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A Brief Reply to Steven Collins' article in "The Journal"


By Eric V. Snow


          Steven Collins' most recent essay attacking involuntary tithing

("Mandatory tithes are Pharisaic tradition," Nov. 30, 1999) is worthy of a

detailed reply.  Mr. Collins' piece should remind us that the exegetical

principles used by Pasadena half a decade ago aren't about to go away, even if

their application here is restricted to abolishing tithing, not the Sabbath

and most of the Old Testament law.  In the limited space available below,

there will be a defense of the interpretative principles upon which

involuntary tithing is based, not just tithing itself.


          A remarkable aspect of Mr. Collins' piece is how often our old friend,

the argument from silence, is repeatedly invoked in order to abolish tithing.

 Examples of this kind of reasoning include asking where the New Testament

extends the tithing principle to apply to non-agricultural income, where the

New Testament says tithing is in force after the Levitical priesthood ended,

and where the New Testament mentions an elder receives involuntary tithes. 

It's argued that because Abraham's tithe in Gen. 14 wasn't called involuntary,

therefore tithing isn't voluntary today.  Doesn't this sound like the claim

that because Gen. 2:1-3 doesn't actually command mankind not to work on the

Sabbath, therefore, the Sabbath command isn't binding today?  Needless to say,

if consistently applied, this same argument will wipe out the Sabbath, the

Holy Days, and the clean/unclean meat distinction as well.


          To ruthlessly summarize, we face two exegetical choices concerning how

the New Testament abolishes an Old Testament law:  1.  An Old Testament law of

God is in force until it is specifically and clearly abolished.  2.  An Old

Testament law of God is abolished unless specifically repeated in the New

Testament.  This choice in turn is influenced by whether we believe in a

radical discontinuity exists between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old

and New Testaments, between Israel and the church.  If we believe the death

and resurrection of Christ drastically changed God's ways of dealing with

humanity, we should opt for radical discontinuity and thus choose option #2.

If someone uses the argument from silence to say one of God's laws is no

longer binding on Christians, he or she obviously believes option #2 above is

correct.  Dispensationalism, as commonly taught by evangelical Protestants,

comes down heavily on this side.  But suppose we believe God has worked with

humanity in basically the same way but with some of the specifics changed from

time to time.  Then we should see Christianity being like Judaism, but

fulfilling many of the promises and prophecies made through the latter.  If

so, we should opt for continuity and thus choose option #1.


          Now, as we open up our Bibles, which of these interpretative assumptions

(hermeneutical principles) is confirmed the most?  Space isn't available to

really prove either version, but let's consider the heaviest single weight

favoring continuity as against discontinuity:  "Do not think that I came to

abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest

letter or stroke shall passe away from the Law, until all is accomplished. 

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches

others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and

teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:17-

19, NASB throughout unless otherwise stated).  These are the words of Jesus

Himself, whose death and resurrection were supposed to usher in all these

massive changes in how God deals with humanity.  Here He denies that any

change in the law was going to occur because of His mission to save mankind. 

Therefore, the words of Jesus come down the side of general continuity and

against both radical dispensationalism and discontinuity.


          Let's consider in this context an argument Ian Boyne of Jamaica has made

in favor of Sabbath observance.  We have the Old Testament and its commands. 

It isn't our job to hunt down and find reconfirmations in the New Testament of

Old Testament laws.  Rather instead, it's the anti-law people's job to prove

the Old Testament law is gone.  The burden of proof is on their side, not

ours.  Let's extend this principle to tithing.  It isn't the job of those

advocating mandatory tithing to prove it is still in force by citing some spot

in Paul's Epistles.  Instead, it's the job of mandatory tithing's opponents to

find some clear, explicit abolition of tithing that has the clarity of (say)

the annulment of the laws of circumcision and animal sacrifice. 


          Since Jesus Himself specifically mentions that the tithing command is in

force (Matt. 23:23), the weight of Scripture is on the side of continuity for

this command.  But now, are the words of God in the flesh binding for

doctrine?  A radical dispensationalist notes that Jesus spoke them while the

old covenant was in force.  Consequently, the Gospels, including the Sermon on

the Mount, mostly aren't binding for Christian doctrine!  So then, are those

red letter Bibles published so Christians can know all the more quickly what

can be ignored?  This kind of argumentation absurdly exalts the Letters,

especially Paul's, as being (effectively) the only word of God that matters

for Christian conduct. 


          Consider the reasoning about Paul's Letters by one of the authors of the

excellent set of articles dealing with tithing in the November/December 1999

Good News (p. E9):  "Why Doesn't Paul mention tithing in his letters? 

Realizing that all Scripture was inspired by God and profitable for doctrine

(2 Timothy 3:16-17) and that the only Scripture available at the time were the

books we know as the Old Testament, Paul did not consider it necessary to

repeat all of God's laws in his letters.  His letters contain answers to

specific issues and were not written as a new set of laws to replace God's

instruction found in the earlier books of the Bible."  Yet, clearly Mr.

Collins' exegetical principles implicitly assume that Paul does need to

mention again this or that law for it still to be in force.  Even the words of

Christ aren't good enough!


          Now, let's consider some of the specific arguments made against tithing.

 It's said that tithing is only to be assessed on agricultural income.  First

of all, when Abraham tithed in Gen. 14:20, "he gave him a tenth of all." 

Clearly, the spoils of battle couldn't have just been captured agricultural

produce!  Furthermore, the word "all" in II Chron. 31:5 could well have

included non-agricultural produce:  "And as soon as the order spread, the sons

of Israel provided in abundance the first fruits of grain, new wine, oil,

honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the

tithe of all."  Although Prov. 3:9 doesn't explicitly refer to tithing, it

still states the broad principle favoring it:  "Honor the Lord from your

wealth, and from the first of all your produce."


