New Covenant Tithing

What is tithing? How does it differ from offerings? Does it still apply in the New Covenant? What did Jesus say about tithing and the law?

The word tithe means tenth so it is usually in reference to giving a tenth of something to God as a sacrifice. Some Christians have said things like, “tithing is only of the law” because they don’t feel it is necessary to do something that was for the old testament priests. Jesus said he fulfilled the law but the law itself didn’t actually go away, so the purpose of tithing like giving to the poor and taking care of God’s workers didn’t go away and has a place in the new covenant. Besides Abraham gave tithes in Genesis 14:17-20 and so did Jacob in Genesis 28:16-22, and this was hundreds of years before the Mosaic law was given on Sinai. They were some of the first tithers in the bible and there was no law that told them to do it. Instead, they did it in awe and reverence for God. While the old covenant tithing system of Mosiac Law is done away with, there are principles from the old system that take a new form in the new covenant.

Tithing in the Law of Moses only applied to the land of Israel specifically and the Israelites tithed to the Levites and the non-priest Levites would give 10% of their received tithes to the priest. The Israelites tithed from the crops grown in and the livestock born in the promised land. In addition to tithing, there were also offerings. Tithes were paid to the Levites and priests to cover their daily needs and lives. Meanwhile, offerings were burned on the altar for God, although the priest did get to consume a small portion of some of them.

The offering system was separate from tithing and mainly dealt with spiritual purification through the bloodshed and burning of animal fat or grains. There were five main offerings listed in Leviticus ch, 1-7, burnt, sin, guilt, peace, and grain offerings. The priest’s portion, usually the breast and thigh, were waved in front of God’s presence and then they cooked and ate them. Some offerings were done for repentance like the burnt, sin, and guilt offerings. Everyone gave burnt offerings, as these go back to the time before Moses. Sin offerings were for repentance of sins against God and guilt offerings were for sins against one’s neighbor. When someone sinned against their neighbor there also had to pay restitution plus 20% interest (Num 5:1-10). Peace and grain (flour, olive oil, wine, or bread) offerings were given voluntarily for thanksgiving or for vows, and sometimes these were bundled with the other offerings for special holidays, ceremonies, and events. Dedication offerings could be given voluntarily and redeemed (Lev ch 27). In addition, there were required daily, monthly, and holiday offerings (Num 28-29).

These offerings purified the land of sin and kept the people connected with God, so they had more of a spiritual impact on the nation rather than a socioeconomic one. Although the priest doing the sacrifice did get a portion of certain offerings, this alone did not compensate them for their work. The fat and blood of animal sacrifices were not to be consumed (Lev 7:22-27). The fat was to be burned (Lev 3:16-17) and blood was to be poured out or splattered on the altar (Lev 17:6 & 11). For some offerings, parts of the animal were taken outside the camp to be burned (Lev 4:11-12). A portion of the grain offerings was eaten by them as well, how much depended on the type of offering and if it was for a holiday or voluntary. The offerings were supposed to be burned on the altar in God’s presence at the Tabernacle/Temple, and nowhere else (Lev 17:3-7). All of this applied to the priest, which means that non-priest Levites who were living in cities among their other tribes had to get income from elsewhere, and this is why the tithing system exists.

Tithes were given to the Levites directly, whether it be money or food because it was the income and meal for Levites that weren’t serving in the Temple as priests. Most of the people of Israel were not literate, so it was the Levite’s job to learn and study the Torah and teach the people as well as judge and execute judgment on those that broke the law. The Levites were paid for doing their service to the community outside of the Tabernacle. The Levites were given tithes (one-tenth) of everyone else’s income as payment because they didn’t have permanently designated land allotments. They were given 48 cities, 6 of which were cities of refuge, but those cities were small lots within one of the other tribal allotments, so they didn’t have as much room to grow crops and raise livestock and this limited their ability to buy and sell land.

Numbers 18:20 (NLT) And the Lord said to Aaron, “You priests will receive no allotment of land or share of property among the people of Israel. I am your share and your allotment. 21 As for the tribe of Levi, your relatives, I will compensate them for their service in the Tabernacle. Instead of an allotment of land, I will give them the tithes from the entire land of Israel.

