Q. The word “tithe” literally means “ten percent.” When the Scripture says we must give back to God a tithe of our income, is that just an Old Testament commandment no longer binding upon Christians?
A. The Church holds as one of her precepts (commandments): “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.” According to the Catechism, this means that “the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability” (CCC 2043). In addition, the Church has always insisted that almsgiving (giving to those in need) is a fundamental Christian responsibility.
Beyond this general obligation, the Church as a whole formally offers no detailed rules. The Archdiocese of Atlanta suggests that 5% go to the local parish, 1% to the archdiocese, and 4% to charitable causes, for a total 10% of our income given to God as a tithe.
I would argue that the multiple Old Testament commandments to give a tithe still hold for God’s people today as a minimum. Keep in mind that where the Law under the Old Covenant gave way under the New Covenant to a new obligation for God’s people, the new obligation was usually more demanding than the old, not less. (See, for example, Matthew 5:21–48.) We should expect this to be the case with regard to tithing as well.
In any case, the Church has concluded that the principle of generous giving, rather than the exact fraction, has continued under the New Covenant in Christ. We should also recall that when Jesus reprimanded the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees for making tithes even of their herbs while neglecting “weightier matters,” He didn’t tell them that the tithe was of no account; rather, He said, “These you should have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23, italics added). Jesus also spoke approvingly of the impoverished widow who gave God her last two small coins (see Luke 21:2).
If we fear that tithing won’t leave us enough to survive on, we should remember Jesus’ promise: “Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38). My family has certainly found that to be true over the years.
Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our faithfulness in giving to God, or failing to do so, is a matter of great importance. It’s one indicator of spiritual health. PT