Continuing in this series on Old Testament interpretive problems, we now come to one of the largest, most ubiquitous, and most disturbing: the tithe.
We've probably all attended worship services of one type or another where the pastor has spoken on the supposed importance of the tithe. Most of the time the audience is made to feel guilty (see above comic), being told that if they don't give 10% (before taxes no less) to the church then they are in sin. Ouch. But is this accurate? What did Jesus say to his followers about the tithe? Did he want them to give 10%? And by extension, does Christ expect us to give the same?
(As an aside, in the OT the tithe often came out to significantly more than 10%. The 10% figure is just a simplistic one that many in the church like to use today because it is simple.)
So, do we have to tithe? The answer is NO. Jesus does not expect us to give 10%. The tithe is an Old Covenant concept. It dealt mainly with giving of agricultural items for support of the temple. It never focused on money. Only those under the OT law had to follow it.
Nowhere are any New Covenant people told to pay the tithe. Jesus never instructs his followers to pay the tithe. None of the writers of the New Testament tell Christ's followers to pay the tithe. As we read through the NT, we never see believers paying the tithe.
But what about Matthew 23:23-24? It says:
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. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
The key to the above passage is who Jesus is talking to: pharisees. They are part of the Old Covenant, and by extension still under the law. They are hardly Christ's followers. Additionally, note that Jesus mentions mint and dill and cumin, not money. Finally, Jesus' emphasis is actually what they are neglecting: justice and mercy and faithfulness.
What, then, are we to give? Paul tells us in II Corinthians 9:6-8:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
Part of living by faith is giving as the Holy Spirit leads. This will differ from person to person and situation to situation. They key is that we take care of one another in the body of Christ, and that we help the poor as given the opportunity.
To sum up, we do not have to follow the practice of OT tithing. It has no bearing upon our lives. Those who say it does are interpreting the Old Testament extremely poorly; this continues to be a scourge upon the church today.
Give generously, give joyfully, and give freely! This is what it is to live in the Spirit!
To read a short, excellent book on tithing from a Christian perspective, click here.
To visit a website that deals with this topic in much detail, click here.
To read a silly comic, look below: