What Does the Old Testament Teach About Tithing?

by Khaleef Crumbley on May 10, 2010

in Bible,Biblical Finance,Giving,Taxes,Tithing

This will be the first installment on a series on giving. I pray that we all will be blessed by what the Word of God’s teaches us about giving. First we need to take a look at a few concepts before taking a deeper look. The first thing we will discuss is tithing.

Because tithing can be a very touchy subject within the church, we’ll approach it in a very biblical and systematic way. We will first take a look at what a “tithe” really is, and then we will examine what the Old Testament actually teaches about the subject.

What is the “tithe”?

The word “tithe” simply means “a tenth” or “tenth part”. It can be a tenth of agricultural produce or income that is offered to God or paid as a tax for the support of a ruling priesthood. Tithing was not just a concept that was only known to the Israelites, in fact many pagans incorporated tithing into their worship.

In our discussion on tithing, we will focus on what God has commanded in the bible.

When was tithing commanded in the bible?

There were actually several tithes that the Israelites were required to pay.

In Leviticus 27:30-32 we read, “Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. If, therefore, a man wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one-fifth of it. For every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD.”

In Numbers 18:21-32, regarding the same tithe we read:

To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, they shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, when you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. So you shall also present an offering to the LORD from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the LORD’S offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them. You shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die.

God appointed the Levites to be the priests of Israel. They were to run the temple and lead the nation of Israel in its judicial and governmental functions – since Israel was a theocracy (a nation governed by God). They had no other occupations and did not receive an inheritance of land like the other tribes (cf Leviticus 14:27). Consequently, the tithe that we see in the two passages above served to support the Levites – the same way a portion of our income taxes support our elected officials and civil servants in the United States. This tithe was due every year to support those who ran the government.

We read about another tithe in Deuteronomy 12:10-11, 17-18:

When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security,then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD… You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or new wine or oil, or the firstborn of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand. But you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings.

We also see the same command reiterated in Deuteronomy 14:22-26:

You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.

This second tithe was designed to support all of the national religious festivals that God would later ordain to take place in Jerusalem (“the place in which the Lord your God will choose for His name to dwell”). As John MacArthur states so well, “The second tithe was for the sake of the Jews’ national religious worship, and it also promoted national unity and fellowship” (Whose Money Is It, Anyway?, pp 106-7). This was also an annual offering.

There is a third tithe that is listed in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”

Again, we find the same command in Deuteronomy 26:12, “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

This is commonly referred to as the “welfare tithe”. As we can see from the passage, every third and sixth year (of the 7-year sabbatical cycle) they were to bring a tenth of their produce from that year to the town storehouse. This offering went to support those who were not able to provide for themselves; orphans, widows, immigrants and the Levites.

Tithing is definitely something that was commanded in the bible. We weren’t even able to get passed the first five books of the bible without coming across numerous guidelines regarding tithing.

Since there was more than one tithe commanded, how much did each Israelite have to pay?

As we can see, there were actually three “tithes” that the nation of Israel was commanded to give.

  1. To support the religious and governmental leaders (Levites) – 10% each year.
  2. To support the national religious feasts and festivals held annually in Jerusalem – 10% each year.
  3. To support those who were unable to provide for themselves (widows, orphans, immigrants, etc) – 10% every 3rd and 6th year (in the 7-year cycle).

This averages out to about 23.33% in taxes or “tithes” each year!

There were also other taxes commanded in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:9-10 we read, “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.”

This has been referred to as a profit-sharing tax. Here the Israelites were commanded to not harvest their field up to the very corners, nor to pick up fruit that had fallen, but to leave it for immigrants and others in need (we can see this is practice in Ruth 2:8-23).

Exodus 23:10-11 gives us another command that God gave regarding harvesting; “You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”

God commanded that every seventh year the people had to allow their fields to rest. This was so the needy could gather whatever was left, and seemed to serve as a benefit to the soil as well. The implication of this command was that the people were not able to earn any money through farming crops nor were they able to harvest for their own sustenance. This meant that they had to be careful to store up what they needed in the previous year(s).

Every male over the age of 20 was required to pay a temple tax as commanded in Exodus 30:13-14, “This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the Lord.” (cf Matthew 17:24)

It has been estimated that these last few taxes bring the average to over 25% per year! – far more than the 10% that we are used to hearing about. This percentage is pretty close to what many around the globe pay in taxes to support their governments. Keep in mind that these were not voluntary gifts to God, but requirements to fund the government of Israel. The confusion is usually made because Israel was a theocracy (again this simply means that God was their ruler and they had no earthly king) and the priests served as the government officials.

