In the Judeo-Christian religious traditions, the practice of contributing a percentage of income or other material possessions goes back to the earliest Jewish teachings. In a time when the Pharisees adhered strictly to Jewish law, Jesus used the Jewish custom of tithing to teach about the spirit of giving. Although Jesus refrained from explicitly instructing his followers to continue some form of tithing, his teachings provide guidance for the practice. Later in the Christian scriptures, St. Paul addresses the matter directly.
Defined in the dictionary as giving one-tenth of one's income to a church or other religious work, tithing has an ancient history in the Judeo-Christian traditions. In the Hebrew scriptures, Mosaic law constitutes the most notable incidence of tithing in the Jewish tradition. In Leviticus 27 and in Numbers 18, YHWH instructs Israel to give one-tenth of “crops, herds, flocks, and the fruit of its trees” to the Levites who tended to the tabernacle and had no inheritance of their own. Additional beneficiaries of these tithes included priests and disadvantaged persons in every town.
Jesus' Explicit Teaching About Tithing
Long after Jewish law prescribed followers to practice tithing, Jesus addressed the idea of tithing in a specific way. In his persistent effort to highlight how the Jewish elders missed the spirit of Jewish law, Jesus admonished the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:23 and in Luke 11:42, Gospel authors describe Jesus scolding the Pharisees for customarily giving fruits, like mint and anise, while ignoring such spiritual values of tithing as love of God and justice.
Jesus' Teachings About Giving
While the Christian Gospels include no accounts of Jesus instructing followers to continue any form of tithing, he does teach about the nature of giving within a spiritual rather than legalistic context. In Luke, chapters 12 and 21, Jesus used imagery to show that how much a person gives is related to the spirit in which one gives. In Luke 21, a poor widow gave from what little money she had. Jesus compared her gift to that of a wealthy person who, although giving a great deal, still has a great deal left. In Luke 12, Jesus sums up his teaching by saying that those who have much are required to give much.
St. Paul and Tithing
As the earliest Christian churches established and grew, the Apostle Paul did not devote a lot of time to the idea of tithing in his letters to such fledgling efforts as the church at Corinth. But the Apostle did offer guidance for tithing that reflects Jesus’ emphasis on the spirit, rather than the letter of a law, of giving. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul urged members to put aside some weekly portion of their money. Later, in 2 Corinthians 8:12, Paul echoed Jesus’ emphasis on the spirit of giving when Paul described the characteristics of giving that God finds acceptable, which include willingness and eagerness.
- Bible Gateway: 2 Corinthians 8: Guidelines for Giving
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Bible: Matthew Chapter 23
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Bible: Luke Chapter 11
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Bible: Luke Chapter 21
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Bible: 1 Corinthians Chapter 16
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Bible: 2 Corinthians Chapter 8
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