7 Reasons to Stop Tithing
Tithing is one of the concrete pillar teachings of the modern church and has been deeply ingrained in many church-goers. So, naturally, this one is guaranteed to ruffle some feathers. It is not my intention to stir up arguments, rather it is my desire to accurately teach scripture and perhaps help course-correct people who have been confused, hurt, or misled by the institutional church.
Due to the hot topic nature (and misunderstanding) of this subject, I wanted to be thorough. So, grab some coffee and dig in! 🙂
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What if I told you the first Christians did not tithe? That tithing was not in the early church until Constantine reintroduced the Jewish practice some 300 years later, the Catholic church adopted it by the 6th century, and so on? What if I showed you that the Bible, and Jesus Himself, do not teach tithing for us today?
I have faithfully tithed ever since I started earning a paycheck as a teenager. Growing up in church, I was taught that we’re supposed to give ten percent of our income back to God. But, in the last couple years, I started thinking more about this idea: where the money actually goes and how it’s used, how ministry (and “church”) could be done differently, and ultimately, wanted to see for myself what God’s Word says about tithing.
There are several popular passages commonly misused today by many preachers regarding tithing. These scriptures are being taught out of context and binding listeners to a misunderstanding of God’s Word. Sadly, it reminds me of when Jesus scolds the religious Pharisees for mishandling God’s Word and burdening God’s people (Matt 23:4).
Context is paramount to understanding what’s being said in the scriptures, and unfortunately, we support a bad habit of reading our context into scripture instead of letting scripture speak for itself. So, below you’ll find several passages of scripture that I believe are misused regarding this subject and my explanation of why they do not support Christian tithing today.
1. It’s Old (Testament) Covenant
I’m sure many religious folks just rolled their eyes reading my first point. If that’s you, I love you. Please keep reading.
Hebrews 7 refers to Abraham’s tithe (see footnote A) and how the law later required Levite priests to collect a tenth from the people. However, when we continue reading we see the author’s point is actually to explain that we are no longer under that law (Heb 7:12, 18-19). In fact, the entire book of Hebrews converges on this paradigm shift from the Old Covenant to the New. (Also see Galatians 3:24, 4:4-5; and Romans 7:6.)
Most of the passages used in arguing for the tithe do, in fact, come from the Old Testament. The problem with this is we start to pick and choose which parts of the Mosaic Law (or Old Covenant) to keep or disregard. For example:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house… “
This is probably the most common OT passage I’ve heard used on the subject of tithing. A few things to note:
- Malachi is a book of prophecy specifically addressed to the Israelites (Mal 1:1).
- Written while they are living under Mosaic Law (Old Covenant).
- The specific object of tithing here is crops (food).
As I said, the problem here is we try to apply this verse to believers today but then ignore the other commands, such as animal sacrifices found in chapter 1. Good thing Hebrews explains this for us! The reason we no longer do animal sacrifices is because 1) it was not sufficient (Heb 10:4), 2) God no longer wants them (Heb 10:8), and 3) we are now under a New Covenant (same reason we no longer tithe; Heb 8:13).
In the remainder of the verse above, God says “test Me in this.” Sometimes we use this to leverage prosperity gospel: the idea that if you pay in, then God will pay out (or if you don’t pay, then God will punish you). This has become a sort of Christian superstition today, but we’ll save that subject for another day. While we’re here, it should be noted that God specifically places this condition on their crops (Mal 3:11).
This is also where people interject that “tithing works.” And yes, it works because 1) you start trusting God with your finances, and 2) it causes you to manage your money differently. If you really want to “give back to God,” then I would remind you that whatever you do for the “least of these”, you do for God (Matt 25:44-45).
2. It Was Food, Not Money
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.”
Also see Deuteronomy 14:22, Nehemiah 13:12, Matthew 23:23.
A little housekeeping again:
- Given to Moses/Israelites on Mount Sinai (Lev 27:34).
- Similar to Malachi above, if we’re going to apply this verse to us today, then we should also apply all the other (many) commands of Leviticus (basically be practicing Jews), concerning sacrifices, food, clothing, shaving, stoning, etc.
This verse is clearly referring to the crops and produce from the land (as you’ll see again in a moment). Some pastors will claim that in this ancient time their food and crops were their currency, so this translates to our modern money today.
