What Is The Biblical Understanding Of Tithing?
The Biblical understanding of tithing is that God commanded the children of Israel to give multiple “one-tenths” of their agricultural produce and/or livestock as a way to support the Levites, celebrate festivals, to help others in need and worship God. Ultimately, the multiple tithes were fulfilled in Jesus and believers have a new paradigm for giving.
The Misconception Of “The Tithe Offering”
- The “tithe” in the Bible is often misrepresented and therefore leads to a misunderstanding about the responsibility of a believer and how God has planned for him to be a giver. The definition about tithing that has led many to misunderstand it is: “Tithing is a required universal offering by which you give a total of only one-tenth of all your income to God”. This is an oversimplification and wrong definition of the “tithe” that is found in the Bible because: (1) the Bible presents more than one type of tithe; (2) the requirements for these are specific and not just based on a person’s income; (3) the total amount given of these comprised more than one-tenth when added together (even though the word “tithe” means one-tenth); (4) it is never commanded as a universal obligation for all people for all times but for a specific people for a specific time.
- The Bible describes four different tithes that were commanded in the law of Moses. We need to examine each of these “tithes” to consider: (1) who was the giver; (2) what were they to give; (3) where was the gift to be given; (4) why were they to give; (5) when were they required to give.
- The Levitical Tithe—The Israelites were commanded by God to give one-tenth of their seed or fruit and every tenth animal from their herd or flock to the children of Levi in return for their service that they did in the tabernacle of the congregation. They were to give this tithe when their crops were harvested and as their livestock increased accordingly.
Numbers 18:21-24; Leviticus 27:30-33
- The Priestly Tithe—The Levites, who were the priest, were commanded by God to give one-tenth from the Levitical tithe that they received from the Israelites as a heave offering for the Lord.
- The Festival Tithe—The Israelites were commanded by God to give one-tenth of their “increase from the field” including the firstlings of their livestock to celebrate their festivals (i.e., passover, tabernacles, weeks). They were to do this once a year and bring this tithe to “the place which He shall choose to place His name” or Jerusalem to learn to fear the Lord their God always. If you couldn’t take the stuff to Jerusalem, then you could sell the tithe of the crops and livestock so that you have money and then take the money to Jerusalem and buy what you needed to celebrate the festivals with your family.
Deuteronomy 14:22-27; 16:16 (Exodus 23:14-17; Leviticus 23:1-44; Deuteronomy 16:1-17)
- The Charity Tithe—The Israelites were commanded by God to give one-tenth of their agricultural produce for that year and store it up in their cities to feed the Levites, the strangers (foreigners), the fatherless children or orphans and the widows that lived in their cities. This was only to be done once every three years. In response to this tithe the Lord said He would bless them in all the work of their hands that they do.
Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-15
- The Sabbatical Year—The Israelites were commanded by God to let the land rest for one year, meaning they weren’t allowed to sow or gather in their crop, thus possibly excusing the need for the tithe in this year. This was only to be done once every seven years. The natural crop that grew could be taken for food by anyone and God would bless the sixth year’s harvest to produce a crop sufficient for three years for them.
Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7; 17-23
- What was the total amount that an Israelite was required to give through the different tithes? This is actually impossible to calculate because: (1) it is “possible” their agricultural produce and livestock were only subject to the tithes and not their entire income i.e. money earned like a fisherman or carpenter; (2) they were only required to give every tenth animal from their livestocks, so this would be a different percentage based on how many animals you had at the time i.e. you only have to give one cow if you have fifteen (6.6%). Therefore, the best estimate that we can see from the Bible’s tithing requirements was that they gave around 20% of their agricultural produce and livestock every year but gave around 30% every third year because of the added charity tithe. Thus, it doesn’t seem that 10% was ever a total amount they gave—it was always more. Finally, we must remember that there were still other offerings that were obligatory and voluntary that the Israelites were to give (i.e., burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, trespass offerings, meal or meat offerings, heave offerings—although some might be included within the tithes).
The Different Tithes Before And After The Law
- Before the law of Moses there is no command concerning tithing—nor any examples of the levitical, priestly, festival, or charity tithes. But there are two examples of people giving one-tenth (both are descriptive and not prescriptive). First, Abraham gave away 100% of the goods seized in his military victory, giving 10% to Melchizedek who was king of Salem and the priest of the most high God, and then giving a portion to the men who went with him and finally giving the rest to the king of Sodom. Second, Jacob promised to give one-tenth to God of all that God gave him when the conditions of the vow were fulfilled.
Genesis 14:17-24; 28:18-22
- After the law of Moses was fulfilled in Jesus, there is no command concerning tithing—nor any examples of the levitical, priestly, festival, or charity tithes because each have been fulfilled in the New Testament and are no longer necessary. Instead, we are given a new paradigm for giving. Also, the only time the “tithe” is mentioned in the New Testament is when Jesus is rebuking the scribes and Pharisees, He is telling a parable or when it is referenced in an Old Testament story (all are descriptive and not prescriptive).
Matthew 23:23-24; Luke 18:9-14; Hebrews 7:1-10 (Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 10:4; Colossians 2:16-23; Ephesians 2:11-22)
Principals Learned From The Different Tithes
- Even though the four tithes are no longer binding on believers living under grace like they were for the Israelites living under the law, we can learn the following principals from them: (1) God wants His people to support those who serve Him full-time; (2) those who receive this support should also be givers and not just takers; (3) we should use our money to worship God and lead our families to worship God; (4) God wants His people to care and proved for those in need especially the poor and marginalized.
- As believers, we live by faith and grow in our knowledge of the Bible. We allow the Bible to change our conscience and preconceived ideas. Not every believer understands these truths concerning the tithes or some may even disagree with these conclusions. Either way, we should not judge or despise each other. Thus, in an effort to not offend others it is “recommended” that giving should be at least one-tenth of your income if you can do so by faith and with an attitude of “giving God thanks”—because no one disagrees with giving 10% or more to God, the contention is always on the minimum.
Romans 14:1-23; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13
- How many tithes are commanded in the Old Testament?
- What are the different tithes?
- What was the total amount of all the tithes?
- Was their required tithing before and after the law?
- What are principles we learn from the different tithes?