Tithes and Offerings – Is There A Difference?

As I write this my church has just completed a capital stewardship campaign. At the same time, as Executive Director of The Idlewild Foundation, I have the responsibility (and great blessing) to teach stewardship lessons in different small groups. I have been asked one question several times and have had to defer answering because it is a topic I have never studied – I did not want to give an answer that is my own when someone is asking for God’s answer. The question sounds simple but it really is not, “What difference, if any, is there between tithes, offerings and other gifts?”

That is a great question!

The starting point for any question about God and what He means by certain words in the Bible is context. So, using Lexiconcordance.com, let’s start with the Hebrew and Greek words used throughout the Old and New Testaments and work from there to how those words were used and what God wants us to understand. 


In the Hebrew, there are several words for tithe, one of which is a masculine noun maaser, pronounced mah-as-ayr’, and meaning a tenth part. See Strong’s Concordance H4643. On the other hand, offering has multiple Hebrew words, depending on the type of offering. One example is a feminine noun minchah, pronounced min-khaw’, and meaning a memorial offering. See Strong’s Concordance (H4503). Tithe has a fixed mathematical formula while offering there is no formula ever appearing for any offering. 

One thing is clear from the Hebrew, tithes and offerings are very different in God’s eyes and heart.


The Greek New Testament does not change that obvious impression. There are also several Greek nouns translated as tithe with the most common being dekate, pronounced dek-at’-ay, also meaning a tenth part. See Strong’s Concordance G1181 and G1182. In Greek, there are two words for offering, with the most common being prosphora, pronounced pros-for-ah’, meaning an offering or a sacrifice. See Strong’s Concordance G4376. However, there are multiple other Greek words for different offerings including drink offering, spendó, pronounced spen’-do. See Strong’s Concordance G4689. The same conclusion is true for the Greek words, tithe has a formula and requires a mathematical calculation while an offering does not.

Next, let’s draw the meaning out from the context and usage.

For both words, tithes and offerings, Malachi 3:8 is a good illustration because the prophet Malachi used both words in the same sentence. For offering, Malachi uses the Hebrew teruwmah, H8641, meaning a contribution to be used for sacred purposes. For tithe, Malachi used ma’aser, H4643. The fact that Malachi used two different words in the same sentence immediately following each other suggests a different meaning for tithe and offering.

Regardless of the likely different meanings, Malachi 3:8 show that the failure to bring offerings and not just the tithe, is considered by God to be neglect.
Even more suggesting of different meanings of tithe and offering is Nehemiah 13:5.

Nehemiah 13:5
5  and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests.

Here, offerings of grain appear to be distinct from tithes of grain.

The tithe

The tithe was a requirement of the law. Under the Mosaic law, all Israelites were to give 10 percent of their earnings and crops, the first fruits, to the tabernacle or temple for the Levites in service to God (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; and 2 Chronicles 31:5). However, there were actually three different tithes, see Does The New Testament Teach Tithing? The passage in Numbers 18:26 is especially telling because the Levites were themselves to tithe on the tithes brought to them. Their tithe went directly to the Lord by going to the high priest. Numbers 18:28.


Offerings did not appear to be as mathematically determined. In Genesis, Noah offered burnt offerings to the Lord.

Genesis 8:20
20  Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.

That offering was not demanded or required by God. The numbers of clean animals and clean birds did not appear to be set or determined by any formula. In Exodus 25, Moses was instructed by God to tell the Israelites to bring Him an offering. God made it clear what was an acceptable offering but no specific quantity or percentage of income or possessions was set by God for that special offering.

It is that same way with other offerings as God gives His people discretion was to the amount or number of offerings to bring in most circumstances. He allows His people to decide what and how much to give, knowing that the circumstances of the moment may establish a limit despite even the greatest heartfelt desire.

Throughout the rest of the Torah, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the word “offerings” is common but not mathematically related to income or possessions, regardless of whether the offerings were sin offerings, drink offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, Sabbath offerings, daily offerings, monthly offerings, a special offering such as for the Tabernacle, or any other. The offering was at times set by a specific amount, such as one bull or goat, but nowhere is there an apparent mathematical or formulaic connection between income and the offering.

These tithes and offerings were to be given to honor the Lord their God. It as a part of Jewish worship to bring the tithes and offerings.

New Testament freedom from the law

In the New Testament, the relationship between God and man changed. No longer were offerings and sacrifices required to seek forgiveness for sin. Hebrews 10:1-18. The sacrifice of Christ is the sacrifice that matters.

Instead of a legalistic or formulaic tithe or offering, believers freely give to the Lord, the local church, and to ministries and missions. Tithes and offerings are far more than a check written weekly or monthly. We are called in Romans 12:1 to offer our bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”. We do this because we were “those who have been brought from death to life,” and, therefore, we are to “offer every part” of ourselves to Him as instruments of righteousness.” Romans 6:13. What God wants is not our stuff (which is already His anyway). Instead, God wants us to give freely to Him, joyfully, and with hearts overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving to Him. Our grateful hearts should give generously, willingly, and cheerfully flowing from the love and grace in Christ. 2 Corinthians 9:6–8.

