Monday, February 28, 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two

The Four (plus one) Facts

These “facts” were determined by Gary Habermas. Habermas researched some 1,400 scholarly articles from 1975 forward. In these articles (mostly written in German, French and English), Habermas finds that there are four historical facts that receive nearly unanimous support from liberal and conservative scholars; the fifth fact has a very high level of acceptance, but it does not have the near unanimous support that the other four receive.

My own mentor, Dr. Robert Morey, has listed twelve facts in his work The Encyclopedia of Practical Christianity. I was very pleased to see these four (plus) one minimal facts of Dr. Habermas to be in the list of Dr. Morey “many infallible proofs.” For the sake of brevity, however, I will stick with Habermas' five facts.

Now what I am not saying is that just because there is scholarly agreement on these facts that the resurrection of Jesus happened. To the contrary, I am saying that based on these facts we have to come up with the best conclusion that fits the facts. Any conclusion must take into account these five facts. Any conclusion that does not account for these five facts is lacking in explanatory power and scope and must be rejected as a valid conclusion.

So what are the four (plus one) minimal facts? One, that Jesus actually died by crucifixion. Second, that Jesus’ disciples actually believed that they experienced the risen Jesus. The third fact; is the conversion of the church persecutor, Saul of Tarsus. The fourth fact is the conversion of the skeptic James. The final fact is the empty tomb. Now I want to examine these facts a bit more closely. There is quite a lot of information that I wish to share on these five points. Therefore I will be breaking this summation of the five evidences into two parts. Part one will consist of a discussion of Jesus’ death, and the belief of the disciples that Jesus resurrected form the dead. In part two, I will discuss the conversions of Paul and James, and the empty tomb.

Jesus’ Death by Crucifixion

First, this fact is reported in all four gospels. So the skeptic cannot, as some have, claim that the crucifixion was a later addition to the gospel narrative. Skeptics have done this with the resurrection account as no detailed account occurs in Mark’s Gospel. The skeptic may claim, however, that it is circular for a Christian to use the bible to prove a claim in the bible. I believe that this objection has no merit because I do not rely solely on the biblical record, but I also use sources outside the Bible.

The Ancient Jewish historian Josephus said, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, he had condemned him to be crucified….” (Ant. 18:3). The Roman Senator and historian Tacitus said, “Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus” (Annals 15:44). The Assyrian historian and satirist, Lucian of Samosata in The Death of Peregrine said, “The Christians, you know, worship this man to this day the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account” (11-13). In a letter residing in the British Museum we find this writing from the ancient Syrian Stoic philosopher Mara Bar Serapion, “Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?” There are even references to this event in Jewish religious literature as found in the Jewish Talmud, “on the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged” (Sanhedrin 43a). Lastly, even John Dominic Crossan of the liberal Jesus Seminar stated, “That he [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be” (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991], 145; see also 154, 196, 201).

It is interesting to note that there are a group of fringe atheists that are stating that Jesus never existed. Based on the internal and external evidence however, it is no surprise that the mainstream of New Testament scholarship be they liberal or conservative; believe that Jesus’ death is a fact of history. These “Jesus myth” proponents are either not familiar with the evidence, or they are “cherry picking” evidence that fits their preconceptions. I will address these objections more fully at a later date.

The Disciples’ Belief That Jesus Rose from the Dead

This belief that Jesus rose from the dead was the central point of their preaching and writing. Paul stated that the disciples claimed that Jesus rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:9-11; Galatians 2:1-10). Paul claimed the he had an encounter with the risen Jesus (2 Cor. 10:8; 11:5; 13:10; 1 Thess. 2:6; 4:2; 2 Thess. 3:4; Philem. 1:21). This Pauline claim was acknowledged by the Apostolic Fathers (Clement of Rome [1 Clem. 5:3-5], Polycarp [Pol. Phil. 3:2; 12:1], Ignatius [Ign. Rom. 4:3]).

Further, New Testament research has discovered that the resurrection of Jesus was part of the early oral tradition of the church. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is a primitive early Christian creed that was used in the early Christian church:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
There are some very important elements about this creed. First, it is an early testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. Secondly, it is very probably testimony from eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Thirdly, it contains multiple testimonies to Jesus’ resurrection; Cephas/Peter, the 12, more than 500 at one time, James, all the apostles, and Paul. Lastly, it records the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to the 12, the 500-plus, and all the apostles.

