What is Tithing and Offering?

tithe imageOne church member asked me to give my thoughts on what (in his own words) is this “New Testament tithing and offering.”

Well, first of all, the word “tithe” is an old English word which simply means, “ten percent.” A tithe simply means a tenth of something or ten percent. The idea of giving a tithe or ten percent of what one produces out of his labor in the land was part of the package of laws and statutes which was called the Law of Moses given at Mt. Sinai to the Israelites (Deut. 14:22).

Tithing and Offering in Ancient Times

Before the Law of Moses was given, the practice of tithing and/or giving of offerings were already being done by people such as Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:2-5), Abraham (Genesis 14:20) and Jacob (Genesis 28:22). It was usually an act of voluntary giving of one’s own resources to give thanks, honor and worship to God. It was their way of giving glory and honor to the Lord. It would seem to me that tithing and/or the giving of offerings were a cultural practice during those ancient times.

Before the giving of the Law of Moses which commanded them to tithe, these people of God were already tithing and/or giving offerings of what they had. It showed before God the worshipper’s heart.

Old Covenant Obsolete

Many years later when the Law of Moses was given at Mt. Sinai to the Israelites, tithing was among those laws that the Israelites were commanded to obey and diligently follow. As a young new nation of about 3 million people who came out of Egypt, they needed the tithes for the upkeep of the tabernacle and for the support of the Levites who took care of the tabernacle and other priestly duties. When the old covenant became obsolete, the tithing law (which was part and parcel of the Law of Moses) was also abolished (Gal. 3:24-25; Heb. 8:13).

The Bible Teaching Throughout: Generosity

Under the New Covenant, there is no law that commands Christians to tithe. But please take note, that the act of giving voluntarily from the very beginning was never abolished. The tithing law enforced in the Law of Moses that was abolished did not abolish the principle of giving. Giving from the heart has always been there. Generosity was never abolished. Giving especially for those in need has always been encouraged and is the right thing to do. It reflects who God is, the God of love, the God who is love. This is not just the New Testament teaching but the teaching of the Old Testament as well. Generosity or giving from the heart is the teaching of the whole Bible.

If one were to check the whole Bible—from the Old Testament to the New Testament—what God is teaching is the voluntary act of giving, from the heart. It is generosity that is being taught all throughout. It was never about percentages or ten percent. The New Testament teaching emphasizes giving from the heart—a cheerful giver—not merely the compliance-mode of giving ten percent just to follow the letter of the law (2 Cor. 9:7). We should always practice generosity especially for those in need and for other worthy causes like donating for calamity victims, supporting the preaching of the gospel or supporting the work of the Body of Christ.

Nowadays in our modern age, some people don’t actually know the literal meaning of the word “tithe” and people just normally use the word “tithe” loosely to mean “giving an offering” without thinking of a literal ten percent. I have no problem with that. That is just a terminology they use to mean giving. That then to me is the “New Testament tithing and offering.”

To me, it’s just a terminology  that people today use. I take it to mean, the voluntary act of giving offerings to God in honor and worship to him. I take it to mean generosity. I don’t make a big issue out of it when people use the word, “tithe.” I think I understand what they mean.

We give not because we are forced to do so because of a law (the Law of Moses) or for fear that we will not be blessed financially if we don’t give. Giving in order to get is not real giving at all. But rather, we give from the heart because we love God and we love our fellowmen. We want to honor him and worship him through our voluntary giving. This has always been God’s teaching all along—before, during and after the Law of Moses—since the time of Abel and Cain up to now. God has always taught us generosity — especially for those in need and also to support the work of the Body of Christ.

Is the Law Our Schoolmaster?

“I believe that God’s law is a ‘schoolmaster’ that brings me to Christ. I do not perfectly walk with Christ yet, so I need my “schoolmaster”, hence I strive to obey the Ten Commandments.”

The above quote comes from a well-meaning Christian and I respect his passion to love God and to obey God’s commandments. I have nothing against that. But I believe the Apostle Paul meant something different in Galatians 3:24 and not exactly the way this Christian has interpreted this particular verse.

So, let’s answer the question: Is the law a schoolmaster for Christians today? Let’s study several points on this issue.

Here’s the actual verse in Galatians 3:24 in the King James Version: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

First, please take note that Paul said that the law was their schoolmaster. This word “schoolmaster” comes from the Greek word, paidagogos, which meant a slave tutor or a guardian. This tutor or guardian took care of training and guiding a child heir until the time the child’s father gives him his inheritance. That’s the “schoolmaster” (KJV) during those days in their culture.  In short, the law (Greek, nomos) was their schoolmaster (Greek, paidagogos). Please take note of the temporary nature of this law which was their schoolmaster, guardian or slave tutor! It was not meant to be the child’s tutor forever!

