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Tag: offerings

The Tithe That Binds, part 3

Having presented the case that Old Testament tithing is no longer binding as a law for New Testament believers, and having put forth the abiding principles of faith, sacrifice, and worship as the center of giving in the New Testament, I now want to present and answer the most common objections to my view that I have encountered over the years (some of which have already been addressed in the previous articles).

1) Some have said “Jesus commanded us to tithe”: This conviction comes primarily from Matthew 23:23/Luke 11:42.  About the tithing of herbs, Jesus certainly says, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt.23:23), but we must remember that the overall context and the overall biblical theology of this phrase (i.e., how it fits into the entirety of scriptural teaching) must guide our interpretation.  Jesus is talking to Jews living under the Old Covenant system.  We should expect Him to command them to tithe, just as He would command them to circumcise their baby boys, eat kosherly, observe all of the feast days, and keep the Sabbath Day holy.

If we are going to insist that Jesus is commanding us to tithe from these texts, then we must be consistent in our interpretation of other such commands from Jesus.  For example, in John 13:14-15 Jesus commands His disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (emphasis added).  Admittedly, foot-washing is not an Old Testament law, but it does serve as a command of Jesus nonetheless.  It is the very Word of God just as much as His Word on tithing, but few Christians would say that foot-washing is binding on New Testament believers (minus a few groups here and there).

2)  Some have said, “I know that you have a seminary education but . . .”: I have to say that this one can be a bit disconcerting.  What does a seminary education have to do with anything?  Certainly, such an education can sway a person to my view on this issue.  But just as certainly, an education can sway a person to believe that the tithe is still binding in the New Testament.

3)  Some have said, “Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek before the Mosaic Law”: I have briefly addressed this in Part 1 of this series but want to say a bit more here.  While it is true that tithing predates the Law in the Old Testament, so too does circumcision.  Every orthodox branch of Christianity agrees that circumcision is no longer binding on God’s people under the New Covenant.  Some may object that circumcision was the sign of the old covenant.  Therefore comparing tithing and circumcision is like comparing apples to oranges.  I must respectfully disagree.  I do so respectfully because I do agree that circumcision was the sign of the covenant.  But I consider this a false dichotomy.  Even though circumcision was the sign of the covenant, this makes tithing no less a part of the Mosaic Law.  While tithing was not the centerpiece of the Law, it certainly was the major tool for funding the religious system that carried out the other laws and duties of the covenant such as circumcision.  In other words, the tithe “paid” for the procedure of circumcision.

4)  Some have said, “Won’t this encourage people to give less”: This may be the most frequent objection I have heard, that on one hand I consider to be the most reasonable.  It is the most reasonable because it can be the most natural response.  We might say this is man’s natural response to a financial issue.  I’ve noticed over the years that people get antsy when the money gets tight in the local church.  Our natural reaction to such a problem is usually law.  We tend to believe that laying down a standard percentage for giving and then teaching that standard a bit dogmatically will lead to more faithfulness.  But this misses the point of giving entirely.  Law-based giving lends itself to legalism and worry over whether you have met the “standard.”  Grace-based giving, however, lends itself to freedom in the Spirit.  The “standard” for giving in a grace-based economy leads to a deeper reality of worship.  The people that would use my interpretation of the tithe to wiggle their way out of “having” to give more money have already nullified God’s grace anyway.  Both legalistic giving and libertarian giving miss the point of the Bible: grace-based giving.

While this series of articles on the tithe may have left some things unanswered, I pray that it serves to help us understand God’s Word and to keep lines of communication between Christians open.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

The Tithe That Binds, part 1

We assume too much.  Sometimes we assume we know things that we really don’t know.  Sometimes we assume that others understand us when they really don’t.  When it comes to the Bible, we often assume we know what it says and what it means.  This is especially true regarding its teaching on tithing.

Many Christians assume that the New Testament teaches them to give a tithe of all of their income to the local church.  For many of us, this idea has been engrained from our earliest days.  Thankfully, some have assumed less than others and have at least studied the New Testament for themselves and believe they have found evidence that tithing is still binding for Christians today.  But upon closer examination, I am convinced from the New Testament evidence that the tithe is no longer a law to be obeyed by believers.

Four References with No Substantial Proof
If the tithe were still binding for New Testament believers, then one would think that there would be clear and ample evidence.  But there is not.  Granted, the New Testament talks about the use of money, the love of money, and the giving away of money all over the place.  When it comes to the tithe, however, there are but four sections of New Testament Scripture that mention it, and two of those are one verse in length and parallel accounts in the Gospels at that (Matt.23:23/Lk.11:42; Lk.18:12; Heb.7:1-10).  The question before us is whether or not these four references teach that Christians are required to give a certain percentage to the local church.

The references to tithing in the Gospels simply affirm that Law-abiding Jews are certainly expected to be tithing just as they would be expected to keep the kosher food restrictions and stone people caught in adultery.  Ironically, in both Gospel sections Jesus is actually rebuking the Pharisees for their legalistic understanding of tithing.

Regarding Hebrews 7:1-10, many tithe-advocates drive their stake in the ground here.  While I admit that this text has more flesh on the skeleton than the examples in the Gospels, Hebrews 7 still lacks clear evidence that the tithe is binding.  In the context of Hebrews 7, we must understand that the writer is striving to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus over the Levitical priest—Jesus is a better High Priest than the Levitical one, just as Melchizedek was too.

The point is not that tithing is reaffirmed as binding for Christians.  The point is that all of the temple-related regulations, such as tithing, were fulfilled by Christ.  There is no longer any need for the temple, priests, or sacrifices of any kind.  Therefore, there is no longer any need for tithes to “pay” for the upkeep of the temple or the needs of the priests.  The tithe, like circumcision, was an Old Testament Law that was temporal in nature rather than eternal (like “love your neighbor” or “do not murder”).  Even though the tithe in Hebrews 7 is traced back to Abraham before the Law, so is circumcision.  And practically all Christians agree that the pre-Law practice of circumcision is no longer binding.

All or None
Here’s the thing.  If the tithe is still binding, then we must obey the law of tithing to the letter (Gal.3:10-14; Jas.2:10).  True tithing would look more like this:

1)  Old Testament tithes were only on food, drink, and livestock (Lev.27:30-33).  Today, that would mean, in addition to bringing 10% of our income to the church, we must bring 10% of our livestock and fruits and vegetables from our gardens into the church, or else sell 10% of them and bring that money.

2)  Actually, it would be closer to 23.3% because obeying the letter of the Law means that we must give all three Old Testament tithes (Num.18:21-24; Dt.14:22-27; Dt.14:28-29)—20% each year and 10% more every three years.  It is possible, however that tithes two and three (Dt.14:22-27; 14:28-29) are really one—tithe two simply being given to the poor and indigent every third year.

3)  We should stop expecting all Christians to tithe since a few groups were also exempt from tithing—namely the Levite, sojourner, fatherless, and widow (Dt.26:12).  Some would say non-farming occupations were also exempt.

Based on this evidence (and the lack of evidence in the New Testament to the contrary), Christians are free to give less than 10% of their income to the local church, or Christians are free to give more than 10% of their income to the local church.  While tithing is no longer a law to be obeyed, it certainly remains a principle to be applied.  Whatever our view on tithing, the binding principles behind the giving of tithes is strongly reaffirmed in the New Testament: faith, sacrifice, and worship.  While I do not expect nor desire conformity for all Christians on this issue, I do pray and desire that we be unified despite our differences.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta