Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is 10% a "Good Place to Start"?

In a recent article, John Ortberg said: "Tithing is a bad ceiling but an excellent floor." In fact, I've heard many pastors say that while they can't prove that tithing is mandated for Christians, or that while they (only) think it is (they are a little unsure), it's still "a good place to start". First, why would they claim it's a good place to start? Second, is it really a good place to start? This second question digs in to why this really can be an important issue in the life of church members.

Two main reasons come to mind. First, they misunderstand tithing in the Mosaic Law and think that it was 10% of income. We never see any example of a person commanded to give 10% of their regular income nor any example of someone doing that. Neither Abraham, Jacob, Old Testament Jews, or Jews in the New Testament are described this way. The literature between the Old and New Testament don't describe Jews tithing in this way and Josephus (late 1st century) doesn't describe Jews tithing in this way. Second, some have recognized that Jews never gave 10% of income, but when they get to the New Testament, they appear to be "mesmerized" by the English dictionary definition of the word "tithe" being "10%". They seem to just fail to connect the dots.

Here are my reasons for YES:
- easy to calculate
- not unreasonable for most
- sounds biblical
- if every Christian did it, the financial needs of the church would be easily met

Here are my reasons for NO:
- It is unfair. If Bob the Christian makes 1 million dollars a year and Joe the Christian makes $20,000 a year, giving 10% is financially easy for Bob, but brutally difficult for Joe. After giving 10%, Bob still has $900,000 to live and Joe only has $18,000. Joe's gift would be very generous and sacrificial; Bob's gift would sound very generous to our ears, but wouldn't be sacrificial in comparison.
- It is unreasonable for some. There are some people who have no business giving 10% of their income. Whether it's unforeseen medical bills, a tragic accident, or a job loss, we have a huge percentage of Christians in significant debt today (sometimes they are in debt because of foolishness and/or materialism, of course). I've heard pastors say that if you give 10% regularly, then God will take care of you financially. That is true for some, but for others, people I've know who have given far beyond 10%, some have ended up filing for bankruptcy! All the while praising God for "taking care of them"! I've heard many pastors say "You can't out give God," but I've actually seen people who gave so foolishly that they DID out give God. I know that sounds so offensive to many, but God has given us a brain between our ears and He expects us to use it. When you keep giving 10%, or 12%, or 14% while sinking deeper and deeper in to debt, something needs to change! This is not an isolated issue, either. Simply search online for stories about people going bankrupt who were tithing ... you find a lot of stories. You'll even get to read about the government writing and changing laws about tithing while filing for bankruptcy. The problem has become so widespread that the federal government has needed to get involved.
- While the word "tithe" means "10%," and while the word "tithe" is used many times in Scripture, is does not logically follow that Christians are required to give "10% of income." There are many things in Scripture both described in stories and prescribed/commanded in the Mosaic Law that do not directly apply to Christians: the Levirate Law, circumcision, Saturday sabbath keeping, etc. What we do not see in Scripture is any pattern of giving 10% of regular income on a regular basis. In fact, we don't see even one story of this.
- While tithing sounds and even feels so pragmatic, while it seems that the church would have so much money if only people tithed, that is not a good reason to require it or even strongly recommend it as a place to start.
- Saying that 10% is a good place to start ends up robbing people. We have two groups that get robbed: 1) The poor are fleeced of money they need for food and shelter. 10% is too high of a burden for some. I could paint this picture in pages upon pages, but I'll spare you. Let me simply say: even the Old Testament law had a lower requirement for giving for those who were poor: if you were not a land owner, you did not pay anything in tithes. 2) The rich are robbed of the blessings they could have by following the New Testament principles for giving. Someone making 1, 5, or 10 million dollars a year should never think that he has satisfied some biblical mandate or concept by giving 10%. In fact, when I've had the privilege to teach New Testament principles in local churches, I'll hear a story about someone making a modest income (less than $100,000 a year) deciding to up their giving to 30% or more! The "10% of income" concept, even when presented as a starting point, becomes a bullhorn that tells the wealthy "don't worry about giving much beyond 10%, you've met the requirement!" Again, this becomes the mindset EVEN WHEN THE PASTOR SAYS IT'S THE "floor of giving" (a concept I disagree with).