The promised land was for the whole nation of Israel but the Levites were set apart to help the priest do their jobs managing the Tabernacle/Temple. They were also keepers of the law who were in charge of memorizing the Torah and teaching their fellow Israelites so that everyone literate or not could keep the law. This explanation is laid out in Num 18:20-24. While they had a special assignment that prevented them from working the land and participating in the land exchange, they are entitled to a portion of the land for being Israelites, so God simply had the other Israel distribute a portion of everyone else’s resources to them so that they could sustain themselves while still focusing on their duties. Levites that were not on duty serving in the Tabernacle/Temple lived in their assigned towns (Num 25:1-8), among the non-Levites on their own property (Lev 25:32-34), or sometimes even in someone else’s home (Judg 18:6-13).

There were three different kinds of tithes:
1) The first was one-tenth of their yearly crop yield and livestock gains. This was the first tithe, which pays the Levites 10% of each year’s yield from the produce and animals of the land, and the non-priest Levites had to give a tenth of their tithe from Israel (the best portions) to the priest (Lev 27:30-34, Num 18:20-32). The concept of giving the best portions of a gift goes back to Gen 4:1-5, where Abel’s offering was acceptable but Cain’s wasn’t. Abel gave the best portions of the firstborn, but for Cain, it just says he brought crops.

2) The second tithe, involves the Israelites bringing a tenth of their crops and the firstborn of their livestock and eating them at the Tabernacle (Deut 12:12-19, Deut 14:22-27, Deut 15:19-23). If a person lives too far away they can sell their offering and use that money to buy food from the Levites and eat the food they purchased in God’s presence. This tithe is more spiritual rather than socioeconomic in nature because it requires people to wave their offerings to God and eat in his presence in front of the Tabernacle and share some with the Levites from their local towns and regions who would go with them. Note: A person could have any number of firstborns throughout the year, first fruits are from the spring harvest, but tithes were a 10% portion of everything, so tithes, first fruits, and firstborns are separate.

3) The third tithe for the storehouses was given every three years. This was to take care of the Levites and the poor like foreigners, widows, orphans, etc from their hometowns (Deut 14:28-29, Deut 26:12-15).

Deut 26:12 (NLT) “Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns. 13 Then you must declare in the presence of the Lord your God, ‘I have taken the sacred gift from my house and have given it to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, just as you commanded me. I have not violated or forgotten any of your commands. 14 I have not eaten any of it while in mourning; I have not handled it while I was ceremonially unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God and have done everything you commanded me. 15 Now look down from your holy dwelling place in heaven and bless your people Israel and the land you swore to our ancestors to give us—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

Often preachers quote from Malachi 3:8-10 when explaining tithes:
Malachi 3:8 “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9 You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease [the devourer]. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 12 “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

When reading verse 5 we find out what kind of tithe this was.
Malachi 3:5 “At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

This is a reference to the three-year tithe. The prophet Malachi is speaking for those poor and destitute people who relied on the social welfare system created through tithing. Malachi 3:10 refers to the storehouses because this tithe was not for the Levite’s immediate income, nor about eating in God’s presence, but rather about taking care of those in need which does include Levites. The curse in verse 9 is from Deut 27:19, which says “Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows.” The Law requires that Israel takes care of these people (Deut 24:14-22).

The New Covenant:
In the New Covenant, there is no place for the Mosiac Law’s required offerings since those were burned on the altar to purify the land. We don’t have a temple in which to burn animal sacrifices in the new covenant because Jesus fulfilled that role himself when died for our sins (Heb 10:1-18). Furthermore, he took his blood to the altar in heaven to atone for us (Heb 9:11-12). Since Jesus fulfilled the required offerings (burnt, sin, and guilt), voluntary gifts function more like tithes rather than offerings in the new covenant since grain and peace offerings are specific to crops and livestock.

