1 Corinthians 16: Principles for Giving to the Needy

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 23

First Corinthians 16:1-3 is quoted almost as often as 9:14 to demonstrate that Christians should support their church through tithes and offerings. Yet, the context of these verses does not contain a single word about tithes, money to “support” the local church, pay salaries, or sustain an organization.

16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do.

“Now concerning.” “Now” means that Paul is changing to yet another problem area faced by the Corinthian church. He has previously dealt with a different problem in almost every chapter. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Corinthians also had problems regarding freewill offerings for the needy. Those who argue that tithing was not mentioned in the New Testament because it was not a problem simply underestimate the problems in the churches. It is highly unlikely that the problems Paul addressed in each chapter would exist if the church was as faithful in giving as the argument from silence assumes.

“Concerning the collection for the saints.” The “saints” are specifically the needy in “Jerusalem” (v. 3). Famine was a common occurrence in Palestine throughout Bible history. Acts 11:27-30 tells of a “great famine throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar,” at approximately A.D. 47. The Christian congregations decided to help those hit hardest by this famine in Judea. Acts 11:29-30 says, “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers which lived in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” Acts 12:25 recorded that Barnabas and Saul delivered this first collection personally.

Paul probably brought famine relief on several return trips to Jerusalem. In Romans 15:25-26 he wrote, “But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia [Corinth] to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” Galatians 2:9-10 mentions a collection, “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go to the heathen, and they to the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was eager to do.”

Second Corinthians 8:4 describes the Macedonian church’s strong commitment, “Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” Second Corinthians 9:1 continues the subject, “For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you.” Therefore, every “giving” principle in Second Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9 relates to this “collection for the saints” who were experiencing famine conditions in Judea. The Christians in Macedonia had begged Paul “for the favor of participation in the support of the saints” even “beyond their ability” (2 Cor. 8:1-6).

At least three of Paul’s companions, Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, had “devoted themselves for ministry to the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15-18). Therefore, it is clear that the “saints,” or “fellow believers in Judea,” is the ONLY focus in the context of First Corinthians 16:1! This burden, shared by the leaders in Jerusalem, and Paul, is either in the foreground, or background, of much of the book of Acts, and many of Paul’s letters.

To summarize the problem, the situation in Jerusalem was very serious indeed. Many Jews (especially the Sadducees) had reacted to Christianity with hostility, cruelty, and depravation of basic necessities to Christians whenever possible. It is also very possible that the early resources from Acts 2:46 had been exhausted and the church needed to rebuild its financial foundation. Paul was instructing the churches that it was their duty to help fellow believers in need. Therefore, the discussion in First Corinthians 16 does not relate to local church fund-gathering except as it might apply to aid for the poor.

“The collection (tees logeias).” Paul’s readers knew exactly what he was referring to by “the collection,” thus, he did not need to explain himself (2 Cor. 9:1). However, almost 2,000 years later, verse 2 often gets separated from its context of verses 1 and 3. The needs of the poor have therefore been overshadowed by the needs of the local church. Yet such is contrary to Old and New Covenant priorities.

Exactly what was being collected “for the saints”? Was it “money,” “food,” or “money and food”? The Greek word, logeia (Strong’s 3048), only occurs twice in the Bible, as “collection” in verse 1 and as “gathering” in verse 2. It could be a gathering of almost anything. Paul and Luke (in Acts) never specify exactly what the “collection” contained. Acts 11:29 calls it “relief’; Acts 24:17 says “alms” and “offerings”; Rom. 15:25-28 reads “contribution,” “material things,” and “fruit” (non edible). Second Corinthians 8 and 9 uses terms such as “gift” (8:4); “their want” (8:14); “this grace” (8:19); “this abundance” (8:20); “this service” (9:12); “this ministration” (9:13); and “distribution” (9:13).

