Why Christians Struggle With the Tithe (and What to Do About It)

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Is the tithe a New Testament rule for the Christian? Or did it end with the birth of the new covenant?

Whenever we talk about the tithe, we need to realize we have lifted an idea from an ancient culture and forced it into our modern-day understanding of the world and how we manage our money. Though it brings some good points, it is an element from another culture, so there are also a few spots where it doesn’t seem to fit.

Many of us believe the tithe and the tenth are essentially the same, but in ancient Hebrew culture that was not the case. The tenth came first, and the tithe came later as a specific law set up by Moses.

Let’s take a deeper look at the history of these two terms.

What Is the Tenth? 

The tenth is first established in Genesis 14 shortly after Abram went to war against evil kings. When he returned with immense plunder, he broke off a tenth of that plunder and gave it to Melchizedek, a priest.

This is a key moment. Historically, Abram’s act of generosity is the birth point of the Hebrew nation. Abram gave honor to only one deity, the Most High God, during a time when people were polytheists, believing in many gods.

An interesting element in this story is that Abram gave a tenth of the plunder to Melchizedek—but then he gave everything else to the king of Sodom (save for what Abram’s men had eaten along the way). So 10 percent was given to the priest, and 90 percent was returned.

The second time we see the tenth is in Genesis 28:20–22, where Jacob negotiated an arrangement with God. He essentially said, “If You bless me on this trip, I will give You a tenth of my increase.”

What Is the Tithe?

Moses is the next person to talk about giving in the Old Testament. It’s important to note that the people under his leadership were former slaves who still thought like slaves.

The Ten Commandments don’t mention tithing, but about a year after the commandments were written, people realized they needed to collect certain items so they could purify themselves and wash away their sins. 

So Moses established a tax that was called the tithe. The tithe was designed for a single purpose: to bring animals, grains, and specific kinds of fruits into the temple so they could be sacrificed to wash the Hebrew people of their sins. At the time, making these sacrifices was the only way the people could obey the laws of cleansing.

How Does This Affect You?

When a person comes up to me and asks, “Are Christians supposed to tithe?” I reply, “What do you mean by tithe?”

Many of us are trying to “fit” the idea of the tithe into our church culture, so I want to be sure I understand what the person means.

“Well, the need to give to my church,” they might say.

“Yes,” I answer. “That need is for today because even Jesus demonstrated it.”

Matthew 17:24–27 is the story of Peter’s fish and the coin. Jesus sends Peter out to go fishing, instructing him to open the mouth of the first fish he catches, pull out a coin, and use it to pay a tax that was assessed on every man age twenty or older. This wasn’t the tithe but money the temple collected to give to the poor, run the schools, and see to the temple’s needs. Jesus paid the tax so He and Peter would not “offend them.”  

When we separate the tithe and the tenth, we can see how the tenth is something for us today. The desire to give an offering to your church, leaders, community, and what God has put on your heart is generosity in its sweetest form, and it is an act of worship. This “tenth-ing” is the idea of giving to leaders and churches out of a sense of worship, duty, and honor.

But when we try to blend our giving with the tithe, we have people who read the Old Testament and say, “You can’t require me to tithe. That isn’t right.”

You and I get to support our churches and our pastors. After more than twenty years on the inside of one of these organizations, I know they need these offerings and use them well. These people aren’t greedy. They’re probably sacrificing a lot in ways we will never know, and they aren’t complaining.  

So let’s give—generously and out of worship. If you need a percentage, rely on the tenth because that was the first precedent built in the recorded Word of God.

Click here to read more about the tithe.

Lauren Stinton