Sunday, January 18, 2015

Up For Debate - link to broadcast

Here is the link to listen to the debate between Dr. Ken Hemphill and myself on the issue of the applicability of tithing to the Christian. I hope this clarifies the issue for many of you!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Up For Debate thoughts

I had the honor of appearing with Dr. Ken Hemphill on Up For Debate with Julie Roys today. Dr. Hemphill did a great job communicating why tithing is the foundation or base for Christian giving. His walked through many passages like Genesis 14 (Abraham and Melchizedek), Matthew 22 (using the Caesarian argument), Matthew 23:23, Luke 18, and 1 Corinthians 16. He is very eloquent speaker and obviously knows the content of Scripture well.

We agree that we want giving among Christians to increase. We want to see people give more sacrificially, generously, and cheerfully. We both have a heart for the good stewardship of money. However, of course, we disagree on the applicability of the tithe. Here are a couple of things I didn't have time to say on the show (here the link).

Regarding the Use of Luke 18
Dr. Hemphill argues that since the Pharisee stated "I give tithes of all that I get" (Luke 18:12, ESV) that tithing was done from income, not just crops and cattle. There are several significant problems with this interpretation (dealt with in more detail in Tithing After the Cross), but I'll mention a few here. 1) This is a parable. Basing the doctrine of tithing off of a made up statement by a Pharisee in a parable is tenuous to say the least. 2) What was cited was NOT the entire verse, just part b. The beginning of the verse says, "I fast twice a week." Why is this important? Because the Old Testament NEVER required this. Therefore, the Pharisee is stating in 18:12a that he went BEYOND what the Old Testament Law required. This context of course would carry over into 18:12b: giving off of ALL would be going beyond the requirements, something the Pharisees were prone to doing and something we should NEVER require of Christians. 3) While I can't get into the details, it seems most likely that this made-up Pharisee in this parable was actually referencing the practice of the Demai Tithe, as explained in the Mishnah. The Demai tithe was 1% of increase, not 10%.

The Use of Matthew 5 as a Paradigm for Tithing Today
I actually have no problem using Matthew 5 as a grid for the issue of tithing. Let's look closely at one of the Laws Jesus discusses there: oath taking (Matthew 5:33-33, ESV):

33 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.'  34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.

Jesus abrogates or "undoes" the Law in order to get to the underlying principle of the Law: truth-telling. Note that he doesn't approach every Law this way. However, for this Law, He destroys the way the eternal principle was manifested for Israel and gives the overall underlying principle: tell the truth without deception or lying. The same would apply to tithing. He would destroy the particular manifestation (all the references to 10%) and stick with the principle: give generously and sacrificially.

Abraham's Spontaneous Giving and Using "Difficult" Passages
Dr. Hemphill stated that their are some very difficult passages that cover the issue of tithing in the Old Testament. In saying this he specifically referenced Genesis 14 (he actually accidentally said 18), Genesis 28 (Jacob), and all the specifics in the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 27, Numbers 18, Deuternomy 12, 14, 26). However, he still used them to advocate his position, citing Abraham's example several times. When I responded he reminded us that he said they were hard passages. If they are too difficult to interpret and apply (which I disagree with), then they shouldn't be used for doctrine at all.

He also stated that Abraham and Jacob gave a tithe "spontaneously." This is not how I would describe their "tithing". It misses the entire cultural background of tithing in the Ancient Near East. Tithing was practiced by pagan religions before Abraham came on the scene, just like circumcision was practiced before Abraham. This was not "spontaneous" meaning "out of nowhere" at all. They were giving in a way that was consistent with pagan practices. The important thing is to note how God takes that pagan practice of tithing and shapes it in the Mosaic Law, something most tithing advocates avoid at all costs. Once we realize the definition of the tithe in the Mosaic Law is 10% of crops and cattle connected to the Land of Israel giving at least twice yearly, then the interpretation of Malachi 3, Matthew 23, and Luke 11 becomes rather easy. Applying the word "spontaneous" to Abraham and Jacob's "tithe" (note that we never see Jacob actually giving this tithe) is not entirely appropriate.

I appreciate Dr. Hemphill's emphasis on the New Testament and I wish we could spend another hour discussing all those passages one-by-one. Nonetheless, hopefully the show served to deepen the discussion on tithing. Remember, the word "tithing" does not mean "giving," as it's commonly used today. It referred to crops and cattle connected to the Land of Israel and never referred to money. It absolutely was not 10%, but over 20%, plus other REQUIRED contributions. Some estimates place required Israelite giving at over 25%, others at over 33%, and some close to 50%. Let us give generously, but for some that might be under 10% and for others much, much more.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mythbusters/Urban Legends

I've been getting a lot of examples about urban legends from people when they hear about my forthcoming book Urban Legends of the New Testament. Just saw a couple videos on a medical urban legend and thought I'd pass it along!
Link 1
Link 2


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Two Updates

First, Today's Christian Women just published three perspectives about tithing in hard financial times. See the responses by Dave Ramsey, Ruth Soukup, and myself here.

Second, Ken Hemphill and I are scheduled to debate the issue of tithing this Saturday on Up For Debate with Julie Roys.