The Bible Does not Teach Mandatory Tithing for Believers: Answering False Proof-texts

For decades I attended churches where pastors preached that the Bible requires believers to pay tithes to the church. Not only is mandatory tithing unbiblical—it is a harmful doctrine. In the next post I will share why mandatory tithing is harmful, but first we must deal with the major proof-text claims used by proponents of mandatory tithing.

Will a man rob God?

Will a man rob God?

The Granddaddy of Mandatory Tithing Proof-Texts

In my personal experience and reading, one tithing proof-text rises to the top as the go-to passage for mandatory tithing, and it carries within it elements of both fear and greed, which are often used to convince believers to tithe to the church.

I am sure you have heard it; Malachi 3 reads:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—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 there will not be room enough to store it.”

There is no need to explore why the prophet wrote this because it has nothing to do with believers today. Notice that Malachi’s words address Jews of the late Old Testament period in Judea. It warns of a curse for not tithing and promises blessings for observance. Does this not sound like the approach of many tithing sermons today—threats and/or promises?

I contend that this passage does not apply to believers. It does, however, bring us to another text on tithing.

A Church is not the Temple and Pastors are not Levitical Priests

Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy mention tithing a lot; it was important in the Law of Israel. There are a lot of details, but we learn what tithing was all about from Numbers 18:

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…It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting…

They will receive no inheritance [of land] among the Israelites. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord.

The Levites had no ancestral land in Israel, so they received the tithe for their work in the tabernacle and later in the temple. A church is not the tabernacle or the temple, and pastors are not Levitical priests. Remember that Malachi says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Churches are not that storehouse.

There is nothing in the teaching of Jesus or elsewhere in the New Testament that transfers Israel’s tithing obligation to followers of Jesus.

Does Abraham’s and Jacob’s Tithing Set a Precedent for Followers of Jesus?

Some say that because Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek the priest we should follow his precedent. I HOPE NOT. Genesis 14 tells us that Abraham led a coalition to defeat the four kings who had:

Seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions.

Abraham recovered everything they took, and:

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh…Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram…Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

If we continue reading, though, we find that Abraham gave the other 90% to the king of Sodom—that totals 100%. This was a one-time tithing event, and it wasn’t even Abraham’s stuff that he tithed on.

Jacob did, indeed, promise to tithe to God in Genesis 28:

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 household, then the Lord will be my God…and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

IF!

Jacob says that he will give God a tithe IF God meets his specified conditions. This is certainly not a good model for us. In fact, neither Abraham’s nor Jacob’s tithe are patterns for us to emulate.

Did Jesus Affirm Tithing for Believers?

In my opinion: No! Mandatory tithing advocates often say that Jesus affirmed the practice of tithing in Luke 11, where he pronounced a list of woes on the Pharisees and mentioned tithing.

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.

Jesus’ emphasis is clearly on the Pharisees’ picky legalistic practices. True, he did not dispute their tithing; after all, the temple was still standing and tithing was appropriate. However, Jesus does NOT validate tithing as mandatory for believers—especially after the temple was destroyed. It just isn’t here.

These seem to be the major biblical arguments for mandatory tithing; and they all fail. Next time we will look at 5 reasons why teaching mandatory tithing is harmful and wrong.

Articles in this series: Teaching Mandatory Tithing is Wrong
The Bible Does not Teach Mandatory Tithing for Believers: Answering False Proof-texts
5 Reasons Why the Harmful Doctrine of Mandatory Tithing is Wrong
Stewardship is not Just Giving to the Church – Stewardship is Giving Wisely
Does Paul Tell Us to Bring Our Tithes to Church on Sundays? He Does Not

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30 Responses to The Bible Does not Teach Mandatory Tithing for Believers: Answering False Proof-texts

  1. tonycutty says:

    Great post. And not something you will hear from all that many pulpits….. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. fiddlrts says:

    Fortunately, my own pastor has taught that tithing does not apply to Christians. One additional point that my dad brought up years ago was that there appear to be two different tithes in the OT, one to support the Levites, and another to provide some form of hunger assistance for the poor in the cities and towns. Sounds like modern governmental welfare a bit, perhaps. So maybe we shouldn’t be complaining about that part of “render to Caesar” so much…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Eric says:

    This is an interesting subject. A post like this is often used by people to justify why they don’t have to give away as much as 10%. But I think a bigger problem with “tithing” is that it encourages people who could give even more to be content with just 10%. I have met a number of wealthy people who believe they can spend as lavishly as they would like as long as they tithe their 10% to God, and I think that is a harmful teaching to the soul of wealthy people. In a roundabout way it might hurt pastors who preach it more than it helps. Getting 95% of the congregation to give more than they are able is somewhat futile. Getting 5% of people to give more than 10% out of their excess is a more worthwhile pursuit IMO.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Marjorie Weiss says:

    I look forward to your next post on this subject. I tithed for years when a parish pastor. Now I am retired and choose not to. So I want to see what you come up with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Marjorie, I hope you will not be disappointed. Once you have read the next post I look forward to your thoughts on ways that mandatory tithing is harmful.

