There are only two places in the New Testament that tithing advocates can go to find any support of the idea that Christians should tithe: Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42. However, we’ll quickly see why these verses do not apply to Christians. Both of these verses discuss the same event – Jesus declaring the woes to the Pharisees and scribes for believing that carefully observing the Law in some things would bring righteousness while they continually neglected the Law in the more important matters. Here are the verses:
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel!”
Matthew 23:23-24 (WEB)
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but you bypass justice and the love of God. You ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.
Luke 11:42 (WEB)
Tithing advocates use these verses to teach Christians that Jesus commanded us to tithe. He clearly says that you should not have left the other (referring to tithing) undone. But interpreting and applying these verses to mean that Christians should tithe completely ignores some very important facts surrounding these Scriptures.
Jesus Was Under the Law
The first thing we have to understand when we look at these verses is that the New Covenant did not begin until Jesus died on the cross. These verses occur in the context of the Old Covenant and were directed to people who were still under the Old Covenant. Jesus was born under the Old Covenant and under the Law of Moses, as were all the Jews who were alive during Jesus’ life. It was necessary for Jesus to be born under the Law and to keep it perfectly so He could serve as the perfect sacrifice to cover the punishment of our sins.
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, 5 that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children.
Galatians 4:4-5 (WEB)
During His life, Jesus kept the entire Law perfectly and by His death He redeemed us from the punishment of the Law. Through Him we receive the adoption of children and become God’s very own children. This would not have been possible if Jesus had not kept the Law. And Jesus would not have been keeping the Law if He had not taught others who were still under the Law to keep it as well.
Jesus Was Speaking to Those Who Were Still Under the Law
It should also be very clear to us that Jesus was explicitly speaking to those who were still under the Law when He said they should tithe. Who was He speaking to? The scribes and Pharisees – Jews who were required to keep the Law. Jesus would never have taught the Jews to break the Law, and He would have never imposed the Law on Gentiles who were not part of the Old Covenant.
Consider all the times Jesus healed people. The only times we ever see Him command people to go show themselves to the priests and make the appropriate sacrifice are the times when He is speaking to Jews. He never tells Gentiles to do this. Why? Because only the Jews were under the Law! If we were to follow everything Jesus said, we would still be bringing sacrifices to the altar and following the cleansing rituals required by the Law of Moses. Consider these words of Jesus:
23 “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 5:23-24 (WEB)
2 Behold, a leper came to him and worshiped him, saying, “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 Jesus said to him, “See that you tell nobody, but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Matthew 8:2-4 (WEB)
Do we still take sacrifices and offerings (as required by the Law of Moses) to the altar? Do we require lepers and any others who would be ceremonially unclean to follow the cleansing rituals required by the Law of Moses? Why not? Jesus commanded those things to be done here in these verses. Why would we choose to continue enforcing tithing only and not these other things which Jesus told the Jews to do? Clearly, something is missing in such an application of Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42.
Christians Are Not Under the Law of Moses
The reason this command does not apply to Christians is because we are not under the Law of Moses. We have received the adoption of children and have become the children of God – and this is through faith in Jesus. We live under grace and not the Law. We are justified by faith – not the Law! Any who choose to receive justification under the Law have rejected Jesus as Lord:
1 Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 Yes, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4 You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace. 5 For we, through the Spirit, by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love.
Galatians 5:1-6 (WEB)
What good was Christ’s sacrifice if we still seek to be justified based on how well we keep God’s Laws? If you believe that Christians who do not tithe will be under “the curse” (which, by the way, is death), then why do we need Christ? All we’d need to do is tithe (and keep the other 600+ commandments in the Law) and we’d have eternal life. If you desire to live under the Law, then you’re really desiring to live a life apart from faith in Christ. Your faith is in the Law and its ability to save you.
But we are not called to live under the Law of Moses. We are living under the Law of Christ. And the Law of Christ is a law of freedom from the punishment that is due to us (the curse, death, eternal separation from God), grace to be led by the Spirit, and justification that comes through faith in Christ (not through the Law of Moses).
Does this mean that I’m saying Jesus abolished the Law of Moses or that the Law was not good? Does this mean we’re free to sin as much as we want? No! Jesus fulfilled the Law by calling us to serve under the Spirit and not the letter. He covered the debt of death that we owed to God for our sin and freed us to live the Law of Love.
13 For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (WEB)
You see, there’s no need to require Christians to give a specific percentage of their income to the poor because we are called to love each other as we love ourselves! Following that Law of Love will meet the needs of all people and truly make God happy. Tithing because you want a blessing from God or because you fear a curse from God are not the ways to please Him. But giving because you love your neighbor will bring joy to His heart as He sees His children loving others.
The New Covenant began at Jesus’ death when His blood was shed. After that point, all who believe in Him live by faith in His name and are called to be led by His Holy Spirit. We are called to live out the love of God and show it to those around us. And if we have faith in Christ and we are led by the Spirit, then we are under grace and not the Law of Moses.
The Tithe Was Still Only Food
It may seem ridiculous to bring this up (again), but even here the tithe still only contained food. In the Bible, the tithe never contained money. But those who teach tithing today tell Christians to tithe on any and all income and only want Christians to give money in the offering plate – not food. You’ll see that Jesus noted the Pharisee’s focus on tithing their garden herbs – the least of all agricultural produce. The did not tithe money because it was not required by the Law of Moses.
And we cannot say it is because they did not have money. Consider the numerous times Jesus discussed money or used money in His parables. The Jews had shekels, denarii, and other forms of currency available to them, but they never tithed their money. (Yes, there was money available when the tithe was enacted in the Law of Moses as well.) The addition of money as an object to tithe is a modern twist in an attempt to get as much money into the churches as possible. It is not Biblical and cannot be supported by any Scriptures at all.
You Can Tithe and Still Be Sinning
Finally, the most important point in these verses is that tithing is less important than living a life that’s right before God. Even under the Law of Moses, God counted justice, mercy, faith, and sharing His love as more important than tithing. Even now, God does not desire your gifts if your heart is not right before Him. He loves a cheerful giver – not someone who is giving because of compulsion. He desires that you ask forgiveness of your neighbor before you try to give anything in His name. Your relationship with money has a huge impact on your relationship with God, but your relationship with other people is far more important.
Jesus cursed the Pharisees even though they were keeping the tithing statutes as literally as possible. They were even tithing the tiniest of their garden herbs. But they did it with a wrong heart and neglected to do the things God desired most (justice, mercy, faith, and love). You can be tithing today and still be sinning. You can be giving 90% of your income, and God will still desire that you repent if you’re not doing justice, showing mercy, having faith, and sharing love. Love trumps giving any day.
Only Two Left!
We only have two more Scriptures on tithing left to examine. Make sure you’ve signed up for free updates to Provident Planning if you don’t want to miss them!