However, for the following reasons, the “collection” was probably food, and not money:

One: Paul never used any term for “money” while describing the “collection.” In fact, Paul’s writings never refer to “money,” or “silver,” in a positive sense! Except for Luke’s quotation of Paul in Acts 20:33, his letters do not even contain the basic word itself! First Timothy 3:3 uses the word aphilarguros, “without covetousness,” and First Timothy 6:10 uses philarguros (covetousness). Neither did Paul ever use any of the currency terms for money! One must conclude that Paul had a strong aversion concerning money. [See argurion (Strong’s 694), aphilarguros (866), kerma (2772), nomisma (3546), philarguria (5365), chalkos (5475), and chrema (5536). Paul never used any of the specific words for money. See lepton (3015); kodrantes (2835); assarion (787); drachma (1406); mina (3414); talanton (5007).

Two: Money does not purchase enough survival food in a famine. The men accompanying Paul would have to protect food-supplies much more than money. Revelation 6:6 reads, “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see you hurt not the oil and the wine.” In our terms, this means that a day’s wages will buy enough for one person to eat.”

Three: There are direct and indirect allusions to food in several verses referring to the “collection.” a) Acts 11:29 “relief” (Greek: diakonia) was originally “deacons,” or “servants” of food; b) Acts 24:17 “Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.” “Alms,” is a call for “mercy” by the hungry poor. Compare Luke 11:41; c) Acts 24:17 “offerings” could be food or otherwise; d) 2 Cor. 8:15 “As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and He that had gathered little had no lack.” This is a quotation of Exodus 16:18 in reference to food; e) 2 Cor. 9:6 “But this I say, He who sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully”; f) 2 Cor. 9:9 “As it is written, He has dispersed abroad; he has given to the poor: his righteousness remains forever.” This could be a reference to sowing; g) 2 Cor. 9:10 “Now he that ministers seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness”; h) Paul’s journey by ship would have been delayed much longer for food collection than for money; i) the collection is never called money.

Four: Religious Jews do not handle or collect money on their Sabbath even today. The earliest Christians who recognized Sunday as a holy day might have had a similar reluctance.

16:2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him, that there may be no gatherings when I come.

“On the first day of the week.” Although Christians traditionally bring contributions for local church support on Sunday, this text, in its historical context, does not discuss local church support. It may only exhort believers to set aside at home contributions “for the poor” every Sunday! Nothing, however, is stated about bringing tithes or offerings to support the church budget! Paul did NOT say “On the first day of every week let each one of you bring your tithes and offerings for the local church budget.” Such manipulation of the text ignores its context.

“Lay by him” (para heautoo tithetoo); literally “by himself to place”. This phrase does not have an uncontested translation. The NAS says “put aside and save;” the NIV reads “set aside a sum of money;” and the RSV says “put something aside.” “By him” has been variously understood as either “by himself,” or “personally.” However, either interpretation is totally irrelevant because local church support is not included in the original context. There is no compelling reason to suppose that corporate worship, rather than personal action, is meant here. Instead, the believers are being instructed to make provision for the poor their top priority for the week’s schedule. Whatever is to be “put aside” could be very heavy, or very light.

“In store,” thee-sau-ri-zoon, is a present active participle of the verb, thesaurizo (Strong’s 2343), which simply means “storing up.” The participle is translated “in store” in the KJV, “and save” in the NAS, “saving it up” in the NIV, and “store it up” in the RSV. Its noun form is thesauros (Strong’s 2344). The noun occurs eleven (11) times in the New Testament, but only three times outside of the Gospels. These are the “gifts” of the wise men (Matt. 2:11); the treasures of the heart (Matt. 12:35; 6:19, 21; Luke 6:45); the treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20; 19:21; Mk. 10:21; Luke 12:33); and all the wisdom and knowledge of Christ (2 Cor. 4:7; Col. 2:3). In its eight New Testament occurrences, the verb form refers to “laying up earthly wealth” (Matt. 6:19); “laying up things of heavenly value” (Matt. 6:20), “laying up whatever is important to a person, like food stored in barns” (Luke 12:21), “storing up wrath” (Rom. 2:5), “parents’ provision of care to children” (2 Cor. 12:14), “storing up gold and silver for the last days” (Jas. 5:3), and God’s “reservation of the heavens and the earth for the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 3:7).

