Chapter 10 -


New Testament teachings on tithing and giving include the practical questions of life during the Herodian Temple era (the time of Jesus and the early church in Judea), and the those that refer to the theological exposition of the ideal New Testament teaching for Jew and Gentile everywhere. We need to look at both aspects to fully understand what the Bible commands us today.

The historical writings of the New Testament make references to tithing because a physical temple and Levitical priesthood was in operation while Jesus and the Apostles lived. It continued to be of central importance during the years of the church's existence prior to the First War with Rome in 66-70.

Before 66 AD, the Jewish Christians were a sect of Judaism. Afterwards a large rift appeared between those Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah and those who did not. This division in the Jewish community was caused by the Shamai Pharisees' and Zealots' expulsion of the Christians from the synagogues as prophesied by Jesus in John 16:2. This policy of social and religious ostracism began while Jesus was mortal as recorded in John 9:22.

The worship of the Jewish community, including the Jewish Christians, (continued to be centered around the Temple ruins, possibly even including some sacrifices. Significant national hope for Temple restoration arose with the Bar Kochba led Jewish revolt against Roman occupation in 132-135 AD.

They lost, and the Roman Emperor Hadrian responded by sowing Jerusalem with salt, placing a pagan temple to Jupiter on the holy site and prohibiting the return of any Jew to Jerusalem after under penalty of death, whether he/she was Christian or not. He likewise prohibited the practice of all Jewish forms of worship including circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, study of the Torah, sacrificial offerings, and other Temple ritual .

Jesus on Tithing and Tradition

In His teaching, Jesus referred to the Law of Moses and not some "spiritual" or "universal" law. While He walked the earth, He obeyed and supported the God-commanded Mosaic Law and the established temple wor­ship. Those who teach Christians to tithe to ministers have changed the Law contrary to Jesus' teaching.

Jesus therefore answered them, and said: “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.

“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the one who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. Did not Moses give you the law? And yet none of you carries out the law.” (John 7:16-19)

Jesus did not support the hypocrisy or every added tradition of the Jewish religionists of His day (primarily the Pharisees and the Sadducees). He came to fulfill and magnify the Law because aspects of it had become distorted by those who had seated themselves in Moses' office of authority. Their man-made doctrines and, customs went contrary to the original intent and letter of the Law of Moses. Here is what Jesus said in the Sermon of the Mount:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

The LORD was pleased for His righteousness sake to make the law great and glorious. (Isaiah 42:21)

The Pharisees asked Jesus, "Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?" (Matthew 15:2)

Jesus answered, "And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? ... And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah proph­esy of you saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (15:3-9)

As mentioned above, the tradition Jesus referred to had to do with money. Remember that the Pharisees and Sadducees taught that if money was given to the Temple, then the giver was morally exempt from using it to financially support his mother or father. This human interpretation of the Law could effectively pacify a Pharisee's con­science about accepting monetary gifts from poor people who really should have given the money to their parents. Jesus had a different opinion.

Jesus' comments on tithing in Matthew 23:23 are in the context of sharp criticism of the Pharisees' self-righteous legalism regarding money. Tithing to God does not excuse the neglect of me weightier matters of loving concern for our fellowman. Love of God is demonstrated by obedience to His entire Law in its intent and purpose which not only honors Him but also commands generosity and forgiveness to others. (I John 5:3)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Jesus on Taxation

Since tithing was ordained by the LORD God as Israel's divine and functioning King, it is not surprising that Jesus also commented on taxation by the human political powers of that time. His comments are instructive in four ways:

  1. The Jewish people were technically exempt from paying Caesar's poll tax (supposedly used for support and protection of the Temple) because they were sons of God, the only legitimate King;
  2. They were to pay the tax anyway in order to avoid offense;
  3. They were supposed to do this even though the money was wrongfully used to support the Roman occupation;
  4. This civil tax was paid in addition to the tithe. (See also Matthew 22:15-22.)

And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?”

And he said, “Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”

And upon his saying, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Consequently the sons are exempt.

