Following many requests for clarification of the responsibilities of tithing and the Old Testament versus New Testament confusion, we at The Incomplete Message have just finished a long series covering all angles. We received quite a bit of discussion during the lessons for Abrahamic, Mosaic, Pre-Kingdom, Kingdom, Exiled, Post-Captivity, Jesus’s era, and Pauline tithing. As a close to that series, we wanted to issue a request for any final questions or issues with tithing and the scriptural foundations by which we follow. Also at this time, we are considering new topics to be covered, especially ones that anyone isn’t sure where the scriptural guidance is or if there are significantly different perspectives, to help give the facts of what the Bible gives us. We hoped early on for this to be a place of great discussion and community for others who follow God’s word before the words of man, and we are open to any topic therein. Thank you to all of you who have participated recently in the lessons to help us and our readers understand the many facets that led to ultimately the end of tithes but not the responsibility to take care of our religious leaders and our community.
Where many churches believe in giving a tenth of your income in tithing, we have seen through the old laws that it was more accurately a third each year’s increase. In some cases, this is a personal belief, even if the church asks only for offerings. In the Old Testament, this was done to support the Levites and the priesthood for their labors in caring for the Temple according to God’s very specific instructions. As we have moved away from Levitical priests and the cornucopia of requirements for sacrifices, firstborns, and the three individual tithes, we have to remember that tithing is as outdated a practice as saving the shoulder, internal organs, and heads of a sacrifice for our priests (Deut 18:3).
Instead, with God’s Grace, Jesus’ teachings, and Paul’s guidance, we are now encouraged to give, not out of duty to the laws but freely with a desire to help others and share our blessings. Paul even asked us to give weekly but stressed that this was only applicable if our circumstances would allow. He recognized that those who care for us spiritually, ministering us and giving us guidance, are providing us a service much like any other profession. Because of this, they deserve to be paid for their efforts so that they may make a living as the rest of us do with our day jobs. The balance to that we find in the instructions to the ministers: Paul was an example of doing as much as possible for the church while reducing his own burden to the church. He even refused their money at times and encouraged them instead to give to those in real need.
While we may decide that we want to give 10% or any percent of our money to the church, it is neither our duty to do so nor a tithe owed to God. Neither your salvation nor your standing with God is at risk when you decide to put your money to use elsewhere. It is instead a freely given gift, that needs no recognition if given compassionately, to show others how God has blessed us and the love that he first gave to us. The funds to support the pastor for his labor are due to him from the offerings, but the rest is to help the community and the church’s own members. This is to make sure he is not without while trying to bring the word of God to you. These gifts to the church of not only money but resources and volunteered efforts should make sure that no one in the church has to rely on the kindness of non-christians for help but can simply make their needs known to the church and be fed.
The widow’s mite tells us that we should give as much or as little with the same sincerity and willingness in our hearts. However, with grace, we know that the only thing that truly defines our salvation is our hearts. With Grace, we are free from the multitude of laws of the Old Testament, but far more importantly, we are under new commands. Jesus taught us about circumstances, about subjective decisions. He never said yes or no, he would give you a situation in a parable so that you knew the right answer, because it was clear when you made it a matter of the heart. In this, the offerings that you give to your church are your choice, so long as they come from a sincere desire to help others and are put to use to do so. God, as always, has balanced his church and takes care of our every need.
If Christians were to be free from the Law, then the big question was what were they supposed to do now. en Even back then, our inability to earn salvation has been used to excuse repeated bad behavior with no repentance or learning. Grace did not buy us a blank check, rather it brought a forgiveness and a love that we could never have earned and still won’t. There are still expectations of the Lord in Grace.
In Jeremiah 31:31-33 from the last lesson, God tells us that there is a new covenant that will place the law into our hearts and make us His people and He our God. The new covenant is based precisely on the willingness of hearts and the desire to do as he asks, not simply obedience and a checklist for the day’s chores. The inward changes and the true intention of our hearts is what God sees to determine His people. Paul, knowing how different this would be from the old law and how lost many would be, set out something of an outward appearance in order to give us more direction.