Secondly, please take note that this particular law WAS (past tense!) their “schoolmaster” according to the Apostle Paul (check again verse 24). When Paul said that it WAS their schoolmaster, I take it to mean that this particular law no longer was their schoolmaster when he wrote this epistle to the Galatians sometime in 49-50 AD.

Thirdly, please also take note that Paul said it was THEIR schoolmaster. I take this to mean that Paul no longer considered this law as his schoolmaster when he became a Christian. Previous to this, he was a devout Jew and a pharisee of the pharisees who excelled in Judaism.

Fourthly, what was this law that is under discussion here? Galatians 3:10 tells us it was the “book of the law”—a clear reference to the Law of Moses which formed the “terms of the old covenant.” Originally, it was everything written from Exodus 19 through Exodus 24. But it was expanded to include the whole first 5 books or the Torah. This law was their paidagogos—schoolmaster. Clearly, the whole Law of Moses was for Israel and not for Christians. It was “theirs”—not “ours.”

Fifthly, Paul said that the purpose of this temporary law (schoolmaster) was to eventually bring or lead him and his fellow Israelites to Christ. Justification was by faith in Christ—not faith in the temporary law.

Let’s us now please take note of the next verse: “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (KJV Gal. 3:25).

Here are a few other translations of Galatians 3:25:

  • New American Standard Bible: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
  • New International Version (old version): “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”
  • New International Version (2011): “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
  • New Living Translation: “And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.”

One thing is clear here in these various translations: Faith has come. Therefore, the temporary guardian is no longer needed. Justification by faith in Christ has come when Christ came and Paul showed that no man could be justified by the works of the law (Gal. 2:16). The schoolmaster was no longer needed. The slave tutor was no longer needed. And this paidagogos which was no longer needed was the law! Why? Because Christ has come! (Paul further elaborates this point in Galatians 4:1-11.)

Please take note that whatever particular law was being referred to by Galatians 3:25, Paul clearly stated that they were no longer under that law or schoolmaster! According to Paul, now that faith HAS COME, there was no longer any need for that law as their guardian. Now that Christ himself was with them, they no longer needed a tutor, a guardian or a schoolmaster (Greek, paidagogos). Christ was with them already—the Master himself has come!

So what law was introduced 430 years later after the Abrahamic covenant? Please read Gal. 3:17.

“What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.” (Galatians 3:17)

It was clearly the Law of Moses that was given at Mt. Sinai. (Please read Exodus 19 trough 24 thoroughly—from the proposal to the ratification by blood of the old covenant. And yes, it included the “ten words.”)

Was this law “added?” Yes. It’s quite clear. Please read Galatians 3:19a.

“What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Galatians 3:19a).

So we see that this Law of Moses was “added” and that it was temporary in nature until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some will argue that it was only the rituals or the sacrificial laws that were added but that is not accurate. The sacrificial laws, rituals or ceremonial laws were not added. These were all part and parcel of the laws given at Mt. Sinai. It was the whole Law of Moses that was “added” according to Paul. The Abrahamic covenant already existed and 430 years later, the old covenant containing the whole Law of Moses was added.

Are Christians under this law? Is this law our “schoolmaster” or tutor? Do we need this schoolmaster or shall we instead look to Jesus Christ? Please read again Gal. 3:24-25 .

“So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:24-25)

This is clearly a reference to 430 years later after the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12) which leads us to Mt. Sinai where the old covenant was made and  the Law of Moses (Exo. 19-24) was given! It was a temporary law that came and went and ended when Christ came.

The Abrahamic covenant was never abolished and continues up to now and we are heirs of that promise as Paul explained (Gal. 3:29). The old covenant is already obsolete and the Law of Moses is not our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” as Paul clearly shows here. This Abrahamic covenant is based on better promises—a better covenant (the new covenant) than the one that was abolished.

In context—in Galatians 3—this particular law cannot make them righteous. That was the issue that was being discussed by Paul. The righteous shall live by the faith of Jesus Christ and no one will be declared righteous by the observance of this particular law (Gal. 3:1-14, Gal. 2:16-17)! Please take note how Paul was filled with righteous anger because of this wrong teaching that was spreading among Christians in Galatia. He called them “foolish Galatians!” (Galatians 3:1). Why? What was this wrong teaching all about? Just read through Galatians 3 and you’ll be surprised! It was salvation by works of the law!

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not against the law. There is a law which Christians should follow. But definitely it’s not the package of laws that was called the Law of Moses under the old covenant. Rather, it is God’s law even before the giving of the Law of Moses. Paul called it the “Law of Christ.” These are laws which do include many parts of the old covenant which can be categorized as moral laws (not animal sacrifices or rituals)—but that is another topic which I will discuss in another blog as time permits.

It is truly exciting and liberating to study Paul’s letter to the Galatians! May the Lord give us all full understanding of the good news! It truly is good news!

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