Therefore, for some, it is not an excellent floor. Now recognize this: I'm not saying that God wants you to give less then 10%, regardless of your financial situation. He may want you to step out in faith and trust Him. However, He also may want you to learn to be wise and cut back on your giving. Each situation is different, but following the New Testament principles of giving will lead to truly generous, sacrificial, and joyous giving. 10% shouldn't be considered the floor NOR the ceiling.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tithing and Church History (Response to DeYoung part 8)

Historical Theology can be a tricky discipline. It isn't enough to simply list people off who agree with your particular theological stance. Even giving a citation could be misleading. Instead, getting to the reason they believed what they believe is important. Too many times the reasoning has been left out of the discussion with tithing. Other times a more full-orbed perspective on the ancient document or person is needed to grasp their reasoning.

DeYoung cites three historical sources that advocate tithing: the Apostolic Constitutions, Irenaeus, and Augustine. Let's look at those in order.

1) The Apostolic Constitutions (300s)– This document truly is an early and strong advocate for tithing. Two things should be considered when citing this document for tithing. First, the Constitutions equated/likened bishops to priests and Levites and the tabernalce to the Holy Catholic Church. Those two views seem to have driven its stance on tithing. If you disagree with either of those views, you may want to reconsider using this document as a source to back up your views on tithing. Second, in the introductory notice to the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Volume 7), on page 388, the editors noted that books 1-6 are the earliest portions, with book 7 being “somewhat later,” though still very old. The portion in the Apostolic Constitutions that contains the advocacy for tithing is found in book 7. Also, DeYoung rightly notes that the section in the Constitutions that advocates tithing says to utilize “freewill offerings” to support the poor. However, it should be noted that tithing was used for this function in the Old Covenant.

2) Irenaeus (died in 200 A.D.) - Admittedly, the quote from Irenaeus given by DeYoung (from Against Heresies, 4.18.2) is a difficult one to interpret. DeYoung believes that Irenaeus was mandating tithing. However, note these scholars who appear to differ from DeYoung's interpretation of the ambiguous Irenaeus quote:
- Powers (dissertation titled “An Historical Study of the Tithe in the Christian Church to 1648”) said: “the whole spirit of Irenaeus was that the law of the tithe had been abrogated” (Powers, page 21).
- Charles Feinberg (in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5:758) concluded only that the church fathers emphasized Christian freedom in giving.
- Stuart Murray (Beyond Tithing, 99-101, 106) said that Irenaeus rejected tithing.
Irenaeus' quote, when read in context, is much more ambiguous than DeYoung leads on.

3) Augustine (around 400 A.D.) - I readily admit that Augustine did truly advocate tithing. But two factors need to be considered. First, Augustine clearly misunderstood the Old Testament's teaching on tithing. He is crystal clear in his belief that Jews gave 10% of their income under the Mosaic Law. This misunderstanding of Augustine's fed into his advocacy for tithing. Second, Augustine believed (and practiced) that Christians should sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. This is truly the command of Christ. However, since Christians are so unwilling to do that, they should at least give what the scribes and Pharisees gave, especially since our righteousness needs to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. That is a summary of Augustine's teaching. So recognize his view that tithing isn't really the command for Christians, but sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. He actually lessened the command down to only 10% of income. I've never actually heard someone utilize that argument in a pulpit, but that was Augustine's. Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine all argued that way.

So while those three sources argued for the continuation of tithing (and there are more), what DeYoung did not mention in his sermon were the early sources that went in the other direction, arguing against the continuation of tithing. I'm not going to get into the specifics of their reasoning (as I don't necessarily agree with how they reach their conclusions and I've done this already in You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe?), but here are a few early sources arguing against the continuation of tithing:
1) Didascalia Apostolorum (about 225 A.D.)
2) Origen (died about 255)
3) Epiphanius (about 370) – This last ancient source, though he is not well-known today, is interesting as he was known as a defender of orthodoxy.

After studying the doctrine of tithing throughout church history, I've concluded that their were godly men on both sides of this debate. The early church was divided in her views, in the Middle Ages advocacy for tithing grew, but division occurred leading up and in to the Reformation. There has not been a consistent view on this issue over the last 2,000 years. The key thing to remember when studying tithing (or other doctrines) in church history is not so much “who concluded what” but more “why and how did they come to that conclusion.” Then we can weigh their arguments and not just say “I'm with Augustine” or “I'm with Epiphanius”!