The important point of this word study is that, although the two forms of the word used in 16:2 are usually translated “treasure” in the KJV, they are most often NOT money. Yet some scholars stubbornly declare that thesauros here only refers to the church as a treasury, or storehouse for money. They conclude this, not from context and accepted principles of interpretation, but from pagan Greek BANKING practices where the temple was a safe-keeping place secure from theft. A wide range of interpretation exists in commentaries, for example:

Adam Clarke’s Commentary: “He was then to bring it on the first day of the week, as is most likely, to the church or assembly, that it might be put in the common treasury.”

Matthew Henry Commentary: “The manner in which the collection was to be made: Every one was to lay by in store (v. 2), have a treasury, or fund, with himself, for this purpose. The meaning is that he should lay by as he could spare from time to time, and by this means make up a sum for this charitable purpose. . . Some of the Greek fathers rightly observe here that this advice was given for the sake of the poorer among them. They were to lay by from week to week, and not bring in to the common treasury, that by this means their contributions might be easy to themselves, and yet grow into a fund for the relief of their brothers .”

The New Bible Commentary: “Either put on one side at home a sum proportionate to what one has received, or else bring it to the central treasury of the church.”

Wycliffe Bible Commentary: “‘By him’ is probably a reference to the home; giving was to be private giving. . . . This system would revolutionize present church customs! Paul’s carefulness in money matters should be noted. He never appealed for money for himself and did not even desire to handle money for others if there could be the slightest question about it.”

The pagan Greek temples were safe “treasure houses” where pagans kept their valuables, but did not give them to the gods. Some also think that the Jewish Temple might have been used as a bank in later years. The idea behind using the temples as holding places, or banks, was that the gods would bring vengeance on anybody stealing from their temples. In no way should the Christian church be used as a temporary storage place, or bank, for God to protect our financial wealth so that we can withdraw it later for our own personal use. [Yet some churches sell bonds.] Although neither concept is New Covenant, calling the church a “treasury-storehouse” places more of a pagan Greek connotation on thesauros than an Old Testament storehouse connotation. See comments on Malachi 3:10.

Matt. 27:6 And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful to put them into the treasury [corban: 2878], because it is the price of blood.Mark 12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury [gazophulakion: 1049], and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury. . . .

John 8:20 These words Jesus spoke in the treasury [gazophulakion: 1049], as he taught in the temple. . . .

Oddly, from the three texts above, the Greek New Testament does not use the same Greek word for “treasury” in describing the Temple (or church) that was used by the Greeks for their temple treasuries — perhaps to avoid the pagan comparison. If Paul had wanted to convey the idea of a treasury in the church to that of the Jewish temple, he would have used either corban (Strong’s 2878) (as per Matt. 27:6) or gazophulakion (Strong’s 1049) (as per Mark 12:41, 43; John 8:20) for “treasury” instead of a form of thesauros. Both corban and gazophulakion refer to the room in the temple where the priests stayed, public records were kept, and thirteen chests for collections of money for temple service and the poor were kept. It would have been a simple matter to remind Christians that the church now served such function. However, Paul did not make such a comparison.

Therefore, since thesauros does not “exclusively” mean “treasury” or “storehouse,” theologians should not insist that it must mean “the treasury, or treasurer, of the local church.” It must be remembered that this is the first century early church that usually met in homes and later in caves and catacombs. It did not have separate church buildings, nor did it yet have an organized system of salaried leadership. While it may be true that pagan Greeks used their worship centers to store wealth, the Greek worship centers were secure and protected by soldiers! Secure Christian worship structures did not exist when Paul wrote First Corinthians. The church could not even agree on leadership authority, much less other church offices (1 Cor. 1:12; 9:1-3; 2 Cor. 3:1-6). Those practices which evolved in later centuries when the church was a political and social establishment should not be read back into the original text.

