Thursday, December 23, 2010

How December 25th Became Christmas

I will be taking a break for the next two weeks from the Tithing series. It will crank back up in 2011 with a review of the Malachi curse, tithing in the New Testament, how giving replaced tithing in the early church, and lastly I will deal with objections from those that support Christian tithing.

I saw this article on the Apologetics315 blog, and thought that I too would share it. Being raised a Jehovah's Witness, I never celebrated Christmas. During that time I was subjected to year after year of silly and sad arguments about the impropriety of Christians taking over a pagan festival (I won't call them holidays, since nothing holy was done during their celebration).

With no further delay the article I reference was originally posted on the Biblical Archeology Review website. I hope that you will be blessed as much as I was.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Is Tithing for Christians? Part Three

Tithing and the Mosaic Law
Now we are getting into the meat. Tithing is fully developed in the pages of the Law God gave to Moses. In the pages of the law we will find that there were two tithes for two specific purposes. Neither of which is applied by tithing proponents today. In fact, tithing proponents promote tithing based on a faulty understanding of the Mosaic tithe. This faulty understanding is not limited to Pentecostals and Word-Faith adherents, but has also been taught by some highly respected pastors and Bible teachers. In this post we will examine what the purposes of the tithe were under the Mosaic Law. The reason we go to the Mosaic Law is that the Law made tithing mandatory, and that the Law gives us the passage of full mention regarding the tithe. The tithe must be understood in light of the Mosaic law, and it is this lack of understanding that plagues modern evangelicals today in their misunderstanding of the tithe.
Vacation Pay?
The first misconception that is commonly tossed about concerning the tithe is that it was a way for the nation of Israel to support the Levites. Rather it was designed to support the Israelites during their celebration of the Festival of Tabernacles (Exodus 23:16; 34:22). As one studies the tithe in the Law, one finds that the tithe was on a three-year cycle. In two of the three years, the tithe was consumed by the tither and his household. The tithe was enjoyed during the family’s trip to Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles. The third year tithe was the only tithe that was to be given away. This understanding of the Mosaic Law tithe is confirmed by modern Jewish scholarship. The ma’aser ri’shan, or first tithe was given to the Levites. The ma’ser shani, or second tithe, was consumed in Jerusalem. These tithes were not simultaneous. This is important because there are pastors who have and are teaching this misconception (more on this in a future post). In modern vernacular the primaray purpose of the tithe was “vacation pay.” Deuteronomy 12:5-19 gives us the details of the proper use of the tithe during the Festival of Tabernacles. According to Scripture, the tithe was to be brought to Jerusalem and consumed by the tither and all in his house as well as shared with the Levites and the poor.

Deuteronomy 14:22-27 gives us an even clearer picture of the use of the tithe. It addresses the issue of Israelites that live too far away from Jerusalem to transport their tithe of the harvest to Jerusalem. According to verse 26, they were to sell the tithe of their crops, go to Jerusalem, and buy whatever their hearts desire (this is so important that it is stated twice)! They are then to consume the goods purchased with the money from the tithe of their crops in the presence of the Lord, and rejoice! The Israelites were not just to consume their tithe alone, but they were mandated to share their tithe with local Levites, widows, orphans and strangers (verse 27).
The Festival of Tabernacles (Booths)
Essentially, this feast served two purposes. First, it was to commemorate the 40 years between their exodus from slavery in Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land which Israel wandered in the desert. The Israelites were to make booths out of the foliage of the beautiful trees of creation. It was done in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar (which corresponds to our September/October) at the end of the harvest. It also served as a time of relaxation, rejoicing and enjoyment of all the hard work that went into the harvest (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). The Israelites were given the opportunity to indulge themselves in whatever their heart’s delighted in. As I have mentioned before no one was left out of the celebration.

