Did He or didn’t He? That is the million dollar question!
Of course he tithed! Jesus was a Jew, and tithing is basic to Jewish theology!
Many people are quick to assume that simply because he was raised in a Jewish home—and one that strictly obeyed Jewish practices and traditions, and because he lived during the time of the Law, then Jesus must have tithed.
Also, because Jesus rebuked the Pharisees about their manner of tithing as recounted by Matthew, this is proof that he advocated and practiced the giving of the ten percent.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. 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 (NIV)
Luke also quotes Jesus with the same passage:
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Luke 11:42 (ESV)
But let’s keep in mind that careless assumption is the root of erroneous, dysfunctional and downright faulty church doctrine. Jesus was a man of radical theology, one that breaks some rules and yet reinforces others. Thus, when it comes to matters concerning his teaching, such as in the subject of tithing, even the seemingly obvious deserves closer scrutiny.
In our previous discussions, we have established that for the most part, Jesus and his disciples were quiet on the subject of the tithe. Save from a few reference such as those mentioned above, the New Testament had very little to say about the subject.
Matthew E. Narramore, in his book, Tithing: Low-Realm, Obsolete & Defunct, explains these passages
“Jesus merely confirmed that the people he was speaking to were under the Law and that tithing was a part of their covenant obligation. He was not giving instructions to the New Covenant believer. There is no other record of Jesus talking about tithing. His relative silence on the subject tells us that it is not the key to blessing and prosperity in the New Covenant.”
He further explains that, “Unless Jesus had agricultural produce from the land, increase from fields, vineyards, orchards, flocks, herds, and beehives, which were designated by the Law to be tithed on, he would not have been tithing. Even if he gave 10 percent of his carpentry income or a tenth of his ministry offerings, it would not have been called the “tithe” according to the Law’s definition. We know that he gave to the poor, but he would not have been focusing on a percentage. That would be irrelevant to the principle of freewill offerings and to the spirit of giving.
Dr. Russell Kelly, in his book: Should the Church Teach Tithing? A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine, says the same,
“The Bible clearly teaches that only Israelite landowners and Israelite herdsmen inside Israel were required to tithe their increase. This very narrow, but true, definition eliminates all non-landowners, all tradesmen, and all who were too unfortunate to afford raising stock animals for a living in Israel. Neither was this narrow definition of tithing ever changed among Jews for over a thousand years; it was still the definition during the time of Jesus.=
Dr. Kelly goes on to prove that Jesus did not pay the tithe and neither did his disciples by giving references to the verses found in Matthew 12:1-2; Mark 2:23-24; and Luke 6:1-2.
“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-2 (NIV)
“Jesus did not qualify as a person required to pay tithes! Jesus had been a carpenter and many of his disciples had been fishermen. If none of his twelve disciples were farmers or herdsmen, then none were required by the law to pay tithes—only freewill offerings. In addition, the above incident of the gleaning is noteworthy. First, since this was neither a sabbatical year nor a Jubilee year, this incident must have reference to the gleaning laws. Second, gleaning laws were specifically for the poor. Third, the Pharisees did not rebuke Jesus and his disciples for not being too poor to glean. Fourth, the Pharisees did not rebuke Jesus and his disciples for not paying tithe on their harvest! The only accusation is that they performed work on the Sabbath day.”
So, did Jesus tithe? It would seem not. Did he teach tithing? Again, it appears not.
What he did teach is for his followers, those called by his name, is to give as he did—generously.
Christians should give as a result of our relationship with God, not as a way to earn it. We are given grace through faith, not through tithing.
The real question then is not, whether we should tithe as proof that we are followers of Christ but whether our giving reflects our gratefulness for what Jesus has done for us on the cross. There, he gave us all, even his life.
Do we put our money where our heart is? Is it reflected in our giving? For Jesus did say, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matthew 6:21 NIV).