On average in the United States, Christians give only 3% of their income. This figure seems extremely low. For various reasons, some church leaders teach that God commands all Christians to tithe.
Should all Christians give at least 10% of their income? Should tithing be based on net income or gross income? Should Christians tithe to the local church, or can Christians tithe to any Christian organization? On what biblical basis do we justify our answers?
To help you search what the Bible says about tithing, I write this article hoping to achieve three goals.
- Define the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “tithe” in the English Bible.
- List the major Bible passages that speak on the topic of tithing.
- Ask a series of questions that should be answered before we draw any final conclusions on tithing.
Definition of “Tithe”
Hebrew and Greek words for “tithe.”
- The word “tithe” is used 42 times in the ESV Bible.
- The Hebrew word מַעֲשַׂר is used 29 times as “tithe.” It means “a tenth part, tithes (as an offering).”1
- The Hebrew verb עָשַׂר is used 3 times as “tithe.” It means “to give a tenth, pay a tithe.”2
- The Greek verb ἀποδεκατόω is used 4 times as “tithe.” It means “to give one tenth, to collect one tenth.”3
- The Greek verb δεκατόω is used twice as “tithe.” It means to “collect, receive tithes.”4
- The Greek noun δεκάτη is used twice as “tithe.” It means “a tenth of something offered for a specific purpose; tenth part, tithe.”5
Based on the lexical definitions provided, we conclude that the noun “tithe” means a tenth of something. The verb “tithe” means to collect and give a tenth of something.
Old Testament Passages on Tithing
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
(Genesis 14:18–20 ESV)
“And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.””
Cattle Tithe in Leviticus
“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD. One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.””
Levitical and Priestly Tithe in Numbers
“And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.
“To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. So you shall also present a contribution to the LORD from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the LORD’s contribution to Aaron the priest. Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the LORD; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’ Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress. And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting. And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’””
Festival Tithe in Deuteronomy
“You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, but you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place that the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake. Take care that you do not neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.”
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.”
Charity Tithe in Deuteronomy
“At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.”
“And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.
“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me. Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.’
“This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Other OT Passages on Tithing
“As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that had been dedicated to the LORD their God, and laid them in heaps … “And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes, and the dedicated things. The chief officer in charge of them was Conaniah the Levite, with Shimei his brother as second,”
(2 Chronicles 31:5–6, 12)
“And to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.”
“Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.”
“Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days;”
“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.”
2 Views of the Mosaic Law Tithe
Moses and the Israelites observed multiple tithes based on the passages in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are two common views.
2 Tithe View
- Year 1: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 2: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 3: 20% — Levitical and Charity
- Year 4: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 5: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 6: 20% — Levitical and Charity
- Year 7: 0% — No Income; No Tithe
3 Tithe View (Preferred View)
- Year 1: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 2: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 3: 30% — Levitical, Festival and Charity
- Year 4: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 5: 20% — Levitical and Festival
- Year 6: 30% — Levitical, Festival and Charity
- Year 7: 0% — No Income; No Tithe
The three tithe view calculates that Israel gave 23.3% of their income during the first six years. The Mosaic Law requires many offerings that are not included in the three tithes.
Other Considerations of the Old Testament Tithe
- The Israelites were only required to give 20% of their crops and cattle. It did not include all income. A fisherman (Peter) or carpenter (Jesus) was not subject to the Mosaic Law of tithing. Their income was not agricultural.
- Israelites did not give exactly 10% of their cattle. They were not required to round up (Leviticus 27:32). If an Israelite had 19 animals, he tithed only 1 animal (5.3% of total).
New Testament Passages on Tithing
Jesus Condemns the Pharisees
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
A Parable of Jesus
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. ’But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.””
Melchizedek vs. Levitical Priesthood
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”
Paul’s Teaching on Giving
“Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
(1 Corinthians 9:13–14)
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”
(1 Corinthians 16:2)
9 Bible Questions on Tithing
- Should we favor the Septuagint reading over the Hebrew Bible reading in Genesis 4 and believe Abel’s offering was accepted because he properly tithed?
- Does Malachi 3 provide the basis for storehouse tithing?
- Why did Paul never directly address the practice of tithing in his epistle?
- Does Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek confirm that God requires tithing today? (Genesis 14:18–20; Hebrews 7:1–10)
- Since tithes under the Mosaic Law was limited to landowners, Jesus was not required to tithe his income as a carpenter. What principle does this teach?
- When Jesus said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21), was Jesus referring to tithing?
- Since Jesus commended tithing in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, does this teach Christians need to tithe today?
- Does Jesus’s parable in Luke 18:9-14 support the necessity to tithe from all sources of income?
- Does Paul’s reference to those in temple and altar service (1 Corinthians 9:13-14) support the continuation for tithing?
6 Theological Questions on Tithing
- Is the Sabbath a good parallel to tithing?
- Is the Levirate Law a good parallel to tithing?
- Some divide the Mosaic law into three parts: civil, moral, and ceremonial. Using these division, should we connect the Old Testament tithe laws to moral laws?
- How has the standard of giving changed with the New Covenant? Has it been raised based on Matthew 5:20?
- Is tithing a part of natural law?
- Did God command Adam and Eve to tithe at the Fall?
I hope this summary helps your Bible study on tithing. Besides tithing, God has much to tell us about financial stewardship and giving.
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6–7)
I hope to review more of God’s principles on giving in a future article.
- “מַעֲשֵׂר,” HALOT, 2:617 ↩︎
- “עשׂר,” HALOT, 2:894 ↩︎
- “ἀποδεκατόω,” BDAG, 109. ↩︎
- “δεκατόω,” BDAG, 217. ↩︎
- “δέκατος,” BDAG, 216. ↩︎