While they did barter, as we still do today, let me point something out here: The shekel (their actual coin money) is mentioned a dozen times previously in this same chapter, and nothing is mentioned about tithing the shekel.
Moreover, Deuteronomy 14:22-26 explains that in the case you’ve been greatly blessed and cannot physically carry your tithe (food/produce), then exchange it for silver (money) for easier travel, then exchange it back, so you can eat your tithe before the Lord!
3. It was to Feed Levite Priests
And foreigners, widows, and orphans…
When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
We see a few things here. Once again, it specifically refers to food, not money. Interestingly, we see this tithe is not a weekly or monthly thing, nor even a yearly thing!
Additionally, if it’s for the priests (Levites) then we must ask: Who are the “priests” that would be collecting said tithe today, considering 1 Peter 2:5-9 states that all believers are part of the royal priesthood?
Finally, we see that the tithe here was to provide for those who could not provide for themselves, not for salaries or operational costs of the temple (like foreigners and widows, the Levite priests did not own farmland or animals).
4. It’s Taken Out of Context
Now, if the misappropriation of the Old Testament text were not enough, let’s move into the New Testament passages that are used to teach today’s tithe. Pay close attention.
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.
1 Corinthians 16:1-3
If we’re not careful, this sounds as if Paul is instructing something that sounds a whole lot like tithing. However, you’ll notice this is a special gift being collected to help other believers in Jerusalem and has nothing to do with their local church building or operations. As not to catch the Corinthian believers unprepared, Paul advises them to start collecting before his visit.
You’ll see Paul do this again in 2 Corinthians 9, where we find one of our most popular verses on giving.
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 Corinthians 9:7
Once again, this has nothing to do with tithing. Paul is, once more, taking a collection to help other believers. (See verses 2-5, although the greater context here really starts in chapter 8.) It’s also interesting that Paul nowhere mentions their tithe, nor clarifies whether they can count their tithe towards this special gift or if it should be an offering beyond their regular 10%.
A couple more notes while we’re here:
“Give what you have decided” does not mean a tenth or expected amount. For a rich person, a tenth may be no skin off their nose and may be a simple tax write off or stroke of a check. Instead, Paul wishes for his readers to give from the heart and generously out of their own means.
“Not under compulsion” means not by order or command or by law, but by generosity driven by love. This comes from selfless sacrifice, which brings our focus to Christ’s teachings and example.
5. Jesus Didn’t Tax His Followers
It’s interesting that we never see Jesus collect any kind of membership dues from His disciples. Nor did He file against Zacchaeus’ charitable contributions (Luke 19:8). Why? Because it’s not about that.
I’m about to share with you what I believe may be the most overlooked, most profound, and biggest red-letter mic-drop on this subject. Though Jesus does not directly mention tithing here, I do believe He reveals a liberating truth of the Kingdom of God. Pay close attention to this little fish story from Matthew 17 and notice what Jesus says.
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
“Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes–from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered.“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him.
“But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
Matthew 17:24-27 NIV emphasis added
Did you catch it? (Not the fish.) Jesus is teaching Peter about the Kingdom of God, more specifically, about operating as freed children adopted into the Kingdom of God and operating under a new covenant (Galatians 4:4-5).
A quick note before we move on: Similar to point #3, if this is the “temple tax,” keep in mind that we believers are the temple now, not a building or institution (1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:19-22).
6. Jesus Never Taught Tithing
Jesus mentions the tithe on only two occasions: when speaking to the Pharisees (Matt. 23 and Luke 11) and giving a parable (Luke 18). In neither instance was Jesus making a point about tithing, rather He included their current practice (under Mosaic law) to make another point entirely.
That’s right, according to scripture, Jesus never taught tithing! In fact, the only other New Testament reference to tithing is found in Hebrews chapter 7 (see point #1). Can you believe that tithing is found nowhere else in the gospels or Paul’s letters to the churches?