This feast was another way in which Yahweh distinguished the worship of Himself from those that worshipped false gods in the nations surrounding them. Those feasts, usually dedicated to the fertility gods and goddesses were marked by greed, drunkenness and immorality. As I have mentioned before this was how the Israelites were to use their tithe during two years of the three-year cycle mandated by the Mosaic Law.
The Third Year Tithe
According to Deuteronomy 14:28-29, the entire third year tithe was not taken to Jerusalem and consumed by the family, but was left at the city gate. This tithe was to be consumed by the Levite, widow, orphan, and those that had no harvest. This law was repeated in Deuteronomy 26:12-13. Verse 13 calls this portion “the sacred portion”, in other words, this tithe belonged to the Lord. This tithe was significant because it was designated for those that looked after the spiritual lives of the Israelites. Yahweh had graciously seen to the needs of those that looked to Him for their sustenance.
This is important because God promised the Levites sustenance (Numbers 18:20). God also promises to care for the widow and orphan (Psalm 146:9). Therefore only they that looked to God as their sustenance could partake of “the sacred portion.”
The Sacred Portion

The reason why the Levites only received one-third of the nation of Israel’s tithe is because they, as a tribe, represented, at best, 1/30th of Israel’s population. Therefore if the Levite’s received an annual tithe they would receive an unfair portion of Israel’s inheritance. Further, this tithe was also subject to a further tithe. The Levites were to pay tithe to the priests that were working in the temple of Yahweh. Interestingly, it is this tithe that is subject to the curse in Malachi chapter three, but that is for another post.

The other purpose of this third year tithe was to benefit the widow, orphan and alien resident in Israel, i.e., people without an inheritance. This tithe, however, was never to be the main source of substance for these people. Their share of “the sacred portion” was to supplement them so that they too had a time of abundance. The Law made two ways of support for those without a provider. One way was gleaning at harvest time (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). We see Ruth and Naomi make use of this provision to provide for themselves (Ruth 2:2, 23). This provision, however, was temporary, and also demonstrated that those without support were not to sit around and get hand outs, but were to put forth some sort of effort to support themselves. The permanent measure laid out in the Mosaic Law was the kinsman redeemer (Ruth 3:1-2, 9 & 13). Yahweh loving provided a way through which relationships could be formed and inheritance reincorporated back into a household (Psalm 68:5-6).
In summary, there were two separate tithes mandated by the Mosiac Law. The first was as a provision to Israelites as the celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. During this feast, the tithe was to be consumed by the tither and his household as well as shared with the Levites, widows, orphans and those with no harvest. This was done for two years. The second tithe or “sacred portion” was taken to the city gates where it was consumed by the Levites, widows, orphans, and aliens. The purpose of this tithe was to insure that these people had a time of abundance.
It is important to repeat that the main purpose of the tithe was not to support the Levites, but for the enjoyment of those that worked for their harvest. This element of tithing is something that is consistently ignored by tithing proponents. I firmly believe that most tithing proponents are not motivated by greed, but are simply parroting traditions that they have learned. Sadly, these tithing proponents have made giving to the church an obligation rather than a joy. It is my hope and prayer that those who continue to promote tithing would look at scripture and make the appropriate changes in their fund-raising activities.

Next time on the Jude3blog, Tithing and the Malachi Curse.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is Tithing for Christians? Part Two

The Tithes of Abraham and Jacob

One of the key arguments of tithe proponents that the tithe is applicable to Christians is the fact that the tithe was instituted prior to the Mosiac Law. There are a number of issues with this stance that we will address in this post. Before we review them, however, let’s look at the two pre-Mosaic Law texts that tithing proponents use to back their assertion that the tithe is obligatory on Christians.

Genesis 14:20 is the first verse tithing proponents rush to in order to establish their claim that tithing is a Christian command. It reads, “And he (Abraham) gave him (Melchizedek) a tenth of all.” The main argument tithing proponents make is that this incident predates the Mosaic Law by 400-plus years, and is therefore apart from the Mosaic Law. The idea is that only those institutions started prior to the delivery of the Mosaic Law are obligatory on Christians. There is a huge problem with this line of reasoning, and that deals with circumcision. Do tithing proponents also promote the idea that circumcision is obligatory on Christians because it was instituted prior to the Mosaic Law, as found in Genesis 17:9-14)? Do tithing proponents advocate the sacrifice of animals, after all, were not animal sacrifices instituted prior to the Law (Genesis 12:8; 22:7)? Do these tithing proponents advocate the taking of concubines (Genesis 25:6)? The answer is a resounding, “No!” However, this is the logical progression of the sort of thinking that makes these arguments.