Tithing as we saw in Jesus’ life was not mentioned as part of the covenant under Grace, and therefore the old ways are moot. Paul and Jesus never asked for a percentage of your income or your firstborns to support the Levitical priests. However, those of us who have ever volunteered or spent any time in the behind the scenes for a church service know that there is quite a bit of funds and resources that go into creating and maintaining a house for the Lord. This was the original purpose of the tithe, and the new covenant has a plan for this fund as well. Throughout the New Testament, we see references to the grace that we must offer to others, both in taking care of the church that supports us spiritually and providing for the physical needs of the community as well, so as to do as the church would do. These along with the need to give wages to the workers in a church to support them for the work that they offer a very simple structure of funds and resources that support not only the church but its efforts with its people (Romans 15:25-27; Galatians 6:2, 6; 1 Timothy 5:16-18; 2 Timothy 2:6; James 2:15-16). From Romans to Timothy the example was clear: a tithe-less covenant where we look after the needs of others.
Paul, as one of the Law’s greatest students, constantly taught and wrote that the old ways were nothing to this new Grace because they were obligation and effort to earn the love and salvation that Jesus was giving freely, if only we believe in Him. The tithe is as outdated as the requirements of circumcision, clothing made of a single fabric, and clean/ unclean animals. Paul and this new system, as brought to us from Jesus’ teachings, only concerned itself with the genuine gifts of the heart, acts of sincere compassion and willingness. We glorify God not in ten percent, but in giving without concern for material value, for the sake of love. God takes care of His people, if only we will take care of each other.
Jesus was gone. This upstart sect of Judaism was nearly dead with its messiah before the news even had a chance to fully spread. Stories of the original disciples performing many acts carried this infant church but as the converts grew so did their need for more than passing stories. In many ways, the people who were being Christ-like still hung on to the Jewish laws, believing only that Christ-like was the story of a perfect life under the law. As it often is, many of the Jews misinterpreted Jesus’ actions, but it was the voice of a converted teacher of the law, Paul, who was able to restructure the doctrine and the foundations to form what we now know to be Christianity. Because of his profound and respected education, he hit the hardest on the separation from Jewish law in the presence of Grace.
31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jesus walked into a deep traditionalism, a people living by the letter of the law, knowing that their ancestors had failed recently. They needed Him to follow the laws as he taught them the new way, because it was so essential to their idea of salvation. Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, of the perfect life for the perfect sacrifice, but He also came to teach us that the law was essentially over, to show us a different way of living for God. Paul shows us this exact relationship in Romans 3:19-25, outlining the structure that exists between Grace and law and what Jesus left for us to live and learn from.The Law demanded sacrifice, demanded taxation, and most of all demanded death for sin. Jesus however fulfilled every requirement and entered us into the new covenant spoken of as far back as Jeremiah.
Paul was dealing with those trying to bring their Jewish law into Christianity and force Gentiles to submit to their eating habits and circumcision upon conversion. Paul’s constant contention was that this new covenant had nothing to do with our works in the flesh. His main point was that nothing we could do would purify us, since hundreds of years of the law still left them sacrificing in the Temple for the same sins, and ultimately failing to fulfill the laws on their own. Paul taught that Jesus was the final offering on that altar and with the rending of the temple veil so then was the law declared done.
To emphasize the new structure for salvation, Paul organized the church with ministers instead of priests, local deacons instead of Levites, many churches instead of one Temple. By removing the Temple from the equation, there was not only one way, through sacrifice, to reach salvation, but many ways, many perspectives, and a freedom to be with God everywhere you go. He had sent the comforter to be in you and that by gathering together wherever they found themselves that they could bring the presence of Jesus into their midst. The Law was impersonal legislation to earn one’s way to be with God, but Grace was to be Christ lived through us.