2 Cor. 12:14 Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be burdensome to you for I seek not yours, but you; for the children ought not to lay up [thee-sau-ri-zein] for the parents, but the parents for the children.2 Cor. 12:15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.

In Second Corinthians 12:14-15 Paul used the phrase, “lay up,” in exactly the opposite meaning from the way some interpret First Corinthians 16:2. Paul is definitely NOT referring to a treasury in the church here! While Paul and other church elders are the “parents,” church members and new converts are the “children.” The passage, from 12:10 to 12:21, includes the underlying problem of payment for services rendered. It reflects his same thoughts expressed in First Corinthians 9:15-18 and Acts 20:33-35. For Christ’s sake, Paul considered it a “pleasure” to be in need (necessities); among other things it made him “strong” (12:10). Admittedly, other churches had helped Paul with the bare necessities, even when he served others (12:13), but that does not mean that they continued to do so. As we have seen in the quotations at the end of the last chapter, the early church fathers, like Paul, considered it an honor to be poor for Christ’s sake and many greatly valued a self-denying lifestyle.

In three trips to Corinth, Paul refused any help whatsoever from that large congregation. In Second Corinthians 12:14-15 “laying up” means that, instead of receiving money from the church, Paul would “spend” everything he had on church members–money, health and vitality! With tongue-in-cheek, Paul said that his approach to the Corinthians was “crafty” and “with guile, deceit, trickery, or cunning” (12:16). He meant that, by refusing to “make a gain” of them by accepting wages (the Greek means daily rations) (12:17-18), he had disarmed his accusers (12:20). Likewise, it is obvious that Paul did not intend for the same phrase, “lay by in store,” in First Corinthians 16 to include any pastoral support.

“Set aside a sum of money” (NIV). Why does the NIV read “set aside a sum of money” instead of “lay up in store”? “Money” is a rather poor paraphrase rather than a translation! Surely Paul, who was well-educated, and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, knew all of the common words for “money” and would have used one of them if he indeed meant money! See the previous discussion under “collection.” While argurion, the most common word for “money,” occurs twenty-one times in the New Testament, Paul used none of the terms for “money” in this text!

“As God has prospered him” (KJV); “as he may prosper” (NAS, NKJV); “in keeping with his income” (NIV); (ho ti ean euodootai), literally, “that which he may be increased.”

Deut. 15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land. Therefore I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land.

Acts 11:29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers which lived in Judea.

2 Cor. 8:12-14 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that which a man has, and not according to that which he does not have. For I do not mean that other men should be eased, and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their need, that their abundance also may be a supply for your need, that there may be equality.

2 Cor. 9:7 Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give–not grudgingly, nor of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

This simple phrase, “as God has prospered him,” includes the Greek conditional particle, ean, which means “in case that,” and suggests uncertainty. The word, eu-odontai, literally means “good journey” and refers to those whom life has treated well. Therefore every person should store up for the poor to the extent that they may have been blessed in life.

The idea of freely giving as one had been prospered is common in Scripture. However, contrary to common application, this phrase has absolutely no contextual reference to tithing, nor to support of local churches and salaries. It is perfectly clear that “as he may prosper” is not a command concerning how much to give to the CHURCH, but to POOR SAINTS! Yet those who teach tithing ignore the context and include compulsory tithing in this text along with freewill offerings to support the church. In fact, during the first centuries of the New Covenant church, the vast majority of contributions went to the poor, and not merely the leftovers. Also, under New Covenant principles, the amount given is a freewill faith response.

A seminary textbook, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, says, “Just as poor people could offer less costly sacrifices in those days (Lev. 12; cf. Luke 2:24), so Christians should not require identical levels of giving from all believers today. In fact the N.T. does not promote a fixed percentage of giving. We may better capture the spirit of N.T. giving through what R. Sider calls ‘graduated tithe,’ by which the more one makes, the higher percentage one ought to give to the Lord’s work, and especially to helping the poor (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:12-15)”.

