By Brian Reynolds
Is the Christian under a legal obligation to give tithes? The question is not whether the Christian should financially support the Lord’s work or his local assembly, rather we are asking if we are still under the Old Testament tithing laws?
There is a strong emphasis on the subject of tithing in many sections of the Church. This is an issue that runs much deeper than one would suppose, and how we view it is extremely important. An unbiblical teaching on the nature and practice of tithing has the potential to undermine the character of the present dispensation of grace and even obscure a proper understanding of the nature of salvation. This is not an exaggerated statement, for a lot can hinge on what may appear to be a minor doctrine. If the question of tithes were simply a matter of food and drink1 one would easily let it drop in the interest of Christian charity, or love, and individual liberty of conscience. The rule to follow would be “let each be fully convinced in his own mind” and “therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom. 14:5,19 NKJV).
Let us now explore this interesting and important question.
New And Old – Grace And Law
The introduction of the tithing law into Christianity is the mixing of law into the system of grace. The apostle Paul warned us about this in the book of Galatians. Earlier, the Lord exposed the danger with a simple parable, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Mt. 9:16-17).
From the above words of Matthew’s gospel we learn that the Lord Jesus condemned the combining of Christianity, what is “new,” with the system of the law in Judaism, the “old.” This mixing destroys the character of each. Christianity is something totally new and separate from what went before, and it is not simply an improvement upon the old. The nature or heart of man is that which would constantly turn to the law and earthly religion, which are but a shadow of the new (Heb. 10:1; Col. 2:17).
The Lord Jesus said, “And no one, having drunk the old wine, immediately desires the new; for he says, ‘The old is better’” (Lk. 5:39). This simply means that there is a tendency in the heart of the natural man to turn to the law and away from the system of grace and the Spirit. Again, the whole epistle to the Galatians was written to warn against this tendency (see Galatians 1:6, 3:2-3)
The fact that the New Testament is absolutely silent with respect to a Christian tithe should be enough for any sober-thinking, mature believer. Where tithes are mentioned in the Gospels, it is with regard to Jews seen still under the law and before the cross.2 In Matthew 23:2-3 the Lord Jesus told His disciples to obey Moses, but in Acts 13:39 the apostle Paul said that we cannot be justified by the law of Moses. Is this a contradiction? No. The cross had effectually put an end to the old system of Judaism as shown by the rending of the veil in two and the bringing in of Christianity (Mk. 15:38).3
A Voice From The Past
I am not presenting anything new or strange in this article; in fact Christians from other eras have believed that the doctrine of tithing does not apply to them. Another writer wrote the following words long ago:
“Did it never occur to these persons that we have the Lord preparing the way for Christianity and the Church in the four gospels, but not a hint of Christian tithe! We have a precise and comprehensive history of the gospel and the Church and the chief servants of the Lord for about 30 most eventful and instructive years, written by an inspired hand; but not a hint even here! We have the Epistles written by the most honored in various ways of the apostles, expressly providing divine light – didactic [instructive], exhortatory, ecclesiastical, and pastoral – but not a hint in one of them! We ought to know how solemnly the apostles spoke of the departure at hand for the Christian profession. So it was, as the Spirit predicted. Even during the earliest generation, the testimony of the apostle Paul was very largely a series of conflicts with the inroads of Judaism” (William Kelly, Bible Treasury, Volume 18, page 158).
These are important and true words which need to be considered.
A Bad Argument To Support A Bad Teaching
Those who would contend for tithes are ignorant, perhaps unintentionally, of the heavenly calling of the Church, and they invariably fall back on what was said before the Son of God came. Most believers, I suppose, would not assert that the Christian is under the law or subject to the law of tithing as given to the Levites in Numbers 18:21,26. To avoid this obvious error the advocates of tithing sometimes try to take us back to the time long before the giving of the law through Moses, to the era of the Patriarchs, specifically to the time when Abram paid tithes to Melchisedec after the battle of the kings (Gen. 14:20). Their argument is that since tithes were paid long before the formal giving of the law, then we must also pay a tithe.
But this argument does not stand the test of Scripture. For example, the Patriarchs4 practiced circumcision before it was commanded by the law, but this did not hinder the apostle Paul from warning the Galatians about the practice of circumcision. Did not the observance of circumcision among them cause him to marvel that they left the grace of Christ for another gospel (Gal. 1:6-7) and to exclaim, “Indeed, I Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (5:2)? It is evident that although the Patriarchs were circumcised before the law, this did not persuade Paul that it had anything to do with Christianity, but it was actually opposed to the nature of the heavenly calling.