This series will have one more concluding post.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tithing and Biblical Theology (Response to DeYoung part 7)

DeYoung stated: “How you view tithing has a lot to do with how you view the Old Testament.” This a great transition in his sermon into the area of biblical theology. In fact, what makes the tithing topic fascinating to me as a scholar is its relationship to biblical theology. As a Christian layperson, I'm more curious about how this topic should influence my financial giving to the local church and other Christian ministries. But it is where this topic touches biblical theology that really fascinates me.

DeYoung stated: “I would say every law from the Mosaic Covenant remains and every law must now be understood in light of Christ's coming.” We are in complete agreement on this point. I'm not one of those who say that the Old and New Covenants have no relationship between them. DeYoung refers to those who might say “rip out that page” when referring to the Mosaic Law. While I might be an ardent advocate for grace giving (or, post-tithe giving), I find a tremendous amount of value in the Mosaic Law ... each and every law. And when I read a law that I don't find much value in, I realize that the problem is with my lack of understanding, not the law itself.

Some views on the relationship between the Mosaic Law and Christians
Some say: Every law that is not repeated is repealed. That's the basic stance of some in the dispensationalist camp, particularly older forms like Classic Dispensationalism (think Scofield and Chafer) and Revised Dispensationalism (think Ryrie).
Some say: Every law that is not explicitly repealed continues. That is the basic stance of some in the reformed/covenant theology camp.
Some say: The law has three parts: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The civil laws don't apply because we are not the nation of Israel, the ceremonial laws don't apply because Christ fulfilled them, but the moral laws all still apply.

I think the first two views are overly simplistic. In the third view, I reject that three-fold division. My view (developed from a J. Daniel Hays article in Bibliotheca Sacra) is that every law in the Old Covenant is a manifestation of God's eternal character, therefore every law applies to Christians. But in order to figure out HOW each law applies, we need to get to the underlying principle of the law. The laws, as they are manifested, give the earmarks of being manifested for a particular people at a particular time in a particular place under a particular covenant. So when laws are tied to cultural or covenant aspects that are not directly relevant for New Covenant believers, the way the law applies will be changed ... but that doesn't mean it doesn't apply.

Tithing is connected to: the Levites, priesthood, festivals, and land (and possibly other things as well). All four of those Old Covenant entities are not directly applicable in their Old Covenant manifestation to Christians. We don't have Levites in the church, the priesthood has changed significantly as we are the priests, the festivals, which were pointers to New Covenant realities, have been fulfilled and are no longer literally celebrated, and our relationship to the land has drastically changed. This greatly impacts the issue of the continuation of tithing today.

Furthermore, two specific things that DeYoung states need comment. 1) “So when we look at tithing I don't think there is anything in the coming of Christ that would set apart, that would remove the principle of tithing, but rather should intensify.” I totally agree with this statement in a vacuum, but he seems to believe that the “principle of tithing” is the idea of giving 10% of income, a concept that seems TOTALLY FOREIGN to anything in Scripture. You can't assume the underlying principle, you need to prove it. 2) He states that we are not an agrarian society. I've already responded to this, but this is a common and (apparently) compelling argument by those who mandate tithing for Christians. However, first century Israel was not an exclusively agricultural society, and neither was Israel of Moses' day. Even back in Genesis we see references to money and those who worked trades other than agriculture: Tubal-cain (Genesis 4:22) worked with bronze and iron. While I recognize that the society was more agriculturally based back then, it wasn't exclusively agricultural. That should lead to the question: if an Israelite made money/income apart from crops or cattle, does the Old Testament mandate him to tithe? The answer is: no. Why, because of the extremely tight connection between the land and tithing.

Next we'll look at the three references DeYoung made to tithing in church history.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hebrews 7, Melchizedek, and Tithing (Response to DeYoung part 6)

DeYoung does a fine job putting Hebrews 7 in context. He recognizes that the author of Hebrews is really trying to prove that Jesus is a superior high priest and that Jesus was in the order of Melchizedek and not of Aaron or the Levites. Then DeYoung says this: “And though the chapter is not about tithing, I think there is a fair implication that if the people of God tithed to the Levitical priests, and if Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, a king and a priest, would not Christians now tithe to the high priest and king of the church? The analogy is not that you tithe to your pastor, but you tithe to the Lord Jesus Christ who is a superior priest.”

