Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series on tithing and giving:

  1. Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)
  2. Why Your Church Does Teach Tithing (And Why You Sometimes Feel Guilty About It)
  3. What Jesus & His Apostles Taught About Giving (And How You Can Find Joy in It)

Average Tithers

If you’re average like us, on any given Sunday you’ve put something in the offering plate as it passed that amounted to a tithe on your net (after tax) income, or a tithe on gross, or a super-size offering, or some random change, or five dollar bill, or 6% of your current income…

Or, nothing at all.

If you’re average like us, you’ve heard loads of pastors tell you that Christians are supposed to tithe (“Trust God!” “Step out in faith!” “Plant that seed!”), the implication being that “good” Christians tithe, and those who don’t, well…

If you’re average like us, you’ve had your share of financial ups and downs (due to emergencies, or job loss, or a blown engine or poor management, or just plain being too materialistic, or lousy decision making, or all of the above in our case) where making a decision about what you could, should, would put in the plate on Sunday was a high-stress, angst-filled mental wrestling match.

And if you’re average like us, you’ve wrestled with feelings of guilt when you didn’t tithe, and maybe even some secret, self-righteous pride when you did.

If you’re average like us, you’re blessed to attend a church that emphasizes stewardship – the wise management of all your resources for God’s kingdom – over tithing. But tithing still hangs around in your mind as this minimum standard good Christians have to meet – like the first jump for a high jumper. Miss it, and you’re out of the competition.

Are you average like us? Yes? Then you’ve wrestled with the same questions, doubts, guilt, presumption and pride we have.

Tell you what. Let’s figure this out together starting in Genesis, shall we?

Tithe barn at Guiting Power, Gloucestershire

Tithe barn at Guiting Power, Gloucestershire

A Little Biblical History

The first tither was Abraham, who gave a tenth of the spoils of war to a mysterious priest/king named Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20. We don’t read that Abraham was commanded to give that tithe; apparently it was just part of the ancient near-east cultural norms and Melchizedek blessed him for doing it.

Four hundred plus years later, when God established His covenant with Israel after the exodus from Egypt, He commanded the Jews to give a tithe of their produce to support the Priests and Levites since they were not to receive any property when the Promised Land was divided up among the tribes of Israel (Numbers 18).

Fast forward another thousand years or so, and the prophet Malachi brought God’s charge against Israel that they were breaking His covenant and robbing Him (yikes!) by not giving the tithes for the Priests and Levites. Malachi challenged Israel to repent and see how God would bless them if they renewed their obedience to the tithing regulations of God’s covenant with them.

Now jump forward another four hundred-ish years to Jesus, who gave the Pharisees (whom he was berating) a backhanded compliment for tithing their herbs and spices. And then…

Nothing.

As in, no other teaching on tithing any where in the New Testament. Zip. Nada. Nothing from Jesus. Nothing from Paul, Peter, John, Jude or James. Not one word.

Why?

Because tithing isn’t an obligation of the New Covenant in Christ.

Now, before you take up pitchforks and torches, lemme ‘splain Lucy…

Jesus instituted a New Covenant when He shared His last Passover meal with the twelve disciples. He broke the bread. He passed the cup. Whenever you partake in Communion you are saying, “I am part of the New Covenant God made with Christ’s followers.” Whenever you hear the gospel – that your sins are forgiven because Jesus has done for you what you could not do for yourself (i.e., pay the penalty for your sins and live to tell about it) – you are hearing the central message and blessing of the New Covenant.

The Gospel Goes Multi-Ethnic

Okay, so there’s no question that the Old Covenant administered through Moses was made with the Jews only, right? If an Egyptian or a Moabite wanted in on the blessings of that Covenant, he had to become a Jew and submit to it’s obligations – Ten Commandments, circumcision, tithing to support the priesthood, not eating pork – everything. But, the apostles Peter and Paul quickly figured out that the New Covenant administered by Jesus was for both Jews and non-Jews (like AverageUs). They understood that the blessing of the gospel of Christ, this New Covenant in His blood, was for all nations.

But this, raised a critical question for the early church leaders: If the New Covenant includes non-Jews, were non-Jews obligated to keep any part of the Old Covenant?

Put yourself in Peter’s place. You’re a Jewish fisherman. You were born under the Old Covenant and lived with an obligation to keep the Law of Moses all your life. Jesus called you to follow Him. After His resurrection, you finally get what Jesus has been trying to drum into your head for three years. It’s about redemption for anyone who believes. Now you’re the leader of the church. And now, Gentiles want in. They weren’t born under the Old Covenant. They’ve never kept the Law. Do they have to become Jews before they can become Christians? Do they have to keep the Old Covenant laws to enjoy the blessing of the New Covenant? Is this like baseball where you have to tag first before you can go to second?