It is recorded in Scripture that sacrifice and burnt offerings were practiced before the law. Noah presented a burnt offering to God after the flood,5 and as early as the time of Cain and Abel6 sacrificial offerings were given. Does this prove that the Christian ought to offer the blood of bulls and goats? God forbid even the thought! Did these offerings of early times hinder the writer to the Hebrews in telling them, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4)? From this we can see that there is no merit in the argument that since tithing is an ancient practice going back before the giving of the law it is therefore binding upon us. It is important for the Christian to understand which dispensational period he is living in and to thus “rightly [divide] the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Buy A Blessing From God
In Genesis 28:13-22 Jehovah promised Jacob that he would inherit the land of Canaan, that all the families of the earth would be blessed in his seed, and that the LORD would be with him wherever he went. Jacob then stated that if the LORD would feed and clothe him he would give a tenth of all. This is not a testimony to Jacob’s faith, but one to his unbelief in the unconditional promise just given. Are we, who are the inheritors of heavenly and better promises based on the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, to say that we owe God a tithe? Christ’s work on the cross has perfectly brought us near to God, and the thought of owing God a financial debt is a slight, or affront, upon that work.
There is another and more serious point yet to be noticed in this matter. It is taught in some Christian circles that unless one pays his tithes, God will withhold spiritual blessing from him. Simon the sorcerer thought he could buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s reply was, “Your money perish with you, because you thought the gift of God could be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20-21). I can see no difference in Simon the sorcerer’s sin and what is being taught today in some Christian circles concerning tithes. Again this is not an exaggeration of the case, for it is definitely taught by some that if you fail to pay your tithe you cannot even enter into God’s presence. It is also wrongly taught that if one fails to pay the tithe on one Sunday then it becomes a “back tithe” and must be added to the next gift7 on the following Lord’s Day.
Do these teachers not know the Scripture that tells us we are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3)? The thought of owing God a financial debt in order to gain favor with Him is a repugnant, or offensive, teaching. Who would dare attach to these things the price of corrupt silver and gold which perishes (1 Pet. 1:18-19)? Seeing we are bought with a price and made joint heirs with Christ, where is there any thought of a monetary debt owed to God? The very thought is an insult to the divine grace shown to us by God through Christ.
Some teachers use Malachi 3:8-10 to support this doctrine: “Will a man rob God … Bring all the tithes into the storehouse.” But before we jump to conclusions, let’s look at the context. The prophet here appeals to the remnant of Jews who have returned from captivity in Babylon to repent, saying, “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant” (4:4). They had not been faithful to bring their tithes and offerings to the temple, therefore the priests had no food (3:10). But this is strictly all Jewish in character.
Malachi ends his prophecy with, “Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (4:6). Is the Christian “cursed with a curse,” or is the Church “this whole nation” (3:9)? The storehouse is not the Church or any particular denomination, as some have taught, but the temple in Jerusalem (See Dt. 14:23). This is an example of twisting the Scriptures to apply everything to the Church. Those who in this way deceitfully handle the Word of God have well earned the rebuke of the apostle: “Desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Tim. 1:7). If you are going to teach the law of Moses you must first know to whom it applies.
The True Nature Of Christian Giving
The New Testament, especially the epistles of Paul, has abundant and clear revelation as to the nature of Christian stewardship and giving. Paul, in his farewell address to the Ephesians, said, “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). Everything the Christian has belongs to the Lord, for we are “bought with a price” and we “are not [our] own” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We don’t owe God 10 percent; we owe Him 100 percent!
The Macedonians exemplified the true nature of Christian giving. Paul said that even though they were in great poverty and affliction through persecution yet they gave “beyond their ability” (2 Cor. 8:2-4). It is interesting to note in verse 5 that they “first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.” In other words, they gave everything. What outshining of devotion to the Lord! Is there any thought here of obligation to the law, either Levitical or patriarchal? Is it not the outpouring of hearts thankful for and actuated by His “indescribable gift” in giving to us His Son (9:15)?
The Christian ought to give for the ministry of the saints (v.1) and to those who labor in the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 9:13-14). Paul, in speaking to the Corinthians concerning this labor of love, spoke not by commandment but to prove “the sincerity of your love” (2 Cor. 8:8).
The principle for Christians is very clear. We are to give as the Lord has prospered us, and that not grudgingly or “of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7). There has to be prayer and exercise as to the amount that is to be given. It is not a matter of legal commandment that we owe God a tenth8 of our income – which would be a “necessity.” Rather, we owe Him everything!
1. “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit “ (Rom. 14:17).
2. See Matthew 23:23 and Luke 18:12.
3. Read carefully Hebrews 9-10; see also Colossians 2:14.
4. See Genesis 17:9-14,23-27. The fact is the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) practiced circumcision 400 years before it was commanded by Moses. Yet, Paul called the Galatians “foolish” and said someone had “bewitched” them because they thought they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved (Gal. 3:1).
5. Genesis 8:20.
6. Genesis 4:1-4.
7. This was the author’s own experience many years ago in the denomination to which he belonged at that time. Some of the believers had to use their credit card to pay their tithe in order to pay their back tithes and avoid “robbing God.” In some cases they went into financial debt due to this teaching!
8. That many Christians use ten percent as a guideline for their giving is not what I am arguing against in this article, for that practice is acceptable if done prayerfully. But I am contending against the teaching that the believer is under the legal tithing law of the Old Testament. Our giving ought to come from a heart of love and thankfulness, motivated by the Holy Spirit and not from a legal commandment.