About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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What Does The New Testament Say?

I dare say that most Christians have not thought tithing through to the degree that I am setting forth in this article.  That’s  sad because there’s lots more one could say about tithing.  We tend to prefer the quick version of Biblical truth these days and the church seems to prefer teaching us this quick version, but it’s to our detriment.    


The popular book from the 1990’s was right when it stated that our society is being “dumbed down”, meaning we’re not interested in taking the time and effort to learn the details.  We’d rather hear sound-bites and not the whole story.  Christians today tend to want Biblical truth presented to them in dumbed-downed sound-bites too.  We have no interest in the details, resulting in wide spread Biblical illiteracy.  Well, the important issues of tithing are found in the details. If you neglect these details you won’t understand tithing, and that’s why most Christians really don’t understand tithing.    


Because of this lack of Biblical understanding we pick certain rules from the Law of Moses and Christianize them.  How this works with tithing is that it’s impossible to tithe as the Law of Moses specifically demands in our day and age, so we change the tithing rules to make them convenient for today’s church.  But once you change the tithing rules they become different rules and you’re not obeying what God originally commanded. This is exactly what the Pharisees did.  There’s no New Testament support for this practice.  This tells me that we don’t understand how to view the Old Testament as New Testament Christians.  This is the fundamental problem with modern day tithing, as well as other similar subjects associated with the Law of Moses, the Sabbath rules being one other such example.


We will now turn to the New Testament to see what it has to say.  First of all the word " tithe" only appears twice in the King James New Testament. The word "tithes" (plural) is found four times, all in the same passage. In the New International Version, the words "tithe" or " tithes" occurs zero times. The NIV replaces the word tithe with the word tenth, because a tithe means a tenth.

The first two times that the King James New Testament uses the word tithe is in a negative context. You can read this in Matt. 23:23 and Luke 11:42  where Jesus scolds the Pharisees.  He says, "Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe … and have omitted the weightier matters of  the Law, judgment mercy and faith.". (Matt. 23:23 KJV)  The important thing to note from this verse is the emphasis that Jesus places on the "weightier matters" of  the Law. He tells the Jewish leaders that their tithing means very little if they forsake good judgment, mercy and faith. Jesus is not suggesting that the Pharisees stop tithing. I’ll explain why later.  He calls them hypocrites because of the way they misuse and change the Law.   

The other passage where the word " tithe" is used in the King James New Testament is found in Heb. 7. These verses describe Abraham giving a tithe to Melchizedek. They also comment on the Levitical tithe. This passage says nothing about New Testament Christians tithing. It refers only to the Old Testament practice.   

It is thus clear that the idea of tithing is pretty well absent in the New Testament, and when it is mentioned it’s always  in reference to the Old Testament. There’s absolutely no New Testament  Scripture telling Christians to tithe.  One pastor told me that the reason for this is because the first generation Christians tithed.  It wasn’t a problem that needed to be addressed.  There’s no Biblical or historical account of this being so.  The New Testament does have a lot to say about money and giving, so if tithing was important there’d be some talk about it, don’t you think?


The biggest problem the early church faced was over the issue of  obedience to the Law of Moses. When the whole Law is in question, there’s no need to point out  specific rules within the Law like tithing as being problematic, although circumcision was centered out as being a problem.  The issue of tithing did arise in the early church, but it was within the context of the whole Law not be relevant for New Testament Christians.  


The simple fact is that the love and pursuit of money has always been a problem with humans.  Paul says it causes all sorts of problems.(1 Tim. 6:10)  So the New Testament has lots to say about Christians and money, but nothing to say about tithing for Christians.   

Jesus And The Pharisees


I’ve mentioned Matt. 23:23 above.  Jesus told the Pharisees that even though they tithed they neglected the weightier issues of the Law, but He didn’t tell them to stop tithing.  He told them to both tithe and to act justly. 


Some people suggest that because Jesus told these Pharisees to tithe He was teaching tithing as a New Testament practice and therefore we should tithe.  This is not so.  Both Jesus and the Pharisees were still living in Old Testament times. He had no other choice but to obey the Law and teach others to do so too.


The most important reason why Jesus told the Pharisees to tithe is found in Matt. 5:17 where He says that He came to “fulfill” the Law.  How you view these words will determine how you view the Old Testament and subsequently how you live as a Christian. The use of the word “fulfill” tells me that the Law was just as much prophetic as it was a list of rules to obey.   The Law of Moses is one big prophecy concerning the life of  Jesus.  One example of how the Law prophesied about Jesus would be the blood sacrifices.  They spoke of Jesus’ atoning death.  Jesus Himself fulfilled, or was the completion to what the Law was all about.  I’ll explain the significance of this later.


A secondary way in which Jesus fulfilled the Law is that He   obeyed it perfectly.  Through His obedience He fulfilled the Law’s demands before God.  And most importantly, He obeyed the Law for us.  God could now look down on earth and say that the Law of Moses was finally obeyed.  When we place our lives into Jesus’ hands God views us as being totally righteous, even as He Himself is righteous, even though we are far from being righteous.  Jesus didn’t only die in our place, He lived the perfect life in our place as well.  If He had told the Pharisees not to tithe, He would have broken the Law and would not have fulfilled it on our behalf, and we’d be lost in unrighteousness to this very day.  This is why Jesus told the Pharisees to tithe.  He never meant for us to make a New Testament tithing teaching from His words. 

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