And The Answer Is…

A resounding NO. The Jewish church leaders got together to discuss the matter and their conclusion was simple: Non-Jews mustn’t be forced to keep a law that we Jews have failed to keep ourselves (Acts 15:10). Instead, they gave a few instructions that Gentile followers of Christ should not eat food offered to idols or meat that hadn’t been properly butchered, and should shun all forms of sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). No requirement to be circumcised. No requirement to tithe.

In fact, in all the letters the apostles wrote to both Jews and Gentiles which explained how to live a gospel-driven, Christ-centered life, not once did they teach tithing. They taught on every conceivable subject related to Christian living: church order, prayer, spiritual growth, church discipline, leadership qualifications, worship, personal ministry, marriage, parenting. They even taught on subjects that might logically lead to a discussion of tithing like work and charity.

In short, the Apostles had every opportunity to teach the fledgling churches that they must tithe, but they didn’t. Why? Because they viewed tithing as an obligation of the Old Covenant, a covenant that Gentiles never were a part of, a covenant that Christ replaced with another, better covenant with His church.

Our Conclusions, Until the Next Post…

Christians are not obligated to tithe. (No Guilt!) Tithing is not a mark of a “good” Christian. (No Pride!) God is not displeased with a Christian merely because s/he doesn’t tithe. God is not pleased with a Christian merely because s/he does tithe. These conclusions are, we think, in harmony with the gospel.

Ah, but this doesn’t answer all of your questions, does it?

But you’re tired of reading this anyway, right?

So, let’s continue another time, shall we? For now, we’ll just hint that the New Covenant has it’s own obligations – one that touches on the subjects of giving and charity and stewardship.

If you have a specific question about tithing, leave a comment and AverageUs will try to address it next time.

Dawn and I sincerely hope this helps some of you to experience the freedom of the gospel in a new way. Be blessed.

Read Part 2 in this 3-part series.

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29 thoughts on “Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)

  1. Thanks for sharing your insight…. lots of great thoughts and things to contemplate. I’ve always found it interesting to hear the varied teachings on tithing and the guilt trips put on the flock, by leadership, to do the “things” that they think should be done…. yet, those same leaders ignore some of the simple, basic instructions in the Word. They may (or may not) tithe themselves, but they ignore things like taking care of the body that we’re responsible for and walk around obese and sickly. There is a lot in the Word about what to eat, not to eat, etc. Yet, they will preach tithing like there is no tomorrow and ignore being healthy. Or, they will preach about ever other vice that we have… but the one they struggle with (love of money, pride, etc). I know its human nature and I shouldn’t be shocked…. I just don’t buy things said from the pulpit because a “person of God” says them. I want to see them line up with the Word, I want to see it practiced by the one teaching and I want it to be truth and not opinion. Ok… I’m done! Again, thanks for sharing with us!

  2. [AverageNotes: I agree with the main points of the comment below, i.e. that tithing of crops and livestock was an obligation of God’s (old) covenant with Israel, and that Christ’s New Covenant with all peoples teaches generous giving instead. However, I don’t think it’s helpful to label the typical teaching we hear about tithing as “the teachings of man”, as if my interpretation of the Bible comes via divine inspiration. After all, I’m just an average guy.

    I’ll address the, “If not the tithe, then what?” questions of what, why and how Christians are taught to give in my next post. – Lon]

    The fact is, no one pays the Biblical tithe today.

    God defined His tithe in Leviticus 27:30-33 as a tenth of crops and animals raised on the Holy land. Does anyone, today, adhere to God’s definition, OR do they follow the teachings of man and tithe off their income? Crops and animals are ASSETS that came from God, NOT income from man’s labor.

    Then God gave His ordinances in Numbers 18 where He commanded the tithe be taken to the Levites, forever. NOT to a pastor. NOT to a Christian Church. But to the Levites – the servants to the priests. The Levites were the ushers, musicians, singers, janitors, etc. Then the Levites were commanded to give a tenth of the tithe to the priests. Anyone follow God’s ordinances today, OR do they follow man’s teachings and take the tithe to the church?

    The tithe ended at the cross per Hebrews 7:5,12,18.

    The New Testament teaches generous, sacrificial giving, from the heart, according to our means. For some, $1 might be a sacrifice, while for others, even giving 50% of their income might not induce a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, ONLY the farmers tithed, and it was equal percentage (a tenth). The New Testament teaches the principle of equal sacrifice instead of equal percentage. Equal sacrifice is much harder to achieve, if not impossible, than giving ten percent.

