Friday, May 24, 2013

Paul and Tithing (Response to DeYoung part 5)

While DeYoung notes that when Jesus said the words contained in Matthew 23:23 He was still under the Old Covenant, he quickly points us to 1 Corinthians 9:13-14. I'm very impressed by DeYoung's reference to this verse. In my book You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe?, I list twenty arguments for tithing in order of weakest to strongest, and this verse was the second strongest argument for tithing (in my opinion) and it is hardly ever utilized in pro-tithing resources.

As is usually the case, paying close attention to context will radically change the way this verse is used, however. Sometimes we have difficulty understanding the context of a passage because the chapter break was placed in an unfortunate spot. This is one of those examples. See, the content of 1 Corinthians 8 is essential for understanding what Paul is trying to communicate in 1 Corinthians 9.

1 Corinthians 8 is Paul discussing food sacrificed to idols. In short, he says that while there is nothing inherently wrong with eating food that has been sacrificed to an idol, if it causes your fellow Christian to stumble, you should not act on the right to eat the food. So, Paul says to restrain your liberty if it hinders your fellow Christian. 1 Corinthians 9 begins with an ILLUSTRATION of restraining liberty. It is not a new topic, but a continuation of 1 Corinthians 8.
So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 that those who work have a right to receive wages; he then gives several proofs of this concept; and then he explains that he restrains his liberty/freedom/right to get wages for the sake of other Christians.

Structure of the Argument
I. Discussion on food sacrificed to idols
II. Conclusion: restrain your liberty for the sake of other Christians
    A. Illustration
        1. Workers deserve wages
            a) Arguments from the natural order
                1) soldiers receive wages
                2) farmers receive wages
                3) shepherds receive wages
            b) Arguments from the Old Testament
                1) Deuteronomy 25:4 and oxen who tread out the grain
                2) priests who served at the altar
        2. Conclusion to Illustration: vs. 15: “But I have made no use of any of these rights ...”

This is the context of the argument. So, could Paul be arguing that ministers of the gospel (vs. 14) should be paid “in the same way” as priests? In saying that you encounter several problems, including that you would have to disconnect the previous four arguments from “in the same way” and assume that Paul is now ONLY building off of the last one. But there are three OTHER problems with leveraging this verse for tithing:

1) No priest received ten percent of his income from the Israelites. I discussed earlier the “priestly tithe” mentioned in Numbers 18 for this very reason: priests received a “tithe of the tithe,” or, one percent. Of course, since multiple tithes were given, that wouldn't be the total contribution received by the priest. So, if this verse is arguing that ministers of the gospel should be paid like priests, then they receive about 2.3 percent, not ten (that's ten percent of the 23% received by the Levites). Sadly and ironically, this is about the average giving today.

2) The overarching context is about rights and forgoing rights. Notice 1 Corinthians 9:15 above where Paul explicitly says he has “made NO USE of any of these rights.” Now, if this is stating that ministers of the gospel should receive 2.3 percent in contributions, that would have to be explained alongside of the idea that Christians would only need to give 2.3 percent if the pastor did not forgo his right to a salary. In other words, it's not that Christians HAVE TO give this “2.3 percent tithe,” but they only have to give it if the minister of the gospel decides he wants a salary.

3) If you thought what was just written was a little confusing ... then good! It is true that tithing was not a strictly Jewish practice. However, the way Gentiles practiced tithing varied GREATLY from Jewish tithing. So, if Paul was going to incorporate the Mosaic Law of tithing into the New Covenant, an he would need to explain to both Jews and Gentiles how it would carry over ... but especially for the Gentiles. How could Paul expect the Gentiles to have such a nuanced understanding of the Mosaic Law?

While DeYoung has utilized the best Pauline verse for tithing in his sermon, this verse cannot carry the weight of the tithing argument. DeYoung does cite other texts in 1 and 2 Corinthians, but none of them explicitly nor implicitly refer to tithing. Next we will discuss Hebrews 7:1-10 and Melchizedek's tithe to Abraham.

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