What Does the Bible Say About Giving?
Copyright © July 1, 2011 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
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The following questions are ones that should be answered using the Holy Bible:
Let's begin with a formal definition of the word "tithe" from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary:
- What is a tithe?
- What is a gift?
- Are Christians expected to tithe, or give, or both?
- What are treasures in heaven?
Now let's look at what the Holy Bible says about the concept of a "tithe."
- tithe: verb, 1: to pay or give a tenth part especially for the support of the church; 2: to give a tenth of one's income as a tithe.
- tithe: noun, a tenth part of something paid as a voluntary contribution or as a tax especially for the support of a religious establishment.
When was tithing first mentioned in the Bible?
Abraham was the father of the entire Hebrew nation. He and his wife Sarah had one son named Isaac. Isaac and his wife Rebekah had two sons named Esau and Jacob. Therefore Jacob was the grandson of Abraham. Jacob's name was changed to Israel and he had twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. One of those twelve sons was named Judah and one was named Levi. The descendants of Levi were called Levites. The Levites were selected by God to be Priests and workers in the Tabernacle. However, Jesus Christ was born to Mary and Mary was descended from Judah.
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Abram fell face down, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations."
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."
What is a tithe?
During Old Testament times a tithe consisted of a portion of everything that a person received and it specifically included grain, fruit, and livestock.
A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.
The entire tithe of the herd and flock -- every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd's rod -- will be holy to the LORD.
How much is a tithe?
Abraham gave a tenth of everything to Melchizedek. His grandson Jacob promised to give a tenth of everything he received to God.
Therefore a tithe was a tenth, or ten-percent, of everything a person received and it was not just limited to grain, fruit, and livestock, but it also included clothing, silver, and gold.
Where was the tithe to be brought?
Who was to receive the benefit of the tithe?
A tithe was to be set aside each year based on what was received that year. The tithe was to be taken to the dwelling place of the LORD. During Old Testament days this was originally the Tabernacle Tent at Shiloh and later it was Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. The family who gave the tithe was to consume the tithe but they were commanded to share a part of the tithe with the Levites who served God.
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 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. 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), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 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. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tent of Meeting there.
How often was a special tithe to be given?
A tithe was brought to the Temple every year.
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, 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.
When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years.
However, every third year the entire tithe was to be given to the Levites and none of it was to be consumed by the family that gave the tithe. The tithe of the third year was to be enjoyed by the Levites and by foreigners, orphans, and widows.
Who was to tithe?
Everyone was required to tithe. This included the Levites who were commanded to give a tenth of what they received to the LORD.
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse -- the whole nation of you -- because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
The LORD said to Moses, "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.' "
In Malachi 3:8-12 God condemned the Israelites for not bringing the entire tithe in the third year to the temple and giving the entire third year tithe to the Levites.
Summary of Tithing Scriptures
Since I prefer to base my Christian beliefs 100% on what the Holy Bible says I do not feel comfortable adding to what the Bible says or subtracting from what the Bible says. Therefore the above summary on tithing is 100% based on Holy Scriptures. Nothing was added to the scriptures and nothing was omitted.
- A tithe is one-tenth of everything a person received.
- Everyone was to tithe including the Levites. The Levites were a tribe of Israel set aside by God as Priests and workers in the Temple.
- Every year the tithe was to be taken to the Tabernacle Tent or to Solomon's Temple.
- For two consecutive years the tithe was to be consumed by the family that gave the tithe but the family had to share their tithe with the Levites.
- Every third year the entire tithe was to be given to the Levites and none of it was to be eaten by the family that gave the tithe. The tithe of the third year was to be enjoyed by the Levites and by foreigners, orphans, and widows.
It would be relatively easy for anyone to modify the above summary by adding information extracted from other historical documents, or from Jewish traditions, or from the writings of different Christian leaders down through the ages. If a person wanted to prove or disprove a specific interpretation about tithing it would be easy to find information outside the Holy Bible to support his or her point of view.
Are New Testament Christians required to tithe?
In the early years of the Christian Church there were some men who insisted that a Christian had to follow all the laws of the Jewish faith. Their reasoning was simple: Jesus was a Jew and Jesus obeyed all the Jewish laws and therefore anyone who wanted to be like Jesus also had to follow all the Jewish laws.
Peter and Paul were constantly in opposition to this point of view because they knew that salvation was by faith in Jesus Christ and that nothing except faith was required to obtain the grace and mercy of God.
Unfortunately there were "legalists" who were constantly infiltrating Christian Churches and they taught that Christians had to obey the dietary rules of the Jewish religion, and they had to be circumcised, and they had to obey all the other laws as taught by Moses. This issue was finally settled by the Christian Church Council at Jerusalem and this group of men included Peter the disciple, James the brother of Jesus, and Paul the apostle.
Peter spoke to the Church Council and said:
After much discussion and prayer the Jerusalem Church drafted and sent the following letter to the Christian Churches:
"Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Based on the above scripture New Testament Christians are not required to obey the Old Testament Jewish regulations about tithing, or circumcision, or the distinction between clean and unclean animals. Christians can eat anything, except blood, or the meat of strangled animals, or food that has been sacrificed to idols. Christians are also to abstain from sexual immorality.
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul -- men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
This interpretation is supported by the following scriptures.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
"… a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. ... For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"
So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
Christians are the Children of God
All Christians are the adopted children of God and Jesus Christ is our brother. We have been set free from the law and we now live by grace and faith, and not by the laws of Moses. Since we are now the children of God we are exempt from the Old Testament laws, rules, and regulations. We are now accountable to God for how we behave as New Testament Christians under the new covenant established by the blood of Jesus Christ.
