Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tithing in the Ante-Nicene Period: The Second Century (Part 2)

Irenaeus’ (130–200 A.D.) Against Heresies gives an early account of the law-gospel relationship. Even though in Against Heresies Irenaeus said “instead of the law enjoining the giving of tithes,” the context shows that Irenaeus was referring to Jesus’ widening of the law for Christians, not abrogating it. Furthermore, Irenaeus also said “instead of adultery” and “instead of murder.” If by “instead of” he meant that Jesus abolished the law, then he was permitting adultery and murder. While Jesus’ understanding of adultery and murder was stricter than the rabbinic understanding, He still forbade adultery and murder. Therefore, this passage appears to contain evidence that Irenaeus believes that Jesus did something to the law of tithing, but not necessarily that he abrogated it. Irenaeus also says that the Jews gave tithes, “but those who have received liberty set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes.” The editor, in a footnote, said, “The law of tithes abrogated; the law of Acts. ii. 44, 45, morally binding. This seems to be our author’s view.” In this text, Irenaeus places the relationship between tithing and Christianity in contrast (“but”). Finally, he states what is obligatory for Christians: “We are bound . . . to offer to God the first fruits of His creation.” Irenaeus’ focus was on Christians giving abundantly. Powers (somewhat pro-tithing) concluded, “the whole spirit of Irenaeus was that the law of the tithe had been abrogated” and Feinberg said that the church fathers, including Irenaeus, emphasized Christian freedom in giving. Murray said that Irenaeus rejected tithing as a giving paradigm for Christianity; he did not consider tithing the starting point but instead he emphasized giving and sharing on a communal level. Finally, Vischer concluded, “Irenaeus thus regards the commandment to tithe as a preliminary stage. Christ has led us beyond this.”

Resources and References:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.13 (ANF 1:477); 4.18.2 (ANF 1:485).

For more on Irenaeus’ view of the Mosaic law, see Against Heresies 4.13.3 (ANF 1:477).

Powers, “Historical Study of the Tithe,” 21.

C. L. Feinberg, “Tithe,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5 vols., ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 5:758.

Murray, Beyond Tithing, 99–101, 106.

Vischer, Tithing in the Early Church, 14.


Anonymous said...

Hello David,

Very interesting. I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming posts.


Anonymous said...

I really disagree with this train of thought. First of all the Ten Commandments are not part of the same law as the Tithing law or any other law that was created for the Israelite, who now do not even care about those laws. No more sacrifices of animals. Christians have to outgrow the Moses syndrome. On the other had Jesus clearly states the two laws are Love of God and Love of neighbor. In that sense the Charity is also greater than Tithing. That is the point Irenaeus was Making. The impressive thing is with so much reading of the Early Church you still hold to the Mosaic law.

David A. Croteau said...

Recognize that this is Irenaeus' logic, NOT MINE. I was simply describing his thinking.