Monday, May 20, 2013

However ... Matthew 23:23 (part 3)

Of course, as I've stated, I do not agree with DeYoung's conclusion regarding the tithe. As I get in to the specifics, I want you to understand that it is NOT because I desire to give less than 10% myself. I've been accused of that many times, but it is simply not true. My desire is to be faithful to Scripture and I'm confident that DeYoung has that same exact desire.

DeYoung consistently referred to the “principle” of tithing in his sermon. What exactly does he mean by “principle”? How does the “principle” differ from the “law” of tithing? Is the principle the concept of “10%” or simply giving? Is the underlying principle to tithing found in it being an expression of a generous, sacrificial gift given to God in recognition that everything belongs to Him or the actual 10% number? Calling something a “principle” but never really parsing out how it differs from “law” doesn't clarify, but muddies the water.

DeYoung makes a significant contextual observation about Matthew 23:23: “But if you look at verse 1 you notice He's not just speaking to scribes and Pharisees, this isn't just instruction for them, verse 1, Jesus said 'to the crowds and to His disciples'. So though He's addressing scribes and Pharisees, He's really speaking this in the hearing of people like us, the crowds, the disciples. So this is what he wants everyone to hear, this isn't just for the Pharisees.”
True, Matthew 23:1 says that Jesus was speaking to “the crowds and to his disciples” (ESV). Note these observations about the context of Matthew 23:
    -verse 2-the scribes and Pharisees are referred to in the third person
    -the scribes and Pharisees are referred to by the third person plural “they” in verse 3 (3x), verse 4 (2x), verse 5 (2x), verse 6 (1x)
    -the “you” in verses 8-11 refers to the crowds and disciples, Jesus' audience at this point
    -verse 12 concludes the section
    -verse 13 begins “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees”. This is a shift in the passage, as the “you” before this referred to the crowds and disciples but NOW it refers to scribes and Pharisees. So Jesus is in fact addressing the scribes and Pharisees in this section.

DeYoung goes back too far in trying to understand the context of the passage, missing the shift that takes place in Matthew 23:13. Regardless, if those observations above weren't convincing, note that even if Jesus were speaking to the crowds and disciples, for DeYoung to say He was “really speaking this in the hearing of people like us” is an over-flattening of changes between the Old and New Covenants. I am NOT arguing for a strong discontinuity between the Old and New Covenant like an old school dispensationalist, but these crowds and disciples were still under the Old Covenant when they were listening to Jesus' words. So if Jesus tells Jews during His earthly ministry that they should be tithing, why would that mean that Christians in the New Covenant should be tithing? What would you expect Jesus to say at this point? “Keep tithing for a year or two, but soon I will die on the cross and the paradigm for giving to God will change”? That would have severely distracted from Jesus' point, which was about the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, not Christian tithing. DeYoung concludes: “Jesus does not undermine the principle of tithing, he does not reject it, he does not overturn it, he rather reaffirms it.” Yes, he reaffirmed it for those under the Old Covenant (while I think he reaffirmed it for the scribes and Pharisees, he thinks it was reaffirmed for the crowds and disciples, but I don't know if this matters too much). New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg concluded: “The last sentence of v. 23 does not imply … that tithing is mandated of Christians, merely that as long as the Mosaic covenant remains in force (up to the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection), all of it must be obeyed but with discernment of its true priorities” (Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary, 346).

But there is another problem with DeYoung's understanding of Matthew 23:23 (the material below is taken from chapter 3 in my forthcoming booklet: Tithing After the Cross). There is a legitimate debate about whether Jews were actually supposed to tithe mint, dill, and cummin. The Mishnah (a collection of rabbinic sayings and interpretations written down around 200-250, but some of the traditions date back to the period of Jesus' earthly ministry) contains this debate in Maaserot 4:5 ... specifically over coriander and dill: were they really liable to tithe laws? One rabbi (died ca. 120 A.D.) said dill needed to be tithed. Another passage, Shebiit 9:1, concluded that small plants were exempt from tithing laws. It is VERY important to understand this so we actually know what Jesus was commending: faithfulness to the Old Testament law or faithfulness to Jewish oral traditions? The parallel to Matthew 23:23 is Luke 11:42 and in that parallel Jesus said "and every kind of garden herb." One thing truly is clear from the Mishnah: it wasn't necessary to tithe EVERY herb. Therefore, the most likely understanding of Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 is that Jesus was commending the Jews for being meticulous, but He is NOT commending obedience to the Old Testament law or practice.

REGARDLESS, even IF Jesus was commending the Mosaic Covenant laws, then he was commending a 23 percent tithe on crops from the ground and cattle, as DeYoung has acknowledged. How do we get from Jesus commending Jews for giving 23 percent of their crops and cattle to Jesus commending us to give 10 percent of our income? I'll deal with the idea that their was a change in the Israelite economic system later, but for now: how do we go from 23 percent of crops and cattle to 10 percent of income? Even if "crops and cattle" was an expression for income (which it is not), the change from 23 to 10 is huge! Why only 10 percent now? The word "tithe" obviously means 1/10, but DeYoung has stated that the Mosaic Covenant required about 23 percent per year. I just don't see how we get from 23 percent to 10 percent.

In the next post I will cover some of DeYoung's thoughts on tithing in the Old Testament.

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