touches our pocketbook immediately becomes a very practical issue. The
subject of tithing in particular is an emotionally charged issue for many
people, and perhaps especially with pastors. However, I believe an examination
of this topic can be fruitful and edifying in several ways.
First, it will
afford us the opportunity to unfold the principles of Christian giving under the
New Covenant. Secondly, it will allow us to specifically apply certain crucial
principles of interpreting Scripture. This application, in turn, will call into
question some inconsistent methods, and again reveal the importance of
identifying law (that which is binding upon the conscience) with the New
Covenant revelation given to us through Christ*s apostles and prophets.
It will become
clear in this study that the issue of whether or not Christians must tithe is
ultimately a question of hermeneutics, that is, how are we to properly interpret
Scripture in order to identify what is required of us by Christ? Thus, Dr.
Pieter Verhoef observes that tithing “is primarily a hermeneutical question”
(“Tithing — A Hermeneutical Consideration,” The Law and the
Prophets, ed. John H. Skilton [Pres. & Ref., 1914], p.
Tithing Position Briefly Stated
Verhoet summarizes the issue of tithing by saying:
“In the Old Testament the giving of a tenth part of one*s possessions was enforced by the Mosaic
law. The question arises whether this injunction is still valid in the same
obligatory manner as it was under the old covenant” (p. 115).
There are also
two examples of tithing prior to the Mosaic era (Genesis 14:20; 28:22).
Those who feel tithing yet remains as a matter of conscience for the
Christian believe that since tithing was done before the Mosaic code, it
is still in force after the Mosaic system passed away. Often it is
asserted that if one-tenth was required under law, then surely this must be a
minimum starting point for giving under grace.
An Issue In Church History
history of Christianity from 300 to 1700 A.D. is also, unfortunately, the
history of church-state unions. Thus, even though non-ecclesiastical tithing was
enforced in past societies,
“. . . down to the seventeenth century it was generally held that all
tithes, without exception, had been introduced by the Church, on the basis of
the Mosaic law, and had only been confirmed and extended by the State” (H.F.
Jacobson, “Tithes,” Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious
Know/edge [New York, 1893], Vol.IV, p. 2364).
was obviously not practiced in the early church, it was later introduced in
countries where church and state were joined together. Usually in these
circumstances the tithe was paid to the state, and then used to support the
established religion of the territory. Jacobson summarizes the history of
ecclesiastical tithing as follows:
“When the epistles of the apostles never mention tithes, the reason is
simply, that in their time the voluntary offerings of the members still sufficed
for the wants of the Church . . . [Later] In the East, all soon agreed in
demanding the introduction of tithes in accordance with the prescripts of the
Old Testament, and in the West, Jerome and Augustine spoke in favor of the same
idea. It was recommended by the Second Council of Tours, 567 . . . and
commanded, under penalty of excommunication, by the Second Council of Macon, 585
. . . With the Reformation the tithing-system was not immediately abolished: on
the contrary, in most places it was retained for the support of the evangelical
[State-] Church (p. 2365).
Reformation era, therefore, tithing became an increasingly important issue to
those generally designated as “Anabaptists,” for they could not in good
conscience give monies to support a state-church which used the sword to enforce
religion. They felt that taxes should be paid to support the magistrates who
manage the state, and that offerings should be voluntarily and directly given to
support the body of Christ.
Such ideas were
then viewed as radical, for the body of Christ in that era was conceived of as
co-extensive with the boundaries of the state. Consequently, the Anabaptists
were persecuted for opposing the support of religion by the state through the
means of mandatory tithes (cf. Eberhard Arnold, “Excerpts From The History of
Movement,” Autumn, 1978, Baptist Reformation Review, p. 19; James M.
Shantz, “Conrad Grebel: The Founder of the Swiss Brethren,” Autumn, 1918,
Baptist Reformation Review, pp.33-34).
It is important,
therefore, to underscore the obvious fact that the history of tithing cannot be
separated from its setting in church-state contexts where the state used the
compulsory tithes to support the clergy.
Tithing Position Examined
enforce tithing as binding for Christians do so on the basis of very
inconsistent argumentation. On the one hand, they admit that the New Testament
nowhere enjoins tithing. On the other hand, they posit that the ten percent
principle is binding because this was the Old Covenant standard, and therefore
continues in the new age.