We first established through Jesus’ parables that the Law had been fulfilled and no longer applied following his time. Despite the objections of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, Jesus was able to show them that they were the ones who did not truly understand, when they tried to trick him. As the Law was concluded and fulfilled, the Jews were looking for a new direction for their money management, and Jesus provided them the answer in parables.
One of the better known examples in which money has been given to servants while the master is away is the parable of Matthew 25:14-30. In this, the master gives three servants money when he leaves according to their abilities to manage it in the amounts of five, two, and one. The first two servants decide that they had seen their master invest his money and so they did the same. Because of this, they were able to increase their master’s money equal to its value. The third servant however says that the master reaps where he hasn’t sowed and therefore did nothing that would risk the money, instead handing back exactly what was given to him. The master tells this servant that even if he was scared, he could have put it in a bank to get the interest safely. Jesus finishes this tale with “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” This parable is showing us firsthand that no matter what it is we’ve been given, we should putting it to use and increasing what He has given us.
In Matthew 24:36-51, Jesus tells them that no one will know when the Son of Man is going to return. He uses the flood as his example for the people eating, drinking, and marrying right up until the moment that the rain began to come down. Because of this, he jumps into a parable about a master who goes away for a time and the behavior of his servants he leaves in charge. In this, he says that he who continues to work and give his fellow servants food and allowances will be blessed when the Master returns and finds all in order. However, to the servant who abuses his time unsupervised by beating his fellows and eating and drinking with the drunkards will be caught unaware when the master returns and punished.
In Matthew 18:23-35, a king decides that he wants to settle debts with his kingdom. Jesus tells us of a man owing the king ten thousand coins, calling to sell the man, his family, and all that he owns in order to pay it. The man begs and pleads for mercy and for more time, swearing that he would pay. The king takes pity on him, releasing him and forgiving his entire debt. The same servant then goes out and finds the man who owed him 100 silver coins, one one-hundredth of the debt he had been forgiven, seizing him by the throat demanding payment. His second man begged for mercy but the original servant cast him into prison until it could be paid. When the king found out, he asked him why he could not have mercy on his fellow man as the king had had with him, before throwing him into prison until the debt was paid. Jesus tells us that like this servant, we will be forgiven of our debts, but if we can not do the same for each other, then we will be punished for our unfairness.
In each of these instances, we are responsible for the money given to us but also for the way we treat each other, considering the treatment of our Master. The ways that we use what He has given us, whether to hold it over each other or to increase that which our Master has entrusted to us will weigh in on His final judgment. Jesus spoke more on the usage of money than the quantity or percentage given. Jesus taught us that the new law would be more focused on the usage of His resources than payments to keep us humble to Him.
The opposing side of Jesus’ presence is in seeing the misuse of the Temple that had been occurring for quite some time and his lashing out in anger that follows. Jesus is often portrayed as a gentle, patient, guiding teacher, but he takes on the roll of his angry Father on a few occasions as well. Firstly, in John 2:13-25, He comes into the Temple and sees the stalls and merchants using the space, not for worship or praise or ceremony, but for a marketplace for their wares, because so many people would pass through there, money in hand. He makes a whip of cords and overturns all the tables in his anger, chasing them from the Temple, yelling at them for misusing His Father’s house. In Matthew 21, speaking of similar events, he accuses them of turning the Temple into a den of thieves.
On several different occasions, the Pharisees and Herodians try to entrap Jesus in trick questions and wordplay so as to nullify his teachings by accusing him of blasphemy if he fails any of the questions. Because his teachings were of a more subjective nature, relying on the heart and dedication to devote to God, like the widow’s offering, the teachers of the law knew that they would lose quite a bit of their power over him. For example, in Matthew 21 as well, they ask Jesus by whose authority he is doing these things and teaching these lessons, but he instead asks by whose authority John has been baptizing Jews for their faith because they say they do not know, he says then neither will he tell them whose authority he uses. In Matthew 22, they recite to him that the law says a widow must be cared for by the deceased’s brother, and ask with which brother will she be married to in the afterlife. He tells them that they must not know the Scripture at all for there is no marriage in Heaven. They asked him then what the greatest commandment was of all time, and he responded famously that it was to love God and the second greatest was to love your neighbors, that all commands came from this.
