Contrary to popular belief, Christians are not commanded to give. Giving is something done voluntarily. Giving should not be done under compulsion, coercion, duress, or conviction. There are some exceptions, of course. Within this article, I will give Biblical insight into the Christian act of giving.
It is a widely held belief that Christians are to give ten percent (a tithe) of their income to the church or some other form of charity. Ten percent is a good start, but the very act of giving ten percent is an outdated practice and is highly legalistic. I will point out several examples in the Old Testament towards the tithes that the Jews had to pay.
Why Ten Percent is Irrelevant
There are four references within the Old Testament in regards to tithing. The first tithe is in Numbers 18:21-28. The tithe described in Numbers is called the Levite Tithe. Since the Levites had no income, this tithe was commanded in order to support the Levites.
The second tithe is in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. The tithe is called the Festival Tithe. The Israelites were to give a tenth of their crop towards a festival to be held in the Lord’s honor. If the crop was too much of a burden to travel with, the Israelite was supposed to sell his crop for silver, then exchange the silver later for goods in order to celebrate in the presence of the Lord.
The third tithe is in Deuteronomy 14:28-29. The tithe is called the Poor Tithe. Every three years, the Israelites were to collect an additional ten percent of their crops and store them so that the Levites and poor could eat and be satisfied. Breaking down a tithe over three years equals 3 and 1/3 percent. In conjunction with the two earlier tithes, the total the Israelite should set aside each year was 23 and 1/3 percent.
The fourth tithe is in 1 Samuel 8:15. This tithe is called the Royal Tithe. This tithe was a “tax” that was to be given to higher officials and attendants. So the total tithe — broken down by year — that was to be given is 33 and 1/3 percent.
As you can see from the total amount to be given — 33 1/3 percent — the Israelites gave far more than ten percent.
I’ve heard one main argument regarding the ten percent tithe. The argument is that Jesus actually endorsed giving a tithe. In Luke 11:42, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for giving ten percent of mint, rue, and garden herbs, but neglecting justice and love. Jesus concludes that the Pharisees should have given their tenth, as well as had justice and love.
By no means is Jesus commanding Christians to give ten percent in the above verse. Jesus was talking directly to the Pharisees, not the the overall Jewish population. Secondly, the church hadn’t even been formed yet, so Christian giving had yet to be established.
- Numbers 18:21-28 (NIV)
21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting. 22 From now on the Israelites must not go near the Tent of Meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’ ”
25 The LORD said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD’s offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the LORD from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the LORD’s portion to Aaron the priest.
- Deuteronomy 14:22-27 (NIV)
22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
- Deuteronomy 14:28-29 (NIV)
28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
- 1 Samuel 8:15 (NIV)
15He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
- Luke 11:42 (NIV)
42“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
- Pastor Arlie D. Rauch assisted me with this article.