What is a Tithe? Definition and Meaning of Tithing in the Bible

The Old Testament tells us God’s people followed the law of tithing. To accomplish this commandment, Church members give one-tenth of their income to the Lord through His Church. These funds are used to grow the Church and promote the truth of the Lord throughout the world.
Updated Oct 06, 2023
What is a Tithe? Definition and Meaning of Tithing in the Bible

Tithing is a practice that has deep roots in religious traditions, specifically in Christianity. This practice holds significant spiritual and practical implications for believers. This article aims to explore the meaning and definition of tithing in the Bible, its historical significance, and its relevance in contemporary Christian faith.

"Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce" (Proverbs 3:9)

Definition of a Tithe

The term "tithe" is derived from the Old English word "teogotha," which means "tenth." In biblical terms, tithing refers to the practice of giving a tenth, or 10%, of one's income or resources to support the work of the church or the religious community. Tithing has a rich history in the Bible and is found throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Tithing in the Old Testament

Abraham's Tithe: The concept of tithing can be traced back to the book of Genesis when Abraham offered a tenth of his spoils of war to the priest Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). This act is often considered a precursor to the formalization of tithing.

Mosaic Law: Tithing became a more structured practice under the Mosaic Law. In Leviticus 27:30-32, the Israelites were instructed to give a tenth of their crops, livestock, and income as an offering to the Lord. This tithe supported the Levites, who were responsible for the religious duties of the community.

Prophet Malachi's Message: The prophet Malachi urged the people of Israel to faithfully tithe, emphasizing that by doing so, they would experience God's blessings (Malachi 3:10).

Tithing in the New Testament

While the New Testament does not explicitly command tithing in the same way as the Old Testament, it does emphasize the principles of generosity, stewardship, and giving. The New Testament encourages believers to give cheerfully and sacrificially, not merely as a legalistic obligation.

The Widow's Offering: In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus commended a widow for giving her two small coins, highlighting the importance of giving from the heart, regardless of the amount.

2 Corinthians 9:7: This verse encourages believers to give as they have decided in their hearts, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for "God loves a cheerful giver."

The Significance of Tithing

Obedience and Trust: Tithing reflects obedience to God's commands and trust in His provision. Believers demonstrate their faith by giving a portion of their resources back to God.

Supporting Ministry and Outreach: Tithes and offerings contribute to the financial sustainability of churches and ministries. They enable religious institutions to carry out their missions, support the clergy, and engage in community outreach.

Blessings and Gratitude: Tithing is often seen as a way to express gratitude to God for His blessings. By giving back, believers acknowledge that all they have comes from God.

Contemporary Practices of Tithing

Financial Tithing: In modern times, tithing is primarily associated with financial contributions to one's church or religious organization. Many Christians choose to tithe 10% of their income as a guideline, although the specific amount may vary based on individual circumstances and convictions.

Beyond Money: Tithing can also extend beyond financial resources. Some believers tithe their time, talents, and skills by volunteering or supporting various ministries within their community.

Tithing in the Bible

"But nothing that a person owns and devotes to the LORD—whether a human being or an animal or family land—may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD. “No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; they are to be put to death. 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. Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the LORD." -Leviticus 27:28-32

According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, a "Tithe" or tenth is the proportion of property devoted to religious uses from very early times. Instances of tithe use are found before the Levitical tithes are appointed under the law.

Tithing first appeared in the Bible when Abraham gave one-tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem (Gen 14:18-20). The writer of Hebrews presumed that tithes were paid to a higher authority and inferred that there was a greater priesthood than Aaron's (Hebrews 7:4-9). Tithing as a tribute to God appeared later in Genesis when Jacob promised to give a tenth to God if he returned home safely. But these tithes were spontaneous, and no details were given.

Jesus refocused attention on inward attitudes. He criticized some who went so far as to tithe tiny grains of spice — not because they tithed, but because they neglected the weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23). He regarded stewardship of finances as an indication of trustworthiness with spiritual things (Luke 16:11), which were more important (Matt 6:19-20).

Nowhere does the New Testament require Christians to tithe in the sense of giving 10 percent, but it does reiterate many things associated with tithing: those who minister are entitled to receive support ( 1 Cor 9:14); the poor and needy should be cared for (1 Cor 16:1; Gal 2:10); those who give can trust God, as the source of all that is given (2 Cor 9:10), to supply their needs (2 Cor 9:8; Philippians 4:19); and giving should be done joyously (2 Cor 9:7). 

The New Testament directs that taxes be paid to the state (Romans 13:6-7), which replaced Israel's theocracy. Paul's vocabulary and teaching suggest that giving is voluntary and that there is no set percentage. Following the example of Christ, who gave even his life (2 Cor 8:9), we should cheerfully give as much as we have decided (2 Cor 9:7) based on how much the Lord has prospered us (1 Cor 16:2), knowing that we reap in proportion to what we sow (2 Cor 9:6) and that we will ultimately give account for our deeds (Romans 14:12).

What Is a Tithe?


Tithing is a practice defined in the Bible, which has evolved over time, remaining a fundamental part of Christian faith and stewardship. It is a way for believers to show their obedience to God's commands, express their gratitude for His blessings, and support the work of the church and the community. While the New Testament emphasizes giving willingly and not under compulsion, tithing remains a meaningful practice for many Christians, allowing them to actively participate in their faith and contribute to the flourishing of their religious communities.

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