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God -- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
1 John 3:1-3
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
1 John 5:19
We know that we are children of God,
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?"
"Yes, he does," he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes -- from their own sons or from others?"
"From others," Peter answered.
"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."
Therefore New Testament Christians are not bound by the law of circumcision, or dietary laws of clean and unclean animals, or the law of tithing.
What does the Bible say about Giving?
Although New Testament Christians are not subject to the law of tithing, we are commissioned to be generous givers. However, each Christian now has the awesome responsibility of deciding how much he or she should give.
2 Corinthians 8:7
The amount given by a Christian needs to be determined by that Christian. This is a very important responsibility that God has delegated to each Christian. The amount we give should be in accordance to what we have and not according to some arbitrary standard set by someone else. For example, an extremely wealthy person might be able to easily give 25% of his or her weekly income and it would not impact his or her family's standard of living in any way. But a person living in extreme poverty who has significant problems providing for his or her family's most basic fundamental needs might cause his or her family some additional painful hardships if he or she were to give just 1% of his or her weekly income to the Church. This is why the scripture says give "according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have."
But just as you excel in everything -- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us -- see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:12
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
A Widow, a Tax Collector, and a Pharisee
The above scriptures vividly illustrate that it is not how much you give that is important. Instead the important issues are the condition of your heart and the reason you give. The widow gave everything she had, the Pharisee gave a tenth, but the tax collector didn't give anything. Jesus complimented both the widow and the tax collector but not the Pharisee.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything -- all she had to live on."
Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
What does the Bible say about supporting the Church?
1 Corinthians 9:13-14
Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
Christians should support the Church they attend. The Minister of the Church should be paid from the donations given to the Church.
How often should Christians give to their Church?
1 Corinthians 16:1-2
Every week, on Sunday the first day of the week, Christians are to give a part of their income to the Church. However, each Christian must decide how much that will be. But each Sunday we are asked to give something.
Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
It is interesting to note that neither tithing nor giving is mentioned as one of the original Ten Commandments.
Christian tithing is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. However, Jesus did mention the Jewish law of giving a tenth when He spoke to the scribes and Pharisees. However, Jesus was speaking to these men as Jewish hypocrites and not as examples of good Christian behavior.
The above words of Jesus were not spoken to His disciples. But occasionally a person will take the above comment of Jesus out of the context in which Jesus spoke it and try to make it apply to all New Testament Christians. In other words, that person is trying to add one of the laws of Moses to the doctrine of the Christian faith. This is similar to trying to add the doctrine of circumcision to the Christian faith. Neither tithing nor circumcision is relevant to being a good Christian.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former."
"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."
Some Christian denominations have combined Christian giving and tithing. These denominations insist that Christians must obey the Old Testament law of tithing and, in addition, they must also be generous givers. This is usually referred to as a Christian's responsibility to give "Tithes and Offerings." In other words, they have selected one of the Old Testament laws and they have added it to the rules that Christians need to live by. However, this is not consistent with the teachings of the New Testament as previously explained.
Charity and Treasure in Heaven
The above scriptures clearly say that if you give to the poor you will have treasure in heaven. The above scriptures do not say that if you give to your Church you will have treasure in heaven. Therefore it is important for a Christian to not only give to his or her Church but a Christian should also seek out opportunities to be generous to the poor.
"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Then Jesus said to his disciples: . . . "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
If a Christian wants to be perfect then he or she should sell his or her possessions and give the proceeds from that sale to the poor. One way to do this is to make a donation to your Church with the stipulation that the money be used in a specific way by the Church. This is supported by the following scripture:
Please do not misinterpret the above scriptures. A person cannot buy his or her way into heaven by simply selling all his or her possessions and then giving that money to the poor or to the church. The only way a person can get into heaven is by accepting Jesus Christ as his or her Savior.
There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
In addition, a person cannot become "perfect" by simply selling all his or her possessions and then giving that money to the poor or to the church. This would be an admirable thing to do but it is not enough to make a person "perfect." If we truly desire to become more "perfect" then we need to begin by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, and then we need to practice good Christian behavior, and we also need to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ that are recorded in the Holy Bible. For example, if we truly desire for our gifts to the poor to be acceptable to God then we should give our money anonymously:
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Are you striving to become a good New Testament Christian, or are you striving to become a Pharisee? Do you believe in the Grace of Giving, or in the Law of Tithing, or are you trying to mix the two together?
Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
The Holy Bible clearly says that all New Testament Christians are to be generous givers. God did not put any limits, either minimum or maximum, on how much Christians should give. This is supported by Jesus' comment about the Widow's remarkable gift and the Tax Collector's lack of any gift.
Unfortunately many Christian Churches get their Church and their members into serious financial difficulties by encouraging their members to give beyond what they can afford and then to trust God to supply their needs. This is a matter of faith and we are told that faith can move mountains, but I have yet to meet anyone with this measure of faith.
Instead I think it is more reasonable to be good stewards of our financial resources and to give each week to our Church in proportion to our income as we are able. In other words, strive to be a cheerful voluntary giver and not a giver under the Old Testament law of tithing. If you will try this then you may discover that as time passes you will be able to give more than a tenth of your income and you will not even miss it because God will have blessed you with such abundance that it is easy to meet all the true needs of your family.
If God does increase your income then you should be a good steward of your additional money and you should not simply look for new ways to spend all that extra money on yourself. Instead you should try to think of how you could help the poor and how you could invest some of your extra money to further the kingdom of God and to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ your Savior. In other words, voluntarily lay up treasure for yourself in heaven that will last for eternity.
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