Many have dissected, outlined, and debated the words and actions surrounding Jesus on tithing over the centuries. This article will answer many of the common questions that people ask about Jesus and tithing.
What is Tithing?
First, let’s understand what tithing means. Many people equate tithing with giving in general. It is true that tithing falls under the general category of giving, but the bible digs a little deeper on the definition of tithing.
A tithe according to the Greek or Hebrew words in the bible is simply defined as a tenth. Although, the Bible details more rules around tithing such as giving only food and only to the Levites. We will dig into more details further in this article, but to start off, we will definine a tenth by the simple sense of God’s requirement to give 10% to him.
Did Jesus Talk About Tithing?
Yes. Jesus did talk about tithing. The New Testament scriptures lists three passages where Jesus specifically talked about it. Read below.
- “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
- “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42).
- “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:12).
The passages in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 are parallel passages, meaning two different authors give their own unique accounts of that event in Jesus’ life on earth. In Luke 18:12, Jesus tells a parable commonly referred to as the Pharisee and the tax collector and was quotes the tax collector. These are the only bible passages that Jesus talked about tithing.
Did Jesus Teach the Tithe?
The short answer to this question is yes, Jesus did teach the tithe, but we need some context around this answer to find out to whom and why. We will resolve the answer to those questions further down in this article, but for now let’s address where, when, and how he taught the tithe.
God required the tithe for the Israelites under the Old Covenant law. He gave specific commands in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy surrounding the requirements of tithing. Although we know that tithing was inscribed in the law and given to the Israelites by God in the Old Testament, many want to know if Jesus specifically taught tithing in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
We can analyze the entire passages surrounding Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 to answer whether or not Jesus taught the tithe. In these two passages, Jesus addressed the Jews under the Old Covenant. He acknowledged that the Israelites were still under the Mosaic system as evidenced at the beginning of the passage in Matthew 23:2-3 when Jesus stated, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.”
Reading further down in the passage, Matthew 23:23 states, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. 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.”
This is a clear teaching from Jesus to tithe. When he said, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former,” he was saying they should have practiced justice, mercy, and faithfulness without neglecting the tithe. Although Jesus does teach the tithe, we must consider further context surrounding to whom and why. So, let’s read on.
Did Jesus Practice Tithing?
The Jews had to follow specific requirements and qualifications when they tithed. The most familiar passage surrounding these requirements can be found in Leviticus 27:30-32 which states “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord…Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord”
The important thing to remember in this passage when trying to know whether Jesus practiced tithing is if he met the prerequisites for doing so. There were only two basic groups of things that the Israelites could give to God. They were crops or animals. The answer to the question depends on whether Jesus had raised any animals or grew any crops to give a tithe from. Unfortunately, the bible is not explicit about those details, so we can only speculate.
We know that Jesus had at least two occupations; the first being a carpenter and the second being a rabbi or teacher. These occupations don’t deal with animals or crops, so even if Jesus practiced tithing, it did not come from his occupation. If he tithed, it likely came from a few small things that were grown on the side outside of his primary occupation.
Did Jesus Collect Tithes?
We could answer this in two different ways. The first answer comes from the question of whether Jesus, as a part of God, collected tithes. This answer would be yes. God asked for a tithe from Israel, so if God and Jesus are one, then technically Jesus did collect tithes.
Although Jesus in his spiritual diety collected tithes, I don’t think this is why most people are asking the question. Most of us want to ask did Jesus collect tithes while he was in the flesh on earth. The second answer and the more relevant answer is no, Jesus did not collect tithes on earth.
Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, which is declared for us in Hebrews 7:14, “For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah” Ironically, the whole chapter of Hebrews 7 is about how Jesus (metaphorically) received the tithe through the Melchizedek priesthood.
I don’t want to get deep in the woods with Hebrews 7 since it’s off-topic, but it can confuse some people. When you read it, keep in mind the context of who Hebrews was written to and why it was written. The book addressed Jews who could not let go of the law. It was not written to Gentiles that needed education about tithing.
Coming back to Jesus coming from the tribe of Judah. We need to look at the laws in the Old Covenant and ask ourselves if God placed any requirements about who could collect tithes. Numbers 18:24 clarifies who should collect tithes, “But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit.”
We are assured that Jesus did not collect tithes because the Levites were to collect tithes and he was from the tribe of Judah. It is true that he was God and could have demanded them – he deserved them. But Jesus also obeyed the Mosaic law just like the Jews did. He would not go against his own word. Jesus did not collect tithes because he was not a Levite.
In case you are wondering, Jesus supported his ministry on earth through other means. “Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:2-3). Jesus had experience as a carpenter also, so maybe he supported himself in that way, but the bible never explicitly says so.
Did Jesus Abolish Tithing?
Some quote these words of Jesus often, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The answer to whether Jesus abolished tithing is no, he did not abolish tithing, but he did fulfill it.
The law that Jesus referred to can cause confusion. Some people use these words of Jesus to justify the continuity of some Old Testament standards or laws, but what laws did Jesus refer to? Some categorize it as the Mosaic law, some call it the ceremonial law, some say it’s the Old Covenant, some say it’s the Adamic covenant. The problem I have with using these classifications of the laws for this answer is that the categorizations are human-centered instead of gospel-centered.
In my own definition, Jesus refers to the laws that God placed to prepare us for the good news of Jesus. The classifications of laws may be good to understand, but I prefer to filter them around the purpose of Jesus, not around times, events, Adam, Abraham, or Moses.
Jesus was not talking about fulfilling spiritual laws such as love, faithfulness, mercy, etc. These spiritual laws are eternal and will never be abolished or fulfilled because as long as God exists, these natural laws of his character will exist.
If Jesus did not abolish tithing, then what does it mean that he fulfilled it? For this answer, we only need to keep reading in Matthew 5:18, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Did Jesus accomplish what he needed to? He came, he lived flawlessly, he died, he conquered death, and ascended to heaven. I’d say, yes he accomplished what he needed to and because of this, he fulfilled the laws put into place to prepare us for the Gospel. Did he destroy the law? No, but he discontinued it. I think Matthew 9:17 illustrates for us how a New Covenant and Old Covenant coexist. “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
We don’t need to destroy or abolish the old wineskins. It has a purpose to carry the old wine. We needed a new wine skin to carry our new wine. If the old wineskin is full, it has been fulfilled and Jesus accomplished that. We should no longer use it to gather more wine since it’s used to the fullest.
Some of us have poured wine out of the old wineskin into the new wineskin. Because of this two things occur. First, it doesn’t look like the old wineskin has been fulfilled since there is still room to fill more in. This creates feelings like we need to work for our salvation. Second, the new wine is spoiled and bitter from the old wine that is mixed with the new wine. This results in bitterness and confusion toward the good news of Jesus Christ.
No wonder many don’t want to turn to Christ for salvation. When we say that you need to do works such as tithing in order to find acceptance in God, we are mixing old and new wine creating a void that cannot be filled and adding bitterness that cannot be sweetened with our own works.
The Old Covenant had a purpose, but it is bitter. The gospel tastes sweet and fulfilling. Stop trying to quench the world’s thirst with our own wine. Give them the pure and sweet taste of Jesus.