As I see it,
their basic mistake is that they will not allow the New Covenant revelation
concerning giving to be definitive for determining Christian duty. This
same kind of reasoning becomes the essential rationale for enforcing infant
baptism and Sabbath-keeping: “The New Testament is obviously silent on these
matters, but . .
I submit that
only by beginning with a commitment to the New Covenant documents as the
revelation of Christian duty will we ever see the dust settle on the theological
problematics created by the traditional Reformed hermeneutic of dipping into the
Old Covenant for binding law. John Bright puts his finger on the problems and
tensions created by a position which does not allow the New Testament to be
normative and sufficient in defining Christian duty:
“The Old Testament offers us large blocks of material having to do with
ceremonial matters . . . Now it is clearly stated that these regulations were
commanded of God; it is equally clear that they had binding authority over the
life of old Israel. Yet we take our stand with Paul and the mainstream of the
New Testament church: however binding these laws may have been in the life of
Israel, they have no authority over the Christian . . . The church has always
had its answer ready, the answer of the New Testament itself — namely, that the
ceremonial law has been set aside through the perfect sacrifice of Christ and is
no longer binding on the Christian.
“Quite so. Agreed! But let us face the consequences of what we have
just said. We have said, in effect, that the Scriptures of the Old and New
Testaments are the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice,
but that parts of the Old Testament, having been set aside, are no longer
authoritative at all.
“But in that case, which parts, and how does one distinguish them? Most
of us, I fear, are not altogether clear on the point. The ceremonial law, we
say, is set aside for the Christian; but the moral law is not. The Ten
Commandments, one supposes, retain their validity! But how does one tell which
laws are “moral” and therefore valid, and which “ceremonial” and, therefore
superseded? The Old Testament itself draws no such distinction, but presents all
laws as equally commanded of God.
“For example, in Lev.19:18 we read the well-known commandment, “You
shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and in the very next verse — and in
identical form — the strange injunction, “You shall not sow your field with two
kinds of seed.” The one we instinctively accept as valid and normative (and we
frequently preach upon it); the other we leave aside (for I have never heard
anyone attempt to preach upon it) as of no concern to us. But what canon have
we, other than our common sense, for making such a judgment? Who picks and
chooses in this regard?
“But even as regards laws that are obviously ceremonial in character we
are not always clear. No Christian, to be sure, would suggest that we return to
animal sacrifice or to the dietary laws of Judaism. But what about tithing?
Church boards recommend it. And many Christians have adopted the tithe as an
ideal by which to measure their giving. Indeed, there are those who look upon
the tithe not as a goal or ideal, but as a binding obligation, and confidently
expect — for so their pastor may have assured them (basing himself, no doubt, on
Mal. 3:6-12) — that if only they are faithful in this regard their financial
affairs will prosper. (I once knew such a man well and shall never forget his
agonized perplexity when he lost everything he had.)
“This is to say that there are Christians who regard the law of the
tithe . . . as in some way normative — a thing they would never dream of doing
in the case, say, of the laws regarding clean and unclean [etc.] . . . also
found in Leviticus. No criticism of tithers is intended, but rather praise of
their good stewardship. But why is one ritual obligation to be regarded as
having normative authority, and not others? (The Authority of the Old
Testament [Baker, 1975], pp. 53-54).
Mitchell*s article, “Tithing, Yes!”
(Presbyterian Guardian, Oct., 1978, pp. 6-7) provides an example of the
utter inconsistency of the tithing position. He confidently asserts that tithing
“is really the key that unlocks our full enjoyment of God*s bounty” (p.6). The crux of his argument
is that there are two examples of tithing in the Old Testament before the Mosaic
tithing-system was instituted. Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek (Gen.14:20).
From this account in Gen.14 he concludes:
“If Abraham, the father of the faithful, readily gave a tenth of all he
had gained to Melchizedek, how much more should we give tithes to our great high
priest, Jesus Christ, ‘a high priest forever of the order of Melchizedek’”? (p.