Some tithing proponents will say that Christians are to follow Abraham’s example of living a Godly life. This is an argument that has a huge amount of scriptural evidence to look at. In the New Testament there are 66 references to Abraham. In these references, Christians are only required to follow Abraham’s example of trust in God (Romans 4:11, 16; Galatians 3:6-10). There are no examples of scriptural promptings to follow Abraham’s example of tithing than there is to follow Abraham’s example of circumcision, animal sacrifices or the taking of concubines. It is clear that tithing proponents are guilty of cherry picking scripture that appear to justify their pet doctrine, but ignore those scriptures that demonstrate their error.

Further, this account of Abraham’s tithe does not tell us the purpose of the tithe, nor does it tell us of its frequency. It appears, from scripture, that this was a one-time gift from the spoils of war. Secondly, we have the Holy Spirit inspired commentary on this event in Hebrews 7:1-8 that appears to shed light on the significance of this event. In Hebrews there is no mention of this being a regular activity, and therefore it is appropriate to infer that this was a one time event. Third, if the tithe was a single incident, then it should follow that any future tithes are one-time gifts based on an increase of the givers wealth.

Since we are addressing Hebrews chapter seven, let’s look at the superiority of Melchizedek. Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek appears to be a response to Melchizedek’s serving of bread and wine. Based on this service the writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham. Now since every Christian is a member of a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), and being in Christ who is forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6), then every believer should be receiving tithes. Tithing proponents need to explain why Christians are paying tithes rather then receiving tithes, as Melchizedek did.

One last point regarding Abraham’s tithe is that it appears to be an offering of first fruits, as opposed to a tithe. The amount that Abraham gave to Melchizedek (ten percent) appears to be an amount chosen by Abraham in order to show his gratefulness to God for victory in battle. In the Mosaic Law there were tithes and first fruit offerings. These are two separate offerings given for different reasons and given by different people. We will address these details in a future post, and we will not go further on this post.

Jacob's Tithe

The second incident that tithing proponents turn to is the account of Jacob’s tithe as found in Genesis 28:22, “…of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee.” On first glance it appears that Jacob is instituting a more systematic approach to tithing than his grandfather Abraham. A more careful study of this passage appears to indicate something else.

This tithe was voluntary, as was Abraham’s, but was based on the condition that God help Jacob as he fled from Esau (Genesis 28:20-21). How was Jacob’s tithe given? Was it offered directly to God in the form of a burnt offering? Did Jacob give it to a servant of Yahweh, like Melchizedek? Was it given to the poor in the name of Yahweh, or was it disposed of in some other way?

If this tithe was a thanksgiving offering, then one-third of the offering was burnt, one-third was consumed by a priest, and the remaining third was consumed by the person making the offering.

As we have seen in Abraham’s account, Jacob’s account is too scant of detail to base systematic tithing. Further, both of these accounts rely heavily on false premises that when taken to their logical conclusion advocate circumcision, animal sacrifices, and the taking of concubines. We see that when the Holy Spirit has interpreted Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews it is Melchizedek that is superior to Abraham. Lastly, it appears that these tithes are not a systematic payment of income back to God, but are one-time events of thanksgiving offerings to God for divine aid in some prior event. Therefore, it appears that using these passages to promote systematic tithing is the result of forcing passages into a preconceived notion.

