According to some polls, Catholics donate an average of one per cent of their annual income to charity, while Protestants donate around two per cent. But many Protestants I know readily, happily, donate 10 per cent of their income. So what does Scripture and the Church have to say about all this?
The word “tithe” literally means a tenth. The first clear biblical mention of tithing comes in Genesis 14:19–20, with Abram giving the priest-king of Salem “a tenth of everything” he had gained in battle. The king then blessed him.
Similarly, in Genesis 28:20–22, Jacob vowed that, “If God will be with me and protect me … Of everything you give me, I will return a tenth part to you without fail.”
From that point on, tithing becomes an Old Testament prescription (see Leviticus 27:30). We also see a particular emphasis on the fact God will bless those who are generous with their tithes. For example, Proverbs 3:9-10 states: “Honour the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing … your vats will brim over with new wine.”
Sirach 35:6-15 exhorts: “With a generous spirit pay homage to the Lord ... Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means. For he is a God who always repays and will give back to you sevenfold. But offer no bribes; these he does not accept!”
In Tobit 12:8-9, we read of the spiritual benefits of tithing as well: “It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves from death, and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life.”
Malachi 3:7-12 offers one of the most striking demands of tithing in all Scripture. God laments that his people are “robbing” him! How? By withholding the tithe. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you.”
God then goes on to say, test him in your tithing: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord … if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” I don’t know of any other place in all of Scripture where God asks us to test him. But note the abundance God promises to those who bring in the full tithe.
While the New Testament may not spell out a prescribed amount, it certainly emphasizes the principle of tithing clearly: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Lk 6:38).
St. Paul gives a beautiful reflection on giving in 2 Corinthians 9:5-15, teaching that, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly … he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
He then reflects on how God will respond to this cheerful, from-the-heart generosity: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance … He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity … you will glorify God by your obedience … and by the generosity of your contribution.” Wow! Makes you want to add a zero or two …
But many still wonder if a specific tithe/amount still stands today. Scripture seems to stress one should instead give from the heart – giving what they feel is right based on how God has blessed them.
For example, St. Paul writes that, “every Lord’s Day each … should put aside something from what you have earned during the week, and use it for this offering. The amount depends on how much the Lord has helped you earn (1 Cor 16:2).
This would certainly fit with what the Church emphasizes as well. For example, Canon 222 states simply that Christians “are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship … works of the apostolate and of charity … support of ministers ... to promote social justice … to assist the poor from their own resources.”
So no clear amount for a “tithe” seems to be given in New Testament times. But here’s a final thought.
We tend to go from lesser to greater fulfillment as we move from the Old to New Testament – and we see hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh, with God’s law now written on our hearts (Ez 36:25-28).
And remember that priest-king from Genesis 14:19-20 that Abram gave his tithe to? His name was “Melchizedek.” He was “without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God” (Heb 7:3). He “brought out bread and wine” and then blessed Abram.
Hebrews 7 then goes on, against a backdrop of tithing, to confirm that Jesus is also “a priest forever according to the order of” this same Melchizedek (Heb 7:7).
If Abram with his Old Testament “heart of stone” gave 10 per cent, what are we, who are so abundantly blessed, supposed to give from our hearts? “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be …”