Many Christians have wondered what is the difference between tithes and offerings. The word “tithe” literally means “tenth.” The tithe is one-tenth of a person’s income. The Bible teaches that the tithe belongs to God. Unlike offerings, when we tithe, we are not offering a gift; we are simply returning to God what is already His. On the other hand, offerings are free will gifts to God.
Tithes and offerings in the Old Testament
The Bible teaches that tithing was ordained before the Mosaic Law. We read that the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob tithed. Genesis 14:20 tells us that “he [Abram] gave him tithes of all.” And Genesis 28:22 tells us that Jacob promised God, “And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
At the time of Moses, the Lord instructed, “I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance.” “The tithes of the children of Israel … I have given to the Levites to inherit” (Numbers 18:21, 24); “all the tithe of the land … is the Lord’s” (Leviticus 27:30).
The tithe in the Old Testament days of the Sanctuary services was used to support the priests. God instructed that the tribe of Levi (the priests) received no land, while the other 11 tribes had the land divided between them. The Levites worked full-time taking care of the temple and ministering to God’s people. Therefore, God’s plan was that the tithe would provide for the livelihood of the priests.
Later, the Lord confirmed the principle of tithing through His prophet Malachi saying, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” (Malachi 3:10). And also through the prophet Nehemiah: “Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries” (Nehemiah 13:12).
In addition to the tithe, the Lord asked His children to give offerings for His work as an expression of their gratitude, love and thanksgiving for His blessings. The Bible says, “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He hath given thee” (Deuteronomy 16:17 also Leviticus 2:1). And David the prophet wrote, “Bring an offering, and come into his courts” (Psalms 96:8 also 40:6).
Tithes and offerings in the New Testament
The principle of tithing is found also in the New Testament. Jesus Himself endorsed tithing in Matthew 23:23b. Paul also wrote, “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13, 14).
As for offerings, each Christian decides what he wants to give according to his ability. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Unlike the allotted 10% for tithe, the Bible does not specify the amount for offerings.
Of all the Christian duties, none can be described with more cheerfulness than giving, specifically to spread the kingdom of God in the world. The spirit of generosity is the spirit of Christ. The supreme honor that can be presented to God by His children is illustrating His love in their lives. This is the most effective way of preaching God to the world, He being the greatest giver (John 3:16).
In His service,