Tithing is usually thought of as giving a tenth of your income or profit to the church. Some question whether Christians today are still meant to give to the church and some question the amount. Here is what the Bible says about tithing and what that means for us today.
First instances of tithing in the Bible
The first description of making a gift to God out what He has blessed us with comes in Genesis 4 where we read about Cain and Abel’s offering. A few chapters later Abraham gives a tenth from the spoils of war to the priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:20). And then a couple of generations later Jacob vows, ‘of all that you give me I will give you a tenth’ (Genesis 28:22). This establishes a scriptural tradition which is added to throughout the Old Testament. For example, in the books of law, Leviticus 27:30-32 makes it clear, ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord … the entire tenth of the herd and flock, every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod – will be holy to the Lord.’
Tithing as an act of worship
Tithes and offerings become part of the worship liturgy, for example, Psalm 96:8-9, ‘Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.’
The prophetic literature assumes a lifestyle of tithing with Malachi posing an incredible challenge to the people rebuilding the temple, ‘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’ (Malachi 3:10).
So the practice of tithing was established as part of the worship life of Israel. Although tithing started at 10% it was compounded by various permutations so that most commentators believe tithing ended up at over 20%. Although tithing was as an act of worship, thankfulness and faith - it served as one of the ways in which God provided for: the priests and Levis; the upkeep of the temple; the care for widows, orphans and foreigners; to feed the hungry and to provide for worship and celebrations.
Attitudes towards giving in the New Testament
In the New Testament there are few such specific references to tithing – but there are none that repudiate the practice either. In criticising the Pharisees Jesus doesn’t take issue with their tithing but picks on their attitude, ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.’ (Matthew 23:23).
Paul assumes regular, proportionate, giving, ‘On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.’ (1 Corinthians 16:2). In Hebrews 7 the writer speaks at length about Old Testament tithing without ever hinting that it no longer applied. And when the New Testament writers talk about sharing, giving and making offerings, they are in the context of looking after people, feeding the poor, caring for the widow and foreigner and supporting their teachers and pastors.
Today, tithing, (giving generously from your income and profit), with a tenth as your starting point and your church as recipient, is an act of worship and faith and is a priority for the follower of Jesus.