Ask a Franciscan

How to Count Tithing

Q. Our parish provides weekly contribution envelopes that ask us to give five percent of our pre-tax income to the parish and another five percent to charities of our choice. If we assist relatives or friends who need help, can this be considered part of our tithing? Is it O.K. not to meet financial duties such as rent to meet the 10-percent tithing goal?

A Protestant relative says that we must always give 10 percent even if that means not paying certain bills. I do not agree. Also, he says that helping others besides the Church is a love offering and is not part of tithing. What can I respond?

A. Let’s begin with the biblical description of tithing, giving one tenth of some product to God. According to John L. McKenzie’s excellent Dictionary of the Bible, this practice was already in use before Abraham, who paid a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20).

Tithes on grain, wine, oil and firstborn animals are required in Deuteronomy 14:22-29. Every third year they are to benefit Levites, aliens, orphans and widows. Tithes are also mentioned in the Books of Leviticus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Malachi and 1 Maccabees.

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus refers to how zealously Pharisees pay tithes. In Luke 18:12, he describes a Pharisee boasting to God about paying tithes. Hebrews 7:1-10 also mentions tithes. Without using this exact term, Acts of the Apostles describes the common fund that meant that no follower of Jesus was in financial need (4:34).

Although most followers of Jesus do not understand tithing as required, many Christian groups encourage it. Must 10 percent go to the local parish or congregation? No. Can private gifts or donations to charitable organizations be considered as part of a tithe? I would say yes to that and to assisting financially one’s friends and relatives.

In biblical times, there was no social “safety net” that most Western societies now provide by means of taxes. Even so, there are many genuine needs addressed by charitable organizations, some of which advertise in this publication.

Give what you can, after you have paid your bills (including your rent) and made reasonable provision for your future. All we have comes from God and should be used in a way that reflects that fact.

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