Tithing in the Bible Meaning with Key Scriptures & Commentary


Lord’s Library contributor Bill Furioso offers a tithing in the Bible meaning with commentary and key Scriptures. Check out his ministry At Christ’s Table for additional Bible studies and resources.

Ministry Leaders Series BadgeThe tithe is 10 percent of the gross earnings.

Some believe that the practice of tithing was carried over from the Old Covenant into the New Covenant, and the reason that it is not put forth in the New Testament is because God had already established it and the apostolic writers assumed their readers would continue to practice it. Others believe the practice of tithing applied to the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant requires only “cheerful giving.” See 2 Corinthians 9.

Based on the principles Jesus put forth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17-48) where He consistently raises the bar on “Ye have heard that it was said”, I believe the New Covenant presupposes that more than 10 percent be given “cheerfully.”

Why I believe this:

Let’s ask ourselves: “What is faithful/righteous financial ministry? “Cheerful giving” or “tithing”?

There is no indication in the Scriptures that tithing was a New Testament practice. Hebrews 7:4 refers to Genesis 14:20 in saying that Abraham “gave the tenth of the spoils.” Some use faulty logic in saying that tithing is a New Testament principle because this Scripture shows that tithing is not just practiced in the Old Covenant law – it was practiced prior to the Mosaic Law.

The Gospel

Tithing in the Bible Meaning

While it is true that the practice of tithing does pre-date the Old Testament law, this does not prove that it is a New Testament principle or practice. It only indicates that God utilized and incorporated a heathen Chaldean practice into the Mosaic Law to begin instructing His people about the true worship of God and giving to support the work of His ministry to His people.

This is God’s principle of instructing His people: First the natural, then the spiritual; see 1 Corinthians 15:46: “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.”

God gave the natural Mosaic Law as a type, a shadow, a parable of the spiritual “Law of Christ.” This phrase, “Law of Christ” is found in 1 Corinthians 9:21, the context of which is a discussion of issues concerning the financial support of his ministry of the Gospel: “To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.”

Jesus spoke to people first in parables, then He gave His disciples clear teaching on the subjects of the Kingdom of God. One of the summaries of Christ’s teachings is The Sermon on the Mount, which is the New Covenant “Law of Christ.” In Matthew 5:20, He lays down a New Testament principle: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Our financial ministry must surpass the tithing of the Scribes and Pharisees. The New Covenant Law of Christ has a much higher standard than the Old Covenant Mosaic Law. The Old Covenant Mosaic Law concerned only the outward acts, whereas the New Covenant Law of Christ concerned the inward heart:

  • Old Covenant Mosaic Law: Do not commit murder or adultery
  • New Covenant Law of Christ: Don’t even think about it

“The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.”God is more concerned about heart attitude than a dollar amount.

Many ask: “Should I tithe on my net or gross?” In Luke 20, the Scribes and Pharisees had asked Him about the law concerning paying taxes. In verse 25, Jesus answered: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar, and to God the things that are God’s.” Does it sound right to you that we struggle with the idea of giving God 10 percent of our income, yet most of us give Caesar, that is the government, between 15 and 25 percent income tax plus between 6 and almost 9 percent in sales tax?

So, personally, I conclude: If one doesn’t believe in tithing, then certainly, one believes in cheerfully giving more than 10 percent of one’s gross income. Nevertheless, see Romans 14:22: “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.”

Concerning the Great Commission & “Tent Making”

I’d like to share some things on the topic of “tent-making.” This is a subject that I have spent much time studying, thinking about, and living out. I am speaking from personal experience on both sides of the secular/ministerial employment spectrum.

I want to be clear – I am in total agreement with the idea of Christians being a witness and carrying out the Great Commission out in the “marketplace” or “business world.” In fact, I would say the great majority of Christians are called to work in the “marketplace” or “business world” and are there to be a witness for Christ and do the work of ministry, the Great Commission, there “in the world.”

But I honestly do not understand the call going out from so many about the need to “get out of the church” and “get out into the world.” The fact is nothing and no one is keeping Christians away from the world. The vast majority of Christians, out of necessity, are already “out there” working jobs at least 40 hours every week! The issue is what are they doing while they are there? And why is it so ineffective? My answer: the dearth of true Christ-centered equipping ministries in the local churches.