DeYoung believes this is a “fair implication,” therefore he seems to agree that this is not the point of the passage. However, let's look at his specific argument that it is a “fair implication.”
- people of God tithed to Levitical priests
- Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (a priest)
- Christians tithe to Jesus (a superior priest)

The problem here is three-fold:
1) When the people of God “tithed” to the Levitical priests, how much of their income did they give? Think about this for a minute: how much of their income did they give? If you know the answer to that, you are smarter than I am! They did give about 23% yearly from their crops and cattle, but if they made any income by other means (fishing, arts, building, etc.) they were not required to give anything from that. And since the animal tithe probably was only rarely actually 10% (read Leviticus 27:30-32 closely), no one really knows how much was required in this “tithe”.
2) How much of his regular income did Abraham tithe to Melchizedek? The answer: we don't know. We read of one story of Abraham giving 100% of the bounty of war away, with 10% of that going to this priest/king Melchizedek. But we don't know that Abraham EVER gave 10% to any priest again. There is no indication that this was a pattern or habit.
3) If we are to follow this pattern, then which one should we follow? Give 23% of our crops and cattle? Give 10% from the spoils of war? Neither of these examples is “10% of income,” so how is this a “principle” or “pattern” for us today?

I think DeYoung's “fair implication” has some significant problems. He then cites New Testament scholar Reggie Kidd saying that the biblical story seems to include “tithing principally” even if there will be adjustments “in the New Covenant situation.” I honestly have no problem with the idea of a tithing principle, but the content of that principle is the issue. Why is the principle “10% of income” when that was never practiced regularly by anyone in Scripture? It seems to me that each of the tithes in the Mosaic Law may have their own principles. For example, if the Festival Tithe was given to teach the “fear of the Lord,” (Deuteronomy 14:23) then that is the underlying principle: fear the Lord in the area of your finances and you've kept the underlying principle to the Festival Tithe. What would make someone think that the “10% of regular income” concept would continue, when that is not present in the Abraham narrative nor the Mosaic Law?

Next we'll briefly look at DeYoung's discussion on how tithing fits into one's view of biblical theology.

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.

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.

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.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Our Neglected Stewardship" by Kevin DeYoung (part 2)

On Mother's Day, 5/12/2013, Kevin DeYoung preached a sermon titled “Our Neglected Stewardship” at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. DeYoung's sermon was almost exactly 1 hour long. In this single sermon, he covered:
    -The reason his church needs to hear this message
    -The state of giving in the American church
    -Jesus' teaching on tithing in Matthew 23:23
    -Pre-Mosaic Law passages on tithing (both Genesis 14 and 28)
    -The introduction to tithing in the Mosaic Law: Leviticus 27
    -Malachi 3
    -The Three Mosaic Law Tithes in Numbers 18 and Deuteronomy 14
    -The importance of firstfruits
    -Israelite freewill offerings
    -Paul's teachings on giving (1 Corinthians 9:13-14; 2 Corinthians 8:12; 2 Corinthians 9:1-5; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
    -Acts 4: offerings laid at the feet of the apostles
    -Hebrews 7:1-10
    -The relationship between the Old Covenant and New Covenant and how Christians should approach the Old Covenant laws (biblical theology)
    -Tithing in Church History: Apostolic Constitutions, Irenaeus, Augustine
    -7 Applications for his congregation

This is an INCREDIBLE amount of material to cover. Seriously! The man touched upon EVERY major passage of Scripture that discusses tithing in BOTH testaments, did some biblical theology on the relationship between the covenants, traced the topic (briefly) in church history, and applied his teaching in extremely practical ways. That sounds like a ten part series, not a single sermon. DeYoung is a great communicator and he has an exceptional grasp of Scripture. As much as I disagree with his conclusions in THIS sermon, listening to it made me desire to listen to more of his preaching.

