Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Old Testament Tithing Passages - Response to DeYoung (part 4)

DeYoung correctly notes that tithing occurs before the giving of the Mosaic Law: “This principle of tithing predates the Mosaic Covenant.” Of course, what exactly is meant by “principle” is up for debate. He quickly covers Genesis 14 and 28. He concludes: “We do see that this principle of tithing is operative even before the Law of Moses establishes it. This principle that you would give a tenth of what you have to one who is a superior king or priest above you.” This is an interesting way to summarize Genesis 14 and 28. We see one example of someone giving 10% from the bounty of war and then giving the other 90% a way as well. We see another example of someone promising to give 10% of all his possessions at some point in the future. The way DeYoung phrases tithing is giving “a tenth of what you have” before the Mosaic Law. Abram (Genesis 14 occurs before his name was changed to Abraham) gave 10% of the bounty of war to Melchizedek, but it doesn't say 10% of all his possessions. Jacob promised to give 10% of his possessions, but most likely it was over 20 years before he actually had to do it. So is tithing the giving to a superior 10% of possessions or 10% of income. In Abraham's case, it's 10% of the bounty of war. This is NOT what the Mosaic Law prescribes in Numbers 31:28, which says that from the spoils of war an Israelite had to give 1/500. So if the idea of giving a tenth is some universal, God given principle, then why do the Israelites only give 1/500 from the spoils of war? Wouldn't this verse undermine the concept that “10%” is bound up with an eternal giving principle called tithing? And Jacob promised to give 10% of all he possessed when God kept His side of the deal. Does that mean that people back then would give 10% of their possessions, not 10% of their increase? Is that the "principle" to be understood? Should that be practiced today?

DeYoung says “There were actually three different tithes required in the Old Testament.” It is true that the Israelites in general had to give three distinct tithes, but there is a fourth required tithe: the priestly tithe. This is a tithe required of the Levites. They would take 10% of what they were given through tithes and give that to the priests. This is not really a critique of DeYoung, as it wasn't really necessary to include that in his sermon, but more of a clarification on tithing in the Mosaic Law.

His understanding and description of the three tithes was quite well done. It was very impressive to see how well he understood the differences between the Levitical, Festival, and Charity tithes. He concluded that Israelite tithing totaled about 23% on a yearly basis. Not including the Sabbatical Year in the calculations, I would agree that 23% is about the yearly giving in tithes for the ancient Israelites.

He gives an interesting possible understanding connecting Matthew 23:23 with the three tithes (where justice = the Levitical tithe, mercy = the Charity tithe, and faithfulness = the Festival tithe). Then he has a few statements that puzzle me in the conclusion to this discussion:
1) “Even if that's not the case, and there's no way of knowing for sure ...”
2) “Jesus reinforces this principle that you ought to have tithed.”
3) “Now a tenth is the amount.”
Why are we unsure about the amount Jesus was referring to? What could possibly be the justification for thinking that Jesus had anything in mind except the 23% idea? If he was referring to the tithing laws I discussed in a previous post, those found in the Mishnah, then it would be a 20% tithe. So if Jesus is reinforcing a “tithing principle” in Matthew 23:23, it would be anything but 10%. So: how did we go from 23% to 10%? Where is the justification for lowering the standard from the Mosaic Law's 23% all the way down to a measly 10%? As many tithing advocates would ask: on what basis would we expect God to require less in the New Covenant than He required in the Old Covenant? If that is a valid argument (which I doubt), then 23% is the standard, not 10%.

When a pious Jew decided to faithfully practice the tithing laws, did he give 10% of his income? I already mentioned above that from the spoils of war only 1/500 was required, but there are many more problems with this “10% of income” idea. First, Leviticus 27 is very clear that the tenth animal that passes under the rod must be given as a tithe. So if an Israelite has nine cows, how many are given as a tithe? ZERO. If he has eleven cows, how many does he give? ONE. In neither situation would he actually be giving 10%. Notice also that it isn't the FIRST one that passes under the rod, but the TENTH one. This could provide a challenge to DeYoung's integration of the “principles” he found with firstfruits with the “principles” he found in tithing. Second, where does the Old Testament say “income” or “increase”? It doesn't. It specifies certain products connected to the land that must be tithed. It's this connection to the land of Israel that is extremely important when analyzing the issue of tithing through the grid of biblical theology. See, the overarching reason that God required a tenth from certain products from the land is because God himself provided the land for Israel. If an Israelite had an increase/income that was NOT connected to the land, nothing in the Old Testament says that they were to tithe on that. So, if an Israelite made a plow for someone and was paid 10 shekels, they did not have to tithe one shekel. That income was not connected to the land. Third, while Israel was primarily an agricultural society, it was not solely agricultural. Even in Leviticus 25 we see rules for an ancient banking system (e.g. Lev 25:36). The book of Genesis contains dozens upon dozens of references to money. So it wasn't like they ONLY dealt in animals and crops. To say that there was a shift in the economical system would be correct, but it wasn't a shift from “no dealing in money” to “only dealing in money.” In summary: 1) not all “tithing” was actually 10%, and Leviticus 27 makes this crystal clear; 2) all tithing was connected to the land of Israel; and 3) Israel's economic system may have been shifting, but Israelites dealt in money way back in Genesis.

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