Biblical Giving

By: Pastor Vincent Nicotra

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 A Blessing?

     The Apostle Paul’s final instruction to the elders in the church at Ephesus was for them to remember that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), yet many in the church today do not feel that giving financially is a blessing at all. In fact, many view it as an obligation they must fulfill in order to remain on good terms with God or the church, completely missing out on the blessing that comes from participating in the spread of the gospel and the worship involved in giving.

     Many churches will not even teach or preach on the topic of giving for fear of offending their congregants. Others have removed the offense by placing boxes at the back door of their church so its members will not have to experience the discomfort of putting money into an offering plate as it passes by. Instead, congregants can nonchalantly drop their money in as they exit, with no one watching.

     Perhaps no single issue has discouraged and squelched a correct understanding of biblical giving as much as the confusion and apprehension associated with the concept of giving ten percent, otherwise known as “tithing.” Are we required to give ten percent of our income to the church? Is giving to be done in an obligatory way, or should it be done out of the overflow of our heart? Nearly everyone in the church would agree that giving should be done joyfully, but at the same time many cannot articulate how much they should give. It is our hope that this pamphlet will alleviate some of the confusion in this area of worship and restore the joy of giving to the church of God.

Historical Practices

     Many would argue that tithing began before the Mosaic Law was instituted however this is not necessarily the case. Fundamentally, it is vital to understand that giving to God took two different forms; the voluntary offering and the required or commanded offering. In the Book of Genesis the “tithing” of Cain and Abel, Abraham and Jacob were actually voluntary gifts. The first use of the word tithe is in Genesis 14:17-20 in the context of Abraham giving an offering to Melchizedek, who was both a king and a priest. As a priest of God most High, Abraham offered him a tenth, however this was not a tenth of all that he owned, nor a tenth of his annual income. He only gave him a tenth of the spoils he had obtained in his battle with Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. In Genesis 28:20-22 Jacob’s tithe was actually an attempt to bribe God; a common occurrence in the local pagan customs of the day. In these cases “tithing” was clearly not mandatory, it was voluntary.

     With the institution of the Mosaic Law came the required tithe of 10 percent, which was essentially a form of taxation to support the needs of the Levites. When Israel was given the land, the Levites did not obtain a property inheritance. Instead they obtained God as their inheritance.

     Under the Mosaic taxation system the Israelites were required to pay essentially three different tithes. The first was 10 percent of their produce and livestock to provide the Levites with support for their physical needs (Numbers 18:25-30). The second tithe provided support for the national worship system of festivals and feasts (Deuteronomy 12:10-11, 17). Additionally there was a third tithe, or tax, which was given every third year to help support the aliens, widows, and orphans (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). This would ensure that there would be no poor among the nation. These three taxes combined, totaled approximately 23 percent of a person’s annual income, and were all obligatory, not voluntary. There were even other forms of tax on top of this which brought the total to an estimated 25 percent of a person’s annual income (Leviticus 19:9-10).

     Voluntary giving was done in addition to these tithes/taxes (Numbers 18:12; Proverbs 3:9-10). Voluntary giving was to be generous, given by faith, and from the very best of the resources that a person possessed. In voluntary giving God was concerned about the heart attitude of the giver (Exodus 35:21-22).

Helpful Perspective

     The requirements of giving in the New Testament era continue in the same pattern. There is still the mandate for voluntary giving as well as the requirement to pay taxes. Our Lord Jesus Himself instructed His followers to pay their required taxes to the ruling government of the day (Matthew 17:24-27), and we should do likewise (1 Peter 2:13). Tithing has always been a form of taxation and believers are to pay their taxes to their local and federal government agencies as an act of submission.

     There are only two instances of the word tithe appearing in the Gospels (Matthew 23:23; Luke 18:12). In both of these cases it is used in reference to taxation or required giving. The only other place the word appears is in the Book of Hebrews in reference to Old Testament figures paying tithes (Hebrews 7:8-9). There are no commands in the New Testament which require believers of today to give 10 percent of their income to the church.  

     Believers have nonbinding examples of giving that they may emulate, however giving to the church should be a voluntary act springing from the overflow of a converted heart. In fact, giving is actually a spiritual gift for some in the body of Christ and should be pursued with liberality (Romans 12:8). Any amounts given are to be personally and prayerfully determined by the giver.

     The Bible indicates the following guidelines for giving:

  • Giving should be done by all (1 Corinthians 16:2)
  • Giving should be characterized by joy and a right heart attitude (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
  • Giving should be generous and sacrificial (Mark 12:41-44; Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35).
  • Giving should be done out of a concern for the poor and needy (Galatians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 6:10; Acts 11:29-30).
  • Giving should be planned for as a financial priority (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).
  • Giving should be done with liberality (Romans 12:8

     In conclusion, there really is no dollar amount or proportion that is correct when it comes to giving. Instead, in voluntary giving to the church, believers are free to give with joy as God prospers them. In doing so, they can enjoy His pleasure as they give with hearts of faith to the ongoing work of the ministry of the gospel, and to the needs of the saints.

This article is copyright 2006  by Vincent Nicotra. This article may be quoted, in part or in whole, without permission.

You may contact the author through:


Adapted from the book by John MacArthur:
Whose Money Is It Anyway? Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000.

Suggested Reading:
1) “Tithe,” in Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. General Editor, Ronald F. Youngblood, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995, pp. 1257-58.
2) Stedman, Ray Charles, “Giving under Grace,” Parts 1-4, BSac 107-108:427-430 (1950-1951): 317-334, 468-480, 68-73, 205-215


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