by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The biblical system of tithing has been a point of controversy among Christians for years. Its opponents claim it is part of the Old Covenant, and thus, it was instituted solely for the support of the Levitical priesthood. They often acknowledge that the principle of giving to support the ministry is still valid, but say God does not command paying a set percentage of one's income. Yet this ignores clear passages throughout the Bible.
From Genesis to Revelation, tithing is the only financial system God endorses. He shows that blessings accrue to those who faithfully tithe of the increase God has bestowed upon them. Through the tithing system, God provides for the preaching of the gospel and the feeding of the flock (Matthew 28:19-20). In so doing, faithful tithing expresses love toward God and love toward neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40).
2. What is tithing? Genesis 28:22.
Comment: Tithing, in its simplest form, is returning one-tenth of one's income to God for His use. The patriarch Jacob, knowing about God's command to tithe, promises to give God a tenth of his blessing or increase.
3. How did Jacob know about tithing? Genesis 14:18-20.
Comment: Jacob must have been taught about tithing by his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. This passage succinctly reveals several principles of tithing. First, the tithe goes to God through His representative, the priest. Second, the Bible repeats that it is one-tenth. Third, this law was in effect long before God commanded it through Moses. Fourth, Abram, blessed for his faithfulness to God, gave tithes in recognition of God's rulership and providence.
Comment: Israelites gave tithes to the Levites to perform the work of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. Because they were involved in God's Work and had no significant land of their own, the Levites had to be supported by the rest of the congregation of Israel.
Comment: Paul refers to the Old Testament law as his authority for taking tithes to preach the gospel. This, combined with Jesus' comments, shows a clear, New Testament application of the tithing law.
6. Did Jesus give His approval of the tithing system during His ministry? Matthew 23:23.
Comment: In this denunciation of the Pharisees, Jesus does not condemn tithing—even punctilious observance of it—rather, He denounces their lack of justice, mercy and faith! To the contrary, He supports it: "These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."
7. Was the law of tithing changed? Hebrews 7:1-12.
Comment: A vital principle to remember in regard to the Old and New Covenants is that what did not originate with the Old Covenant did not die with it. The gist of the argument in Hebrews 7 is that, since the Levitical priesthood has no authority under the New Covenant, the ritual laws pertaining to the priesthood are no longer valid. The priesthood has been conferred on Christ, now our High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:20). This "change of the law"—the ceremonial law of sacrifices, ritual washings and other rites pertaining to the Tabernacle/Temple and priesthood—applies only to the administration of tithing (verse 12). Since the tithing law predates the Levitical priesthood, and is thus still in force, tithes are now to be given to Jesus Christ, our High Priest, for use by the church.
8. Does God bestow blessings on those who tithe—and withhold them from those who do not? Malachi 3:8-12.
Comment: Notice that God says He commands tithes so "that there may be food in My house" (verse 10). Tithes are primarily used to feed His people spiritually! If we support the Work God is doing through His faithful ministers, He promises to bless us far above anything we could imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21)!