We can’t blame the lack of kingdom ministry in the world on ministers whom God has called to be in “full-time” equipping ministries. I am referring to Christ-centered equipping ministries such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers we find operating in the midst of the local churches in the New Testament. These ministries were:

  • Acts 6:4: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
  • Being financially supported in order to do so
  • Laying the Foundation of Christ in the lives of people and churches
  • And carry on with the maturing ministries we see in Ephesians 4:10-

“He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

For the most part, these Christ-centered equipping ministries are not supported today by the vast majority of local churches. Until the Church, as a whole returns to recognizing and supporting these ministries financially – as she did in the apostolic times – the Church will not benefit from these gifts the Risen Lord has intended for the Church. 4:10-12).  By and large, the Church is dreadfully immature because of this, and falls painfully short of the “mature man – the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

I do not believe that the “marketplace” or “business world” Great Commission ministry will be effective without authentic, Christ-centered equipping ministries. And that is the reason for my writing on the subject of “tent-making.”

While I do not doubt their sincerity, I think many who speak of the “marketplace ministry” have an off-center emphasis arising out of reactionism which is not in line with the New Testament Scriptures and apostolic practice (There is a world of difference between reacting to human carnality and responding to Holy Spirit inspiration).  Reactionism has riddled church history with pendulum swings that always fall short of what God desires to do). I do not believe the typical presentation of “tent-making” is accurate. 

Following is what I think needs to be clarified with regard to “tent-making.” Firstly, the point is very overplayed.  We have to stop using the Scriptures inaccurately in an attempt to make points and emphases for which we have affinities. Paul was in ministry for 23 years, approximately 45 A.D – 68 A.D. (this includes 4 years in prison and a long boat trip to Rome). He worked as a tent maker for only 4 1/2 years at the most:

  • In Thessalonica for about 1 month (where he received gifts from the Philippians – cf. Philippians 4:15-16)
  • In Corinth for about 18 months (where he received gifts from Macedonia – 2 Corinthians 11:9)
  • And in Ephesus for 2 – 3 years (to help support his own missionary endeavors in Asia Minor – Acts 19:9-10; 20:34)

That’s less than 20 percent of the time he spent in the service of the Lord!

Paul may have worked as a “tent maker” during his years in Tarsus, but that was before Barnabus went down there and brought him up to the sending church in Antioch. Paul underwent a “career change.” That happens in the kingdom of God.  The same happened to Luke, the physician.  If he used his medical skills after he met Christ, it was “on the road” flexi-hours, as he traveled with Paul writing his Gospel and the Book of Acts.

There is no indication in the New Testament that Luke continued his medical career by staying in one place and going to the “office” every day.  Peter and others “left their nets” to follow Jesus and become “fishers of men” (career change). When Peter later said, “I go a fishing” in John 21:3 (after Christ was crucified), I believe it was in a moment of disillusionment and a desire to return to what he thought might be the security of his old life, for he also had set out on a different “career path” in following and serving the Lord.

Again, this doesn’t apply to the majority of Christians in their service of the Lord; but it does apply to the equipping ministries that help to mature Christians in the life of Christ.

Not only is the small amount of time Paul spent working as a tent maker significant but what is probably even more significant is the reasons why he did it. He clearly writes that: Apostolic workers have a right to refrain from “secular” work and make a living from the Gospel. See 1 Corinthians 9:3-14: “Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”

He got this idea from Jesus. See Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:7, and Matthew 10:10:

  • Luke 8:1-3: “And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.”
  • Luke 10:7: “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.”
  • Matthew 10:10: “Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.”

But he chose not to exercise this right specifically to prove to his accusers that he was different than the false apostles. See 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, 2 Corinthians 6:3, and 2 Corinthians 11:7-12:

  • 1 Corinthians 9:15-18: “But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.”
  • 2 Corinthians 6:3: “Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:”
  • 2 Corinthians 11:7-12: “Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we.”

Paul also desired to act as a model to a particular group of new converts who apparently had a propensity for an undisciplined lifestyle because of their pagan background. See 2 Thessalonians 3:6-9: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.”

These were the reasons why Paul chose to do some temporary “tent-making” when he did so. I do not believe that it is legitimate to attempt to use these things as an argument against people earning a living in “full-time” equipping ministries. 

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William Furioso
William Furioso

William Furioso

Bill and his wife, Frances, served as missionaries in South Africa for 13 years helping establish churches and train church leaders. As an itinerant Bible teacher and conference speaker, Bill has ministered to churches and groups on the continents of North America, South America, and Southern Africa. Bill helped plant and shepherd several US churches, and currently writes, teaches, and mentors church leaders in various nations.

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