Next time on the Jude3blog: Tithing and the Mosaic Law.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is Tithing for Christians? Part One

The research I have done on tithing has been the most painstaking I have ever done. The reason is that so many that may read this blog are associated with churches that fervently teach the tithe. Because of this I believe I will receive a reaction similar to someone who has been poked in the eye. Regardless of people’s reaction, the truth must go forward. So why tackle the topic of tithing? Because it is the duty of an apologist to not only defend the church from outside attack, but to occasionally get dirty and scrape off some of the barnacles that have adhered themselves to the ship. Let me explain, the church is like a ship traveling the ocean. The ocean is the world of ideas. These ideas sometimes attach themselves to the ship, like barnacles. These barnacles, if they accumulate in too great a number, can actually sink the ship. Therefore, it is necessary for the ship to go into dry dock, and some poor soul is given the horrid job of scraping the barnacles off the hull of the ship. The barnacles live in sea water, and once they are removed from the water they begin to die. This makes their removal easier, but it is a smelly and bloody job. It is also a thankless job. The person, who does the job, does so not do it for vain glory, but with the knowledge that the ship is safe from doom.

The reason that the apologist must tackle controversial issues is because too many pastors, in the ambition of a $1,000,000 budget and a 1,000 member church won’t touch these controversial subjects. Even worse, in order to get a $1,000,000 budget, pastors have concocted the idea of enforced giving through tithing. Therefore it is necessary to ask the question whether tithing is for Christians.

We will be looking first at the idea of monetary prosperity, and whether or not this idea is taught in the Bible. The reason why I start there is because this is where so many pastors who teaching tithing begin. Why do they start there? Because tithing has been linked to the prosperity gospel, in that, tithing is the main avenue for God to bless your financial life. Therefore we will be taking an in depth look at 3rd John verse 2.

Then we will be looking at the incidents of tithing in the Old Testament starting with Abraham’s tithe to Melchizidek, Jacob’s tithe to God, the tithes, yes plural, described in the Mosiac Law and the purposes for the tithe, the condemnation of tithing in Amos, the robbing of God and the curse found in Malachi, and who was robbing from God in Nehemiah.

We will learn about the punishing tithe found in 1st Samuel.

We will also look at the nine instances in which tithing is mentioned in the New Testament, and whether or not the paying of tithes is made obligatory to followers of Christ.

We will learn what constitutes Christian giving and to whom monetary gifts should be given.

Lastly, we will look at some arguments on behalf of tithing.

That is the skeleton that we will attempt to flesh out for you in this series. It is my hope that you will read this series with an open mind, and allow your beliefs to be changed by sound Scriptural teaching.

I pray that as your idea of Christian giving as embodied by tithing is challenged, that you will not resort to the tactics of a former pastor of mine. Many years ago this former pastor brought many of key leaders to hear Jim Bakker, the failed televangelist of the 1980s, preach at this non-denominational denomination’s “mother church” soon after Mr. Bakker was released from prison. Mr. Bakker delivered a scathing, but biblical indictment of the prosperity gospel (which tithing is married to), and pretty much shot down everything my former pastor taught about prosperity. Sadly, my former pastor attacked Mr. Bakker rather than deal with the arguments that Mr. Bakker presented. If you wish to attack me as a person, I will tell you that I am a failed man. I ask, however, that if you see something wrong with my exegesis then by all means go after it, and I will gladly listen to your views.

Prosperity and Third John Verse Two
John wrote, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2, NKJV). Nearly every sermon I have heard on tithing or finances began with this verse. The reason is the church I belonged to for a number of years had Word-Faith tendencies. This is a key verse in the Word-Faith movement that is used to show that God wants his followers wealthy and healthy. However, is this meaning what the author intended his audience to understand? Secondly, how would the author’s audience understood this greeting?

The Greek word translated “prosper” in English is a word that is found four times in the New Testament, twice, here in 3rd John, once in Romans, and once in 1st Corinthians. In Romans 1:10, Paul uses the word in reference to being able to successfully visit the church in Rome. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul is speaking of the proportion in which the Corinthian Christians should give to the relief fund that Paul was collecting for the Christians in Jerusalem. Here in 3rd John, the author is using an idiomatic expression of the time to express his best wishes to his readers.

