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Tithing: The New Testament
Jacobus Erasmus, 11 October 2018

In the New Testament, tithes are mentioned in Matthew 23:23 (Luke 11:42), Luke 18:9-14, and Hebrews 7:8-9. We should note, at the outset, two important facts about these passages:

These facts alone make it very difficult to support the notion of modern tithing from the passages. Nevertheless, let us now look at each passage more closely. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus declares,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (ESV).

As noted above, the purpose of Jesus' declaration is not to discuss tithing, nor does the passage command non-Jews or Christians to tithe. Rather, Jesus is condemning the act of neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Importantly, the audience of this passage were the scribes and Pharisees (or the Jews) of Jesus' time. But they were still under the Mosaic Law, since Jesus had not yet died on the cross. When Jesus made this claim, the Jews were still required to tithe.

As a side note, it is interesting that Jesus does not say "For you tithe" or "For you tithe 10% of your income". Instead, he says "For you tithe mint and dill and cumin". So, as I see it, if one really tries to wangle this passage to support tithing, the most one can infer is that Christians should tithe on mint, dill, and cumin and not on money. Nevertheless, for the above reasons, Matthew 23:23 cannot be interpreted as a command to Christians, who are under the new covenant, to tithe.

If this still fails to convince you, then consider Matthew 8:1-4:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them" (ESV).

Why did Jesus command the leper to show himself to the priest and offer "the gift that Moses commanded"? Because the leper was still under the Mosaic Law. The leper still had to obey Leviticus 14. But should we conclude from Matthew 8:1-4 that Christians today should offer the gift and demonstrate their purity in order to enter church on Sunday? Of course not. The reason for this is that (1) Jesus was talking about a specific Mosaic law to a Jew who was under the Law, (2) the law is not the primary subject of the passage, and (3) the passage does not command non-Jews to obey the law. For the same reason, we cannot infer that Christians today should tithe from Matthew 23:23.

Luke 18:9-14 reads,

[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (ESV).

Interestingly, contrary to what the arguments in favour of tithing hint at, this passage suggests that a person who does not tithe (such as the tax collector) can be justified simply by their heart attitude. Nevertheless, the Pharisee in this parable was under the Mosaic Law and, thus, was required to tithe. This passage, therefore, cannot be used to argue in favour of the continuation of tithing.

Finally, Hebrews 7:8-9 reads,

In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham (ESV).

The entire Hebrews 7 is difficult to interpret. However, it is clear that, in chapter 7, the author of Hebrews only starts comparing Jesus with Melchizedek from verse 10 onwards. Everything before verse 10 is about Melchizedek, not Jesus. Furthermore, this passage does not have tithing as its primary subject, nor does it command tithing but, rather, it forms part of a larger argument to the affect that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham and the Levite priests. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to read into this passage a command to tithe.

In conclusion, nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to tithe. The New Testament also contains no passage that implies that Christians, who are under the new covenant, are required to tithe. However, this does not mean that Christians are not required to give. As I see it, many (if not most) Christians should be giving way more than 10% of their income to the needy and those in ministry. In the next post, we will look at New Testament principles for giving.

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