Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | April 13, 2010

Tithe Doctrine: Challenging what’s preached from the pulpit, Part II

It was a typical Sunday morning like any other. My wife and I got all the kids ready, we hopped into the mini-van, and off to church we went. Not having attended the church for long, we didn’t realize that this particular Sunday was “Family Sunday,” so the kids would be in the main sanctuary with their parents.

I remember the worship that morning to be wonderful; God honoring, Christ-centered praise and worship being offered to our Lord. We sang about His power, His blood, His mercy, His grace, among other things, and when the music and singing had stopped, I can truly say that there was a beautiful awareness not only of His presence, but of God’s grace and favor bestowed on His children in Christ Jesus.

Then came the message.

With the sanctuary filled with adults and children alike, the pastor took it upon himself to teach everyone a lesson on tithing.

In my 17 years as a believer, I have never heard a message laced with more poisonous, old covenant performance based bondage than that message. We were told how we were required to tithe, but only about 5% of the families in the church tithed, that we were “God robbers” if we didn’t, that we would never prosper if we didn’t, that in essence the “curse of the law” would be our experience if we didn’t “obey God” in the matter.  I can recall a few families on the front pew saying an occasional “Amen” to the message; you know, they were the “really good Christians” compared to all the other Christians who didn’t tithe and weren’t as spiritual as they.  Performance based religion will always promote a spirit of superiority and elitism.

After the sermon, I was stunned. How could we have moved from such beautiful, God honoring, Christ centered, grace based worship just moments before, into one of the most legalistic, oppressive, repressive, authoritarian performance based religious messages that an ear can hear? It made no sense! And we wonder why Christians are confused, and the world shakes their head like we’re crazy. We talk out of both sides of our mouth. The worship and the message that morning not only didn’t compliment one another, but were at opposite sides of the spiritual spectrum.

After taking 20 minutes to de-program my kids, I emailed the pastor to challenge him on his message. But in reality, it’s not “his message” but is THEE message that is coming from most pulpits today in regards to a mandatory new covenant tithe. I couldn’t disagree with the message more strongly.

“The law is not based on faith,; on the contrary, “the man who does these things will live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Galatians 3:12-14

“For sin shall not be your master, for you are no longer under law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

“When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is the simple fact that because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, we are now able to have a relationship with God, no longer relating to Him on the level of law (Old Covenant order) but on the level of grace, through faith.  The blessing and favor of God has forever been secured for believers through the finished work of Christ, not through our determined effort to keep the law.

Any preaching to new covenant, born again believers in Jesus Christ that tells them that they can fall under “the curse of the law” based on something they did, or didn’t do, is a gross mishandling of the scripture. Jesus either bore upon Himself the curse of the law in our place (that would include the Malachi curse associated with old covenant tithes) or He didn’t. Are we really willing to say that somehow the finished work of Christ was insufficient to do away with the entire curse of the law…….that somehow the “Malachi curse” was greater than the Blood and still applies to those who would not tithe? I hope you can see the pure nonsense of this notion. Yet this is routinely preached to God’s people; that if I tithe, I’ll be blessed….but if I don’t tithe, I won’t be blessed, and worse yet, cursed in my finances.

I would also like to point out that in Malachi’s day, there were 3 required levitical tithes (the Lord’s tithe, the festival tithe, and the poor tithe) that accounted for about 30% of one’s resources.

Where did the church ever come up with just 10%? It’s completely arbitrary, and those who confidently declare that “if you don’t give 10% to the church, you are robbing God…” are themselves thieves and robbers of God according to their own theology. If you want to keep the law, you are required to keep all of it (Galatians 3:10, James 2:10); you can’t arbitrarily pick and choose what you want to follow, and what you don’t want to follow.

So for those who insist on a mandatory new covenant tithe using Malachi 3 as their back-drop, I would encourage them to start tithing 30% of their gross annual income immediately, along with keeping all the other levitical laws laid out in the old covenant. I’ll see you in a year to see how your “faith walk” is doing.