In reply to this
argument, several things must be noted. First, tithing was commonly
practiced, both politically and religiously, in the Ancient Near East (Verhoef,
p.116). Thus, we must ask, did Abraham tithe out of contemporary custom or
revealed commandment (cf. Jack J. Peterson, “Tithing, No!” Presbyterian
Guardian, Oct. 1978, pp.8-9 Verhoef, p.122).
Abraham tithed only of the booty taken in the conflict to rescue Lot, and “we do
not have any evidence whatsoever that he ever repeated this contribution, or
even that he gave his tithe as a general practice” (Verhoef,
it is precarious to enforce Christian duty based on the actions of Abraham and
Jacob, for “the tithing of patriarchs does not have normative significance”
(Verhoef, p.1 22).
Heb.7:1 -10, which alludes to Abraham*s tithe to Melchizedek,
“. . . reveals that the author*s point is not to the requirement of
paying a tithe, but the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek, because
the Levites (who later received tithes) paid tithes to Melchizedek through their
forefather Abraham” (Peterson, p. 9).
“. . . if a command for tithing for new covenant Christians is to be
based on the example of Abraham and Jacob, it rests on questionable ground”
But the futility
of Mitchell*s position is revealed
even more in the concessions he makes when dealing with the New Testament data.
On the one hand, he tries to link 1 Cor.16:2 with tithing by
“Paul seems clearly to be assuming that his readers already know about
regular proportionate giving — tithing, in other words” (p.7).
But then he
turns around and admits the following two points which destroy the doctrine of
1. “But Paul does not require any fixed percentage. It is to be
proportioned in accord with the degree of prosperity God has given”
2. “For the person on fixed income in this time of raging inflation, it
is extra hard to be too dogmatic. Let him give as he is able, but he should
feel no guilt if he cannot manage a full tithe — the Lord has not seen
fit to prosper him as much as others” (p. 7. emphasis mine).
Thus, in the
final analysis, Mitchell concedes that ten percent tithing is not a binding law
upon the Christian conscience. No fixed percentage is required in the New
Testament, and no guilt is to be incurred if one is not able to tithe. In light
of these concessions, his opening remark that ten percent tithing is “the key
that unlocks our full enjoyment of God*s bounty” is void of real
Dr. R.C. Sproul,
probably one of the most respected contemporary Reformed theologians, also tries
to defend tithing with little success (“What About Tithing?,” Tabletalk,
Vol. 3, No.5, p.10). His explicit admission that the New Testament is silent
about tithing nullifies his assertion that the ten percent principle is the
binding starting point for believers. How can men with such keen minds impose
tithing as law” when they openly concede the following points?
“Nowhere does the New Testament specifically require tithing for
Christians . . . The New Testament does not give us a specific instruction about
tithing . . . we have no specific guideline in the New Testament of percentages”
After seeing the
futility of trying to find tithing in the New Testament. they will with equal
dogmatism turn around and impose this as something God
“So the least the Christian should be doing with respect to financing
the kingdom of God is offering his ten percent to God . . . ninety-five percent
of professing Christians are stealing from the kingdom of God [by not tithing] .
. . I used to be of the opinion that it was a waste of time to talk about
tithing . . . I have found countless individuals who, after having become aware,
have taken steps immediately to put their financial houses in order and to begin
to pay their dues to the Kingdom of God” (Sproul, p. 10; emphasis
This text is
probably quoted the most as a proof text for the obligation of tithing. Usually
only verse l0 is quoted:
full tithes 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 on you an overflowing
Verhoef says in regard to this context:
“[The] idea of tithing as a compulsory contribution is, generally,
segregated from the many other aspects of Israel*s system of giving . . . In verse 8
Israel is remonstrated with because they are robbing God in connection with
“tithes and offerings,” These two concepts must not be segregated, for in
conjunction they comprise the main substance of Israel*s material obligation towards the
maintenance of the temple staff of priests and Levites . . . . It is especially
in connection with this “offering” . . . that our hermeneutical consideration of
tithing, as a compulsory contribution in the Christian Church, should be
concerned. If the one is deemed to be an obligation, then the same must apply to
the other one.
“It is therefore clear that the [‘offering*] with its specific elements such as the
breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the ram of ordination, would not be
very appropriate as an obligatory contribution in the New Testament dispensation
. . . The question now arises whether it would be feasible to isolate the
tithing as one form of contribution within the context of the whole system and
apply that to the Christian Church, with deliberate exclusion of other elements,
such as the [‘offering’]? Would this be a valid and justified hermeneutical
approach to Scripture?” (pp.123-125).