While we all know the story of the widow’s offering, it was a known fact at the time that the widows were not being taken care of under the funds collected for tithing through the Temple. As we stated back in Part Two of the Mosaic Tithing lessons, the money and resources received by the Temple was to support the Levites, the fatherless, the foreigners, and the widows. If we see a poor widow giving her only two coins to live on to the very church that was supposed to be caring for her, we can assume that she was not being cared for the way that God had said. However, Jesus actually points out in the verse just before the story of the widow’s offering that the teachers of the law “devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers” (Mark 12:40). The teachings required tithing prior to Jesus’ arrival, but as we can see, the law was not being used according to God’s intentions.. The Jews had so repeatedly lost the purpose behind the laws, that Jesus had to reteach them entirely, and thereby changing the law forever.
When the New Testament picks up, the Jews are under Roman rule, which is sustained throughout the remainder of the Bible. In both the entire New Testament and in many references scattered through the Old Testament, the centerpiece of all of it is the Messiah, first predictions and then in person. In close resemblance to the Prophets of the return from captivity, John the Baptist represents a new voice, teaching that they must follow the Word but also that there was a Messiah to come. There is a great distinction between the old ways and the new ways that markedly separates those who live by grace and those who continue to live by the law. Jesus Christ was to be the one final blood sacrifice, the fulfillment of all the payments and fees that God was collecting, to restore forgiveness to His people, and the law ends when He fulfills it.
Jesus’ teaching begins at the young age of twelve when his mother finds him at the Temple listening and speaking with the teachers of the law there. It is there that he demonstrates his knowledge and understanding of God’s laws for the first time recorded and refers to the Temple as his Father’s house. Following his baptism by John, he made a pattern of healing and studying on the Sabbath, which was have been considered work by the law. In Mark 2:23-28, He and his disciples collect grain from fields in their passing because they were hungry. A Pharisee accuses him of doing what is unlawful, but he answers that because they are hungry and in need that it will be permitted, as it was in David’s time. In Mark 3:1-12, he is being watched to see if he would break the law and heal someone on the Sabbath, which he does. He asks them if it is lawful to do good or evil, as though the good outweighs the idea that the Sabbath is for resting. Early on, in these small interactions, he shows the grey areas around the laws, where intention and good deed and necessity can be more important than follow every letter of the law. In some cases, however, like Luke 4:14-30, as he goes to study the scriptures at the Temple, there are people nearby expecting to be healed, because they know he is able. He tells them of moments in Jewish history when a Prophet did not heal just because they were able or was sent to save one person rather than the hundreds who needed it. While they are pleased to hear him speak of fulfilling scriptures, He is chased out of town because of their expectations.
It is this new method of teaching, of kindness and grey areas that gives us a new path to follow, rather than the letter of the law. While many thought he was abusing or even destroying the traditions of their people, he was trying to show them the love and grace God has always intended to be there from the start. That loving God, loving others, and loving yourself was to be a keystone to seeing the purpose of the law without it being a burden to all trying to live it. Jesus was doing away with the traditions, and just like today, many could not let go of the letter of the law.
Following the books of the Prophets, with the Jews once again reestablished in their Promised Land, there is a significant gap of about five hundred years that separates these stories from the coming of Christ in the New Testament. In some cases, these are referred to as ‘The Silent Years,’ but we would like to fill in some of these blanks with what we do know of the Jewish people and the faith that they clung to as they waited for this Messiah. While this period is not as closely tracked with a play by play of Biblical texts, the area was long plagued by shifts in regional owners and warring borders, as it had been for many years. During this time, the Jews could only cling to the laws that were still being carried out from Moses’ time and the newly rebuilt cities, even as the world continued to shift around them. From this, we will be entering the New Testament with much the same rules and regulations as we left off, but with a firmer understanding of their experiences and how they hung onto their faith.