However, is there then no requirement to tithe? See Does The New Testament Teach Tithing? where this topic as discussed. Consider passages such as

1 Corinthians 16:2
2  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.


Matthew 23:23
23  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

These passages strongly imply the Lord’s approval of the tithe, or at least systematic giving, to support the ministries of the local church. Obviously, Jesus did not disapprove of the tithe by His statement recorded in Matthew 23:23, nor did Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:2. While Paul did not use the word “tithe” in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, the collection he describes sounds a lot like a tithe because it is a sum determined “in keeping” with a person’s income and it looks a lot like firstfruits.

So, is the tithe required? Are offerings also required?

Is it as clear as some say? One author makes the answer almost mechanical:

“As the giver of those tithes and offerings, you should know how to tell them apart.

•  The tithe is the first 10 percent of your income that God calls you to give to your local church each month.

•  An offering is any money you choose to give above and beyond the tithe.”

That mechanical position fails to take into consideration the fact that only one of three tithes was 10% and all three tithes total up to 23 1/3%. See Does The New Testament Teach Tithing? That thinking also ignores arguments that the tithe is under the law but we are no longer under the law; we now are under grace.

Despite the weakness of that mechanical position, there is merit in the idea that the tithe, or at a minimum, a worship offering, goes to the church and its people and ministries whereas “offerings”, as they are described in the Old Testament, go to kingdom work that may or may not be in the church.

What authority is there for that position? A lot.

Matthew 23:23 shows that Jesus commended, not condemned, the tithe. While no one should ever neglect mercy, justice and faithfulness, clearly we “should” also practice the tithe.

Matthew 23:23
23  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Jesus was in discussion with Jews who followed Him and He addressed their freedom. They wrongly claimed they had never been slave to anyone, apparently forgetting the bondage of the Jewish people in Egypt. In John 8:39 Jesus tells them, “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.” Here is the key point. One of the things Abraham did, long before God handed down the law, was tithe to God! Genesis 14. It certainly appears that Jesus approves of tithing even in New Testament times.

In Acts 4:32-37 we see the new believers sharing willingly and joyfully with those in need. There is no mention of the word tithe, but the concept of an offering to both the new church and to the less fortunate new believers is apparent throughout that passage as Joseph sold a field and brought not 10% of the sale or 10% of the profit but instead 100% of the full sale price.

The passage cited above, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, shows the call to support the ministries of the new church, including the missionary Paul himself. As noted above, the amount is “in keeping” with the believer’s income, even though not set out as a specific percentage of a believer’s income.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2
1  Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.
2  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul again lays out the call to support the church and ministries as well as himself as a missionary. The church was too important as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7) to allow it to be unfunded and unsupported by either tithes or offerings. The giving was not just to Paul or other missionaries, it was unquestionably first to the Lord. 2 Corinthians 8:5.

There should be no doubt that the church was to be supported by donations from the believers, whether by tithes, offerings or both together.

What can you offer?

Start with the fact that even though there is a clear difference between tithes and offerings, the Lord required both to be brought to Him. The tithe was something of value, whether money, a crop, an animal or even a firstborn child. The offering, on the other hand, while most often discussed in monetary terms, can be a lot more than just writing a check. True generosity is a lot more than writing a check, it is a worshipful giving of yourself.

The traditional way of viewing the alternatives is the alliterated Time, Treasure and Talents. An alternate way of setting this out uses L.I.F.E., Labor, Influence, Financial resources, and Expertise. However you express it, whether with or without alliteration (time, talents. and treasures), offerings includes a gift of yourself and all that God has given to you.


While time is not a “thing”, it is still something that belongs entirely to God. Psalm 24. As the great I Am, Exodus 3:14, He is Lord over time. It is something that is His, so we should be generous with the time He has given us, After all, time is often the most valuable thing we have.

We can give of time even when we struggle financially and cannot be generous with our money. You cannot give what you do not have, so you give the time and attention you do have. Generosity is far more than giving money and certainly includes investing in ministry by giving your time to God.

Included in the time we should give is the time where we can share our influence and expertise. Yes, we worked hard to develop our influence and expertise, but we must recognize that everything, including our skills, our intelligence, our education and our abilities all were made possible by God. Deuteronomy 8:18.


As noted above, our abilities, our talents, our skills and our intelligence were all given to us by God. We have been equipped not for our personal benefit but for works of service. Ephesians 4:11-12. The minute we stop working and serving to bring glory to God and work for our own benefit, we dishonor God. He gave us our talents to use for His glory. Deuteronomy 8:18.


Last, but not least, we get back to giving to God through our financial resources. There is certainly nothing wrong with giving money, it is something we should do with a spirit of gratitude and joy. We are blessed to be allowed to walk alongside our Creator. Money should not be all that we offer to God, but since He has given us all that we have, it is a blessing that he allows us to keep much as 90%.

What He has given us is for His glory, not for our keeping.

2 Corinthians 9:11
11  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This is a huge topic. In Part 2 of More on the Tithe, we look at topics that often arise, including the amount of giving, the place or organization to which you give, and even why people, even believers, don’t give. We then will conclude and see how God has called us to excel in the grace of giving – and how we can do that!

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40 year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.