If we are honest
with this text in Malachi; we must certainly admit that the two elements of
“tithes and offerings,” which Israel withheld and thereby “robbed” God, “are
part and parcel of the ceremonial law” which was set aside by Christ (Peterson,
p.8; of. Verhoef, pp.122-123).
Sad to say, many
preachers have used Mal. 3:10 as a springboard to scold their flocks for not
tithing, to bring about guilt-feelings for not “putting God to the test,” and to
promise untold blessings to those who faithfully tithe. But this approach misses
entirely the motivation for giving found in the New Testament — a love to Christ
which is not measured in terms of percentage points, but in terms of sacrificial
giving (1 John 3:16; 4:19).
then, is not the reference point for giving under the New Covenant, what is? Let
us turn to the New Testament for our answer.
Covenant Revelation Examined
believes that “the testimony of the New Testament” is “the ultimate and final
test” (p.125). Confusion is sure to abound if we do not allow the law of Christ
to inform our consciences concerning our duties. This is where those who
advocate tithing have gone astray: they are not satisfied to let the New
Testament statements regarding giving settle the question.
I submit that
the New Testament clearly reveals that (1) consistent, proportionate, and
sacrificial giving out of love for Christ is required under the New Covenant;
and (2) ten percent tithing is not given as a reference point, or as a basic
minimum, for the brethren. Indeed, we shall see that, although the New Testament
is indeed silent about tithing, it is loud and clear concerning principles of
Gal.5:13 — “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do
not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but by love serve one
another” (The New King James Bible, New Testament [Thomas Nelson,
Beginning with a
most basic perspective, we learn from this text that Christians, who have been
freed from the elements of the world (GaI. 4:9-l0, 5:1; Col. 2:20-22), possess a
liberty which they are to use in serving others, not in fulfilling their
own lusts. The whole of the Christian life is portrayed as servanthood,
which parallels the earthly ministry of Christ (Matt. 20:22-28; John 13:14-17).
Thus, those in union with Christ are to “no longer live for themselves, but for
Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15). This service is to
be extended to all men as we have opportunity, but especially to those in the
household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
When we approach
the topic of Christian giving, then, we must keep in mind that our sacrificial
service must arise in thankful response to the facts that “God so loved the
world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16), and that Christ loved us
and gave Himself for us (GaI. 2:20). Therefore, we must first give
ourselves to the Lord and then to our neighbors (2 Cor. 8:5;
I think you will
agree with me that our churches today are in need of fresh supplies of
self-denying love among the brethren, which will then be a means of
demonstrating to the world that we are indeed Christ*s disciples (John
Toward the Needs of Others
— “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the
grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of
affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded to the
riches of their liberality” (The New King James Bible, hereafter
Much of the data
in the New Testament about giving relates to what we might call “special”
situations of need. Paul*s
collection from the Gentile churches for the needy brethren at Jerusalem was a
major project on the apostle*s part
(cf. Keith F. Nickle, The Collection — A Study in Paul*s Strategy [Allenson,
1966], Studies in Biblical Theology, No. 48).
It is clear from
2 Cor. 8 and 9 that in this special collection the ten percent tithe was not the
underlying principle of determining the amount to be given. Rather, it was “according to their ability, yes, and beyond their
ability, they were freely willing . . . . So let each one give as he purposes in
his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful
giver” (2 Cor. 8:3; 9:7, NKJB). Ronald J. Sider says concerning this
“The Macedonians were extremely poor. Apparently they faced
particularly severe financial difficulties just when Paul asked for a generous
offering (2 Cor. 8:2). But they still gave beyond their means! No hint here of a
mechanical 10 per cent for pauper and millionaire. Giving as much as you can is
the Pauline pattern (Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger: A Biblical
Study [IVP, 1917], p. l07).”
spirit manifested among the brethren in the Book of Acts further reveals the
governing principles that motivated the post-Pentecost church.
