Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tithing in the Ante-Nicene Period: The Third Century (part 2)

Cyprian (pictured left)(died 258 A.D.), Bishop of Carthage, said that Christians in his time were not giving “even . . . the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store.” In another statement, he says that the clergy receive “as they do in the gifts and donations of their brethren the tenth portion, as it were, of the fruits of the earth.” The emphasis of this passage is on the clergy receiving adequate support for their ministry, as the Levites and priests did in the Old Testament. Rather than urging Christians to tithe, he used the phrase “as it were,” which, according to Murray, “suggests that the reference to tithing is by way of comparison rather than an indication that Cyprian was instructing his readers to comply literally with this Old Testament principle.” Futhermore, G. W. Clarke said that this phrase proves that tithing was not practiced during Cyprian’s day. Cyprian appeared to believe that the tithe was the minimum and that it was voluntary.

Finally, a document from Syria around 225 A.D., the Didascalia Apostolorum, contains some important thoughts on tithing and the law-gospel relationship. Regarding the former, the document said that the laws of the “Second Legislation,” which were all the laws given after the Ten Commandments, should be avoided; they were only given after Israel worshipped idols in the wilderness. Jesus fulfilled the law, that is, “set us loose from the bonds of the Second Legislation.” While it may appear at first that the document was supporting tithing to the bishop, it also said: “No more be bound with sacrifices and oblations, and with sin offerings, purifications, and vows . . . nor yet with tithes and firstfruits . . . . for it was laid upon them [i.e. the Israelites] to give all these things as of necessity, but you are not bound by these things. . . . Now thus shall your righteousness abound more than their tithes and firstfruits and part-offerings, when you shall do as it is written: Sell all thou hast, and give to the poor.” Thus, the old system of tithing has no place in Christianity since a new system has been instituted by the New Testament.

References and Resources:

Cyprian, Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise I: On the Unity of the Church 26 (ANF 5:429). For incidental references to tithing, see Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise IV: On the Lord’s Prayer 6, Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise V: An Address to Demetrianus 25; Epistle 65 1; Epistle 74 10.

Cyprian, “Letter 1,” 1.2 in The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage, trans & ann. G. W. Clarke, vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers 43 (New York: Newman, 1984), 1:52.

Murray, Beyond Tithing, 105.

G. W. Clarke, The Letters of St Cyprian of Carthage, Ancient Christian Writers 43 (New York: Newman Press, 1984), 157. Here’s the quote: “The tamquam must imply that a strict system of tithing did not operate at the time in this area.”

Powers, “Historical Study of the Tithe,” 27.

R. Hugh Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum: The Syriac Version Translated and Accompanied by the Verona Latin Fragments (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), lxxxvii–xci, 13–14, 96, 98, 224–26.


Blewett said...

Do you have your dissertaion in a pdf file or some other electronic form? I'd love to read it.
~ Bob

santiego said...

my dear prof. Croteau, the world will forever be grateful to you for casting away the veil of blind fold laid upon the people by the churches. I am writing a book on tithe and your materials have been most useful. I might send a copy to you for proof reading if; it may be convenient for you. Thanks a lot. Mr Jude

David A. Croteau said...

It would be an honor, Mr. Jude.