But the question still remains, “is some form of tithing required in the New Covenant age?” My answer to this is a resounding, “No.” Although the word “tithe” or “tenth” is listed over 100 times in the Old Testament, they are only listed a handful of times in the New Testament, and never in a way that supports tithing as a required practice for one to be blessed, or for one to avoid being cursed. Lets look at the scriptures that do mention this subject in the New Testament, within context.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees, you hypocrites. You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. 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.” Matthew 23:23

This scripture is often used to support tithing in the church (Luke 11:42 is its counterpart), but it’s important to understand that Jesus is speaking to teachers of the law and pharisees; folks who are still under the Old Covenant. Since Jesus was not yet crucified and resurrected, the Old Covenant order was still in effect, and therefore those he was speaking to were rightfully required to keep all the law.

As believers, we are not under the Old Covenant!

The four gospels can be a bit hard to interpret from a New Covenant perspective because, in reality, the “New Covenant” really didn’t start with the book of Matthew… began after Calvary. This is the interpretive challenge of the gospels; figuring what applies to the believer, and what does not, based on context and the audience that Jesus is speaking to.

The only other area in the New Testament that mentions tithing is in Hebrews 7. Instead of wading through this, I would like to refer to Matthew Narramore’s book, “Tithing, low realm, obsolete and defunct” as he does a great job with the exegesis of this passage to show that it in no way supports tithing in the New Covenant age.

Narramore writes:

“Hebrews 7:8 has been taken out of context and misinterpreted. It is erroneously considered by some to be teaching that tithing is the customary way of giving in the New Covenant. This passage of scripture is part of a weighty and complex theological argument. The casual reader may not comprehend its meaning. It requires a careful study of the whole passage, verse by verse and word by word, to get a clear understanding of what is being said.

Hebrews 7:8 in the King James Version reads:

And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.

This verse is absolutely not saying that the practice of tithing was being followed by the New Testament church at the time the book of Hebrews was written. It is also not talking about a practice of tithing that is supposed to be in effect permanently, throughout the church age. The phrase “here men that die receive tithes” is not talking about Christian ministers in the church, now or then. It is talking about priests at the temple in Jerusalem. The “he” that is being referred to by the phrase “but there he receiveth them” is Melchizedek, 4000 years ago, not Jesus.

This verse is incorrectly interpreted by some to say in effect:

And here (in the New Covenant), men that die (our pastors and other ministers) receive tithes (from born-again Christians); but there (up in heaven) he (Jesus) (is the one who actually) is receiving them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.

This erroneous interpretation of the verse does not comprehend the theological argument that is being made in the passage. This misinterpretation is carelessly taken to be a scriptural proof that tithing is the will of God and the standard mode of operation in the New Covenant.

Objectively interpreted within its context, the verse is actually saying:

And here (in Israel at the time that Hebrews was written) men (who are priests under the Old Covenant) that (will eventually) die (and be succeeded by another mortal man after them) receive tithes (from those who are following the Law of Moses); but there (2000 years prior, during the time of Abraham in Genesis 14) he (Melchizedek) receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.

Scholars and theologians debate whether this language referring to Melchizedek’s endless life is literal or symbolic. In either case the verse is not a reference to tithing in the New Covenant. “Here men that die receive tithes” is referring to Old Covenant priests not to New Covenant ministers. “There he receiveth them” is referring to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18–20, not to Jesus up in heaven now. Nowhere in the verse is the New Covenant being referred to. This passage is not teaching that tithing is the way of giving that God has ordained for the New Covenant.”

Well said.

I think it is also interesting to note the passage of scripture immediately following what was just mentioned above:

11If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears,16one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17For it is declared:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.

