“Using the Word “Tithe” in the Way the Bible Uses It”

Using the Word “Tithe” in the Way the Bible Uses It

David Sproule

Many religious groups today urge (and some require) members to give their “tithe” to the church.  How does the Bible use that word and how does it apply to us?

The word “tithe” literally means “ten, tenth.”  We first read about the “tithe” during the Patriarchal Age of the Old Testament (Gen. 14:2028:22).  Then, in the Mosaic Age, Jews were required to give a “tithe” of the land and livestock (Lev. 27:30-33), plus they made additional offerings (Deut. 14:22-29).  So, the Jews gave much more than a tenth, but that was their starting point (Mal. 3:10).

When we come to the Christian Age (i.e., the dispensation under which we live today), there is not a single command for Christians to “tithe” and there is not any example of early Christians “tithing.”  Every use of the term in the New Testament was a reference to the practice under Judaism, and we are no longer bound by the Old Testament law (Col. 2:14-17Heb. 8:8-1310:1-11).  Some people are surprised to learn that Christians are not told to “tithe,” as they have heard that term used so prevalently in some circles.  Other folks are excited to hear that they are not required to give ten percent and will choose to give less than that.  However, lest we totally misunderstand the teachings of the New Testament, let us examine what it teaches us.

First, consider the contrast that is made in the book of Hebrews between the old covenant (which specified a tithe) and the new covenant (which does not specify a tithe).  The epistle describes the new covenant as a “better covenant” (7:22; 8:6), established on “better promises” (8:6) through “better sacrifices” (9:23) and offering a “better hope” (7:19).  If the covenant under which we live is a superior covenant with superior blessings (than the old covenant), can we willfully give a percentage that is inferior to the ten percent required under the inferior covenant?

Second, consider the manner in which God speaks about the giving we are privileged to do under the new covenant.  We are to give every Sunday (1 Cor. 16:1-2), as we “purpose in our hearts” (2 Cor. 9:7).  That heart should give (1) proportionally to how God has blessed him (1 Cor. 16:28:12), (2) bountifully (2 Cor. 9:6), (3) generously (Rom. 12:8), (4) cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7) and (5) happily (Acts 20:35).  Paul praised some brethren who, in “their deep poverty,” “abounded in the riches of their liberality” and gave “beyond their ability” (2 Cor. 8:2-3).  Why would they do that?  Because they realized how much the Lord had blessed them (2 Cor. 8:99:15)!

We are not commanded to “tithe” today, so we should not use that word.  But, we have an opportunity to show the Lord “the sincerity of [our] love” by how and how much we give to Him (2 Cor. 8:8).