A Perspective on Tithing
- Friday, November 09, 2012
Finally, Hebrews 7:4-10 does not advocate that Christians should tithe but specifically says it was something done by Jewish people for Levitical priests on the basis of law; the writer then uses Abraham's tithe to Melchizedek as allegorical proof of Melchizedek's superiority to Levitical priests. Instead of settling for 10 percent, we should note the command to give generously and radically, just as Jesus gave to us: loving God with all He had and loving His neighbor—even His enemies—as Himself, just as Jesus did (Matthew 22:37-40; 2 Corinthians 8:9 1 John 3:16-19. John the Baptist raises the standard of giving to 50 percent (Luke 3:11), and Jesus exhorts us to give 100 percent (Luke 21:1-4). So the scarce mention of the tithe in the New Testament is evidence not that God expects less of us today, but that far more is possible. The tithe is still a helpful guideline insofar as it reminds us to give proportionally to the Lord as He blesses us, since He owns it all anyway. But by New Testament standards, settling for 10 percent can be a recipe for condemnation from Jesus if we are neglecting true generosity, just as it was for the tithing Pharisees (Matthew 23:23).
Did Jesus really say that faithful tithing wasn't good enough?
Yes. Jesus criticized the Pharisees (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42 not because they tithed but because they paid close attention to the details of God's law (e.g., tithing) while avoiding its deeper requirements (e.g., pursuing mercy, justice and the love of God). The important thing to remember is that Jesus commands His followers to be more biblical than the Pharisees' 10 or 23 percent tithing on agricultural products (down to herbs). Jesus calls us to pursue justice and mercy, following this standard: loving God with all we are and all we possess, and loving others as we love ourselves. The real question, then, is that if the tables were turned, how would I want to be loved? We see this ruthless logic applied in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), in the apostle Paul's attempts to raise funds for the poor (2 Corinthians 8:13-15), and in the early church's refusal to cling to possessions when faced with the needs of others (Acts 2:42-45; Acts 4:32-37. Moreover, Jesus' own sacrifice—with apologies to Bill and Melinda Gates, the largest and least deserved gift in history—serves as our standard (2 Corinthians 8:9; 1 John 3:16-18. After all, even in the Old Testament the tithe was only part of the generosity of God's people expressed in offerings, sacrifices and gifts and acts of mercy (Isaiah 58:6-10; Micah 6:6-8).
Who would have tithed in the Bible?
Apparently, only those who owned land in ancient Israel (the promised land itself) would have tithed an average of 23.3 percent of agricultural produce. There is no evidence that the tithe was ever applied to those who did not own land, or to those who did not live in Israel, with one exception: the Levites would give a tenth of the tithe to the priests, who also were commanded to tithe from what had been given to them (Numbers 18:26-28). This shows us that "even 'full-time religious workers' were subject to the laws of tithing" (Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches, 46). However, Israelites who had become poor and lost their land or those who had moved to cities and engaged in non-agricultural trades almost certainly would have been exempt from tithe under Old Testament law. This casts considerable doubt on the applicability of a "10 percent" tithe for all Christians today. Instead of settling for a hard-and-fast legal requirement of 10 percent, we should instead pay careful attention to the New Testament's radical teaching on generosity.
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