Reply to Pastor Keith Troop, Reformed Pastor Blog, by Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Keith: As a pastor I have often been asked over the years whether or not I think Christians should tithe, and my response is usually, “I think it is a good place to start.”
Russ: At the start you betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the biblical tithe. Though money was common, the biblical tithe was always only food from inside Israel and it only applied to food producers who lived inside Israel. It never applied to craftsmen such as carpenters, fishermen or tentmakers. There was no minimum standard starting point for giving in either testament.
Keith: For example, many Christians today rightly observe that we are no longer under the Mosaic law (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 3:10-23) and that, since tithing was a part of this Mosaic Law (Lev. 27:30-34; Num. 18:20-21; Deut. 14:22-29), we are therefore no longer required to continue the practice.
Russ: "We" the Church, mostly Gentiles, were never under the Old Covenant law at all. "We" the Church, mostly Gentiles never had a Levitical priesthood or Temple system to support.
Keith: In addition, it is observed (argued) that since tithing is not explicitly taught as a requirement in the New Testament, we have another reason that it is not a necessary practice for Christians.
Russ: Acts 21:20 strongly implies that the Jewish Christians in Judea never did stop paying tithes to the Temple system. Both the OT priesthood and Temple now reside within the individual believer who does not tithe to himself.
Keith: I agree that there is no clear New Testament teaching commanding Christians to tithe, and this is why the elders at Immanuel Baptist Church (among whom I serve) do not demand that anyone tithe. But that doesn't mean that we would not encourage tithing as a good and godly practice or, as I stated earlier, as a good place to start with one's giving.
Russ: Church history records that the early leaders for several centuries boasted about their extreme asceticism. Tithing was seen as a purely Jewish custom for over 200 years after Calvary and did not become a legal law for the church until AD777. Keith: First, tithing was the example of godly men before the giving of the Mosaic law. For example: Genesis 14:18-20 and Genesis 28:20-22. What they describe is a good response to God that has been recorded for our benefit. … In fact, I think it may be best to assume that Abraham and Jacob got the idea from God in the first place. But wherever they got the idea, the fact is that the practice was around and found to be good in God's sight …
Russ: Both Abraham and Jacob got the idea of tithing from Babylon, Canaanite tradition and practices all around the known world of their time. There is absolutely no biblical support for the claim that God either commanded them to tithe or even approved it. In Jacob's case, his was a freewill vow wrapped around a condition made by the great manipulator and supplanter.
Nothing done by Abraham is followed by any church today. (1) only pagan spoils of war which were disqualified by the law, (2) only once recorded, (3) not his own pre-existing property, (4) he kept nothing, gave it all back and (5) he gave the 90% to the king of Sodom.
Keith: And we know that God approved of their tithing, for He later incorporated tithing into the Mosaic law as we have already seen. … before its incorporation into the Mosaic law, which should at least give us some pause about being so quick to dismiss it as simply a part of the Mosaic law that has passed away.
Russ: The only part of Abraham's tithe which was incorporated into the Law of Moses is found in Numbers 31 where the tithe of spoils was only one percent. None of Jacob's tithe from the pagan defiled land of Haran would qualify under the law.
Keith: Second, tithing was affirmed by Jesus as a good thing. For example:
NKJ Matthew 23:23
Jesus clearly says that tithing is something they “ought to have done,” even if He sees the kind of tithing spoken of here as not being among the “weightier matters” of the law. But we must also remember that Jesus warned against the legalistic practice of tithing that does not come from the heart:
Russ: Matthew 23:23 is before Calvary and the law was still in full force. Therefore, Jesus MUST teach tithing as a "matter of the law." He could not have commanded his Gentiles disciples to tithe.
Keith: Luke 18:10-14
It is this kind of legalism that so many Christians fear today with respect to the practice of tithing, and they are right to seek to avoid such legalism.
Russ: No. Tithing ended at Calvary when the system it was legislated to support ended. Its covenant, Levites, Levitical cities, priesthood, sacrificial system and ritual all ended. Today no church obeys any of the tithing statute found in Numbers 18 which required tithe-recipients to forfeit property ownership and KILL anybody who dared to enter the sanctuary to worship God directly.
Keith: I would hasten to add that just because something may be done in a legalistic way does not mean that it cannot be practiced in a proper way that recognizes that all that we have is by the grace of God.
Russ: All that we had also belonged to God in the Old Covenant but that was never used as grounds to accept tithes from outside of God's holy land of Israel.
Keith: I would also warn against using the charge of legalism as an excuse to be stingy with what God has given us.
