7. Is giving 10% really an eternal principle

Why do we take one injunction from the Law period, but not others? Malachi, for instance, also states that God’s people were under a curse for offering diseased animals, intermarrying with people from races which practice other religions, and for getting divorced, but we seldom hear these points being preached from Malachi. The reason is that many people believe that the giving of 10% is an eternal principle.

Giving itself is unquestionably an eternal principle, but is 10% always the ideal figure? As we’ve just seen, the evidence for this is very scanty. There is no direct teaching on this, or clear record that anyone ever tithed on their income either pre- or post-Law. And Jesus made it clear that the moral standards of the New Covenant were in fact much higher than that of the Old (e.g. Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 1 John 3:15); the standards of the Old were inadequately below God’s holy and righteous standards.

Consequently, in the New Testament, understanding of the Covenant that believers have with God and each other and His grace in their lives led the early believers to love and unity, and voluntary sharing with and giving to one other. After the Day of Pentecost, we see an immediate change in their giving patterns, with a large range of amounts (of finances and material possessions) given, even up to 100%. No longer was it simply tithes and offerings, but they voluntarily shared all that they had (Acts 2:39-47, 4:31-35). They recognized the truth that 100% of their resources were his, not just 10%. They are a model for us, flowing through the power of the Holy Spirit and their newly-imparted divine natures.

So if anything, the 10% figure should be a starting point, not an ideal. However the New Testament makes it clear that our giving is acceptable according to what we have, not according to what we don’t have, and that God’s desire is not that some might be hard-pressed while others are relieved, but that we may all be able to supply each others’ needs in turn as we have plenty, so that there may be equality (2 Cor 8:12-15).

In the New Testament, we see a large range of amounts (of finances and material possessions) given, even up to 100%. The early church was a model for us, through the power of the Holy Spirit and their newly-imparted divine natures. Understanding of the Covenant that believers have with God and each other and His grace in their lives led them to love and unity, and voluntary sharing with and giving to one other. They recognized the truth that 100% of their resources were his, not just 10%. After the Day of Pentecost, we see an immediate change in their giving patterns. No longer was it simply tithes and offerings, but they voluntarily shared all that they had (Acts 2:39-47, 4:31-35).

Even during the Law period, the 10% figure was not applied consistently either:

  • The amount of 10% was only required of certain types of income, and never of monetary income (see next section below).

  • Some types of income was not tithed on at all.

  • For some increase (e.g. the spoils of war) only .5% was required.

  • If a person wished to pay money in place of tithing an animal, they had to pay 12%, not 10%.

Then why did Abraham choose to give 10% of the spoils of war? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but here is a possible answer. Historically, the giving of a ‘Royal Tithe’ to kings of produce and the spoils of war was already a well-established practice in the Ancient Near East (refer to 1 Sam 8:15-17), and was basically a form of taxation1. It’s possible that Jacob was also influenced by the culture around him in his vow to give 10% to his own ‘king’. So rather than reflecting that 10% is an eternal principle, it could well instead reflect that tax is a universal phenomenon! and that one-tenth is simply the most practical figure to work with given that we have ten fingers and ten toes(!) especially in largely illiterate societies as in the past.

However, the main point is that we cannot state with any certainty why they both chose this figure, therefore no conclusions can be drawn from their examples. And even if the giving of 10% is an eternal principle, then there is still no curse if we do not do it, as we are living on the other side of the cross.

For this reason, if someone freely chooses to give exactly 10% to their local church, I would recommend NOT calling it a tithe, as that is a loaded term that has a variety of different meanings to different people. It may cloud the true issue, and the person’s motives in giving freely. So why not call it what it really is? – a freewill offering.

1 For further reading, I recommend these portions of Jim Peacock’s article: http://www.cultwatch.com/tithing.html#35ade and http://www.cultwatch.com/tithing.html#44old plus Dr Russ Kelly’s website Should the Church teach tithing?, available at: http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/id12.html.


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© Julie Groves (2010), P O Box 2568, Tauranga, New Zealand