Shortly after the end of Ezra and Malachi’s glimpse of life in Jerusalem, the Persian lost ownership of the territory to the invading Greeks. Alexander the Great was coming through spreading his Grecian Empire, leaving much of the local cultures intact as long as taxes were paid and they adapted to the Greek language. After his death, the land was governed by the Ptolemies over Egypt, using the area primarily as a buffer between the warring factions of the splintered Hellenistic Nations. The Library of Alexandria commissioned, with the approval of the Jewish High Priest at the time, a Grecian translation of the Old Testament, giving us the Septuagint.
The area today known as Syria was seized from the Ptolemies by the Seleucids, who forced much stricter Hellenistic integration. These new rulers sacked the temple, forbidding the people from practicing their offerings, circumcisions, and sabbaths. This spurred the people into what would be known as the Maccabean Revolution. An attempt by the Seleucids to bring about a quick end to the rebellion by executing anyone in defiance and building fortresses to enforce their rule resulted in the development of a more determinedly traditional group taking root. It is thought that this is the beginning of the group we will see in later lessons as the Pharisees, those that would risk their lives to hold to the Mosaic law. This revolution secured them 79 years of independence, in part due to the life or death dedication that the Jews had long put towards protecting their traditions. This ended when the Romans moved in and demanded vassalship, installing their own rulers over the region. Herod was appointed King of the region through the favor of the Emperor in the Senate. This half-Jewish King ruled tyrannically, which only further distanced the People of Judea from accepting their latest owners. Herod commissioned yet another Temple, hoping to quell the rebellious nation.
Despite the 500 year gap between the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible, we know quite a bit about the historical background and the power struggle over the Jewish people and their land. As ownership passed between hands, the Jews had their first translation of the Old Testament into a new language, the Septuagint, wrapping up the end of this section as it was passed along as a finished product. We have several other books and texts from the time, but these were determined much later by the Catholics to not be included in today’s standard compilation. We left off in Malachi with preparations for the Messiah and a look into what he will bring for the Jewish people. So, next week, we will jump ahead, as the Bible does, to the birth of Jesus Christ.
Continuing our work through the prophets, we come to the last few mentions of tithes and blessings in the Christian Old Testament. Following in Ezra and Nehemiah’s paths, we find Haggai and Zechariah, who each served as a guide to the Jewish people in returning to the faith and dedication that they had prior to exile. Ezra mentions Haggai and Zechariah as the prophets that will lead and direct God’s people early on in Ezra 5, vouching for their importance and leadership before we even get to their designated books in the Bible. They, like the many other major figures working in Jerusalem, served to rebuke and restore the people to good standing according to the covenant they held with God, which was renewed in Ezra and Nehemiah. The restoration of the city as well as its people through the covenant and God’s protection would take several more generations before completion.
Haggai first reprimands them for the paneled houses that they have built for themselves while God’s house, the Temple, is in ruins. He tells them that for their neglect, they will face poor harvests, eat without getting full, drink but always thirsty, be clothed but still cold, and be unable to keep the money they earn. The only way to correct this, to restore the natural order, is to restore the house of the Lord, and from this, they will be blessed, once again. In Haggai 2:3-9, Haggai points out that those who remember the Temple recognize that its current state is nothing to God. He then tells them that he will bring his glory into this Temple to be greater than the Temple before.
Much of Zechariah is spent in prophecy, predicting not only a savior to come but also glory for the Jews as they will be blessed beyond Israel’s borders. In the midst of many of these stories, Zechariah pauses to call out the people who have been fasting in the fifth and seventh months. God tells Zechariah that despite their participation, they were not using it as a true dedication to the Lord. He states that they are fasting for their own reasons and that they should execute true judgement, showing mercy and compassion, not oppress those they have power over. They must stop thinking evil of their brothers and remove themselves from those doing all of the above.