Tithing in the new covenant is like a fusion of the three kinds of tithes in the old. Like the first one, it is about supporting the leaders and teachers of the gospel who have forsaken day jobs just like the Levites forsook land allotments, it’s also for the poor in the communities like the three-year tithe. Lastly, there is a spiritual aspect of tithing and voluntary offerings. Sacrificing a portion of one’s income whether it be tithes or voluntary offerings, is an act of trust and thanksgiving towards God. We are trusting the promises in God’s covenant, which operate by sowing and reaping and thanking God for giving us our financial provision. Believers are dedicating their resources so that the will of heaven will be done on earth, by helping others hear and receive the gospel as well as loving them and proving for the needy. This will bless the church body so that they can be fruitful and multiply by making new “born again” members of God’s kingdom throughout the world.

Jesus on Tithing:
What did Jesus say about tithing? Jesus mentions tithing in Matt 23:23-24, although this is under the old covenant. He applauds the Pharisees for tithing but scolds them for giving as little as possible just to barely fulfill the requirements of the law and neglecting the more important aspects of the law like justice, mercy, and faith. In other words, no amount of tithing will make up for not treating people right. Finally, he finished that they should tithe (which clarifies that Jesus was not against tithing in any way), but they shouldn’t stop there and should follow all of the laws including the royal law of love (James 2:8). Jesus never denounced it since it was a part of the law and he said that he came to fulfill the law not destroy it (Matt 5:17-19).

Matt 5:17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The question is can that purpose be found in the new covenant? Christians are to give to church leaders the same way the Israelites supported the Levites because they were messengers of God’s word who dedicated their lives to serving God and don’t have time to work normal jobs at the same time. The purpose of the three-year tithe applies, as well since it went to storehouses to help the needy widows and orphans (James 1:26-27, 1 Tim 5:1-18). Notice in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 includes the elders of the church which includes church leaders since they have forsaken day jobs to serve God, just like the Levites were included in the old covenant three-year tithe. In that verse, Paul quotes Deut 25:4 when he says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Afterward, he repeats what Jesus says in Luke 10:7 to his disciples about receiving hospitality which was, “Those who work deserve their pay!” Jesus and Paul agree that those who are working for the kingdom will be compensated by other people for their service. Ephesians 4:11 describe the types of ministers as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. So anyone who fits into one of these offices is an “ox that shouldn’t be muzzled”. Some may argue all of the money should go to the poor and let the ministers take care of themselves. True, street preachers can do odd jobs while traveling like Paul did on occasion (Acts 18:3, 2 Thess 3:6-10). However, in John 12:1-8 Mary Magdalene was scolded by Judas for pouring expensive oil on Jesus’ feet. He said that money should have been given to the poor. Jesus responded by saying, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” These ministerial positions are guided by the holy spirit, who was sent to fill in for Jesus after he left the earth (John 16:5-11), so these people are standing in for Jesus’s ministry on earth and can receive gifts. Let’s not make Judas’ mistake.

Jesus said he didn’t abolish the law, and giving to the poor was part of the law. Lev 25:35-43 gives instructions on how the Israelites are supposed to support their poor by taking them in, and not charging them a profit for food or charging interest for money they borrow. In addition, Israelites that sell themselves as slaves are to be treated like hired workers and are to be liberated on the Year of Jubilee. Deut 15:1-12 says all debts are to be canceled every 7 years which is known as the Shmita, and that the Israelites are expected to help the poor even if their debts will be canceled the next year. Stinginess is not tolerated, and people are not to give grudgingly. God will only bless those who generously give (Deut 15:7-11). Deut 24:14-15 says to never take advantage of the poor and destitute and v17-22 elaborates on giving excess food to the poor and helping them. Deut 27:19 curses those who deny help to foreigners, orphans, or widows. Lastly, we see the church body serving the community by having people sell possession and give to the poor (Acts 4:32-37). The apostles also separated preaching from charity work by designating specific people to handle it Acts 6:1-4.

Abraham and Jacob:
Many preachers preach that new covenant tithing is based on Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek, although there are objections to this. Abraham gave a tithe to the high priest of God and king of Salem, Melchizedek in Genesis 14:17-20 after winning a battle and rescuing his nephew from captivity. In Hebrews chapters, 5-7 teach the priest system of the Levites is done away with and Jesus is our new priest and king in the order of Melchizedek. This means tithing in the new covenant would be based on Abraham’s actions toward Melchizedek in Genesis 14, not the Sinaitic covenant introduced by Moses, and mediated by the Levites.

