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.