Tithing in the New Testament

For something that occupies so much time in many pulpits and on Christian radio talk-shows, you would expect the New Testament to have a lot to say on the subject of Tithing. It is not enough to say that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money... He did! But check out the context of what He was talking about. Unless it has to do with a tithe (the religiously mandated ten percent), which wasn't even money in temple times unless converted by the giver for easier traveling, it's not talking about the same thing. It's also not enough to raise many other New Testament passages that speak about giving. Unless they are contextually in regards to the tithe, they are also not about tithing.

In fact, the New Testament only speaks about the tithe THREE times...

Matthew 23:23 (also Luke 11:42) "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.

It becomes extremely important to understand what is and isn't being taught by this passage as it is often used to defend tithing in today's churches.

While some argue that tithing is an Old Testament principle, the executive officer said that Jesus never taught against it, pointing out that in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said He came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Wilkerson added that Jesus actually affirms the practice of tithing in Matthew 23:23 while warning not to neglect the practice of "justice, mercy and faithfulness" [NASB]. (Jack Wilkerson, vice president of business and finance for the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, from an article entitled Tithing: What should the church teach its members about giving? Baptist Press News, July 11, 2003)

Wilkerson's claims are not unique to him or a few others in the Southern Baptist Convention. He, as do others, use Jesus' claim that he didn't come to abolish the Law but rather to fulfill it, as an introduction to their following statement that Jesus "affirms the practice of tithing." Unless Wilkerson actually believes that all of Mosaic Law is still in effect in New Testament times, he has to have a better understanding of that passage. A person can't use it to say that one piece of the Law is still in place and then say that other aspects are not. If Jesus' claim was meant to say all the Law was still in place, then the fact that some is not (including temple sacrifices, etc.) would make it a false claim. Again, Wilkerson and other defenders of this view cannot have it both ways. The truth of Jesus words comes with emphasis on His fulfillment of the Law, which we examined in our earlier section, "Is all the Law still in effect?" When the Law, in any or all aspects, was fulfilled in Jesus it was completed and no longer necessary. This is not arbitrary abolishment (or for that matter, arbitrary retention either).

It remains to be seen if our conclusions, from Matthew 23, support this idea that that Jesus was affirming the tithe for today's church.


  • Jesus was speaking directly to those who were still under the Law including the scribes and Pharisees. This was before Jesus' death and resurrection, so the Law was not yet fulfilled and all Israelites were still mandated to uphold every aspect of the Law. Notice the tithe was still in terms of the increase of grown things, specifically cultivated items (crops).

  • Jesus was telling these Israelite religious leaders that they had missed the point of the Law and had descended into a hollow legalistic ritual rather than seeing the intent of the Law. Part of Jesus' fulfillment of the Law was through His putting the Law into proper perspective, including that it was given as a schoolmaster to bring people to Christ (see Galatians 3:24-25) and to show the ungodly what sin is (contrast Romans 7:7 and Jesus' words in John 4:16-18 or Matthew 19:17-22).

  • Merely showing that Jesus wanted these Israelites to uphold the Law -- while it was still in effect -- does not place a requirement on the church to follow. Jesus offered sacrifices at the temple as well and fulfilled all the required elements of the Law, but this does not mean that all those practices of the Law should be carried into the church either. Again, it is improper Biblical interpretation to arbitrarily take one part and leave others, without clear Biblical instruction or precedence.

  • It's interesting to note that Jesus looked on the tithe as a lesser part of the Law, calling justice, mercy, and faithfulness more important. Even today this is a stark contrast to the way many churches hold the tithe as an extremely important (and perhaps most important) part of their professed worship.


The second passage referencing the tithe in the New Testament comes from Luke...

Luke 18:11-12 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

When we consider that this passage is in regards to a Pharisee our conclusions shouldn't come as a surprise.


  • This passage records the words of another self-righteous person, still under the Law of Moses, who looked to his deeds as gaining favor from God. Like the other Pharisees, he was missing the point. Part of the problem of the mandated giving and ritual of the law was that people often looked only to the act, rather than considering the motivation of their act. Even today, many people point to the tithe as fulfilling their "obligation," rather than considering their motivation and coming to a complete understanding of Christian giving.

  • Notice also the Pharisee's claim to be tithing "all I get." The implication was that He was a priest or Levite as they were the only ones who gave from what they were given. They alone were required to give a tenth of all they got to the temple storeroom, unlike the common citizen of Israel. KJV and NKJV translate Luke 18:12 to say "all I possess" and are misleading both as to the meaning of the Greek, which points to increase, and also as to the mandated practice of the Law which was only dealing with increase. In the case of a Levite or priest though, 100% of what was given to him was considered increase, so giving 10% of all to the storeroom was necessary.

  • Regardless of this Pharisee's actions concerning the tithe, these are the actions of a person Jesus said was not justified (Luke 18:14). They should never become a model for one who is justified.


The final reference to the tithe in the New Testament comes from Hebrews 7:1-28. We cannot merely refer to one or two verses from this passage, as its' entirety is necessary for context. For reasons of brevity we have not included this longer passage here. Do take the time to read and study the entire chapter on your own.


  • This entire passage in Hebrews was to show the deficiency of the Levitical priesthood (Law) and the need of a spiritual priesthood forever in Jesus (grace). In addition, nowhere does it say that Abraham was following a command to give a tithe, even as the Old Testament passage does not.

  • If -- and this is a big "if" -- this passage could be shown to teach the need of a tithe, it would be in the example of Abraham (refer back to the earlier section on Abraham). As for the "if", the passage implies that the tithe (of faith) was already paid in a spiritual sense for subsequent generations. With out a doubt, the focus of the passage was not on tithing but on the greatness of Jesus' eternal priesthood, even as Melchizedek (as a pre-incarnate appearance or at least a type of Jesus) was far greater than the earthly priests of the Law. Nowhere does this passage provide a basis for a continuation of the Law's tithe into the church. In fact, it could be said that it points out gifts (i.e. freewill offerings) given to God are greater than any Law-bound tithe.

  • This passage clearly states that the former regulation of the Law has been set aside through Jesus...

    Hebrews 7:18-19 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.


While it may appear to be an argument from silence, take note that Jesus -- who perfectly fulfilled all aspects of the Law -- is never recorded as having paid a tithe. The reason is rooted in what the tithe was. Jesus did not grow crops, cultivate fruit trees, or raise sheep or goats. For this reason He would have had no requirement to tithe, as He had no increase of things grown. The same would have been true for hosts of city dwellers in Jesus' day, who as workmen and laborers were too poor to own lands outside the city. They worked day-by-day to be able to buy their food and sacrificial animals, not having the means to grow either, so there was no mandate for them to tithe. Someone that didn't tithe because of this was in no way less spiritual than those who were required to tithe. Both were fulfilling the Law. If Jesus had taken things given to Him and ceremonially offered them as a tithe, it would have been an act of deception -- the Law required it to be of the increase of your grown things.