“But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater (or, shekel, worth four drachmas). Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” (Matthew 17:24-27)

After Jesus died and was resurrected, the church at Jerusalem was headed by the Apostle James, His brother. The early church in Judea observed both the Sinai and the New Covenants. Although they met in the homes of believers for prayer, study and sharing meals, the Nazarenes, as they were called, cele­brated the Sabbath and the Feasts at thetemple. (Acts 24:5) There were sev­eral reasons for this dual observance.

Undoubtedly, the Jerusalem and Judean churches shared Paul's con­viction that Jesus would soon return to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were able to maintain this hope even after the Temple and Jerusalem had been profaned and destroyed as prophesied in Daniel and mentioned by Jesus in the Olivet Prophecy. (See Matthew 24:1-31, especially verse 15.)

This belief in an early return of Jesus is shown by the disciples' question of Jesus just prior to His ascension into heaven. They asked Him:

“Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority." (Acts 1:6-7)

Also, Malachi's admonition was fresh in their minds and directly applicable. They remembered the Law of Moses and, from all indica­tions, paid their tithes to the temple priesthood. (See Acts 21:17-26.)

You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law. (Acts 21:20)

Early Church Practices

A number of the priests and Pharisees believed that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 6:7; 15:5) The Judean churches were living near the Temple, and their observance of both Sinai Covenant (the Law), and the New Testament was in anticipation of the (what we know now will be a future) restoration of Israel and the Temple service in Jerusalem when Jesus returned s promised.

There was no sin in this dual observance because both are really just expansions upon the One Covenant of God with Abraham. The New Testament was the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy that God's Covenant would be placed in the hearts of men.

Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

“And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Jerusalem church set the example for the rest of the churches. Even though they kept the temple obligations them­selves as circumcised Israelites, the Jerusalem elders did not require the Gentiles to be bound to the Sinai Covenant. They recognized that becoming a naturalized Israelite through circumcision and keeping the ritual provisions of the Law were not required for salvation since Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are Abraham's children by faith and not by genealogy. (See Acts 15:19-29.)

As Jeremiah had prophesied, the covenant was integrated into the hearts of men through the converting power of the Holy Spirit. It was no longer just a matter of external observance. Therefore, the spiri­tual teachings of the Law were followed by the Gentile churches after the traditions set by the Judean churches wherever they did not specifically relate to the Temple service and sacrifices.

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same suffer­ings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews. (I Thessalonians 2:14)

The above reference to "Jews" is to those Jews who did not accept Jesus as Messiah, but many Jews did. The early believers were considered a sect of Judaism called Nazarenes, just as there were Essenes, Pharisees, Herodians, and Zealots. Each of these religious sects also func­tioned with limited self-governing political powers and could be referred to as a “party.”

Remember also that the only Bible available to anyone was what is now called the Old Testament, then called the Law of Moses. It was the only Scripture. The "New Testament" books and letters were collected and approved by orthodox Christian bishops over a lengthy period of time, many years after the deaths of the Apostles and the New Testament authors.

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath. (Acts 15:21)

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16)

The Roman Diaspora

Outside of Palestine, there were anywhere from three to six million Jews dispersed among a total Roman Empire population of from fifty to sixty million people. Jewish religious communities built around synagogues were well established in most cities. Many of them had been actively proselytizing converts from their non-Israelite, Hellenistic neighbors. These factors contributed to open assembly where the Law was read and religious ideas about it discussed. It is no wonder that Christianity initially spread throughout the Empire in cities, following the pattern of the Jewish dispersion and settlement.

Both Gentile and Jewish Christians followed the same calendar. Of course, there were a few differences in how the holy days were observed. There was an obvious difference in liturgy due to differ­ences in language and culture. The Passover is one example of those differences.

Bible book scrolls were very rare and valuable, so to hear the Word of God, Christians first went to the synagogues. The joint attendance of Christians and Jews at the synagogue was not a problem (until made one by Jewish radical extremists) because the "Nazarenes" were considered a sect of Judaism and observed the same Sabbath and Feast days.