1001 Things You Always Wanted to Know about the Bible, J. Stephen Lang says that “the New Covenant urges generous giving proportionate to one’s income. Wealthy Christians were expected to give generously to aid the less fortunate brother in the faith.”

In The Complete Book of Bible Answers, Ron Rhodes says, “I do not believe that Christians today are under the ten percent tithe system. We are not obligated to percentage tithe at all. There is not a single verse in the New Testament where God specifies that we should give ten percent of their income to the church. . . . We are to give as we are able. For some this will mean less than ten percent, but for others whom God has materially blessed, this will mean much more than ten percent.”

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology agrees, “Paul’s vocabulary and teaching suggest that giving is voluntary and that there is no set percentage. Following the example of Christ who gave even his life (2 Cor. 8:9), we should cheerfully give as much as we have decided (2 Cor. 9:7) based on how much the Lord has prospered us (1 Cor. 16:2), knowing that we reap in proportion to what we sow (2 Cor. 9:6) and that we will ultimately give account for our deeds (Rom. 14:12).

In Acts 3:6 Peter said, “Silver and gold I have none; but such as I have I give to you; In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” Gone are the days that most clergy can say with Peter, “I have no silver and gold.” Also gone is their ability to say “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” It is past time that the church returned to New Covenant basic attitudes towards the poor. The early church’s attitude towards giving and the poor is drastically different from the modern concept. Priorities have been reversed! Too often the lion’s share of contributions must go to pay unnecessary building expenses and large salaries, while the poor are ignored. And too often newspaper headlines reveal church financial scandals rather than works of charity for the poor.

Compulsory giving cannot possibly produce the level of giving which is prompted spontaneously by the Holy Spirit when the gospel is preached with power and authority! When Peter and John were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness, and the congregation was of one heart and soul,” they gave and shared all, “for there was not a needy person among them (Acts 4:31-34).” Yet Peter did not preach on tithing here, nor anywhere else in the records of the New Testament; he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ!

History proves that many centuries of compulsory legalistic tithing failed to produce moral and spiritual blessings in Old Covenant Israel (Heb. 7:11, 18; 10:1, 2). On the other hand, while the first century church was composed mainly of women, children, and slaves, it still flourished and grew. The giving principles of the New Covenant, which are freewill offerings, revert back to God’s original plan before the Levites were temporarily inserted to replace the priesthood of believers.

“Each one of you, on the first day of each week, should set aside a specific sum of money in proportion to what you have earned and use it for the offering.”


The above translation of First Corinthians 16:2 currently appears on an offering envelope provided by Lifeway Envelope Services for Southern Baptist churches. It is sad that, while the denomination preaches conservative adherence to a literal correctness of the Word of God, this kind of alteration of God’s Word has crept onto its offering envelopes. This translation is not found in any legitimate version of the Bible. Yet it is an obvious reference to specific tithing of money, which the text does not teach.

16:3 And when I come, whoever you shall approve by your letters, I will send them to bring your liberality to Jerusalem.

Again, the famine context of the “collections” most likely means that the contributions were “food,” not money. “Preservation” of the food was a greater concern for the contributing churches than was theft. Each church was asked to send several people along with the “collections.” Titus and another “brother” volunteered to help in the collection (2 Cor. 8:16-18). This unnamed “brother” had been chosen by the churches to travel with them (8:19).

Paul had discreetly rebuked the Corinthians about the consequences of not giving as much as other churches. He had sent these men to prevent other representatives from finding them unprepared (2 Cor. 9:1-6). If the collection were only money entrusted to Paul, then those from Macedonia would not know how much was given. However, if the collection were food supplies, then a visual check of ship stores would reveal the quantity.

Most likely, each church sent representatives for several purposes. First, they insured that the food supplies were kept watertight and secure on board the ship. Second, each protected its own supplies from general theft. Third, the Gentile converts became examples of Paul’s work among the Gentiles when he arrived in Jerusalem. Also, there may have been some mistrust between the Macedonian churches and the Corinthian church (2 Cor 8:20-24).