Is the Tithe for Today?


On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside,
storing up as he may prosper,
that there be no collections when I come.
1 Corinthians 16:2


The simple question is, do we indeed find the truth in Scripture that believers in this dispensation are under the requirement to give a tithe? Must we give ten percent (or some other percentage) of our income more or less as the Israelites did under the Mosaic law? Some teach this by saying that we are still under the law of Moses in some sense. Others claim this as a requirement because they assert that the tithe is part of the alleged eternal moral law of God, because Abraham and Jacob gave ten percent before the law was given. There is good biblical evidence that both of these propositions are invalid.

Clearly, we are not under the law of Moses, according to Galatians 6:14, and other passages. In addition, being under law in general is not a characteristic of this dispensation. In Galatians 6:14, the word ‘law’ has no article. In Greek, this means that Paul is referring to the nature of law, not the law of Moses in particular. As Keathley says, “This means we are not under any kind of legal system of external rules or legal regulations which we are to keep in relation to our walk with God.”[1]

The New Testament writers used the term, ‘law’ about 120 times. When Paul says that we are not under the law, he is talking about the law of Moses. When he talks about the law of sin (Romans 7:23, 25; 8:2), he is speaking of a principle—not the Mosaic law. In Romans 6:12-15 and Ephesians 2:15 he is saying that we are not under the Old Testament law of Moses, which includes the tithe. When we see the principle in Galatians 5:3 (“I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law”), it seems logical that one who keeps the tithe or the Sabbath—features of the Mosaic law—also “is obligated to keep the whole law.”

It is true that Abraham offered a tithe before the institution of the law (Genesis 14:20). But we also must note that Abraham was circumcised before the law (Genesis 17:10ff). But no one affirms circumcision as a requirement for believers today. In fact, Paul specifically says that this is not part of our relationship with God (Galatians 5:11, 12). In addition the burnt offering was a feature of man’s relationship with God before the law. Noah offered burnt offerings after the flood (Genesis 8:20) and Abraham was willing to offer Isaac (Genesis 22:2ff) and actually offered the substitute that God provided (Genesis 22:13). But obviously, we have not been instructed to offer burnt offerings under the administration of grace. Instead, we rely on the final sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:12; 10:10).

In fact, God did not demand that Abraham give the tithe. Neither did he demand it with Jacob. There is no evidence that God's people tithed regularly before the law. The tithe as an obligation is related to the law. Hebrews 7:1-10 has nothing to do with the tithe as a rule of life, because Abraham “gave tithes of the spoils” (7:4). This passage does not say anything about Abraham's practice apart from this incident. And none of the passages on Abraham speak about a normal tithe on his material goods.

If the practice of tithing were our method of offering to God today or even if tithing were a supplemental offering in addition to the free-will offering, it would seem strange that the Apostle Paul never mentions it. This is true even though he spoke about offerings in two entire chapters of 2 Corinthians (8-9). Especially there it seems odd that he did not mention what some claim is our proper method of giving today. Neither does Paul mention the tithe in 1 Corinthians 16:2. In fact, this verse (“as he may prosper”) seems the opposite of tithing. In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 Paul speaks of financial support for pastors, but even here does not mention the tithe. In all his teachings, the great Apostle did not mention tithing even once.

Apart from Hebrews 7:1-10, the concept of a tithe is mentioned only three times in the New Testament, and these three have to do with the Mosaic law (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12). Christ used the term only once—when he rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for tithing while neglecting the “weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23; compare Luke 11:42). This also seems strange if it was supposed to be our practice today. Remember that Christ in this passage was speaking before his death and resurrection. Tithing was practiced by the Jews in the time of Jesus, but he had not yet fulfilled the law. At Pentecost, the new dispensation began, in which God’s method of administration has changed. After this change of administration, the law was no longer the way of relating to God. The New Testament never requires us to give a percentage; on the other hand, we have the principle of 1 Corinthians 16:2, “as he may prosper,” and also the instruction of Luke 6:38.

Since no commandment concerning the tithe exists under the dispensation of grace (Ephesians 3:2), and because Paul says we should give according to how we have prospered, we can conclude that the principle of grace giving has replaced the tithe. The story is told of a prominent Christian heart surgeon who was (years ago) making $500,000 a year and living on $36,000. The balance went to the Lord! This perfectly illustrates the New Testament principle of giving based on prosperity and gratefulness to the Lord—not as a sort of tax. Even the idea of using ten percent as a model should be suspect under grace giving. The fact is, ten percent is a lot easier on $250,000 a year than it is on $25,000. If we are truly going to follow Paul’s principle of giving as we are prospered, we need to be consistent, whether it ends up being only one percent or ninety percent.

Though many are reluctant to admit it, God has indeed changed or discontinued some of His methods. For example, the obligation to sacrifice animals is no longer in force. And these sacrifices were practiced before the law was given. We know that certain principles of the law continue in force because of the fact that they are repeated under grace. It is not that we obey these principles because we are under the law in any sense, but rather that they are part of God's eternal moral nature. Although we are not under law, murder, for example, is still prohibited under grace, according to such passages as 1 John 2:12. But since we are not under the law, if a principle of the law is not given under grace, it does not apply to us. A good example would be the prohibition of work on the seventh day (which, incidentally, is Saturday, not Sunday).

Legalism dies hard. In fact, it will probably never die since it has been a problem since the beginning of the Church. And many theologians and ordinary Christians do not understand—or refuse to accept—the distinction between Israel and the Church. As part of this problem, the Church will always have a tendency to see some continuation between features of Israel’s relationship to God and ours. Not only the tithe, but the priesthood, the Sabbath, and feasts and festivals will always be among us to cause confusion about our freedom in Christ in new or untaught believers. But those of us who are mature must continually model the principles of living under grace.

[1] ABCs for Christian Growth, Keathley, J. Hampton III. Biblical Studies Press., 1996, 1998, 1999. P. 501.