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Tithing an Old Testament Law?

Updated on February 15, 2010


The questions asked were “Isn't tithing an Old Testament law?" and "Didn't Jesus fulfill the Old Testament so we are not under the law?" These questions may appear simple to all but in reality they are not so. To answer them, the following questions must have to be answered: first, was it a law required to be followed only during the time of the Old Testament? How did it originate? What is the purpose of the tithing system? Did Jesus abolish it when He was here? What is meant to be under the law?

Early Record of Tithing

Many would never think that tithing is as old as the history of the human race. They think that it began with the Israelites when God gave the laws to Moses, to include the Ten Commandments.

Let us look for a moment at one interesting incident in the life of Abraham, after he defeated the Chedorlaomer, king of Elam and the other kings with him. Chedorlaomer attacked Sodom and captured many of its inhabitants, together with Lot, his nephew and family. This story is found in Genesis 14 of the Old Testament.

After coming victorious from the chase of Chedorlaomer and his cohorts, bringing back the captives and the booties of the battle, Abraham was met by Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. To him, Abraham gave a tithe of all the booties that he had from that battle.

There was no record whatsoever of either Melchizedek or the institution of tithe previous to that incident. Both of them just popped up in Genesis 14:18. Where did they come from? Nobody knows. In fact the book of Hebrews chapter 7:1 – 4 says that Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tenth (tithe) of the spoils of battle, and that he had no father nor mother, no genealogy, no beginning of days nor end of days, which means there is no record of where he came from or what happened to him later after that incident.

But what we can see from this is that the tithing system had existed long before there was a Hebrew, even before Abraham himself; and Abraham knew it long before that encounter with Melchizedek! This can be seen from the fact that nobody told or coerced Abraham to give the tithe. He gave it willingly, which means he knew well before and had been practicing it.

How then and when did it start? Nobody really knows but there is a hint when we consider its deep underlying purpose. Let us dwell on it.

Eve Under the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
Eve Under the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

Tithing - Its Purpose

The reason why Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was because, first Eve believed the serpent and so distrusted God in what He said that on the day that they ate of the fruit of the tree, they would die. The issue was faith in God, in fact their relationship with God was the stake there. In the process of obeying the serpent, which was actually Satan, they changed allegiance from God to Satan. Romans 6:16 says,

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

In believing the serpent, which is Satan, they became the slaves of Satan. And the particular reason why Satan, formerly Lucifer, fell into sin was because of self-seeking - seeking to be like God. This is found in Isaiah 14:12 – 14:

"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High."

It was the same self-seeking, seeking to become like God and exalt himself, that Adam and Eve imbibed as a result of obeying Satan. From then on, every son and daughter of Adam inherited the fallen nature of their parents. This was passed on down to us. The reason is, Adam and Eve, could only pass on to their posterity what they had; but what they did not have, they could not. And what they had was only selfishness.

What attitude do we have toward money and toward others? When it comes to money, it is natural for us humans to want to amass as much money as we can. In fact this is the reason why a lot of people almost kill themselves by working without much rest; it is the reason why some nations go to war against another; it is the reason why many people kill others, steal from others; defraud others.

Let us talk about money in the bank. Look at the millionaires and billionaires in this world. They have more than they can use but they desire more. They have no satisfaction. However, this is not only true to them but to all human beings who know the value and use of money. And why would they believe and act that way? Because of self.

But is it wrong to be rich and have much money? No, there is nothing wrong with being rich and having much money. As you can see in Malachi 3:8 - 11, God has promised those who will return a faithful tithe and give a liberal offering taken from all their increase that He will pour out a blessing that there will not be enough room to receive it. Also, He has promised in Deuteronomy 28:1 - 14, that He will make His people the head and not the tail, they shall be above and not beneath, and He will give them all the material blessings they are capable of receiving so that they will lend to many nations and not borrow, on the condition that they keep His commandments.

The institution of the system of tithing was for the purpose of man overcoming selfishness and develop concern for others. More than this, it is one of the methods ordained by God so that humans will know and acknowledge that God is the one who owns all the things in this world, the one who gives the power and the ability to get wealth, and is the only benefactor and source of all the blessings that are enjoyed in this life. God also aims to inculcate in their minds that they are only stewards of the means that were entrusted to them. In other words, wealth is a trust from God, to be used for legitimate enjoyments and purposes ordained by God. It was for the purpose of making the recipients of those means to be the channel of blessings through which it will flow to others who are in need and not as capable of getting it as they are. More than all of these, It was given after Adam and Eve sinned to help them and their descendants to overcome selfishness and learn to look away from self and be concerned with others – to be like their benevolent Creator and God.