Scholars have determined that this statement is a creed based on the use of the words “delivered” and “received”. Paul is clearly communicating to the Corinthian Christians that he was giving them something he had received through oral tradition. Further, there are indications of Aramaic in this verse. The first is the use of the Greek word hoti, which was common in creeds of the day. Second the use of the Aramiac name Cephas instead of the Greek Peter since Paul was writing in Greek. Thirdly, the text is highly stylized in its use of parallelisms. Lastly, there are terms in this passage that are only found in this passage and no where else in any Pauline letters.

This creed is also dated very early by New Testament scholars. Most scholars place the date of this creed to within five years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus died around AD 30. Paul’s conversion is generally placed between AD 31 and 33. After his conversion, Paul spent three years away from Jerusalem, and after this time away, Paul then visits Peter and James in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-19). It is generally believed that Paul received the creed at this time.

There is another option for when Paul received this creed. It could be that he received it directly after his conversion while in Damascus. Either way Paul received this creed within two to five years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and from someone whom Paul deemed as a trustworthy source.

The very latest date that scholars place on this creed is AD 51. Paul is writes that he received this and that he delivered this to them while he was in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:3). This visit is dated around AD 51. Therefore Paul had the creedal information prior to his visit to Corinth and from a source he deemed trustworthy. Many skeptics will claim that the inclusion of this creed is circular since we are “quoting the bible in order to prove a claim of the bible.” Paul has a history of quoting from non-Christian sources in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12; Acts 17:28), this does not, however, make them New Testament sources. The evidence presented above demonstrates that this creed did not have its origin in Paul. Therefore this creed can be claimed as a non-New Testament source.

We also have the sermon summaries found in the book of Acts (chapters 1-5, 10, 13 & 17). These sermons can be dated to within twenty years of the resurrection. There are points that are seen in these summaries. First, that there was early testimony to Jesus’ resurrection. Second, that these were possible eyewitness testimony to Jesus’ resurrection. Lastly, that these are testimonies of the group appearances (Acts 10 and 13).

Lastly, we have written tradition. All four gospels testify to Jesus’ death and resurrection. These gospels contain the multiple claims by the disciples that were written down within seventy years of the event that is central to these books.

We also have the testimony of the Apostolic Fathers, namely Clement of Rome (A.D. 95, 1 Clem. 42:3) and Polycarp (A.D. 110, Pol. Phil 9:2).

The fact that the disciples actually believed that Jesus rose from the dead is clear from a number of historical facts. These men documented their denial and abandonment of Jesus at his arrest. They were cowering in fear at the death of their leader. Something happened, however, that transformed these quivering cowards into fearless public preachers of a resurrected Jesus, even to the point of death. Luke, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Dionysius of Corinth (cited by Eusebius), Tertullian, and Origen speak of disciples that fearlessly faced suffering and gruesome deaths based on the belief that Jesus rose from the dead.

I do not want to oversell this point. The willingness of the apostles to suffer and die for their testimony of the resurrected Jesus is evidence of their sincerity. These disciples truly believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Nor do I imply that their sincerity verifies the truth of their belief. There are many people that have suffered and been willing to die for various religions and causes. What their willingness to suffer, however, does demonstrate that they were not liars. Liars make poor martyrs. Since Jesus’ followers sincerely believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them, then assertions of legends and lies do not account for the appearances of Jesus because the original apostles both claimed and believed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.

In my next post on the Jude3blog I will discuss the conversions of Paul and James, and the empty tomb.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Part One

Christianity is not merely the collection of moral teachings and parables from Jesus of Nazareth. Much of what Jesus taught can be found in the teachings of other religious leaders that came before him. What makes Christianity unique from all other religions, however, is the claim by Jesus of Nazareth that he would be killed, but that he would be raised from the dead three days later. This resurrection of Jesus is the pivot point upon which all of Christianity revolves. The resurrection was the focus of the apostles’ preaching, as recorded in the book of Acts.