***So, what we see in the Old Testament is that the tithe was the national income tax of Israel. Those taxes supported the government, national festivals and the needy. As we will see in another article, the people gave voluntary, sacrificial, heartfelt gifts on top of the tithes and offerings listed above (cf Exodus 36:3-7).***


Ultimately, if we desire to be faithful to God in our giving we need to understand what He really commands from us. Over the next few days we will look at these topics in more detail:

  • What does the New Testament teach about tithing?
  • What about the instances of tithing that pre-date the Law of Moses?
  • A closer look at the situation in Malachi’s day!
  • What does the bible teach about voluntary, heartfelt giving?

Hopefully, at the end of this series we will all have a better understanding on what the bible really teaches about giving for all Christians.

Do you have any questions on tithing or giving that you would like to be addressed in this series? Do you have any questions on anything in this article? Feel free to leave a comment below.

© 2010 – 2013, Khaleef Crumbley. All rights reserved.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carol@inthetrenches

Chris, interesting comments. Jesus did not blast the religious leaders for tithing, he said they were right in doing so. He blasted them for omitting the other weightier matters of the law such as love, mercy, and good judgement. The amazing thing about the Word of God is that we do not have to follow it. It is all free will. Those who do not want to give the tithe are not compelled. Those who do reap the blessings He promised to those who do. Most of those who continue or begin to tithe acknowledge that it is God who gives the 100% by giving our health, skills and talents. So if He wants us to give back 10% to support the spread of the gospel and support the poor it is a small thing to ask especially in light that there are many who have committed their entire lives and livelihoods.


2 Chris

Could you let me know why, if the Levites were factually only 2.2% (refer Number 2:32 and 3:39) of Israels population, should they get 10% plus share of the food grown every year?

The assumption of a ‘second tithe’…or festival tithe …or even the ‘poor tithe (which Det 14 says is given to the Levites) ..are terms which are NEVER mentioned in the Bible as being an additional tithe…..nor are these decriptions EVER used of a tithe. Tithes were only 10%….of the FOOD produce… (never of income or money)…which was given to the Levites every third year…or eaten by the giver for the first two years …over a cycle.

Why would the Levites who forfeited 2.2% of the land …then get 10% plus of the food? This would be 4-5 times the food others got. This would be have been grossly inequitable and clearly not what God intended. This IS the outcome for all multiple tithe positions…..no wonder the religious leaders and rabbis taught it in Jesus day (Mat 23:4)…and why He blasted them!

This is dealt with in detail by Graeme Carle in ‘Eating sacred coaws…a closer look at tithing’

regards in Christ


3 Carol@inthetrenches

Taxation was a separate issue. The Jews paid taxes in Rome while continuing to pay the tithe and even David and Solomon would levy mandates that would be considered taxedsto fund national projects.

It is wonderful to discuss the scriptures! Thank you for being willing to open the topics.


4 Carol@inthetrenches

I found your article very interesting. The one item that I have understood differently is that the 3rd year tithe that was designated for the widows and orphans was not a separate tithe but an instruction of how to use the 10% that was already received. Those funds would be set aside for that purpose. These would be the funds that would be used to fulfill the New Testement dictate to provide for the widows who do not have familiy to provide for them and the orphans. This would establish the church as the provider of these services as a testimony of the love that Christians have for those who cannot fend for themselves. This is a practice that has been neglected over the years as the “should we tithe?” debate continues. In my own life I have felt that the Lord has led me to give for two years to the church to provide for thier ministries and the third year directly to those that would fall into the widow/orphan catagory. I wish I could say that this has always been a consistent practice but it is something I still work to acheive excellence at. Thank you for your Biblical study of this topic, I know that it quickly causes much debate. The motives of the debate we’ll have to leave to the Lord.


5 Khaleef Crumbley

Thanks for the comment! I believe that the only way to reconcile the two is to understand that the tithe served as the taxation system for the nation of Israel. The Israelites gave voluntarily in the OT while still paying tithes (taxes) to their government. The confusion usually comes because the same group (Levites) served as the governmental and spiritual leaders because Israel was a Theocracy. Therefore, the Levites collected the taxes as well as the voluntary offerings to God.

Today, we are able to pay our taxes directly to the government, and our offerings to God through our local church. I just finished an article looking at the NT and tithing – and will post another about the NT and taxes in about 10 minutes.

What are your thoughts?
.-= Khaleef Crumbley´s last blog ..What Does the New Testament Teach About Tithing? =-.


6 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

Most discussions of tithing center on the OT. How do you reconcile OT with 2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” ?
.-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Why Leasing a Car is a Bad Deal =-.


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