Acts2:44-45 — “And all who believed were
together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods.
and divided them among all, as anyone had need”
passage it is clear that from the very outset of Christ*s outpouring of the Spirit on the church,
an obvious mutual concern came to expression in concrete deeds of sharing. The
giving in this context was not determined by percentage points, but by the
discernment of a need and an appropriate voluntary response (cf. Acts 4:35).
“The best way to describe their practice is to speak of unlimited
liability and total availability. Their sharing was not superficial or
occasional. Regularly and repeatedly, ‘they sold their possessions and goods and
distributed them to all, as any had need.’ If the need was greater than
current cash reserves, they sold property. They simply gave until the needs were
met. The needs of the sister and brother, not legal property rights or future
financial security, were decisive (p.101).
It is very
disconcerting to find Charles Hodge asserting that this giving spirit among the
early Christians was misguided and revealed an “excess of love over knowledge”
(quoted by Gordon H. Clark, 1 Corinthians — A Contemporary Commentary
[Pres. & Ref., 1975], p.316). I think it is apparent that these voluntary
acts of giving evidenced the Spirit*s power, not imbalanced actions (cf. Acts
5:3-4 — “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan
filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit arid keep back part of the price of
the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was
sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your
heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (NKJB).
reveals (1) that Ananias was under no compulsion to sell his property; (2) that
after selling it, he was not obligated to give any of the resulting money to the
apostles; (3) that there were no fixed percentage points which determined how
much had to be given, if the person wished to give; and (4) that it was up to
each person to voluntarily determine in his heart before God how much money
would be given (Cf. Sider, p. 100).
11:28-30 — “And one of them, named Agabus. stood
up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout
all the world, which also came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the
disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the
brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the
hands of Barnabas and Saul” (NKJB).
Here again, the
same pattern emerges: (1) a need is discerned (v.28); (2) the brethren respond
concretely with funds (v.29); and (3) the principle of giving was “each
according to his ability” (v.29).
4. Acts 20:33-35 — “I have coveted no
one*s silver or gold
or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my
necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by
laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of
the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to
here that in fulfilling his gospel ministry he was not above hard manual labor,
being a tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:3). But the matter of interest here is what
Paul did with part of his earnings. He not only supported himself. but freely
gave to the needs of those who were with him. The fruits of hard work were used
by Paul to “help the weak.” Hence, we can see that Paul practiced what he
preached when he admonished the Ephesians:
“Let him who
stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is
good, that he may have something to give to him who has need” (4:28; NKJB).
It is our duty
to specifically use some of the fruits of our labor — proportionately as God has
prospered us — to help others in need. This is a rebuke to us, for we tend to
view our paychecks as “ours,” and we scarcely give any consideration to how we
might minister to others in need as the apostle instructs us to do. It would
seem to me that tithing actually distracts from the fulfillment of Eph.4:28, for
people tend to think that by giving ten percent of their income, their duty to
give has ended, when in fact it may have just begun.
A word must be
said about Matt.23:23 — “You pay tithe of mint and
anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law . . .
These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
A.W. Pink boldly
asserts that in this text “Christ Himself has placed His approval and set His
imprimatur upon the tithe” (Tithing [Reiner Pub., n.d.], p.12). However,
Pink has not done justice to the fact that Jesus during His earthly ministry
“under law” approved of many Old Covenant ceremonies which are not binding in
the New Covenant. Christ submitted to circumcision, but Paul reveals that under
the New Covenant this ordinance is “nothing” (Gal.5:6).
told the healed man to go and show himself to the priest. It was right at that
point in redemptive history for the man to perform that action, but we do not
believe Christ put His imprimatur on that duty as something binding upon the
church. While the Old Covenant was still in force, Christ fully upheld its
sanctions. But the revealed practice of the New Covenant community does
not indicate that tithing was the principle by which they were guided in their
giving. The Old Testament conscience was commanded to tithe, upon pain of
death. The New Testament conscience is free to give all that we are and
have to Him who has redeemed us.
Teaching of Cor. 15:2
John J. Mitchell
believes that tithing is taught in this passage (“Tithing, Yes!,”
H. Clark believes that v. 2 teaches the practice of weekly contributions to a
central church treasury (1 Corinthians, p. 317). However, close examination of
the text reveals some considerations which call into question these traditional
These Pauline instructions refer to a special
collection for the needs at Jerusalem.
