Luke 18:12 A Pharisee’s Boast about Tithing

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 15

Luke 18:9 And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.

Luke 18:10 Two men went up into the temple to pray–the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican [tax collector].

Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

Luke 18:12 I fast twice in the week, I give TITHES of all that I possess.

Luke 18:13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

Luke 18:17 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.

In the four Gospels, when one combines Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, the word “tithe/tenth” appears only twice–both times as part of condemnation addressed to the Pharisees WHO DID TITHE for their hypocrisy. The Pharisee in Luke 18 thought that he was more righteous and therefore despised others (v. 9). When he said, “I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican,” he was bragging about his self-righteousness through fasting and tithing (v. 11).

While the tax collector’s sins may have included robbing God, the Pharisee sinned more by exalting himself. His mental attitude canceled out his deeds of service to God. Like many today, he foolishly thought that his large contributions would cover his sins.

It was the tax collector, not the religious person, who went home justified after his sincere prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (v. 13). Jesus was making neither a positive nor a negative statement about tithing. He did make it clear, though, that righteousness cannot be earned by fasting, tithing, or any other good work. This account teaches that God accepts those who humble themselves, and rejects those who exalt themselves (v. 14).

Except for his condemnation of the Pharisees, the Gospels, inspired by the Holy Spirit, did not record any other instance where Jesus mentioned tithing. Mark and John do not even use the word.

“Give All You Have to the Poor”

Luke 18:18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

Luke 18:20 You know the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother.

Luke 18:21 And he said, All these I have kept from my youth up.

Luke 18:22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said to him, You still lack one thing; sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

Luke 18:23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

Whenever the wealthy were involved, Jesus was more concerned about their treatment of the poor than he was about their tithing. Jesus told the rich young ruler, “Sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor.” This saying of Jesus was quoted very often and his counsel was taken literally by many of the early church leaders in the first three centuries because they had no desire for wages which would contradict their ascetic lifestyles. Notice that Jesus did not say, “Sell all that you have, pay tithes to the priests, and give the rest to the poor.” Why not? What happened to tithing? Many today would expect Jesus to say, “Give it to the church.” However, rather than promote tithing, Jesus told the rich young ruler to give ALL, not to the temple, but to the poor. For the rich ruler, whose money was his god, Jesus asked for everything.

“Give Half of What You Have to the Poor”

Luke 19:2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

Luke 19:8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

Luke 19:9 And Jesus said to him, This day is salvation come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.

A very similar account to that of the rich young ruler is found in this story of Zacchaeus. He voluntarily promised Jesus, “Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Notice again the absence of tithing. Half of his considerable wealth was promised directly TO THE POOR, not to the temple [or to the church].

God Expects the Wealthy to Give a Larger Percentage

“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not. 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 want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want, that there may be equality (2 Cor 8:12-14).”

These verses are quoted often in this book because they touch the very heart of New Covenant giving principles. The wealthy have a greater accountability to God for their money than do the poor! God has blessed them with money-making talents and expects them to use those abilities for him. However, one cannot buy God’s favor. Unlike the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus did not have a god-like problem with money, therefore, Jesus allowed him to keep at least the other half of his wealth. God blesses certain people who can handle wealth properly. We observe this in Zacchaeus, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The church always needs God-provided funds from the wealthy to help finance its mission outreach.

Whereas many churches today encourage its members to “sell all that you have” or, more often, “leave in your will much or all that you have to the church,” Jesus plainly said “give it to the poor.” How much of the church’s income goes to the poor? Again I ask the question, “If the curse of Malachi 3:8-10 refers to those who hoarded the tithe to the neglect of the poor in 3:5, then what kind of punishment is due to the New Covenant church which becomes wealthy and neglects the poor?” “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him?” (Heb. 2:3). The Church has a greater responsibility to help the poor than did Old Covenant Israel.