Tithing: Probably Not What You Think

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I think it’s time we discuss some of the confusion around tithing. The conversations and teachings surrounding this topic often leave church-goers confused, upset, and feeling like the church is simply after their money. While churches can make some silly mistakes, it’s exceptionally rare that I run into a church leader who seems to simply be after people’s money. The more common error is that most people simply don’t know the context of the tithe in scripture. So let’s quickly look at how the tithe in presented in the bible.

A Tax, Not an Offering

In the Old Testament, a tithe was nothing more than a temple tax, designed to keep God’s house running. In fact, the tithe was common in cultures of the ancient Near East because the temples were the economic centers of those societies. Paying a tithe to the temple was very similar to paying taxes to the government today.

While we call the money we put in the offering plate (or send from PayPal) a “tithe”, the fact is that there is no tithe today because there is no longer a temple. The local church is not the temple, nor is it God’s house. We are God’s house.

There’s No Tithe in The New Testament

It’s true.

The New Testament doesn’t talk about the tithe because they understood what it was and they presumed its payment. No way would Paul or the local congregations ask people to tithe because the tithe was for the temple. We often think our first 10% should go to the local church, an institution designed for believers, and any giving to missionaries and those reaching the lost, should be above and beyond the 10%. Interesting, isn’t it?

It’s time we stop talking about the tithe because it simply does not exist anymore. Let’s give to our local churches and to missionaries and to local charities; let’s love God with our resources. But let’s stop teaching tithing as giving, because it wasn’t and it isn’t—it was a tax. Let’s change the discussion of giving and free people to love and give abundantly knowing that God rewards a cheerful giver.

Not sure what you think about this? That’s ok! Join the conversation in the comments below or on Twitter @ericincontext

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7 thoughts on “Tithing: Probably Not What You Think

  1. This seems too simple. There is a whole lot of guilt that could be released from the modern church with this info. And how is it that the common message on tithing has gone on for so long? Pretty sure there are more questions in my mind right now than answers…

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  2. The idea that it is a requirement to give at least 10% has been presented as a discipline that must be done…perhaps even that it’s a sin not to give 10%. So from what I read here, I gather that there is no number that is a requirement or even a guide line. Is that correct?

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    • Spencer! Haven’t seen you for a while. Hope you are well. I keep hearing amazing things about the Stonebridge kids ministry so give your lovely wife a big high five for me.

      You are correct that there is no number given to believers as a requirement for giving, but I do think 10% is an ok guideline. However, there are two things I would encourage us to remember: 1) In the New Testament all the talk about giving is above and beyond 10%, which is rather humbling to me. 2) What God is after is a relationship so even though it would be very simple and perhaps a bit comforting to just write a check for 10% and be done with it, I think a more appropriate response to God is to be continually dialoguing with him about how he would lead. Sometimes he’ll tell you to rest. Sometimes he’ll challenge you to give in scary ways that blow 10% out of the water.

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      • I know it’s been forever! My wife is a ROCKSTAR…just gave her an air five (I’m totally in my recliner right now).

        I knew where you were going with my question, I just wanted you to put that together for me. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense to me. I want you to know that when I’m asked about the best class I ever took in college, I always think to the one week class I had with you when we just talked about Old Testament. I have no idea what the title of the class was, or what it was supposed to be about. It had such an impact on the view I have when reading the OT. This topic is no exception. There is such confusion over how things changed when Jesus came and gave us a new Covenant, and I appreciate the education on how this topic changed too.

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  3. This is so interesting! My husband and I have had many conversations (and conversations with friends) about this exact topic. As Devyn said, how has the message been so skewed if it’s so simple? Not that I double what you’re saying, but it just boggles my mind that so many well-intentioned people, then, totally misunderstood. What do you think is the answer? Is it as simple as not using the term tithing and getting rid of the idea of 10%? Do we just want a specific rule to follow so we don’t have to do the work of really hearing what God is telling us? Ahhhh, such good stuff but my head hurts just thinking about it because there are no easy answers.

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  4. Greetings my friend. Good post. Definitely got me looking over some scriptures again. I see your point for removing “tithes” from our church service vocabulary today. Israel was to give its tithes to the Levitical priesthood. The book of Numbers instructs the dividing of spoils of war with a portion going to the priests for the upkeep of the Tabernacle.

    It is noted, we are not Levites, nor do we operate out of a structural tabernacle or temple today.

    I do find it interesting that Abraham gave a 10th of his war spoils to Melchizedek, a “priest of God most high.” And Jacob also pledged a 10th of his assets to the Lord should the Lord take care of Jacob. Both prior to a tabernacle or temple. Furthermore, we are referred to as a “royal priesthood” by Peter in his first epistle, chapter 2. And as you mentioned, we are now the temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells within our bodies (I Corinthians 3 and 6).

    In light of this, I do not think it is unreasonable for Christians gathered together in churches to encourage each other to give 10% “to the Lord.” But, perhaps the term “tithe” should be thrown out given its historical implication.

    *Side note, this sent me on a trek to see what Rabbis require in synagogues today. I have not found a synagogue yet that asks for “tithes”, since the structural Temple is currently destroyed. They do offer different plans to acquire funds. One included selling seats in the synagogue once per year. You could pay more to receive a better spot to sit in the synagogue. If the church adopted that practice, I think we would need to charge more for the back seats. Those go fast.

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