Russ: The "equality principle" of 2nd Corinthians 8:12-15 teaches Christians to give sacrificially. For many that means MORE than 10% but others are giving sacrificially even though giving less.Keith: Now, as for Matthew 23:23, Jesus is dealing with those who were still under the law, and thus we cannot say that He intended here to enjoin the practice of tithing upon the New Covenant Church.
Russ: You understand this correctly.
Keith: But we can say that He approved of and encouraged tithing as a godly practice if done with the right motives.
Russ: Only for those who were still obligated by the law to support the Temple system.Keith: Third, the means of supporting the Levites under the Old Covenant is affirmed by Paul as a good example for Christians to follow in support of their ministers under the New Covenant.
Russ: No. Verse 13 opens the door for EVERY means of supporting the Levites and priests found in Numbers 18 --not merely tithing. Your argument is self-defeating because you want to only keep tithing and discard the rest.
Keith: 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 Paul does not explicitly mention the tithes that were given to the Lord for the sustaining of the Levitical priesthood, but the tithe was definitely a primary means of their support.
Russ: Actually the tenth of the tithe for the priests was one of the smallest means of support. The full tithe went to the Levites who were paid to perform duties as ushers, deacons, choir, musicians, politicians, etc, etc. The church does not follow that pattern.
Keith: And Paul clearly does see the concept of their sharing in what is given by the people as a model for the support of pastors today.
Russ: You miss the point. Verse 14 is a summary of 7-13, not just 13. The principle is that each vocation has its own rules for support. The gospel worker's rule if "to live of the gospel" under gospel principles of grace and faith. Do not forget what Paul wrote in 9:12, 15-19 and Acts 20:29-35. He was not violating his own code of conduct.
Keith: Thus we certainly could say that tithing is a good idea, even if not something that can be demanded (for to demand it when Scripture does not would be the very kind of legalism Jesus despised).
Russ: No. If it were a good idea, the Holy Spirit would have clearly repeated it in terms of Calvary. NT giving principles are: freewill, generous, SACRIFICIAL, joyful, not by commandment (or percentage) and motivated by love for God and lost souls. The problem with most churches is a failure to teach personal evangelism.
Keith: 1 Corinthians 16:2
Russ: This text has absolutely nothing to say about church supports or pastoral salaries. It is not about tithing.
Keith: Fourth, tithing is a good way to honor Christ as our High Priest and King. Hebrews 7:1-8
Russ: Those who teach tithing from Hebrews 7 always stop before verse 12. The chapter is about the necessary change of the priesthood from Aaron to Christ. The change necessitated a change of the law which funded that priesthood from 7:5 and 7:12. The change was not "from Aaron to the Gospel worker." Rater the change was from Aaron to the "annulment" of the law from 7:5 which included tithing.
Keith: John Piper
Russ: I have refuted Piper's arguments on my web site under rebuttals.
Keith: Tithing is like a constant offering of the first fruits of the whole thing. The tenth is yours, O, Lord, in a special way, because all of it is yours in an ordinary way. I believe the tithe should be the first check we write after the income deposit is made in the bank.
Russ: This is selfish and greedy. It robs many of the money needed to buy medicine and essential food and shelter. It violates Paul's principle found in 1st Timothy 5:8. Most of all, it is unbiblical because tithes and firstfruits are NEVER the same thing in Scripture. See Deu 26:1-4 and Neh 10:35-37 for examples.
Keith: I do think that I can encourage tithing as a godly practice for Christians to follow in their giving, at least as a good place to start, which leads me to my next question.
Russ: Again you ignore the definition and purpose of the biblical tithe. If it was not the "good place to start" for OT Hebrews, then it cannot be so for Christians.
Keith: Although Christians are not commanded to tithe in the New Testament, we are certainly encouraged to give in proportion to what we have, to give self-sacrificially so long as we can do so with a cheerful heart, and to be encouraged to give by remembering that we cannot out-give God, who will always provide for us.
Keith: I think God took the focus off giving a tithe in the early church because he wants his people to ask themselves a new question. The question that Jesus drives us to ask again and again is not, "How much should I give?" but rather, "How much dare I keep?"
Russ: In early church history, this attitude led to extreme asceticism and, later, monasticism. They took Jesus' words to the rich young ruler literally.
Keith: By and large the Old Testament people of God were not a missionary people.
Russ: No tithes were ever used to send out missionaries to convert the Gentiles around them.
Keith: The task he gave us is so immense and requires such a stupendous investment of commitment and money that the thought of settling the issue of what we give by a fixed percentage (like a tenth) is simply out of the question.
Russ: Then what is the purpose of this article? You can teach NT giving without mentioning tithing.
Keith: My own conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God.
Russ: You echo J. Vernon McGee but he opposed using the word "tithe."
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD