What Was Tithing Like in the Bible?

For the first time in history, tithing is at our fingertips. You can tithe anywhere, anytime. Just a mere swipe and tap on your phone screen to your church’s website or app, and you’ve sent your 10% to the Lord.

But what was tithing like in the Bible? It looks a lot different than it does today. You may be surprised to learn that the Mosaic law describes three separate tithes.[1] You might say, “That sounds like a lot more than ten percent.” Well, you would be right. Because it is. Let’s go through each tithe and calculate the total required generosity.

1. Regular Tithe of 10%

This is the tithe you’re likely most familiar with. The regular tithe of 10% provided for the priests and supported the work of the temple.

This command to tithe was first given in Leviticus, which was part of the Torah (the law). Leviticus 27:30-32 says, “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord … And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.” The word tithe literally means tenth. This first tenth was the first and best of their produce, crops, and livestock.  It was holy and set apart for the Lord as an act of worship. It also symbolized the Israelites’ trust that the Lord would provide for them.

Let’s take a step back. Why were these commands initially given? Because the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Then God brought them to Canaan to give them the Promised Land, and they needed to know how to live in it. All of the sudden, they had vineyards and flocks and herds and crops. This was all new to them. There were no crops in the wilderness—they hadn’t had all this before. So these laws were given in the Torah to infuse their faith in God into every part of their life—especially their finances. That’s why God commanded them to give 10% to show that he was first in their finances and first in their hearts.

2. Festival Tithe

God also commanded the Israelites to give a festival tithe when they celebrated the feasts. Think of the feasts like a spiritual holiday. These were special times when Israel set aside the daily grind to focus on the Lord.

Deuteronomy 16:16-17 describes the three main feasts: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.”

We don’t have time to go into the particulars of the three different feasts—but I encourage you to research and see how each of them point uniquely to Christ. I love the direction about giving at the feasts because it shows that everyone is called give, even though each person can’t give the same amount.

At the feasts, they gave animal sacrifices at the temple. Planning, preparing, and giving the offerings at each feast created a pattern, a habit of giving which kept them spiritually in tune with the Lord. Giving was central to the Israelites’ worship—just as it should be central to our worship. Similarly, we have all received from the Lord. You are to give sacrificially beyond the tithe based on what God has given to you, regardless of what others are giving.

3. Charity Tithe

The third tithe was different from the other tithes because it was given every three years.  

Deuteronomy 14:28–29 says, “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.”

This tithe was a special gift from their produce that went to the priests and the less fortunate. It provided for:

  • Those who ministered before the Lord (the Levite)
  • The fatherless and widow who had no way to support themselves in that society
  • The Gentile stranger.

This tithe was stored up in the towns and then given to these groups as a need arose.

Giving to the needy reminded the Israelites of their testimony, how their forefathers were poor slaves and God rescued and redeemed them out of Egypt and saved them and brought them to the Promised Land. What’s more—and what we can all relate to—is it reminded them of their poverty of spirit. Their giving was a reminder that they needed the Lord’s grace and redemption—just as we do! Similarly, remembering our own testimony will motivate us as followers of Christ to live with an open hand toward those in need.


The Mosaic Law commanded three tithes: the regular tithe, the festival tithe, and the charity tithe.[2] Biblical scholars have totaled up these three tithes and estimate that they equaled around 23.3% of their income—far beyond the 10% of the regular tithe! This means that the Israelites’ total required giving was almost one-fourth of their yearly income! It’s unbelievable to me that so many pastors and biblical scholars today are arguing that we shouldn’t be giving 10%.

Thankfully, under the new covenant, we don’t have three different types of tithes we have to give today. The new covenant of grace means we’re no longer bound to the ceremonial aspects of tithing—but the moral law remains.[3] For the follower of Christ today, tithing is part of stewarding your resources for God’s glory to support the work of the ministry. It didn’t just fall away when Christ came on the scene. In fact, the early church raised the bar through acts of sacrificial generosity like selling what they could so they had funds to give.

What the Old Testament and New Testament clearly show us is that 10% is just a minimum. It’s just the floor of your giving, not the ceiling. Your giving—or lack thereof—is a reflection of who or what is on the throne of your heart. May we be found to be radically generous followers of Christ who give freely because our hearts are sold out for him.

[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/bible-commands-christians-to-tithe/

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/bible-commands-christians-to-tithe/

[3] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/bible-commands-christians-to-tithe/

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