Malachi starts by reprimanding the Jews once again, as the former prophets had. This time, he points out the blemished sacrifices that are being given to God, whether blind, sick, or lame. God points out that this is disrespectful to Him, just as it would be to a father, a master, or a king. Then Malachi calls on them for their treatment of marriage, by marrying foreigners of different faiths and cheating on their wives. Then God tells them that they have robbed him by withholding tithes, leaving no food for the house of the Lord. He tells them that if they give freely, that He will bless them freely, just as He has done before. There is a small and faithful remnant that will follow, but Malachi ends on the note that a savior is coming who will change the tide of the Jewish people.
We find tithing in a list of corrections, among blind animal sacrifices, marrying foreign women who worship other gods, and neglecting the Temple of the glory that God deserves. The Jews have returned from exile to their land, but they must restore not only the land and the city, but their hearts must be once again promised to God, in order to receive the blessings and protection that their ancestors were given. He asked them to take care of each other and to show mercy in all manners. For the Jews the Mosaic Law was their path to God, and tithing was one example in a list of so many others in which the Jews had failed their end of the covenant. The only way they would be blessed was through the love and dedication that God demanded of them.
The Book of Nehemiah begins to show us an additional perspective of those living near Jerusalem trying to reclaim their heritage and struggling to survive. The Jews were forced to work against corrupt officials, opposing nations, and their reputation as a rebellious nation that was loyal to their God rather than the nations who owned them. All of this weighs on Nehemiah, working as the King’s cupbearer, and he feels a responsibility to change it. His position historically meant that Nehemiah had the King’s utmost trust, as he was in charge of the drinks for the entire royal table, so he prays for favor before asking for the King’s permission to go. Nehemiah’s part in the return of the Jews to their land is to rebuild the wall and defenses of Jerusalem, to secure them while Ezra’s people can renew the Temple in its dedication to the Lord.
In Nehemiah’s prayer, he recognizes that the Jews were told if they turned away from God that they would be scattered, and only through obedience and following the Lord would their land be returned to them (Neh 1: 8-9). When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he helped Ezra in the purging and cleaning of Jewish ancestry as the heads of families were brought together to properly recommit to the covenant as a whole community. As we saw in Ezra’s story, the Law was read to all of the people, and a celebration was thrown in accordance with the Feast of Tabernacles to strike a revival of spirit and faith.
In this return of faith, they renew their covenant with the Lord for many of the priests, the Levites, and leaders of the people to sign, as listed in Neh 10. In it, they vow to not mix with the other nations, to follow the Law that was set out with Moses, to dedicate their offerings, firstfruits, children, animals, and to reconfirm the yearly collection that would support the Temple of the Lord and the Levites who tended to it. (Neh 10:33, 36). In bringing back this annual collection of money and resources for the Levites and the descendants of Aaron, they once more promise to give one-third of a shekel, a culmination of the different 10ths during the Mosaic Law we spoke on before, in their contributions.
Following their rededication, they worshipped daily, reading the entire book of Moses to the people, beyond simply the Law, and the corruption of leadership is weeded out. At this time, those that worked in the Temple, the Levites, were not being paid their part to support their families and their livelihoods, as the collections were being stored as treasures. Nehemiah is forced to correct this, bringing the Levites back from outside work and paying them what they are due, pulling them again away from intermarriages with other peoples. They try again and again through multiple situations to be steadfast and demonstrate God’s power in their lives, rather than giving up.
Ezra and Nehemiah worked from different directions to rededicate an entire people to the Lord, restoring first their faiths and then their obedience. As each part came together, the people, the Temple, and the wall, the Lord blessed and protected each piece. The Jews had been living so far from the law, that it was through the efforts of both of these major players that they were continually able to pull the Jews back towards God, again and again, each time they turned away. In the midst of all these changes, they returned also to a time when they had to commit more than their hearts. The Jews were required by Mosaic law to give offerings, firstfruits, firstborns, and separate from this, the annual collection of all things as a third of their harvest, not just a tenth, to support the Levites who served the Temple and were paid for their work with this monetary collection. Again, we see this contribution collected in a long list of other requirements that started first with obedience and blessing, then the maintenance of the responsibilities to the Levites and the Temple of the Lord.