  3. I didn’t read the whole article about tithing, I just read the beginning and ending paragraph. I don’t believe in tithing, I believe in giving a whole lot more than that! We’re called to be cheerful givers, which is translated literally to the words give hilariously! We’re also told that if we give with a stingy attitude, God will give back stingily. But if we give generously, God will give back pressed down and over flowing! I don’t need ‘tithing’ verses to make me put money in the offering. All I need to see are all the promises given if I give to God. It’s all His money anyway, why even question it? Once we start analyzing our tithes & offerings in earthly terms, we’ll start questioning whether we should give at all. That’s why we read the the verses that tell us to bring into the store houses, and in return God will give back so much we cannot even contain the whole wealth!
    Jeff Bell gave an $8000.00 bus away this summer, because he felt God wanted to use it in another ministry. It was totally done in faith! Now look what the school got! But I don’t believe we always get back in green-backs. We sometimes stay healthy so there are no doctor bills. Or the old car keeps running, and doesn’t need repairs, despite all odds. Or God lets us know His presence in the midst of dark times. We don’t know HOW God will bless us when we give Him what is His, but we DO know it surely will happen, because He always keeps His promises!

    Posted with permission from the author:
    Linda Griffin Handzel

    • Good for you.! Alot of people struggle with guilt with lawful giving which takes away their joy and possibly even their faith if (out of compulsion) since some are are taking the old testament concept of tithing and to the storehouse out of context which promises overflowing and shaken over blessings..Which was a teaching for those people under the required law for that purpose to be carried out as God commanded.. But for today our giving standard is not based on the old, but has similar priciples; its the new teaching without percentages and law. Heart driven! You can have and same blessing for today, but like you said giving more or less has its rewards or lack there of. You may have never had any trouble with the tithing law being an issue for you. But the right way needs to taught. Thats why I think this is a worthy article for the correct teaching. This keeps condemnation from being a deterant and sparks generosity out of love.

  4. I didn’t read the whole article about tithing, I just read the beginning and ending paragraph. I don’t believe in tithing, I believe in giving a whole lot more than that! We’re called to be cheerful givers, which is translated literally to the words give hilariously! We’re also told that if we give with a stingy attitude, God will give back stingily. But if we give generously, God will give back pressed down and over flowing! I don’t need ‘tithing’ verses to make me put money in the offering. All I need to see are all the promises given if I give to God. It’s all His money anyway, why even question it? Once we start analyzing our tithes & offerings in earthly terms, we’ll start questioning whether we should give at all. That’s why we read the the verses that tell us to bring into the store houses, and in return God will give back so much we cannot even contain the whole wealth!
    Jeff Bell gave an $8000.00 bus away this summer, because he felt God wanted to use it in another ministry. It was totally done in faith! Now look what the school got! But I don’t believe we always get back in green-backs. We sometimes stay healthy so there are no doctor bills. Or the old car keeps running, and doesn’t need repairs, despite all odds. Or God lets us know His presence in the midst of dark times. We don’t know HOW God will bless us when we give Him what is His, but we DO know it surely will happen, because He always keeps His promises!

    posted with permission from Linda Griffin Handzel
    kcm

  5. I loved the post, “Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing…”! Many of the points parallel a book I read some years ago called, “Beyond Tithes and Offerings”. Of course, this view is NOT kosher with most churches today.

    It’s sad that Christian churches teach tithing and so many feel guilty because they don’t/can’t tithe according to the churches’ misguided teaching. How much better the idea of generous giving

    It makes me wonder if the model of today’s church with mortgaged buildings and paid staff is what Jesus had in mind for his church?

  6. LOVE SHOULD BE THE DRIVEN FORCE BEHIND ANYTHING..NOT ITS RIGHT OR WRONG JUST LOVE…EVERYONE KNOWS HOW TO DO THAT..NOW WHETHER OR NOT THEY WILL IS A DIFFERENT STORY ALL TOGETHER…ITS HARD NOT TO PREACH BUT THE SPIRIT WILL SHOW WHAT THESE WORDS REALLY MEAN.”FOLLOW ME AS I FOLLOW CHRIST” NOT FOLLOW ME AS I GIVE A TITHE.THANK YOU KINDLY FOR THIS IT IS VERY REASSURING TO KNOW SOME PEOPLE ARE AWAKE.BLESSINGS LON&DAWN

  7. Pingback: What Jesus & His Apostles Taught About Giving (And How You Can Find Joy in It) « Average Us

  8. Ah yes, I do feel the guilt of not tithing. We give what we consider to be a generous offering each week. We love the church that we attend but it is a church that encourages tithing and each week, at the time of tithes and offerings, there is always a reminder of why we should tithe. There was a time that my husband and I felt that the pressure to tithe was so strong, that we even stopped attending for awhile. I don’t want to change churches but I need to find a place in my heart where I’m ok with my choice. This post really helped.

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  14. So, if the apostles didn’t cover something (they didn’t cover tithing as mandatory), like let’s say not killing, does that make it okay now?

