Jesus and Tithing
As a gospel-leader, how do you feel about tithing—giving ten percent? Believers have been taught that tithing is the gold standard for giving, and they feel guilty if they give less than ten percent.
Jesus spoke about tithing, but only twice. Does He teach tithing as the standard? Let’s look at the two passages.
In Luke 18:11-14 Jesus told of a Pharisee who thanked God he was not like other sinners—he was proud of his tithing, saying:
“I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all that I get.”
Nearby, a tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified rather than the religious tither (Luke 18:11-14). This is not an endorsement!
Jesus’ other teaching on tithing is Matthew 23:23-24 (Luke 11:32):
Lest we be too critical, Jesus does not criticize the Pharisees for failing to tithe. They were over-achievers in tithing! The Old Testament called only for tithes on grain, new wine, oil and first born livestock (Deuteronomy 14:23). But Jewish law expanded tithing to include garden plants—dill, mint and cummin.
Though careful tithers, the Pharisees neglected the “weightier provisions of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness.” They majored on a minor, as we would say today. Meticulousness in giving cannot atone for neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness.
Now for some humor. Jesus said they strained out a gnat (tiny insect) and swallowed a camel (largest animal in Palestine). According to Peter Pett’s Commentary the Aramaic for gnat is qamla and camel is gamla—similar sounding words. This humorous quip would have brought laughter in the midst of a serious conversation.
What about today? Is Jesus exhorting us to tithe?
In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus is speaking to Jewish leaders—not to new Christ-followers. He said,
"These are the things you should have done without neglecting the others”—plural—referring to other Old Testament laws. He expects Jews to continue to be faithful Jews—to follow their historic faith, and that includes tithing. But if we bring Old Testament tithing into the new covenant, what other Jewish laws must we bring?
Of the 40 times tithing is mentioned in the Bible, 32 are from the Old Testament, including Malachi 3:8-10, “Bring all the tithe into the storehouse….”
Malachi’s “storehouse” is equated with today’s “church house.” But that is a stretch. The storehouse was originally a granary built onto the side of the temple during the reign of Hezekiah 250 years before Malachi.
Certainly Christian leaders are free to exhort you to give ten percent to the church. But they are not free to use Matthew 23 or Malachi as the basis.
But please don’t misunderstand—let us generously support our local churches where we are taught the Word and where our children are baptized! And as we are able, let us give more than ten percent to advance the Kingdom.
Be free in your giving. Be generous. But there is no formula.
Prayer: Father of all, sometimes I feel like I “have to tithe.” And sometimes (like the Pharisee) I feel superior to others about my giving. I am grateful for Jesus’ teaching about freedom in generosity. Help me to become more and more freely generous. Amen!