Someone may say, “well Abraham tithed once, from the spoils of war, so that doesn’t apply to Christians”. They are right is it not something Christians would do since we aren’t fighting humans for gains, however, notice he didn’t tithe from a land harvest, so it is not the same as the Sinaitic Law covenant system of Moses either. Furthermore, tithing continued after that moment because Jacob did it as well years later. He didn’t have any priest that we know of but still promised to give God a tenth of everything he owned in Gen 28:22. So tithing in the new covenant can reflect Abraham and Jacob’s tithe since both gave out of thanks. This is similar to the second tithe in the old covenant since it wasn’t given to the priest directly as compensation but rather eaten in God’s presence as a spiritual offering. The food eaten was shared with the Levites during the feast, so this was not like the first and third tithes which were long-term assets that could be stored.

Tithing is an act of love towards God and a sign of faith in God that we trust him with our possessions and we thank him for what he has given us. We don’t sacrifice altar offerings anymore since Jesus paid for our sins as the final sacrificial offering, but we still give voluntary gifts in order to help those in need (2 Cor 9:1-15, Phil 4:15-20). Giving to the poor was commanded in the Torah (Deut 15:7-11, Deut 24:17-22, Lev 25:35-43), and the new covenant believers executed that in Acts 4:32-35 and Acts 6:1-7.

If anything it’s an opportunity to invest in the kingdom of God. This is done voluntarily since we are not supporting a specific tribe that manages a temple in a specific land. Plus there is a promise of return for trusting God with your gifts. 2 Cor 9:6-12 promises that God will provide for and bless his people in response to giving to those in need. In verse 7 it says not to give grudgingly or out of necessity, but cheerfully which references Deut 15:7-11. Jesus praised a widow in Luke 21:1-4 for giving more than the rich donors to the temple. What she gave was smaller in currency, but she gave a larger portion of what she had, it was a heart gift. The Bible forbids charging interest to the poor (Ex 22:25-27, Lev 25:35-38, Prov 28:8). Yet Proverbs 19:17 says those who lend to the poor, lend to God, and God will pay them back. This means God will pay their principal with interest, so the givers won’t lose. Proverbs 22:9 says generous people are blessed because they feed the poor. Paul references this when he asked his churches to help other churches. He even told the Philippian church that God will supply all of their needs because of their giving in Phil 4:15-19. Why wouldn’t you want to tithe?

One important note: Some preachers may quote the story of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11, as a means of scaring people into giving to the church, but that is spiritual abuse.

In Act 5:1-11 rather was a married couple who promised to sell their land and give their profits to the church they had second thoughts and held back some of the money. Peter was made aware by the holy spirit of what they had done and asked if it was all of the money that they promised and lied and said yes then he cursed them and they died.

Acts 5:1 But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2 He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest. 3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” 5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him. 7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?” “Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.” 9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.” 10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.

They died because they failed to fulfill the promise they made to give. Breaking a vow or promise to God was a grievous sin (Numbers ch. 30). In addition, the gift Ananias and Sapphira was NOT A TITHE, that was an offering because the promise to give a specified amount (the total price of the gain) not 10%, so it was a voluntarily gift. Peter made it clear that they were cursed because they broke the promise they made by not giving all of the land’s worth like they said they would. They were never obligated to make the promise, but they are obligated to keep the ones they made. It’s also possible this situation ended in death because they made a foolish vow (Lev 5:4) swearing for their own lives. Jesus warns people said “let your yes be yes and your no be no”, rather than making vows in God’s name or by their own lives (Matthew 5:33-37). Jesus was letting us know that making these kinds of vows is unnecessary and we should only agree to do things we can do. In addition, we should make simple affirmations to do our best and follow good intentions to get it done, rather than risking our lives. Either way,  lying to the church and God by withholding something you promised to give is totally different from never promising to give and not doing it. Better to give because you want to not because you feel like you’re forced to grudgingly or of necessity (2 Cor 9:6-8).

That story gets abused out of context. You’re not going to drop dead because you didn’t tithe. The issue was they promised to give a specific amount (not a tithe) and they didn’t give what they promised. However, don’t expect to be financially blessed if you don’t give because you have to sow to reap.

2 Cor 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”[Prov 22:8] 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.