Let me give a few comments on where I agree with DeYoung:
    -I am also embarrassed that the American church is giving about 2-3% of its income
    -I am disappointed that only 12% of Protestants tithe to their church
    -We agree that the best reading of tithing in the Mosaic Law is that there were three distinct tithes: Levitical, Festival, and Charity
    -We agree that Israelite tithing equaled about 23% yearly (not including the Sabbatical year in the calculations)
    -We are both repulsed by the prosperity gospel
    -I love this thought: “If you want to be stingy towards God, God can be stingy towards you. And if you want to be bountiful toward God, He has at His disposal the means to be bountiful toward you.”
    -He says: “How you view tithing has a lot to do with how you view the Old Testament.” I think that is very insightful and raises why this can be an important topic.
    -He emphasizes giving to the local church first; I think that is entirely in line with what I gather from the New Testament
    -Stewardship should be an important aspect of discipleship
    -He says: “Use your wallet to test and to shape your heart.” Brilliant thought!
    -His last application point is: “Excel in the grace of giving because of God's grace to you.” I absolutely adore the idea of giving in response to God's grace in our lives.

I don't get the sense that DeYoung has thought lightly about giving, but that he has truly meditated on the importance of giving in the life of a Christian.

The MSJ and article on Repentance

The Master's Seminary Journal has a new format: all digital and free. The new volume is out and I have an article in it: Repentance Found? The Concept of Repentance in the Fourth Gospel. Some have said that repentance is not part of the gospel since the word doesn't occur in John's Gospel. However, not only is the concept present in John's Gospel, but the word is actually there ... sort of. Let me know what you think of my arguments for repentance as a recurring theme in John's Gospel!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kevin DeYoung on Tithing

Kevin DeYoung is a pastor, author, and blogger I greatly appreciate. I have never been a Senior Pastor at a church and had the rigors of preaching every week placed on my shoulders. I'm so glad men like DeYoung are doing such a wonderful job shepherding their congregations. I have sent links to DeYoung's blog posts countless times to friends, urging them to read his man's insights. I have advocated his book Just Do Something, WhyWe're Not Emergent, and What is the Mission of the Church? to countless students and friends. I hold Pastor DeYoung in very high regard.

So when I heard that he had preached (and subsequently tweeted) on the topic of tithing, I was listening. Unfortunately, we disagree on this issue. I wasn't sure if I should weigh in on this until I listened to his sermon and heard this quote from an unnamed theologian: “There is a shape to the biblical story that seems to me to include tithing principally, even if the specific shape of the redemptive history calls for an adjustment in the New Covenant situation.” The sentence sounded very familiar and intriguing and sure enough, it was written on page 90 in a book called Perspectives on Tithing, in a chapter titled Response to David A. Croteau, written by Reggie Kidd; this is a book I contributed to and edited. Since DeYoung has quoted a response to me, I thought I would give my two cents over the next few days.

Before I do, let me comment that I fear that in responding to DeYoung's sermon, I might be accused of “whack(ing) at everything like its (my) special nail and whack(ing) at everyone for not being just as zealous about (my) one issue” (see DeYoung's blog here). Knowing some of the back story to how I got involved in writing on this issue might help clarify why some might think of me as a “academic who thinks everything that ails the church finds its root in” my dissertation on tithing (again, see DeYoung's blog here). Actually, I think the church is ailing, but the root has nothing to do (directly) with tithing. I think the church is ailing because the gospel that DeYoung so clearly explains regularly to his congregation isn't explained at all in most churches. We are a gospel-starved church. That has lead to many churches being filled with people who are not regenerated and the dumbing down of discipleship, the main mission of the church.

In my Ph.D. program I wrote a paper for a class on tithing. I had been thinking about the issue for about 3 or 4 years and had many stimulating debates and dialogues with fellow students and I wanted to write out my thoughts. So I did that and I was satisfied. However, when I talked to my Ph.D. mentor about a dissertation topic, he seemed more interested in me writing on tithing than the topics I wanted to write on. The two issues I had desired to write on were, basically, the phrase “eternal life” in the Gospel of John or the concept of repentance. I wanted to invest the next few years of my life into a topic revolving around the gospel, like I did for my Th.M. thesis. My conversations on those topics with my mentor didn't go anywhere, so I took his suggestion on tithing and ran with it.

I have published two articles in journals (co-authored: part 1 and part 2), a revision of my dissertation (You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe?), a four views book (mentioned above), and a soon to be released booklet on this topic. I have studied tithing intensely for about 8-10 years, so when the topic comes up I believe I have an informed opinion on it. So, I will post some thoughts over the next few days on DeYoung's sermon. You can listen to it yourself here.