Paul, in the book of Romans, stated that belief in the resurrection of Jesus was a necessity of salvation (Romans 10:9). Peter states that the resurrection secured our inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4). Most important, however, is Paul’s statement that if the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, then Christians are indeed lost (1 Corinthians 15:17). Not only is the resurrection the focal point of Christianity, but it was the event that Jesus pointed to in order to validate his teachings (Matthew 12:38-40; 16:1-4; John 2:18-21; cf. Mark 14:58; Luke 11:29-30). The resurrection was also the chief evidence produced by the apostles that Christianity was true (Acts 2:22-32; 3:15; 17:2-3, 18, 31; 1 Cor. 15:17). Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus confirms Jesus’ claims, Christian doctrine, and the truthfulness of Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Contrast this claim with other religions’ claims to authority. Muslims tell us that we should follow Islam because only God could have written the Qur’an. Sura 2:23 says, “And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant [Muhammad], then produce a Surah like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true” (cf. Surahs 10:37-38; 17:88). Dr. Anis Shorosh has demonstrated that this claim is false in his work The True Furqan. Now the Muslim may object to Dr. Shorosh’s work, and say that this Surah applies only to the Arabic of the Qur’an, but this only fails to aid their cause because the Jews can say the same of the Hebrew in the Psalms.

Mormon missionaries instruct those reading The Book of Mormon to do so with an open mind and after asking God to confirm the truth of it by some sign. This confirmation comes in the form of a “burning in the bosom.” The problem is that this sort of confirming sign could also be the result of food that did not agree with one’s stomach. In other words, it is subject to something other than God.

In either of the cases mentioned above, the tests are mutually exclusive. They are conflicting truth claims as the only way to God. Both provide different ways to God, yet both cannot be the only ways to God. This leads us to the conclusion that both claims to exclusivity of one or both of these religions are incorrect, as are their truth tests.

Christianity, however, does not rely on subjective claims such as the ones mentioned above. Christianity stands or falls on the basis of a historical fact: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. First, Jesus predicted his resurrection. If the resurrection happened then there is no need to dismiss Jesus’ own predictions concerning his resurrection. Second, embarrassing testimony concerning the actions of his disciples or the women at the tomb is related in the gospels. This embarrassment principle lends weight to the authenticity of the resurrection accounts found in the gospels. Third, Jesus turned the thinking of the Jewish religious leaders (and his own disciples) upside-down by his use of the Messianic title “Son of Man” in reference to his resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Last, Jesus predictions of his own resurrection are referenced numerous times in the gospels: Matthew 12:38-40; 16:1-4, 21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 8:31-32; 9:31; 10:33; Luke 9:22; John 2:18-21; cf. Mark 14:58; Luke 11:29-30.

While there are numerous pieces of evidence that support the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:3), it is my intention to focus on the “minimal facts” as posited by Dr. Gary Habermas. In a study of over 1,400 sources on the resurrection compiled by Dr. Habermas, he has discovered five facts that are both strongly supported evidence and are conceded by almost every scholar, even those skeptical of Christianity.

It must be understood at the outset that historical evidences do not give anyone 100% certainty, but rather provide a range of certainty from very doubtful to very certain. This lack of certainty is one of the weaknesses of evidential apologetics. This lack of certainty can be dealt with a healthy dose of presuppositional apologetics. Understand, however, that no form of apologetic will save anyone. Only the Holy Spirit can regenerate a person’s heart and cause her to make a profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

With that said, I will be presenting the following positive argument for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. First, that Jesus did indeed die on a Roman cross. Second, that Jesus’ disciples sincerely believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them. The third point, the conversions of Paul (a church persecutor) and James (a skeptic) from Judaism to Christianity. And fourth, the empty tomb. Since no plausible opposing explanation exists that can account for all four of these historical facts, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead must be the only explanation.

In our next post, I will discus the four (plus one) facts of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day. Notice how the world has removed the Saint from it? Today, Valentine's Day is just another ploy to remove cash from the wallets of men and to line the coffers of florists and candy makers. This is not just the rant of a man with an obligation on St. Valentine's Day, but just another example of how secular society has taken over something Christian.

Being an amateur historian of American history today is the anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day massacre. In which members of one Sicilian gang, led by Al Capone, in Prohibition era Chicago dressed as police officers, massacred seven members of an Irish gang in order to get control of illegal alcohol distribution in that city.

All that being said, the real story behind St. Valentine's Day is even more interesting. I have taken the story from Lutheran Hour Ministries, and I hope that it will make this day not just about showing love to your spouse, fiance, or girl/boyfriend. Instead take the time to understand that someone died on this day standing for Christ.