However, I’ve heard preachers use the verse from Matthew 23 to “prove” that Jesus said we should tithe (“There! Jesus said it. That’s good enough for me.”). But, surely you have to wonder why Jesus only mentions the idea, in passing, to a certain group of people, the Pharisees, and never mentions tithing any other time He’s teaching to the masses or His disciples. Let’s look at what He actually says.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
- Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and calling them out on many things in this chapter (the “Seven Woes”). His focus was not on teaching them to tithe, rather He was pointing out how picky they’re being about some parts of the law while ignoring the more important matters. We should be humbly obedient to God in all things.
- At this time, they are still under Mosaic law (which Christ is about to change), so yes, for now, they should continue obeying the tithe law. (Verses 2-3 Jesus tells his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.” – see point #5)
- Once again, the tithe here is not money, but food for the temple.
So then, if Jesus never taxed His followers, and never taught tithing, but ushered us into a new covenant, what are we to do?
7. He Wants Us to be Generous
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:21 NIV
It’s a heart thing. Unfortunately, the verse above is often used in churches when passing the offering plate, and we use it to basically say “If you give 10% each week to the local church, then your heart belongs to God and certainly you’re being faithful to His commands.” What about the remaining 90%? What would that indicate about our heart and faithfulness? Consider the rich man in Matthew 19:
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19:21 NIV
He couldn’t do it. The rich man had obeyed all that God had commanded, but could not let go of his comfort. In contrast, consider the poor widow who gave all she had (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4). Although her story is sometimes used to support tithing, you’ll see a few contrary clues here, such as the “offering” place (Mark 12:41) and their “gifts” (Luke 21:1) of unspecified amounts (Mark 12:41). That’s because they were not giving a tenth of their income or even their “first-fruits” here, rather sin offerings, guilt offerings, etc (more old covenant stuff).
[pullquote-left]Can you imagine if believers everywhere were selling their possessions and downgrading their homes (or opening them) to take care of one another?[/pullquote-left]Instead of tithing, Jesus taught about generous giving on many occasions (Matthew 5:42 and 25:35-40; Luke 6:35 and 12:33, to name a few). And instead of giving to institutions or buildings, Jesus taught generous giving to people.
Yes, as Christians we should be great givers! Just picture the Acts 2 church coming together to such a degree that none of the believers were in need (Acts 2:45, 4:32-35)! (Also, notice they didn’t fault those who were poor or struggling for not tithing.)
Can you imagine if believers everywhere were selling their possessions and downgrading their homes (or opening them) to take care of one another? I’ve seen and experienced this to a degree and it’s a beautiful thing.
So, stop tithing. Start giving!
Everything we have in this life is temporary and ultimately belongs to Him. It’s not ours to keep. Anything God has blessed you with is for you to in turn bless others. We should be living a completely surrendered and Spirit-led life, not a partially surrendered, religious one.Instead of collecting club fees, Jesus would call His disciples with 3 little words, that are so simple, yet so hard: "Come, follow me." Those 3 little words are an all-or-nothing thing. Not 10%. Not 50%. But, 100%. Click To Tweet
If God prompts you to give (wherever, to whomever) — whether it be money, food, clothes, your car, your house, your time, all the cash in your wallet, or all that you own — can you do it? Will you do it?
Drop your “2 cents” below!
Footnotes & Additional Scripture:
- Genesis 14:20 – Abram gave [Melchizedek] a tenth of everything.
- This was actually before the Mosaic law. But, this is in no way a command or set pattern for others to follow. We have no indication that Abram was commanded to do this.
- This was a one-time giving, to the priest Melchizedek, with no indication of Abram giving a regular tithe.
- Abram specifically gave from the plunder of war, not his general wealth or income. (See Gen 14:17 and Heb 7:4)
- Genesis 28:22 – Jacob pledges “of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
- This also is in no way a command or law or set pattern for others to follow, but something Jacob decided to do on his own.
- God made a no-strings-attached promise to Jacob in v.13 to give him the land he slept on. So this was no condition placed by God to give the tenth.
- Furthermore, Jacob pledges a tenth of “all that you give me” referring to the land God just promised him. So, I believe he’s pledging a tenth of what the land produces.
- Proverbs 3:9 – Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;
- Yes, we should honor God with our wealth and in everything, because everything we have belongs to Him! Question is: is it addressing the tithe, or is it addressing what we do with everything we have? (see 1 Corinthians 10:31)
- This verse was also written under Mosaic law, thus the firstfruits of crops again.