Book sample

 Below is a small sample taken from my book on Matt 23 that tithe teachers claim is Jesus' endorsement of church tithing.

The endorsement

                       What was Jesus endorsing in this passage?   Well firstly, justice, mercy and kindness.   I doubt if few would argue against that.   But as to the secondary or incidental endorsement, when he said, “not to leave the other undone”, what was Jesus really endorsing here as the minor point?   What weight of assumptions will this phrase bear up as to its secondary purpose?    What can be hung on this narrowest of limbs?

                        Can this limb support the practice of Church tithing - the new interpretations that so many have claimed?   Was Jesus really endorsing that 10% of a man’s wages in 1999 should be placed in a collection bag on Sunday morning to help pay the mortgage off, to help pay for the electricity bills, to help pay the Pastor’s wage?   Was Jesus really saying that Abraham’s tithe is a universal precedent for all Christians?   The most obvious answer to all these naive assumptions, in light of good exegesis, must be no in the fullest sense.     Let me explain.

                        When Jesus was speaking these very words, was there one person present that would interpret or assume what he said about tithing as to mean anything other than what was the common practice according to the laws of Moses?   Did anyone leap to his or her feet and start preaching that tithing should now be practiced in a new context?   Did one person say, “ah ha”, tithing is no longer a part of the OT Law?   Did the disciples rub their hands in glee with the prospect of them now being the recipients of the tithe?   Did they shout for joy that their preaching ministry would no longer have to depend on the humble provisions that Jesus laid out in Lk 10:16?   Did Judas run out to buy a bigger money pouch that could cope with the new tithes that would start coming their way?   Did anyone use this verse to justify the stealing of tithes away from the Levites to support their new Christian ministry?   Did what Jesus say give licence for the very laws of Moses on tithing to be re-interpreted, to be butchered out of their context of the OT?   Did anyone suspect Jesus was tearing down the laws of Moses and making new ones for the Christians to follow?   Of course not.   

                        Jesus was not preaching over the heads of the Pharisees, to us today.   He was not commenting on the argument that I am having with some over the practice of church tithing.   To read His words that way is nothing short of seeing something that was not there at the time.  That is called isegesis, reading into the text.   I suspect that Burkett is well aware of this, because in his book, Giving and Tithing, he does not even use this text, and he is right not to do so.   For this text only ever endorses the laws of tithing according to the teaching of the Pharisees who sit on the seat of Moses (Matt 23:1ff), not the universal laws of tithing according to the church.  

                   Jesus was not endorsing the new interpretation of a church tithe simply because that interpretation did not even exist back then.    In fact, those that tithe to the Church go against the very application that Jesus was underwriting, tithing according to the laws of Moses.     The church does not practice tithing according to Law and thus is at odds with what Jesus was endorsing.     Thus, the context of this word tithe is cemented to the Law not a juxtaposed Christian principle!!    This phrase therefore cannot be used as an endorsement for a universal church tithe.

 

Local Law not universal

 

                         The whole context of the passage revolves around the teachings of Moses by the Pharisees not some universal ethics.   Tithing is listed with the local, the temple and the altar.    Tithing is listed here with the sectarian, the washing of cups and the decorating of tombs.   Jesus is not commenting on universal practices but Palestinian ones.   As a prophet to Israel this should surprise no one that he contradicts not the laws of Moses, but appeals to their spirit and uses that context to preach from. 

                        In fact, the very context of this passage proves that Jesus was not preaching directly to Christians but to the religious context of that day (Matt 23:1-3).    Christianity had not even begun.    So as a prophet speaking to the people of Israel, He labels them as hypocrites according to what they preached and taught.    This is the whole context of this passage,  - "Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”   They were teachers of the Law but practiced it partially.  Jesus thus addresses the things of the law and the old covenant.   He spoke of the swearing of oaths, the temple, and the altar, ritual cleansing of cups, external acts of righteousness, decorating the prophet’s tombs and tithing.   He spoke of the things of Israel.

                        This was no Sermon on the Mount but a condemnation of a brood of vipers according to the things of Israel.   Their hypocrisy was rooted in their practices of the OT.   He spoke to their religious practices of the day and condemned them according to their own religion.   Jesus thus endorsed tithing, only as much as He endorsed the temple, the altar and also of what the Pharisees taught.    

                        At the start of His denouncement, not as some obscure secondary point but as the fundamental point, Jesus endorses all that the Pharisees taught (Matt 23:2f), - “do as they preach”!    Strange is it not, that we can mange to isolate and lever out that Jesus taught tithing by the authority of an obscure phrase being the words of Jesus but then fail to notice the same authority of Jesus’ words when it comes to placing that phrase in an honest context.    Just who are the hypocrites here?    Listen to MacGregor -

 

            “Somebody says ... “But Christ never taught it (tithing); it’s not in the New Testament”. -  Oh?   Read Matthew 23:23:  Notice the last phrase ... Jesus is saying that of course you ought to tithe” (1980:46).

If we apply MacGregor’s depth of assumptions from the above verse, i.e. that Jesus was of course teaching Christians to tithe, then we must and can only conclude that Jesus was “of course” also teaching for Christians to practice and obey everything that the Pharisees taught.

 

         (Matt 23:2-3) "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.   So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.”

If MacGregor can stretch an “of course” out of verse 23, then where does that leave him with the words of Jesus in verse three - “So you must obey them”.    Similarly, Rowe states that Jesus “underwrites His own claim upon the practice” of tithing from this verse (339).   However, if this phrase from v23 is Jesus underwriting His claim on tithing, then what was He underwriting His own claim on in verse three ... - Christianity must obey the teaching of the Pharisees???.    Thus in light of MacGregor’s and Rowe’s standard of logic, Jesus’ support and underwritten claim for the teaching of the Pharisees should be head and shoulders above His support for tithing.  