Where the mental gymnastics come in is when the pastor begins to move from health and wealth to tithing. Tithing is the key to prosperity, and that comes from Malachi chapter three. That discussion, however, is for a later post. What most pastors do in attempting to construct the hoops they will be taking their congregation through is relate the prosperity in 3 John with the curse in Malachi.

There are many more instances of mental gymnastics that tithing adherents perform to justify the tithe. What most pastors demonstrate, however, is their adherence to human tradition, at best, or utter ignorance of the topic altogether, at worst. We will demonstrate this in future posts.

Next time on the Jude3blog we will be looking at the tithe of Abraham and Jacob.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The "Meaning" of the 12 Days of Christmas

Many years ago I discovered a book that claimed to have the meaning of each of the 12 days in the Christmas carol, The 12 Days of Christmas. I no longer have the book so I cannot refer to it directly. The meaning of the 12 days as listed in the book, however, have always stuck with me. I have attempted to determine whether or not these are historically accurate, but I have not been able to get that verification. With this in mind, do not take this as any sort of truth, but rather as a way of applying a deeper meaning to a Christmas carol that, on the surface, celebrates greed.

From what I have seen, this Christmas carol is of French origin. The first written English version of this carol dates back to 1780. The twelve days refer to the 12 days between Christmas Day (December 25) and Epiphany (Jan. 6), the day which traditionally is held as the day when the three Magi visited Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus. It is also held that this song was birthed during a time of persecution in France in which Catholics were persecuted by Protestants. This is a historical inaccuracy as it was the French Protestants (Huguenots) that were persecuted by French Catholics. This carol was said to have been a "secret code" to teach children a catechism of belief. Again, this is not historically verifiable. That being said, I see no reason why Christians can take something that is not overtly Christian and give it Christian meaning. We see this with churches holding "Harvest Night" on Halloween.

So enough history. What can be said about the gifts given during the 12 days of Christmas? The partridge in a pear tree is said to mean Jesus on the cross. This is a clear Roman Catholic reference to the crucifix as Protestants do not have crucifixes in their churches but empty crosses. There are reasons for the Roman Catholic crucifix, but that is a subject for another post.

The two turtle doves is said to refer to the Old and New Testaments.

The three French hens is said to refer to either the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or the three Christian virtues faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The four calling birds (actually colly birds or blackbirds) is said to refer to the four Gospels.

The five golden rings is said to refer to the first five books of the Bible (The Pentateuch, or the Torah).

The six geese a-laying is said to refer to the six days of creation.

The seven swans a-swimming is said to refer to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3).

The eight maids a-milking is said to refer to the eight Beatitudes as given by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10).

The nine ladies dancing is said to refer to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

The ten lords a-leaping is said to refer to the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping is said to refer to the eleven faithful apostles.

Lastly, the twelve drummers drumming is said to refer to the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.

I did discover that there is a song entitled "A New Dial" which nearly mirrors the above.

What are they that are but one?
We have one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne.

What are they which are but two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true.

What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity.

What are they which are but four
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ's birth, life, death which do declare.

What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign.

What are they which are but six?
Six days to labor is not wrong,
For God himself did work so long.

What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man's soul to crown.

What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven.

What are they which are but nine?
Nine Muses, like the heaven's nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears.

What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save.

What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus' sake.

What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God's son;
Twelve make our creed. The Dial's done.
As a humorous aside, the United States bank, PNC Financial Services, publishes its "Christmas Price Index" which tracks the cost of the items listed in the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. While the Christmas Price Index for 2010 has not been released, the 2009 Index listed the cost of the twelve items listed at $21,465.56.

Again, regardless of whether there is a historic meaning to this carol is not important. What is important is that this song can be used to teach our children some important Christian ideas during a season which is more and more losing those Christian roots in our increasingly secular society. If you use this carol to teach these truths to your children or have in the past, I would love to hear from you.