Passover and Easter

Passover was observed by both Jews and Christians on the same day and time, the early night beginning Nisan 15, but each sect observed it with different symbols. The symbols of the New Testament covenant meal were taken from the Lord's Supper. Early Christians took unleavened bread and wine, to represent the body and blood of Jesus as the Messiah and true Passover Lamb. This covenant meal will be observed once again with Christ in the Kingdom (Matthew 26:29). (See also my book, Passover: The Covenant Meal.)

As a result of later Jewish and Roman persecution of Christians, the observance of Easter and Sunday developed in western, Gentile churches during the second century AD - over 100 years after the birth of the Church. For hundreds of years the Jewish, or Quartodeciman Passover, was widely practiced by Gentile and Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire before Easter Sunday was enjoined by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

According to the New Testament, the Nazarenes or Christians out­side of Judea observed the same Holy Days and rituals as the church in Jerusalem observed - with an obvious exception. They did not observe the ritual laws applying to the temple service such as tithing and sacrificial offerings, but neither did the Jews who lived outside of Palestine!

Passover and Circumcision

Thus, it becomes obvious why the Council in Jerusalem focused on circumcision as the pre-requisite to take the New Testament Passover. (Acts 15) Circumcision was the main, non-temple ritual practiced by the dis­persed, or Diaspora Jews that was not followed by the Gentile Christians. Jesus had taught the necessity of eating the Passover meal in John 6:53-57.

And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1 - read the whole chapter.)

Physical circumcision of the male was the sign of membership or citizenship in the mortal nation of Israel. It was the sign of the Sinai Covenant. It was required of any Israelite or "stranger" who wanted to take the Passover. (Exodus 12:42-50)

Previously, circumcision was the sign of the original covenant of promise made by the LORD with Abraham. Spiritual circumcision of the heart is the sign of the New Testament as evidenced by the presence of the Holy Spirit joined to the heart or mind of the believer.

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

On the Day of Pentecost and during the first days of the church, all those baptized were Jews who had been circumcised. God later revealed that Gentiles could be baptized without being circumcised by giving His Holy Spirit to the Roman Cornelius and his Gentile house­hold prior to baptism. (See Acts 10:1-11:18, especially 10:34-48.) In other words, salvation was opened to all mankind, no longer just for physical Israel.

A person desiring to serve and obey God as a Christian did not need to be circumcised first. Circumcision was the sign of member­ship in the Jewish community. That community came under the authority and traditions of the Sanhedrin, which did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. The receiving of the Holy Spirit clearly took precedence for Christians as a sign of their community under Jesus.

The conclusion of the Acts 15 conference makes a lot more sense from this perspective. The non-Jewish Christians were not required to be circumcised in order to take the Passover. They did not need to become physical Israelites in order to become spiritual ones – the church. (Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 6:16)

Membership in spiritual Israel was symbolized with baptism and the internalization of eternal life. Since they were not bound to temple ritual and custom, they were not obligated to pay any tithes in support of the Temple either. The ritual worship systems go in sets, and tithing belongs with the mortal – material set of Levitical Priests and a temple of stone.

The Gentile Christians were not required to support temple sacrifices and its priests since they had Jesus as their sacrifice, neither did they tithe to the apostles or to the Jerusalem church. Instead, the Gentile churches were encouraged to provide gifts of food for the needy saints:

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

James concluded, "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20)

Fellowship Meals

Three of these four restrictions placed on Gentile believers concerned the eating of meat and thus implicitly the social relationship between Gentile and Jewish Christians when sharing meals.

Observance of James' summary conclu­sions made it possible for Jews and Gentiles to share the same food in contrast to the Pharisaic traditions which prohibited Jews from eating at the same table with Gentiles. (Galatians 2:11-15) This consideration was particularly important in regards to the Passover feast that traditionally accompanied the New Testament ritual meal.