In 270 A.D., marriage had been outlawed by the emperor of Rome, Claudius II. Claudius issued this decree because he thought that married men made bad soldiers since they were reluctant to be torn away from their families in the case of war. Claudius had also outlawed Christianity in this time period because he wished to be praised as the one supreme god, the Emperor of Rome. Valentine was the bishop of Interamna during this period of oppression. Valentine thought that the decrees of Rome were wrong. He believed that people should be free to love God and to marry. Valentine invited the young couples of the area to come to him. When they came, Valentine secretly performed services of matrimony and united the couples.
Valentine was eventually caught and was brought before the emperor. The emperor saw that Valentine had conviction and drive that was unsurpassed among his men. Claudius tried and tried to persuade Valentine to leave Christianity, serve the Roman empire and the Roman gods. In exchange, Claudius would pardon him and make him one of his allies. St. Valentine held to his faith and did not renounce Christ. Because of this, the emperor sentenced him to a three-part execution. First, Valentine would be beaten, then stoned, and then finally, decapitated. Valentine died on February 14th, 270 A.D.
While in prison, waiting for his sentence to be carried out, Valentine fell in love with the jailer's daughter, the blind Asterius. During the course of Valentine's prison stay, a miracle occurred and Asterius regained her sight. Valentine sent her a final farewell note. He signed his last note, "From Your Valentine." Even today, this message remains as the motto for our Valentine's Day celebrations.
 As you can see, this day has far much more significance than that of a sappy romantic expression. Nor is St. Valentine's Day a time in which we make sappy romantic expressions to Jesus, as if He is our boyfriend. Sorry, single Christian ladies, but Jesus is your King. He is not some sugar daddy that you seduce or coerce to do or give you what you want.

The other dangerous thought about Jesus and St. Valentine's Day is the teaching that Jesus is the "loneliest Valentine." I heard this preached a number of times from a former pastor. Again, makes Jesus just a romantic figure at best, but at worst makes Jesus into a cat that is crying at the door begging to come in. Again, this is not the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus is King. He is sovereign over all. He rules and reigns and is not lonely, nor does he desire our companionship. He has perfect fellowship with the two other members of the Trinity. Jesus died not for the fulfillment of some loneliness, but so that His mercy and grace would be demonstrated for all to see. This is not a boyfriend.

So when giving your sweetheart flowers or chocolates today, why not tell him/her about the true meaning of St. Valentine's Day. That on this day someone died for Christ and marriage, and that is why we commemorate this day.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is Tithing for Christians? Part Seven

New Testament Giving

So far in this series, we have shown from the bible that tithing was a part of the Old Testament and as such Christians are not under any obligation to pay tithes. We have also looked at all the Old Testament proof texts that are consistently used by tithing advocates to promote tithing. We also see that the curse, as found in Malachi 3, is strictly associated with the Mosaic Law. This Law was nailed, along with Christ Jesus, to the Roman cross. As such the curse along with the tithe was fulfilled by Jesus’ death.

We have looked at how the tithe was viewed in the New Testament. It is clear that the tithe was not viewed in high esteem by Jesus. The reason was simple; tithing was, and is, a way in which religious people could parade their righteousness in front of others and God. We will look more at this aspect of tithing later in this post.

No Rules for Giving

The main point of this post is to examine giving in the light of the New Testament.  The first thing that Christian’s should understand is that looking for “hard and fast” rules is a futile search. Rules tend to make things nice and neat. What happens with rules, however, is that instead of being a fence to protect one from danger, they become walls to separate Christians from other Christians. Each new rule simply vindicates a professed Christians’ self-righteousness. I have heard this from one of the church pastors that is a key leader in that movement’s top leadership. This pastor required that members not only be tithers, but in order to be moved up into leadership they be double tithers! This is not how church leadership is to be determined (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-10; 12-13).

The good thing about rules is that they give clear indications of another’s spirituality to others. It gives people the minimum requirements that good people need to live by. The problem with living by rules, however, is that they lead to a Pharisiacal attitude. For instance, if ten percent is the bare minimum one can give, then if I give more than ten percent I am more spiritual than one who does. Tim Keller describes this in his book The Reason for God:

The tendency of religious people ... is to use spiritual and ethical observance as a lever to gain power over others and over God, appeasing him through ritual and good works. This leads to both an emphasis on external religious forms as well as greed, materialism, and oppression in social arrangements (p. 59).

What Keller describes above is the only result of legalistic religion.

Attitude is the Goal of New Testament Giving

New Testament giving is not about duty but attitude. New Testament giving is to be liberal and with the goal of demonstrating a generous heart rather than the paying of a tax. John speaks of giving as a natural outflow and evidence of loving (1 John 3:16-18). Paul commended the church in Phillipi for their gift to him, and stated that it was evidence of their growth in Christ (Phillipians 4:16-17).

