems since there is no temple and few people are farmers. To apply its principles, a reasonable conclusion is to give it to the local church: 20 percent of our income every year and 30 percent every third year.
Or we could just follow the example of the early church to be generous with all that God gives us.
[Read more about this in Peter’s upcoming book, Jesus’s Broken Church.]
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.