                        Therefore, is it not then hypocritical to claim authority and application on Jesus’ words whilst ignoring the very same words just above in the passage that explain the context?     I think so.     On this passage we either, tithe and obey all that the Pharisees taught (i.e. become Jews), or see the tithe here in the correct context of OT Law.

                        All in all then, Jesus was only endorsing the Law.   He supported the temple, He supported the altar, and He supported the Levitcal tithe.   He came not to remove one dot from the Law.    However, He prophesied the temple’s destruction, taught its obsolescence,  rent its curtain in two, did away with the altar and fulfilled all the Laws; where then does that leave Jesus’ endorsement for the tithe?     In the same place as His support for all the other cultic laws and statutes - in the shadows of the past.   His preaching does not contradict Israel’s laws but His actions fulfil them and render them moot.   His deed of rendering the temple obsolete naturally renders laws surrounding the practices in that temple equally obsolete.   

                        Therefore, this verse lends no more authority for a Christian to tithe, as it does for a Christian to be circumcised or to bring their sacrifices to the altar or to practice any other cultic and ceremonial law.   Jesus endorsed tithing only in the light of Israel’s context of the Old Testament.   He endorses tithing only in the context of Israel’s ceremonial and cultic laws.   

 

“Now neither in the teaching of Christ nor in that of the apostles is there any mention of the paying of tithes: for the saying of our Lord about tithes (Matthew 23:23), “These things you ought to have done” seems to refer to the past time of legal observance: thus Hilary says (Super Matt. can. xxiv): “The tithing of herbs, which was useful in foreshadowing the future, was not to be omitted.” Therefore during the time of grace men are not bound to pay tithes”  (Aquinas, 1997:v3 989).

                                   Although Aquinas did support a church tithe, He is honest enough to show that it can not be founded on this text or any other NT text.

Jesus’ context

                        Further to my argument, notice the rebukes Jesus brings and the category they fall in.   The temple, the altar, the tithe, the cleansing of cups, outward appearance, and the decorating of tombs.    Not one moral law, all external ceremonial laws that can be achieved without love or justice.    Christ describes the lack of tithing as little more than a small ceremonial part of the law in comparison to justice.    So why did He say to do it?   Well, it is just that under the Law, even gnats had to be considered.   No dot would be removed.

 

            “The gnat and the camel, which were alike unclean stand at the extremities of the scale of comparative size.    Our Lord uses a proveriable expression to denote the inconsistency which would avoid the smallest ceremonial defilement, but would take no account of the gravest moral pollution.” (Williams, 1980:v15, part 2, 401).

Scrupulous consideration, however, to the minute parts of the law, were things that a brood of vipers and snakes have no problem fulfilling.   Why?  Because none of them touched the heart to inner righteousness.    They were laws that gave the outward appearance of righteousness yet only covered up a deadness that Jesus abhorred.     In other words, Jesus did not see their tithing, both of the reasonable and the scrupulous as some great act of charity, but only as a smoke screen.   Note the reasonable tithe did not make up for their lack either.     The giving of 10% of substance both in bulk and in detail added nothing to their lack of justice, mercy and compassion.    It was a duty that could easily be accomplished without taxing the heart for mercy.   

                        I found tithing, once it became a habit, an easy habit for 16 years, because that’s all it was, a habit, a religious rule.   Habitual placing a tithe in an offering bag every Sunday does not require generosity, or mercy or compassion or even love.   All it requires is commitment to a rule and a sense of self-justification.   Giving to spasmodic needs was much harder because that took a heart that was soft and sensitive to the needs of others, it took mercy.   

                        Thus tithing is listed as one of those things that hypocrites and lovers of money have no problem practicing.  Why?  Because it is not a moral issue, it is contrasted with mercy not aligned with it.   Do not misunderstand me, Jesus was not speaking out against the Mosaic Law of tithing, it was required for a definite purpose, but He was most certainly putting it in its place.

                        Yet nearly every book on tithing I read tries to make the generalisation that those who do not tithe are the ones who lack love and justice and have an attitude problem towards money.

 

            “Yet, many Christians seem to ignore the facts (tithing) and cling to their money as if it were theirs for eternity” (Burkett,1998:32).

Yet, strange is it not, that Jesus’ evaluation of life led Him to stereotype those that tithed as the ones who clang to their money.   They valued the gold in the temple more than the temple and the gift on the altar more than the altar, yet they tithed.   They were lovers of money, yet they tithed.   They lacked mercy, yet they tithed.    They were critical and judgemental, yet they tithed.   You say “you cannot generalise like that”, but it is not me that is generalising.   There is no balanced appraisal of tithers in the NT, as some were good and others were bad.   Jesus talks of tithing twice, and twice He generalises it as the practice of the self-righteous and hypocrites.  I was once a tither, and proud of it.   I had no problem judging and maligning those who didn’t.    It is my conviction, then that Jesus’ stereotypes are more in line with reality than many are willing to admit.  

                        Is it therefore, really honest then to say that Jesus taught tithing as a moral example for all new Christians to follow?   We can answer that with a loud NO!  A later survey (in the chapters to come) of NT examples, teaching and instruction on money and giving will reveal that Christ in fact did not teach that tithing in any sense of the word was a valid form of giving for His new Church.