And yes, in all these things, it was not designed to make people poorer nor deprive them of the source of some of life’s joys if properly used, but as a means to allow God to pour out His blessings on them even more, so that there will not be enough room to receive those blessings. Mal 3:8 – 11. God is faithful that promised, nor is He a man that He should lie. And if you will notice, part of the promise was not only pertaining to material blessings but also spiritual - a close relationship with God.

Jesus Discussing with the Pharisees
Jesus Discussing with the Pharisees

Jesus and Tithing

In fact Jesus himself when He walked among the Jews, did not work to remove it.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. 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.” Matt 23:23

Simply put, what Jesus said was that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees should practice justice, mercy and faithfulness. However, along with it, they should not forget God's claim on their increase and that they are only the stewards of the means God entrusted to them, by returning their tithe.

It is quite understandable then that since the purpose of the tithe is for the good of humans, spiritually and materially, Jesus did not remove it. It was meant to be practiced until one comes to a close relationship with God and be brought to heaven when Jesus comes the second time.

The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments

Tithing Is Being Under the Law?

One reason given for not giving back the tithe is that we are not under the Old Testament law anymore. In the Old Testament, there are four kinds of law given by God: the ceremonial law, which contains the system of sacrificial offerings and the feasts which Israel should observe all through the period of their national existence. These feasts and system of offerings were designed to develop their faith in the coming Savior who would come and save them from their sins: Jesus Christ who would die on the cross. The ceremonial law was abolished when Christ died on the cross as signified by the rending of the veil that separated the holy place and the most holy place of the Jewish temple. See Matt 27:50, 51. How is that?

In the Jewish temple, nobody can look into, much more, enter the most holy place, except the High priest and only once a year, after the high priest had done the required preliminary ceremonies. Failing to do this or if he entered at other times he would die. No ordinary people, not even the other priests can presume to enter the most holy place where the Shekinah glory, the light of God’s presence, was.

The rending of the veil or curtain that separated the two apartments of the temple opened to view of the worshipers the most holy place and did not die. At that time too, the lamb intended to be sacrificed escaped the hand of the high priest. This signified the end of the system of sacrificial offering in the Jewish economy because the symbols have met their fulfillment in the Lamb of God to which the symbol point forward to, the Lamb which takes away the sins of the world.

The other law was the civil and criminal law which governed their conduct toward each other in their daily lives. Another was the law concerning health and sanitation which was necessary to the well being of the whole nation. The provisions of that law, science today are proving their soundness. Both these were not abolished but were supposed to have been modified in light of the reinterpretation made by Jesus in His encounters with the Jews.

The last law is the ten commandment law, called the moral law or the "law of liberty" (James 2:12) which is divided into two: love to God and love to fellowmen. If anybody violates any of its provisions, sin is committed by the person. See 1John 3:4. The person will then be under the condemnation of the law. Romans 6:23 says,

“For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

But you would say that we are not under the law anymore but under grace. Yes, and we find it in Romans 6:15, 16 which says,

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

We can see that a person who is under grace is one who is saved by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8 – 10. In this case he is not under the law anymore but under grace. However, he is not released from obeying the law and thus he is not free to commit sin again – by no means! That is clear from what Paul says in Romans 6:15, 16. The reason is simple, if you sin, you violate the law. When you violate the law, you disobey God and who do you obey instead? Satan of course. Because you disobey God and obey Satan, Paul says that you become the servant of Satan, the one who originated sin. 

What does this being under grace now have to do with tithing? Simple. Withholding your tithe is claiming something which is not your own. God said that it is robbery against God. That is a violation of the sixth commandment. So you sin not only in one point but in all points because in James 2:10 it says that he who violates one of the commandments is guilty of violating all the commandments. And Paul said in Romans 6:23, the penalty for sin is death – eternal death.

So then, why will Jesus tell people to commit robbery against Him and the Father?

What then is being under the law? This simply means that a person who is under the law is under the condemnation of the law. How does one fall under the condemnation of the law? by breaking any of the ten commandments, which is committing sin. And the only way to be free from that condemnation is to be under grace, which is accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior of one’s life from the sins that you committed. This does not mean however that the person can violate the will of God and His commandments with impunity without coming under condemnation of that same law again simply because he is under grace. 


In the end, God will have a people whom He can point to the whole universe as a people who are obedient to Him, not by their own strength but by His grace. This people have learned to look away from self and have focused their eyes on Jesus. They have won that victory in the greatest battle ever to be waged by man: the battle against self. They are found obedient subjects of the Potentate of the whole universe - God. Revelation 14:12 says,

“Here is the patience of the saints. Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”


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    • SwordofManticorE profile image


      8 years ago from Burlington

      Giving 10% of your income is legislation and not an appreciation to God. The true commandments of God is to love God above all and love our neighbors. The nine fruits of love and no law is greater. If you want to show your appreciation to God, just thank Him from your heart that He is there. Give cheerfully to those who need it and expect nothing back. All what you own belongs to God anyways. Tithing in the church is a church made doctrine imposed on Christians by the church, not Paul, or God. I and my wife stopped tithing once we learned it was not part of the Christian faith and our income has almost doubled since then praise be to God.

    • fyyonn profile image


      9 years ago

      Tithing is being under the law and Christ came to fulfil this law and not do away with it. Everything we have is from God and there is nothing wrong in giving back to Him. Offerings have to be given also in addition to tithes. Giving 10% of your gross income is a way of appreciating God for giving you the ability to generate that income.

    • noturningback profile image


      9 years ago from Edgewater, MD. USA

      Tithing and giving, starts first in your own family and then to community.

      Corban, was misused by the Pharisees to allow priests to not help their own families, and yet they still expected tithes.

      St.Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 9:9-14

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      1. Language background: 2 Hebrew words for tithe

      A. Verb: Asar - to assign a tenth

      B. noun: maas?r - tenth part, tithe

      2. Two examples of tithe prior to Moses.

      A. Gen. 14.20: Abe paid a tenth of his victory spoils to Melchizedek for spiritual services rendered by him.

      B. Gen. 28.22: Jacob dedicates a tenth to Yahweh as thanks for protection.

      C. Both examples are freewill offerings having no commanded pattern from God.

      It has nothing to do with the Mosaic tithe required of Israel.

      D. The use of the tenth simply reflects the custom of the various nations in providing a tenth for support of an organized religion.

      3. The tithe of Israel - background:

      A. All the regulations and rituals which God gave to the nation were designed to set the nation of Israel apart from all the other nations and showcase the wisdom, justice and love of Yahweh.

      B. The other nations had the custom of requiring a tenth in support of their idolatrous gods.

      C. God's system to set Israel apart as unique and special was to require two tenths (20 %) & 30% every 3rd year. This proclaims the superior nature of Yahweh, as He merits much more then the idolaters give to their gods.

      D. Tithing was a fixed percentage rate which functioned as a taxation system for the entire nation and was enforced upon both believers and unbelievers.

      E. And since Israel was a Theocratic nation (a nation with God as king) any citizen who failed to pay taxes, that is, his tithes, was robbing God. Mal. 3.8-10

      F. Free will offerings were separate from the tithe & were for believers only.

      4. There were 3 types of tithe for Israel:

      A. 10% per year for the Levites to maintain ritual responsibilities without the distraction of making a living.

      1. Numbers 18.21-24; Lev. 27.30-33

      2. 2 Chron. 31.1-12

      3. Of this 10%, the Levites gave 10% to the high priest. Num. 18.26-29.

      B. 10% per year to finance the feasts and sacrifices. Deut. 14.22-24; 12.17-19

      C. Every 3rd year, an additional tenth was provided for the poor of the land. It was called the year of tithing and was designated as a social security tax. Deut. 14.28-29; 26.12

      D. So a citizen of Israel paid 20% a year as a national tax and every 3rd year, 30%.

      E. Quote from Josephus, Book IV, chapter viii:

      Paragraph 8: "Let there be taken out of your fruits, a tenth, besides that which you have allotted to give to the priests and Levites.

      Paragraph 22: "Besides those 2 tithes --- the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every 3rd year a third tithe to be distributed to those that have need."

      5. Tithing in the New Testament is mentioned only in connection with the requirements for Israel.

      Mt. 23.23; Lk. 11.42; 18.12; Heb. 7.2-9

      6. The issue of giving in the Church age has absolutely nothing to do with tithing.

      A. Tithing today is an unbiblical application of Israel's national laws to the church.

      B. The tithing system used by Christians is a legalistic, human works system by which they think they can gain some favor from God.

      C. It is also used by some people to gain attention and recognition from church leadership and others.

      D. In many churches, it is a religious bondage placed upon the people by money-hungry, rich minded leadership who govern their spiritual lives according to emotionalism and subjectivity instead of the absolutes of God's word.

      7. Giving in the church age is not a specific ritualistic percentage.

      A. Giving is, indeed must be, an expression of love and appreciation for God's grace resources.

      B. It is the same as the free-will offerings of the Old Testament believers. But since the church is not a theocratic nation, there is no taxation system.

      C. Giving is to be based on the motivation of ---

      1. LOVE: 1 Cor. 13.1-3; 16.14

      2. CHEERFULNESS: 2 Cor. 9.7

    • ceciliabeltran profile image


      11 years ago from New York

      Well, this is interesting but biblical scholars have a more practical take on why tithing was imposed.


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