“The instructions which Paul wrote in 1 Cor.16:1 ff. do not contradict
this emphasis [on voluntary giving]. He was not establishing a rigid technique
which was intended to control their participation. Rather he was recommending to
them measures which he knew, from his experience with the Galatian Christians,
would facilitate their contributing. The instructions were intended to be a
means to help them plan wisely and in advance, so that when the time came to
accumulate the individual contributions for transportation to Jerusalem, no one
would have to decimate the funds necessary for his own subsistence in order to
participate. By using the phrase ‘as he may prosper,’ Paul was clearly leaving
the decision as to the extent of their participation up to them” (Nickle,
instructions relate to a special, one-time, collection for the specific
needs of far away brethren, is it valid to use this text as regulative for
general giving to the local church? Thus, John Gill observes the
restricted time-span of this collection:
Upon some one first day of the week, or more, if there was a necessity
for it, until the collection was finished . . . . [it] is not the apostle*s intention that a collection should be
made every first day [for] this was designed for a certain time, and on a
certain account (Exposition of the New Testament, on 1
Pauline principle forgiving is proportionate, not percentage-oriented (i.e.,
tithing). R.C.H. Lenski made this observation:
“‘. . . as he may prosper’ (RV) At no time does he propose the
old Jewish system of tithing to the churches under his care” (quoted by Geoffrey
B. Wilson, 1 Corinthians — A Digest of Reformed Comment [Banner of Truth,
1971]. p. 244).
summarizes the New Testament data by saying:
"It must. therefore, be evident that references pertaining to the
ceremonial law, such as tithing, do not have normative application in terms of
the new covenant . . . [tithing is] nowhere required in the New Testament as an
obligatory contribution" (p.126).
Pauline Greek phrase in 1 Cor. 15:2, par*
heauto, refers to storing up funds at home until Paul came, not
to a weekly bringing of money to church gatherings.
Evidence from the lexicons:
J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 477
— “with the dative, pare indicates that something is or is done in the immediate
vicinity of someone . . . b. with, i.e. in one*s house, in one*s town, in one*s society par*heauto, at
his home, 1 Cor. 16:2.”
A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott*s Greek-English Lexicon
(London, 1872), p.519 — “par* heauto, at
one*s home; Latin; Apud
Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon ofthe New Testament,
p. 615 — “with the dative (nearly always of the person) it denotes nearness in
space . . . in some one*s house,
city, company, etc. — a. house: aristan Lk.11:37 . . . So probably
also ekastos par* heauto ‘each
one at home,* 1 Cor.16:2 (cf. Philo,
Cher.48 par*heautois, Leg. ad Gai
Reflections of others on this aspect of the verse:
Chrysostom, Homily 43 on 1 Cor.: “Paul says, Let each lay by him
in store, not, Let him bring it to the church, lest one might feel ashamed of
offering a small sum” (quoted by Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to
Sunday, p.94, note 17).
Keith Nickle — “On the first day of the week each of them was to set
aside at home as much as he could afford so that the money would be ready when
Paul arrived” (p.15).
F.W. Grosheide — “The collection must take place on the first day of
the week, not in the gatherings of the church. . . but in the homes”
Brief aan De Kerk Te Korinth [J.H. Kok, 1q31, pp.211-212; cf. Grosheide,
Ba Eerste Brief aan Be Kerk To Korinthe [J.H. Kok, 19511, p.435; Geoffrey B.
Wilson, 1 Corinthians, p. 244).
Samuele Bacchiocchi — “Observe first of all that there is nothing in
the text that suggests public assemblies, inasmuch as the setting aside of funds
was to be done ‘by himself — par* heauto.* This phrase implies, as stated by A.P.
Stanley, ‘that the collection was to be made individually and in private*” (From Sabbath to Sunday, p.