Paul told the church in Corinth that Christian giving should be cheerful, not begrudgingly or under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Christian giving should not be based on emotional manipulation or pressure, but on a clear decision to give. New Testament is an act of trust in a God who supplies all of our needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is hilaros from which we get the English word hilarious. New Testament giving should make a Christian hilariously happy. Contrast this attitude with the emotional manipulation and compulsory payment of a tithe. Further New Testament giving should be based on the income of the individual believer (2 Cor. 8:11-12). If a person can afford to give a tenth (or more, or less) is solely a matter of conscience. Based on this it is incumbent on church leaders and pastors to be careful to not place undue pressure on church members, nor tell them how much to give, i.e., ten percent.


The New Testament view of finances is to be that of stewardship. In other words, Christians will make an account of everything they have been gifted with, including finances. This is what Jesus speaks of in the parable of the talents as found in Matthew 25:14-30. What Jesus warned against was wasting opportunities because no one gets a second chance. The purpose of stewardship is to manage the resources given in the best way possible. If one’s attitude about giving is based on one’s attitude, then giving, as a practice, loses its value as a religious deed.

Unforced Giving

Unforced giving is the voluntary transfer of wealth from the well-off to the less well-off. This includes, but is not limited to, the sharing of meals with people one would not normally eat with. What the New Testament calls philoxenia, literally “the love of strangers, is the natural outworking of love (1 John 3:16-18). This word is also found in Hebrews 13:2; Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 5-8; c.f. 2 John 10-11. This love of strangers is also a requirement for elders in the church (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 3:2). This requirement of hospitality is a requirement for widows seeking assistance from the church (1 Timothy 5: 10). Further Scripture requires that the weak ones in the church be borne up by the strong, in other words the church is to help those that are unable to support themselves. This is especially applicable to the widow, the orphan, and those that labor for the sake of the gospel.

Supporting the Poor

There are two areas in which Christians are to give: the poor and those who labor for the sake of the gospel. The “poor” is defined by Scripture as the widow and the orphan. This is so important to the first century church that James calls the care of the widow and the orphan as “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27). In the time of the writing of the New Testament, to be a widow or an orphan meant that you had no one supporting you and that meant that you would probably die of hunger. Today, this scripture can be applied to mean that no widow or orphan should have to rely on the government dole for their subsistence.

It is interesting to note that the first century church was the first “welfare state” (Acts 6:1-3). The difference between then and now is that back then the wealth transfer was voluntary and based on the confiscation of income under the power of the law. This provision was not demonstrated by the paying of tithes or through gleaning, but in a daily provision (Acts 4:34-35). That this provision was based on voluntary giving and not compulsory tithing is evidenced by Peter’s rebuke of Ananias (Acts 5:4).

Further Scripture admonishes Christians to honor widows who are widows indeed (1 Timothy 5:3). Scripture then describes for us how widows qualify for church assistance: they had to have neither children nor grandchildren (1 Timothy 5:3), they must be over the age of 60 while younger widows were to remarry (1 Timothy 5:4-16). Lastly, church assistance was always in additional to individual members’ generous gifts to these people.

Supporting Those Who Rule and Teach the Church

The second area of Christian giving is to those who labor for the sake of the gospel. There are a number of Scriptures that deal with giving to those who labor for the gospel. Just as in the Old Testament where the Levites were called to abandon all other manners of employment, and were to be supported by the people they ministered to, so to the church is to support the elders that rule over them (1 Cor. 9:13-14). We see that Jesus abandoned the trade of his father (carpenter), and his disciples abandoned their trades to follow Jesus and were supported by others (Luke 8:3). The apostle John encouraged this sort of giving (3 John 5-8), as did Paul (Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:11). It is clear from New Testament scripture that the hearers were to support the one that was teaching them.

Final Thoughts

The conclusion of the matter of New Testament giving is to that it is strictly a matter of attitude and not action. New Testament giving is to be marked by hilarious volunteerism as opposed to begrudged taxation. This is why Christians must give as opposed to tithe. The difference is attitude. Attitude is what marks the life of a Christian. Are you motivated by love for God, or by the love of men? Most of the tithing advocates I have ever heard speak on the giving tend to speak of tithing as something to beat God into obedience to our wills. This is not the purpose of giving. Giving is to cause us to divorce ourselves from the idol of money, and focus on the propagation of the gospel and the expansion of the kingdom of God.