    I’m on the fence about tithing and trying to learn more, but every article I read has so many assumptions. Like the “old” law (have no other gods before Me, do not murder, etc.) being “done away” with. I’m not sure simply not talking about something makes it okay.

    • You ask a reasonable question, but I didn’t argue that lack of teaching, aka “silence,” implies permission. But their silence demands a question, “Why?” I think my answer to “why” is reasonable and fits the context of the early church. I haven’t yet heard a counter-argument to my answer. BTW – “old laws” were talked about by Jesus and the apostles including “not killing.” In your investigation on how the old laws still apply (or not) I encourage you to read up on these aspects of the Mosaic Law: the moral law (the foundation, also written upon every man’s conscience), the ceremonial law (of which tithing was a part), and case law (like your ox killed my ox). Keep in mind that both law (you must do this) and gospel (God does this for you) appear in both the Old and New Testaments. Thanks for your excellent question!

    • It is okay to tithe if you desire, you have done nothing wrong. That is your choice. The key is that it is your choice, what you purposed in your heart. The problem is when people feel that they will be cursed if they did not tithe.

  15. Pingback: Why the Tithe Is Obsolete and What to Give Instead « Average Us

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  17. Thanks for sharing about tithing. A while back I got upset when TV mega church preachers said if you don’t tithe to the church, you lose God’s blessing. I read the New Testament over and over again and didn’t find it. I realized these preachers wanted money for their multi million $ homes, jets, luxury cars, etc., on the backs of those like me who live on poverty wages so they can have this lifestyle. This is not what Jesus lived and died for. He said do not store your riches on earth but in heaven, and you all know about how it is easier for a rich man to go through and eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. An offering to support a ministry, to support God’s word by giving to the poor, or just helping out a neighbor cheerfully is God’s will. I keep searching for a non-tithing church for fellowship (searched over 30 of them) and sadly haven’t found one yet. I have written to some well known preachers about where they get their tithing doctrine, and I get no answers. One minister in an interview about tithing said he would have his members shot if they didn’t tithe. Sometimes I think these might be the end times for many false Christs who come in Jesus’ name as we were warned, but I still keep my faith. Once in a while I come across people who actually follow Jesus and his teachings, praise God for that!

    • Sad to hear of your experiences with churches. The only churches where I have heard tithing taught as a good thing, but not “the” thing where giving is concerned is in Presbyterian churches (PCA). My own pastor does a particularly good job, I think, in tying giving to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment—we give to share the hope we have in Jesus, and to demonstrate the compassion of a loving God.

      Thanks again for reading, and I hope you soon find a church you can embrace. It’s vital for our spiritual growth.

  18. Pingback: How My Pastor Teaches on Money and Giving: 8 Biblical Themes « Average Us

  19. Hey Lon!
    I love the article, it truly states what i have been struggling with. you see my wife and I give offerings with what we believe is in our hearts, and we are incorporating this into our daughters as well. now i will be honest a lot of times it will be more then 10 percent, sometimes is less, we also do our part in the church i usher and help with the youth ministries, and my wife helps in the children ministries. What i am trying to get at is our pastor for the last two services states that we are cursed if we do not tithe ” (Malachi 3:8, 9)”, and also stated that he will now treat people the way they treat god, meaning if they do not tithe then don’t bother calling him for help, ( meaning if we call him he will not pick up, if we need prayers he will not help, if we need his help in anyway he will not go out his way to drive to us to help) for we put this curse upon ourselves. Now to me when i hear that i just say hes a bit emotional and frustrated, but what about newer members in the church? i am afraid they might lose that relationship with god for something maybe someone did not think through. My question is
    1- Should i go up to the pastor and tell him i believe he is in the wrong?
    2- Does it say “Treat others the way they treat god” anywhere in the bible?
    3- Should i also add 10 percent on top of what we are putting into church to honor our pastor?

    Thank you so much for your feedback.

    • Wow! very surprising indeed! Sorry you’re in a church where the pastor a) misunderstands his calling, b) misunderstands the biblical teaching on giving, c) seems to misunderstand the gospel itself (based on your portrayal). My specific answers to your questions are:
      1. Discuss this with you pastor if you have a reasonable opportunity; don’t tell him he’s wrong. See if he’s open to your perspective.
      2. No. More importantly, the NT encourages us to “restore brothers gently” if caught in a sin. If you’re pastor thinks not tithing is a sin, he should consider that guidance..
      3. Study and pray on this, including study of perspectives other than mine. Then, follow your conscience. And above all: know that you belong to Christ because of His life, death, and resurrection. Nothing you do can add to, or take away from, what He accomplished for you on the cross. (in other words: let us beware not to trust in our giving or serving).

      Grace to you, Lon

      (feel free to share anything you find here. I have a number of posts on prayer, giving, God’s will, etc)

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