R.C.H. Lenski — “Each member is to keep the growing amount ‘by
him,* par heauto, in
his home, and is not to deposit with the church at once” (quoted by Bacchiocchi,
p.93. note 13).
answer to an objection:
“It is objected that the directive ‘by himself or at his own house* has no sense, since this would require a
later collection of money and this is precisely what Paul wanted to avoid (1
Cor. 16:2). The objection is, however, unfounded since the verb that
follows, namely storing up or treasuring up* clearly implies that the money was to be
treasured up in each individual*s
house until the Apostle came for it. At that time the collection of what had
been stored up could be quickly arranged . . . The Apostle was desirous to avoid
embarrassment both to the givers and the collectors when finding that they 'were
not ready' (2 Cor. 9:4) for the offering. To avoid such problems in this
instance he recommends both a time — the first day of the week — and a place —
one*s home” (Bacchiocchi, pp. 93,
basic teaching of 1 Cor. 15:2, then, can be summarized as
“The plan then is proposed not to enhance Sunday worship by the
offering of gifts but to ensure a substantial and efficient collection upon his
arrival. Four characteristics can be identified in the plan. The offering was to
be laid aside periodically (“on the first day of the week”), personally (“each
of you”), privately (“by himself in store”), and proportionately (“as he may
prosper”) [Bacchiocchi, p.100].
In the first
days of the church, the money given by the brethren was brought to the apostles,
and then distributed to those in need (Acts 4:31; cf. 11:29-30). There, was then
a shift to the diaconate who watched over the physical/material needs of the
church (Acts 6:2). The principle, then, is clear that the money each believer
determines to give should, in some way, be collected and properly handled by the
leadership of the church. Justin Martyr gave this simple description of what
took place in his day (circa 150 A.D.):
“When our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and
the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his
ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to
each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to
those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to
do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited
with the president, who succors [helps] the orphans and widows, and those who,
through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds,
and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are
in need” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Chap. LXVII,
Testament reveals that Christians are to be a giving people. The pattern for
giving is seen to be regular, proportionate, and sacrificial. Tithing is simply
not a reference point for giving now that the old order has passed away. The
crucial question, then, is this: are we going to be guided by the New Testament
principles for giving, or are we going to bring in an element from a by-gone era
— tithing — and impose it on people?
Or, to put it
another way, are we willing to override the non-tithing perspective of the New
Covenant by the tithing perspective of the old covenant? The New Testament is
not silent on this matter. It teaches that giving from the heart is no
longer related to the ten percent principle — and even those who impose tithing
on Christians freely admit that “nowhere does the New Testament specifically
require tithing for Christians” (Sproul, p.101. Yet, they say, if Christians do
not tithe they are “stealing from the kingdom of God” (Sproul,
A commitment to
sound hermeneutics, and honesty with the New Testament revelation demands that
we avoid binding the Christian conscience to tithing. Dr. Verhoef has, with
great sensitivity, put his fingeron the crux of this issue:
“[Tithing] has lost its significance as a schema of giving under the
new covenant. In this respect we have both continuity and discontinuity. The
continuity consists in the principle of giving, and the discontinuity [consists]
in the obligation of giving in accordance to the schema of tithes” (p.
Implications of the Principles of New Testament Giving
preachers who teach that Christians must tithe or commit sin. In light of
the fact that Christ and His apostles nowhere specify that ten percent tithing
is required of Christians, it is wrong for preachers to impose tithing upon the
conscience. New Covenant giving must be a cheerful response of the heart to the
needs of Christ*s kingdom. It is
obvious that the early Christians did not determine their giving with reference
to the tithe, and yet the church advanced and the brethren were cared for
abundantly. How can we account for this? Simply by observing that the love of
Christ constrained those early brethren to practice the principle Christ
enunciated, “freely you received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8).
It is clear that
Old Testament tithing was introduced and enforced in the later church as a
result of institutionalization and church-state union. Thus, we should not be
hoodwinked into thinking that without tithing the church will fold up for lack
of funds. The revealed will of Christ is that Christians are to give
proportionately and sacrificially, and that as these principles are properly
apprehended Christ*s kingdom will be
therefore, that the only proper thing for preachers to do is to set before the
people these clear responsibilities disclosed in the New Testament, and press
upon the flock their duty to give abundantly in response to the example of
Christ (2 Cor. 8:9). Love to the Saviour, not slavish adherence to certain
percentage points, must guide Christian giving (John 14:15: 15:10). To go beyond
this perspective and require a tithe which Christ has nowhere required, is to
entirely miss the genius of New Covenant giving which brings blessing, not
For those who have been faithfully tithing. If
you have been taught that tithing was required, and have come to see that it is
not, then you are to be commended for faithfully giving in accordance with how
your conscience was instructed. However, since tithing is not the standard for
Christian giving, you should evaluate your financial situation in light of the
principle, “according as God has prospered you,” and see if perhaps you cannot
elevate your giving to more than ten percent.
