The Bible’s Viewpoint
Tithing—Is It Necessary?
THE secretary of an Anglican diocese in South Africa is worried. His church is in the midst of a financial crunch that makes it difficult to pay the ministers. His solution: Emphasize tithing to the parishioners.
But just what is a tithe? Some say it is giving for religious purposes “a 10th of all you receive.” Though the manner of calculating the tithe varies from one religion to another, many ministers feel the need to promote tithing. “It is a great pity that we have not stressed tithing more,” said a Catholic priest in Africa. The Worldwide Church of God, in a magazine article about how to avoid poverty by becoming a partner with God, said: “To begin your relationship with God, you must first obey God’s law of tithing.” The article added that those who do not “are stealing from God.”
But does God require you to tithe? It may come as a surprise to learn what the Bible says about it.
Tithing and the Law of Moses
Tithing was part of a body of laws given by God through Moses to the ancient nation of Israel. Twelve tribes of Israel were required by law to support a 13th tribe, the priestly Levites, who had no land inheritance. This enabled the Levites to concentrate on the spiritual needs of the nation. (Numbers 18:21-24) Being an agricultural people, the Israelites were not required to pay the tithe in cash. Rather, it was to come from the land’s produce and from the increase in livestock. If produce was to be tithed and an Israelite wanted to give money instead, then he had to pay 20 percent more than the value of the produce.—Leviticus 27:30-33.
God’s command on tithing was a serious matter. If an Israelite mistakenly used for himself some of what he was going to tithe, then he had to make amends. How? By giving an extra 20 percent and offering up an animal sacrifice for his guilt. (Leviticus 5:14-16) Though not every Israelite could share in the priesthood, everyone could share in the support of the priestly service through the tithe. All of this was included in God’s law on tithing. Therefore, it fitted the circumstances of that ancient people. But does it fit the circumstances of people today? More importantly, are Christians commanded to tithe?
A Change of Law
A few years after the resurrection of Jesus, uncircumcised non-Jews were converted to Christianity. “It is necessary to circumcise them and charge them to observe the law of Moses,” some Jewish Christians contended. (Acts 15:5) Others did not agree. So Jesus’ apostles and other experienced Christians met in Jerusalem to discuss the issue. They wanted to discern God’s will. Did he require Christ’s followers to keep the Law of Moses, which included tithing? Experiences were related showing a change in God’s dealings with non-Jews, and this was verified from God’s own prophetic Word. (Acts 15:6-21) What was the decision?
The meeting came to a unanimous conclusion. Christians were not to be burdened with the Law of Moses. There were, though, a few “necessary things” that must be obeyed. Was tithing one? The inspired decision read: “The holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” (Acts 15:25, 28, 29) Interestingly, God’s law on tithing was not listed among the “necessary things” for Christians.
Later, the apostle Paul explained that God’s Law covenant with Israel had been abolished by Jesus’ death. “[God] blotted out the handwritten document,” he said, “and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.” (Colossians 2:14) This does not mean that Christians have no law. Rather, there has been a change of law that now involves “the law of the Christ.”—Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 7:12.
The apostle Paul lived in harmony with this change of law. Though working hard in the formation of one congregation after another, he never appealed for payment in the form of tithes. Rather, he was willing to cover his own expenses by working as a tentmaker on a part-time basis. (Acts 18:3, 4) In all honesty he could say: “These hands have attended to the needs of me and of those with me.”—Acts 20:34.
What guidance, then, do Christians have in the matter of giving? How much should you give?
The Christian Way of Giving
Jesus Christ was the most generous man to walk this earth. His example has inspired many to act generously. “Practice giving,” he said, “and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.” (Luke 6:38) Are there restrictions here? No. Christians are encouraged to give generously, which may even be more than a tenth if they can afford it.—Luke 18:22; Acts 20:35.
On the other hand, a Christian might suddenly be faced with some urgent expense, perhaps due to an accident or sickness. To give a tenth of his salary under such circumstances might deprive members of his family of the necessities of life. That would be unchristian.—Matthew 15:5-9; 1 Timothy 5:8.
Christian giving is voluntary. It takes into account that each individual has different circumstances in life. “If the readiness is there first,” the Bible says, “it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have.”—2 Corinthians 8:12.
How much, then, should you give? That is a question that you must resolve for yourself. The depth of your own heart appreciation for God—not some predetermined tithing formula—will determine what you give. As the Bible urges: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Tithing was a provision of the Mosaic Law covenant to support Israel’s temple and priesthood. For Christians today, it is neither commanded nor necessary.