      Like

  5. Jlwilson says:

    I’m really glad you are writing about tithing as this subject gets me fuming mad! From what I understand, the tithe was basically a tax. Well, we are already taxed by our government. The offerings we should be giving are freewill offerings. Some people can give more than 10% and some can only give what they can. It’s budget planning time at our church, and our pastor sends out annoying letters reminding us about the “clear biblical instruction” to give our tithe. It bothers me because I know there are people in our congregation that can be oppressed by these “instructions” while our pastor enjoys living in his half a million dollar house. Looking forward to the next post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wilson, the sermons I hear on tithing upset me too. It is legalism pure and simple, and it is not supported by the Bible. I would like to see those “clear biblical instructions”. I think I have read all the proof-texts and none of them provide ‘clear’ support for mandatory tithing.

      You bring up another issue that is very important to me: why do many pastors live in homes that are much more expensive than what the majority of their congregation lives in? Is this a ministry or a business?

      Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • sheila0405 says:

      Wow, a $500k house? Your congregation must be huge.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. tonycutty says:

    The other thing is this: making anything *mandatory* means it’s another Rule to live by.This goes completely against the message of Grace. It’s like saying that God will only accept you if you obey the tithing rule (or whatever other rule you like to think about).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. mark says:

    The Tithe was never money..it was the products of your labor. It was wheat..corn…oils…flour…wine…cattle and sheep….not $$$.
    It was for use during the Holy Assemblies…Festivals. And it was to provide for the common meal before the LORD as it were. It was not just handed over to the Levites (Preachers) no, but they did receive their portion since they could claim no inheritance of the land. But in no way was it all just handed over to them.

    The fact we have no Levitical Priesthood nor functioning temple today should refute any claim of a Tithe requirement.
    Haaa if that won’t satisfy your Pastor…..how about plopping a couple ears of corn and a bottle of Lambrusco in the plate come Sunday morning. That would actually be more Biblicaly correct.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, thanks for bringing this up. There was not enough room to discuss this in the article, but you are correct. When pastors insist on mandatory tithes, they are talking about money–cash. I don’t know what they would do if a farmer brought in a tenth of his pigs and chickens, or a tenth of his okra and tomatoes. ‘No thanks. Cash only please.’

      It is questionable whether carpenters or masons were required to give any tithe at all, as it would not provide food for the house. And even if a herdsman wanted to give cash instead of a sheep, he had to pay an additional fifth: 12% instead of 10%.

      Liked by 1 person

    • sheila0405 says:

      I wish I could give your comment 2 thumbs up.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Anthony Paul says:

    New International Version
    “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 COR 9:7)

    Many pastors will quote this text before taking up a collection and I believe they are right to do so because it summarizes, within the context of this discussion, the freedom we all have under grace. If one has to feel compelled to give a certain amount, the giver profits little or nothing from this act which cannot be characterized as either “generous” or ” kind”. I think that we can all agree that giving of our resources in support of something we believe in or to help the less fortunate… this is a good thing. But from God’s perspective (unlike that of most pastors who must pay their own bills) the condition of the giver’s heart is far more important than the act of giving itself.

    “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (LUKE 21:1-4)

    This was the line of thought which I followed back in the day when I was a regular at Sunday services. It helped keep me honest and my conscience clear without having to succumb to the pressure tactics of a hungry minister.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anthony, I think this is a great guideline to help us in our giving. However, I would point out that Paul is not talking about giving to the local church. This suggestion is part of his project of Gentile relief for the very poor Jerusalem church. Probably everything Paul said about giving was about encouraging his Gentile churches to give generously for this project, including his statement that they should bring it to the group on the first day of the week to avoid having to coordinate the collection when he arrived.

      But, even though the passage you mention is not about the local church, I think it is an admirable principle for us to adopt in local giving.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. sheila0405 says:

    Really good exegesis here, Tim!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Alan C says:

    Jesus’ attitude toward tithing seems almost dismissive to me. “You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” is a pretty tepid endorsement of tithing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: 5 Reasons Why the Harmful Doctrine of Mandatory Tithing is Wrong | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Pingback: Stewardship is not Just Giving to the Church – Stewardship is Giving Wisely | Jesus Without Baggage

  13. Pingback: Paul Had Remarkable Insights but He was not Inerrant | Jesus Without Baggage

  14. Pingback: Does Paul Tell Us to Bring Our Tithes to Church on Sundays? He Does Not | Jesus Without Baggage

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