Of course, there
is nothing wrong with deciding that ten percent is the right amount for you to
give, but it must always be kept in mind that under the New Covenant sin is not
incurred by giving more or less than ten percent, if your conscience is clear
before the principles we have seen outlined in the New Testament. The
overarching New Covenant principle is found in Acts 11:29 — “and in the proportion that any of the disciples had
Christians who have been greatly prospered by God. No doubt some wealthy
professing Christians have felt like they can get God off their backs by writing
out a check for ten percent of their income. But “should we congratulate the
Christian millionaire who tithes faithfully?” (Sider, p.172). Not necessarily.
Thinking that strict adherence to the ten percent principle fulfills one*s responsibility before God, as we have
seen, is an entirely mistaken, notion. Perhaps, then, if wealthy Christians
examined their giving before the New Testament principles, they would conclude
that they should be giving twenty to fifty percent of their earning to
Christ*s kingdom. The point is
simply this: no Christian should feel content in giving ten percent in a rote
fashion. Such an approach does not square with the spontaneous and sacrificial
giving found in the experience of the early church.
Christians who are economically strained. “Poor” Christians existed in the
days of the early church. Yet even of these brethren, Paul says, “their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their
liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their
ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:2-3). In the eyes of
Jesus, the widow who placed her penny in the treasury “put in more than all the contributors . . . for they all put in out
of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she
hadto live on” (Mark 12:41-44). Christians who are living carefully
on minimum incomes should not feel guilty if they cannot give ten percent (which
is not Christ*s standard anyway),
but they will be blessed in giving what they can, even sacrificially as did the
widow, in responding to the needs of Christ*s kingdom.
our understanding of how we are to discover our duties before God and His
Word. As we noted earlier, the question of whether or not tithing is valid
ultimately relates to what we conceive the relationship of the Old and New
Testaments to be. Since tithing is admittedly not revealed in the New Testament,
it can only be derived from the Old. Are we committed to arriving at the
requirement of proportionate giving by viewing the New Testament statements to
be normative, or will we import an Old Covenant scheme into the New Covenant,
and wrongly impose it on believers? It is not as though the New Testament is
open-ended about tithing; rather, the New Testament teaches something entirely
different than tithing (keeping in mind, of course, the continuity of the giving
concept in both Testaments). Proportionate giving, not tithing, is revealed as
New Covenant duty.
Thus, to push
tithing into the New Covenant is not right, creates confusion, puts people in
bondage to something which is not required of them, and misses the beauty of
spontaneous, sacrificial giving which flows out of love to
Although it is
not my purpose here to expound further on the implications flowing from the
truth that New Covenant revelation must determine Christian duty, I will suggest
that the same principles that apply to tithing also apply to infant baptism,
Sabbath-keeping, and the idea that we should strive to re-establish Old Covenant
laws in contemporary societies (cf. my “Is
There A ‘Covenant of Grace*?,” Autumn, 1977, Baptist Reformation Review, pp.46-51;
“This Is My Beloved Son Hear Him: A Study of the Development of
Law in the History of Redemption,” Winter, 1978, Baptist Reformation
Review, pp. 42-50).
theology reveals a marked tendency to be less than satisfied with Christ*s revelation as normative and
determinative in matters of faith and practice, and to import shadowy elements
of the Old Covenant age into the new age (cf. O.R. Johnston, “The Puritan Use
of the Old Testament,” The Evangelical Quarterly, 3:1
I close with Dr.
Verhoef*s remarks which bring
together the elements we have sought to unfold in this article:
[Brandenburg] says, is in every respect a pointer to, and a prophecy of, the new
order of life, which only Christ can inaugurate. The law declares one day out of
seven to be holy unto the Lord — the Spirit sanctities all seven of them. The
law sets apart one tribe out of twelve to serve as priests — the Spirit declares
the whole congregation to be priests (1 Pet. 2:9). The law demands a tenth part
of the possessions — the Spirit translates us to become God*s possession with all that we have for
one hundred percent (p. 121).