This festival context clarifies Paul's discussion of the “meats” regula­tions in connection with the Christian Passover feast in I Corinthians 8 and 10:14-33. Remember that anciently most meat eaten by any man, Jew or Gentile, was sacrificed to a deity. Most of the meat in Gentile cities was sacrificed to a local pagan deity and sold in the pagan tem­ples. The decision of Acts 15 is based on the assumption that the meat eaten is not sacrificed to any deity: the true God or a demon idol.

In short Christians, Jewish or Gentile, do not need to offer sacrifice because Jesus is "the" sacrifice as far as eternal life is concerned. Meat could be consumed by believers legally without having to be sacrificed to God as long as it wasn't strangled or full of blood. But it had to be the kind of meat that was acceptable to God for sacrifice. The fourth point, abstention from fornication, was also con­nected with idolatrous temple worship.

One of the immediate benefits of this freedom was that neither Jewish nor Gentile Christians had to buy kosher meat from Jewish suppliers. This narrow obligation is what was done away. The only meat eaten by observant Jews was ritually slaughtered by specially trained and sanc­tioned Jewish butchers blessed by a Jewish rabbi.

These legal techni­calities and long established customs were in a state of change then and not easily understood. This is why so much space is taken by the subject of meats in Paul's letters.

No New Testament Tithing

Since the New Testament is the covenant that constitutes the Kingdom of God composed of spiritually resurrected saints - who themselves are the spiritual temple of God, it is logical that tithing is not explicitly commanded or even implied. There is no need for it. Why should and how could immortal priests, who are the spir­itual temple, pay tithes to each other?

For the sake of discussion, let's assume that the Christian ministry has replaced the Levitical priesthood. If ministers as agents of Jesus, our high priest after the order of Melchizedek, were analogous to the Levitical priests or Aaronites, then the church mem­bers would be analogous to the Levites. (Hebrews 3:1)

The church, then, would be the first born or first fruits of the world just as the Levites were substi­tuted for the first born sons of the other tribes of Israel. (James 1:17­-18) Therefore, the nation of Israel itself would in turn symbolize all nations in this discussion analogy. (Compare Romans 11:26 and I Timothy 2:4.)

Following this analogy, the world should tithe to the church. The world, not the believer, should provide the church a share of its inheri­tance. Then the church would in turn offer a ten percent offering to the ministers from the tithes. Thus, church members receive offerings from non-Christians in the world.

Obviously, the analogy breaks down in strict application to the situ­ation today. First, the mission of the Church is to grow to include all the earth's peoples. Second, it simply is not practical to expect the unconverted world to support the church.

The ruling priesthood of the Kingdom of God is the Melchizedek priesthood with Jesus as its High Priest. It is immortal and in no need of physical sustenance. The Temple in heaven is a spiritual structure which is the only setting for spiritual sacrifices.

The tithe was food to be eaten, produce given to be the Levites' right of inheritance. It provided life support to mortal administrators of a theocratic kingdom ruled by a spiritual King. By its very definition, the tithe was never, could never, and shall never be, an offering - much less a spiritual offering.

At the altar in heaven, spiritual sacrifices are offered - not edible food. These sacrifices are offerings, not tithes, since they are given to an immortal high priest, Jesus the Messiah. Spiritual sacrifices are always 100% - not ten per cent. Christ gave all His life, and we are to give all of ours. Where would we be - or Jesus, for that matter, if He had given only ten per cent?

The one traditional use of the Levitical tithe that was enjoined on the early church in the Diaspora was to remember the poor in Jerusalem. This reminder would have been unnecessary if tithes were regularly collected in the local churches, for then a portion could have been sent to Jerusalem by the local elders without Paul having to specifically appeal to the membership.

That Paul had to remind the Gentile churches to remember the poor in Jerusalem is proof that tithes were not regularly collected in the local churches. That a special effort was made to take the collection for the poor to Jerusalem is proof that neither tithe, nor a "tithe of a tithe," nor even offerings, were regularly sent to the Jerusalem headquarters church.


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