Q&A: Tithing

Tithing

Question

According to the Bible we are to give our tithes to the service of the Lord. Normanlly, we do so through the church. But recently a sister asked me if she could give her tithes directly to a really extremly poor family which really needed the money. Now, she might pay it to the church and tell the church about this poor family, but what if she still wanted to pay it herself to the poor family?

Answer

The Bible has varying instructions regarding the tithe (see below). Generally, it was to be given to the Lord via the Levites. The modern application of this is generally thought to be that Christians ought to give their tithes to the church (though some would include other ordained ministries such as missionaries or parachurch organizations). In the Old Testament, many alms for the poor were above and beyond the tithe (e.g. Exod. 23:10-11; Lev. 19:9-10; 25:35-37; Deut. 15:7-11; 24:12-15). The tithe had many purposes, including: to support the priesthood (Num. 18:21-32; Deut. 14:28-29); to honor God in sacrifice and enjoyment (Lev. 27:31; Num. 18:26-28; Deut. 14:22-26); and to feed the aliens, widows and orphans (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12).

It is sometimes argued that the tithe is no longer applicable in the New Testament era, but that the rule of giving generously and cheerfully now applies (see "New Testament Tithe" below). However, the New Testament nowhere revokes the command to tithe, and Jesus himself affirms it (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42; however see, "as long as you live in your land," Deut 12:19). Moreover, the passage generally used to support this argument (2 Cor. 9:7), does not apply to tithes, but to a special gift for the needy (however see, "Canceled the written code - Colossians 2:14" below). Of course, the New Testament also affirms the need to care for the poor apart from using the tithe (Matt. 6:3-4; 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 14:13; 18:22; 19:8; Gal. 2:10; Jam. 2:1-17).

In short, Christians have obligations both to tithe (free-will offering is probably better term) and to care for the poor. The Bible does not seem to warrant giving to the poor in place of tithing, or to warrant tithing in place of giving to the poor.

Related References:

The Old Testament Tithe?
The New Testament Tithe?
Giving as a Part of Worship?
Canceled the written code - Colossians 2:14

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.