The Old Testament Model of Tithing and Christians Today
Does the Old Testament model of tithing still apply to Christians today, since it was part of the old covenant?
I have mixed feelings on tithing. I detest legalism. I certainly don’t want to pour new wine into old wineskins, imposing superseded first covenant restrictions on Christians. However, the fact is that every New Testament example of giving goes beyond the tithe. This means that none falls short of it. The strongest arguments made against tithing today are “law versus grace.” But does being under grace mean we should stop doing all that was done under the law.
I’m a strong believer in the new covenant’s superiority over the old (Romans 7; 2 Corinthians 3; Hebrews 8). On the other hand, I believe there’s ongoing value to certain aspects of the old covenant. The model of paying back to God the firstfruits (tithing) and giving freewill offerings beyond that is among those.
Because we are never told that tithing has been superseded, and because Jesus directly affirmed it (Matthew 23:23) and prominent church fathers taught it as a requirement for Christian living, it seems to me the burden of proof falls on those who say tithing is no longer a minimum standard for God’s people. The question is not whether tithing is the whole of Christian giving or even at the center of it. Clearly it is not. Many people associate the command to tithe with the command to keep the Sabbath. New Testament Christians are not obligated to keep the Sabbath with all its legislated rules under the Mosaic covenant (Colossians 2:16). However, a weekly day of rest based on God’s pattern of creation was instituted before the Law (Genesis 2:2-3). It’s a principle never revoked in the New Testament. The special day of observance changed to Sunday, “the Lord’s day,” yet the principle of one special day set aside for worship remained intact.
Christ fulfilled the entire Old Testament, but he didn’t render it irrelevant. Old Testament legislation demonstrated how to love my neighbor. Although the specific regulations don’t all apply, the principles certainly do, and many of the guidelines are still as helpful as ever. Consider the command to build a roof with a parapet to protect people from falling off (Deuteronomy 22:8). When it comes to the Old Testament, we must be careful not to throw out the baby (ongoing principles intended for everyone) with the bathwater (detailed regulations intended only for ancient Israel).
We don’t offer sacrifices anymore, so why should we tithe? Because sacrifices are specifically rescinded in the New Testament. As the book of Hebrews demonstrates, Christ has rendered inoperative the whole sacrificial system. But where in the New Testament does it indicate that tithing is no longer valid? There is no such passage. With a single statement, God could have easily singled out tithing like he did sacrifices and the Sabbath. But he didn’t.
Some argue against tithing by saying, “The New Testament advocates voluntary offerings.” Yes, but as we’ve seen, so does the Old Testament. Voluntary giving is not a new concept. Having a minimum standard of giving has never been incompatible with giving above and beyond that standard. If both mandatory and voluntary giving coexisted under the old covenant, why not the new? It’s not a matter of either tithing or voluntary offering. The two have always been fully compatible.
The disciples gave all that they had because “much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). It was obvious from the beginning that being under grace didn’t mean that New Testament Christians would give less than their Old Testament brethren. On the contrary, it meant they would give more.
Being under grace does not mean living by lower standards than the law. Christ systematically addressed such issues as murder, adultery, and the taking of oaths and made it clear that his standards were much higher than those of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-48). He never lowered the bar. He always raised it. But he also empowers us by his grace to jump higher than the law demanded.