18The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” Hebrews 7:11-19

Wow. If I read this correctly, Paul is basically saying that the law (which included the whole tithe system) was found to be weak and useless, and therefore there was a need for a better hope (the new covenant through Jesus blood) by which we draw near to God. This passage of scripture makes it even more clear that Hebrews 7 cannot be used to support the old covenant levitical law of tithing for the New Covenant church.

One more item for now. On many occasions I have heard from the pulpit that tithing was an “eternal principle” established even before the law, and Genesis 14 (Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek) was the scripture used to back up this claim. I decided awhile back to look at this myself. After all, a “principle” by definition is something that is established through repetition. Here are a few things to take note of:

1) After Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek in Genesis 14, there is no biblical record that he ever tithed again. How does one glean an eternal principle from a one time gift? I mean, give me a break! If this isn’t an example of “theology gone wrong,” I don’t know what is.

2) Abraham’s tithe didn’t cost him anything. He tithed from the spoils of war, not from his own income.

What I presented in this post is no where near a comprehensive look at the subject. It goes far deeper. For those interested in looking into it further, I would highly recommend Matthew Narramore’s book, “Tithing: low realm, obsolete & defunct.” I would also recommend a book by Stephen R Crosby entitled, “Wealth Transfer and Marketplace Ministry: tracing trends in money and ministry” as this is a great short treatment on commonly taught legalistic teachings on finances in the church.

Look forward to getting into the subject of Christian giving on the next post.


  1. I couldn’t have put it any better myself. Very concise and well written.

    May the good Lord deliver His church from this false doctrine, amen.


    • Tony,
      Thank you for your feedback; I look forward to checking out your blog.


    • The Lord will deliver His church from this false doctrine of tithing. When virtually nobody gets up on a Sunday morning to drive to a building. The building will no long be supported because there will be nobody there to pay for it. This is not because nobody loves Jesus anymore it is because nobody wants to follow CHURCHIANITY.


  2. Good treatment of the issue from a base of grace in Christ. Excellent look at His completion of the law for righteousness in relationship.

    When I look at how Jesus handled the Pharisee’s I see He always raised the standard to a matter of the heart. With that said, I think it needs to be understood, lest the impression be given that “what is ours is ours and only ours”, that giving is still a part of the life and experience of the believer. Not under compunction, or for righteousness sake, but as good stewards of what He entrusts to us and as the Holy Spirit leads.

    If He required 10 to 30% under the law from the poorest of the Jews, how much more might be
    expected (not required) of us who have freely drawn from His grace and have been blessed (spiritually and materially) in the richest civilization to ever grace the planet. We can’t give to everything, nor should we! We don’t serve need, we serve Him. “The poor you have with you always” Matthew 26:11. But we should be generous at the leading of the Sprit which administrates His kingdom/Headship within us. As with the ointment in Matthew 26… May we be lavishly “wasted” on Him when His purpose and plan “requires” it by the Holy Spirit.



  3. Thank you, Harry. This was a refreshing reminder of the wonder of living in grace and not in bondage to the requirements to perform strive under the law. I too have experienced the bewildering dichotomy of law-based teaching on tithing in the midst of new-covenant community. I had never realized that Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek was a one time event, or at least that no similar events in his life were recorded in scripture. I’ve heard that scripture used repeatedly as a reason for the 10% tithe. Since we are living in grace, fully accepted and approved because of the blood of Jesus, then it seems giving generously, just like everything else in our redeemed lives, is to be a “get to” rather than a “have to”. Somehow, the “have to” takes the joy out of the act which I believe God wants us to experience as naturally as breathing, simply because it is our new nature in Christ to give generously.


    • Yes! Sounds like you could publish your own blog post on the subject! I couldn’t say it any better than what you said here. And when you find yourself acting in faith on the matter, your own experiential knowledge and reality on this whole matter will increase. Joy will replace feelings of duty, and peace will replace the spirit of obligation. Then you’ll find yourself so excited about what God has to say in where He wants you to sow, how much, etc…


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