“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. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24)


I was just looking for a scripture on tithing. I wound up in a shouting match with Pharisees. But let me tell you how this all started.

Remember my last letter? We had just finished up an eleven week series on ‘thriving in tough times’ and at the end of the letter I made the comment that I didn’t have a clue on what we should discuss next, but that I’d go ask (Him). A few hours after the letter went out a suggestion came in.

“I have an idea about what to write next about! Tithing! Your thoughts please! If it is that the Lord so leads you.

Given these tough economic times – churches are feeling the pinch and thereby pinching their parishioners. As we have already discussed privately through emails – I find no evidence for tithing 10% in the New Testament at all. Why not share with the rest what you believe the Bible says on the topic? God bless! Carol”


At first I didn’t want to tackle this. Do I really need to poke my thumb in the eye of the establishment? Don’t I do that enough already? I’m not a pastor or an elder or a church accountant. And I’ve never been accused of being an expert on church doctrine. Tithing is a church thing (boy, did I find out how true that statement is). So I really don’t have a horse in this race … do I?

But tithing is also a money thing and I’m always talking about money. The reason I talk about money so much is that we’re so hung up on money; most of our waking thoughts and decisions revolve around it and our obsession with it tends to screw up more important things in our lives.

There’s something more important than money? Yeah, I know it’s a shock, but it’s true. There are things in our lives right now that will last forever and things that won’t. Money is one of the things that won’t. Those things that do last forever should never be at the mercy of those things that don’t.

If tithing is a church thing and a money thing, it’s probably a biblical thing too. So I’d better look into it. For an amateur, I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s in the Bible. Of course, every time I actually look in the Bible I’m disappointed by how little of it I really do know. Tithing was like that.

What I figured I knew about tithing probably isn’t very different from what a lot of folks think they know about tithing. You give 10% of your money (up front – not after expenses) to the church – that’s the part you owe God. Tithing is biblical … it’s got to be, or else we wouldn’t get the tithing sermon when things around the parish are tight. And, as Carol put in her note, now that we’re in tough economic times, “churches are feeling the pinch and thereby pinching their parishioners.”

So, according to the Bible, are we supposed to tithe 10% to the church? Well, tithing is biblical; according to Strong’s Concordance ‘tithe,’ ‘tithes,’ or ‘tithing’ shows up thirty-nine times – thirty-two in the Old Testament and seven in the New. On the other hand, ‘Philistine’ or ‘Philistines’ shows up 285 times – all in the Old Testament. ‘Philistines’ are statistically 7.3 times more biblical than ‘tithing’.

But I can’t remember the last time I heard a really good sermon on Philistines. My father was a preacher and he called me a Philistine when I exhibited less than exemplary table manners, but other than that, I don’t remember a lot of pulpiteering on the subject. The reason that Philistines are so unfairly underrepresented compared to tithing may be that Philistines are more or less irrelevant to church finances.

Another reason that we don’t hear a lot about Philistines in church may be that they’re not mentioned once in the New Testament – they may be more or less irrelevant to the church. A good example of what not to do, maybe, but not a people we deal with on a regular basis like the Israelites did.

It’s unfair to lump Philistines and tithing together in the same basket; I know that. And it’s sure unfair to imply that pastors only preach on tithing for the money. But they do.

Tithing isn’t really as irrelevant as the Philistines, is it? All thirty-two Old Testament mentions are telling the Israelites how and when to tithe and what’s going to happen to them if they don’t. A passage in the third chapter of Malachi is a tithing sermon favorite:

“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.” (8-10)

Using the scripture above in a tithing sermon, we church members are supposed to be the Israelites robbing God and the church is supposed to be the storehouse. Problem is, Malachi was talking to real Israelites about bringing real food into a real storehouse. He wasn’t talking to Christians about bringing cash into church. We just apply the passage that way.

What about those seven mentions in the New Testament? We’re New Testament people, that makes it relevant to us right? I checked into that.

Technically, Jesus only mentioned tithing twice; once in Luke 11:42 (Matthew 23:23 is a repeat) and once in Luke 18:12. Neither mention was complimentary – he was beating up the Pharisees for the hypocrisy of their tithing. The balance of tithing mentions (in Hebrews) is part of a short passage recounting Abraham giving a tithe of war spoils to a priest named Melchizedek (which is a pretty interesting story in itself and we can discuss it if you guys want a ‘Tithing Part II’).

The verdict? Bad news. Tithing is not a New Testament teaching. It’s not a church teaching (at least it’s not supposed to be). It’s an Old Testament teaching and it was for the Israelites. It’s as irrelevant to Christians (at least the Gentile ones) today as eating pork and circumcision. My advice to pastors? Never preach another sermon on tithing. My advice to parishioners? Never pay another tithe to the church. You’re not supposed to. Tithing died with the Law.

Before you get all worked up, let me mention one other thing.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not do away with it. Jesus didn’t kill the Law, he made it irrelevant. The Law says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Jesus said that even if you call your brother ‘empty head’ you’re in danger of the fire of hell. The Law says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ Jesus said that if you even look at a woman in lust, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. The Law says bring ten percent of what you own to the priests. Jesus said, ‘go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor.’

Nobody preached about tithing in the early church because it was irrelevant.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

“There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned land 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 has need.” (Acts 4:34)

We lost that somewhere along the way. The church became The Church instead of you and me. The Catholic Church (which was The Church) reinstituted the tithe back in the seventh century as a way to finance buildings and get people paid. The Baptists (who weren’t around in the seventh century) reinstituted tithing in the 1870’s. Tithing as a church doctrine is a man thing, not a God thing.

But giving as a church doctrine is a God thing (there’s a lot more to be said on that subject).

Tired of tithing sermons? Here’s a cure – give. When you were born again in Christ, you died to this world. You don’t own anything. If you can’t give up one tenth of what you think you possess, you deserve the tithing sermons. And if your pastor actually experienced church members giving away 10% of what they earned, tithing sermons would fall into extinction faster than the Dodo.


One last thing … Don’t sell old Malachi short. The Law requiring tithing may be irrelevant to us but the principle isn’t. I loathe preacher clichés, but this one’s got me backed into a corner. “You can’t out-give God.” What can I say? It’s true.

“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.”