With all this in mind, what should your attitude be about tithing? Simply put, tithing is not for Christians, and is not something that Christians should be participating in. Not that Christians are excused from giving rather Christians are excused from tithing. Tithing is a relic of the Old Testament, and should remain there. Sadly, too many Christian pastors use tithing to beat their members over the head to get them to give either out of a sense of obligation or a sense of fear. This ought to never be done in the Christian church. Tithing is, as the picture at the beginning of this post states, the pastor's law and not the Lord's law.

On the other hand, what should a Christian’s attitude be about giving? Simply put, a Christian’s attitude about giving should be gratitude, joy and liberality. A Christian should also remember that the majority of her giving should go to one of two areas; the poor and those who labor for the gospel. These two areas are scripturally mandated, that does not mean, however, that Christians are excused from other forms of giving. Ultimately, Christian giving is dictated by the conscience and financial circumstances of the individual Christian, and no one, no pastor, no self-proclaimed apostle or prophet, and not even another Christian should impose their personal views of giving on another Christian.

It is my prayer that this series has been both educational and a blessing to you. I pray that those in tithe advocating churches will look at the tithe scripturally and apply scripture to the tithe and move from obligatory tithing to joyous and generous giving. If you had questions about the tithe, I hope that your doubts have been laid to rest. I know that I wish I had something like this when I first heard of tithing and the curse. It would have eliminated a lot of unnecessary guilt in my life.

Our next series on the Jude3blog will be dealing with the resurrection of Jesus.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Is Tithing for Christians? Part Six

The Tithe in the New Testament

We have established that the tithe is strictly an Old Testament institution with specific instructions that applied to the Israelites under the Mosaic Law. We have even looked at a few arguments for the tithe, and found them wanting. Yet tithing advocates will not stop at a refutation from the Old Testament. They will occasionally pull out the New Testament in order to justify this unbiblical teaching. So let’s see what the New Testament says about the tithe.

Focused on the Minors

The New Testament mentions the tithe nine times. The first two instances in the New Testament are nearly identical. They are found in Matthew 23:23 (ESV):

“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.”

And Luke 11:42 (ESV):

"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

These two passages are nearly alike with Luke adding the names of various herbs and the “neglect…[of] the love of God.” What we see from these two passages is that Jesus commended the religious people’s attention to same and insignificant details of the Law, but rebukes them for their ignoring of the meat of the Law, namely justice, mercy, faithfulness and the expression of God’s love into the lives of others. To many times I have seen Christians who faithfully tithe consistently miss opportunities to meet the needs of those around them because they feel that they are “paid up” with God by tithing and the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ are left unmet, or worse members of the church are forced to turn to the government for assistance! A Christian who has fallen on hard times should never have to turn to the government for assistance as can be read in James.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The next mention of tithing is found in Luke 18:12. This verse is part of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. In this parable we see Jesus juxtaposing the religious person reliant on his righteousness with the person reliant on God’s grace. In this instance Jesus refers directly to the Mosaic Law, but not in a good light. Here the Pharisee appears to demand that God regard his prayer over the tax collector on the basis of his righteousness. Isn’t this what we see and hear time and time again from tithing advocates? They speak of the tithe as something that God has to respect and comply with, as if God is some political lackey that must do the bidding of the highest donor.

Tithing in the Book of Hebrews

The other six times that the tithe is found in the New Testament is in Hebrews 7:4-10 (ESV):

“See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5Andthose descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”

Before we look at this passage, we must understand what was the theme of the Book of Hebrews; namely, the superiority of Jesus Christ to the ceremonial Law of Moses. The theme of chapter seven is to establish the superiority of the Melchizedik priesthood, which Jesus is the High Priest, over the Levitical priesthood. Since Jesus is seen as the fulfillment of Melchizedik by the writer of Hebrews, then it follows that Jesus is superior to the Levite high priest.

Lastly, if we are going to use Abraham’s tithe to Melchizidek as an example for Christian tithing, then it is clear that there is a misunderstanding of what the writer of Hebrews was communicating. First, the person paying the tithe is inferior to the one receiving the tithe. Second, even though the Jewish priests received tithes from the tithe that the Levites received from the people, these priests never paid tithes. Third, Jesus, in the book of Hebrews is portrayed as a priest that is superior to the Levitical priests. As Christians, we are co-priests with Jesus, and likewise superior to the Levitical priests. Therefore, based on the above, individual Christians should be receiving tithes. This however, is not what tithe advocates teach. Why? Because they are interested in one thing and one thing only, your money!

The question that is asked to me next is the question I will deal with in my next post; what is New Testament giving?

Next on the blog: New Testament Giving.