          This argument is also flawed because modern technology and the division

of labor have worked to make tithing binding on only about 1% of the American

population, at least as a matter of occupational importance.  (Gardeners don't

hardly count!)  God's law on tithing was written for an ancient society in

which presumably 90% of the people gained their living from the land as

farmers or shepherds.  Does anyone think that one of God's laws--the principle

behind it--could be almost completely abolished by modern civilization's

advancing technology?  If God inspired the Bible in the late twentieth century

for a developed country, it could well be that agricultural income might not

even be mentioned!  In the Torah, God used examples of income/increase that

made sense for the agricultural society for which it was written.


          To say the principle of tithing extends to modern wages isn't "adding to

God's law" (cf. Deut. 4:2)  Did Jesus "add to" the seventh commandment by

saying lusting after a woman in your heart is a sin?  (Matt. 5:27-28)  Did He

"add to" the sixth commandment by saying insulting your brother is a sin? 

(Matt. 5:21-22).  Or, if the words of Christ are deemed worthless for

establishing doctrine, consider Paul's use of Deut. 25:4 in I Cor. 9:9-14. 

Here he takes the law, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,"

and uses the principle behind this law to argue for a paid ministry.  Clearly,

it's perfectly legitimate, indeed required, that the spirit of the law for

Christians greatly exceeds the literal letter in application.  Therefore, we

wealthy modern Americans, with our affluence and luxuries far exceeding what

ancient Israelites could have imagined, shouldn't think the principle of

tithing is no longer binding on us just because God inspired Moses in the

Torah to use cultivated plants and domesticated animals as examples of

increase in order to make His law clear to ancient Israel.


          It's an unsound ad hominem argument to say that because the Pharisees

advocated mandatory tithing, therefore, mandatory tithing is false teaching. 

In fact, on doctrinal matters, sometimes the Pharisees were right and

sometimes they were wrong.  They couldn't have been wrong all the time,

otherwise Christ couldn't have begun His scathing denunciation of them by

saying:  "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of

Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do

according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them" (Matt.

23:2-3).  On two teachings, belief in angels and the resurrection, the

Pharisees were right and their opponents, the Sadducees, were wrong:  "For the

Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but

the Pharisees acknowledge them all" (Acts 23:8).  Therefore, trying to refute

tithing through a type of "guilt by association" is simply wrong.  Even sinful

or self-interested people can have objectively true arguments in favor of

their cause or beliefs.


          It's reasoned that because the tithe was given to the Levites to support

them in their work of making the animal sacrifices, and both of these old

covenant institutions have been abolished, therefore, tithing has been

abolished correspondingly as well.  But was tithing's only purpose the support

of the Levites?  What was the purpose of the second tithe?  "You shall eat in

the presence of the Lord your God at the place where He choose to establish

His name" (Deut. 14:23).  So long as the Feast of Tabernacles is in force, so

is the second tithe.  What was the purpose of the third tithe?  "The alien,

the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be

satisfied" (Deut. 14:29).  So long as poor people exist, the third tithe is in

force.  (Notice that, by deduction, the different functions and different

groups that received the tithe indicates more than one tithe existed). 

Therefore, what should we make of the argument that because the Levitical

priesthood has ended, therefore, the first tithe went with it?  If the second

and third tithes still have a spiritual function, wouldn't the first still

have it as well?  The Levitical priesthood wasn't just abolished, but replaced

by the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ.  As the author of "Why Tithe in

Today's World?" (Good News, November/December 1999, p. E5) reasons:  "Thus

members of the Church today continue to tithe even though the Levitical

priesthood has ended, just as Abraham tithed to Melchizedek before the

priesthood of Levi was established."  The ministry today, even with its

imperfections, represents a part of Christ's government on earth today, and so

is entitled to support.  As Paul noted:  "So also the Lord directed

['commanded,' NKJV] those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the

gospel" (I Cor. 9:14).  If it is "commanded" to support the ministry, if it

asks for help (unlike Paul in II Cor. 11:9), could tithing possibly be



          Needless to say, more arguments favoring tithing could easily be made,

but space limitations intrude.  For example, the arguments made based on Jer.

7:22 that God did not originally command Israel to make burnt offerings in

fact misunderstands a Hebrew figure of speech that indicates relative emphasis

and is contradicted by such texts as Ex. 10:25; 20:24; 23:18.  (On this score,

Pasadena was right:  See Joseph W. Tkach, "New Covenant:  Agreement with God,"

Worldwide News, May 23, 1995, p. 2).  Proving that Gal. 3:19-25 concerns the

moral law, not the ritualistic law, has to be left to my essay, "Does the New

Covenant Do Away With the Letter of the Old Testament Law?," pp. 24-26 in the

Servants' News edition.


          I would encourage all skeptics of tithing to consider reading the

brochure inserted in the November/December 1999 Good News magazine, "What Does

the Bible Teach About Tithing?," for its arguments are excellent.  Another

good resource is Vance Stinson's booklet "Tithing:  Is it For Christians?,"

which can be requested for free from the Church of God, International, P.O.

Box 2525, Tyler, TX  75710.  Finally, those interested in trying to figure out

which Old Testament laws are still in force and which ones aren't should

consider downloading my essay, "How Do We Know Which Old Testament Laws Still

Apply to Christians?" from the Ann Arbor UCG church's Web site:  Clearly, there's enough above to show it's fundamentally

unwise to believe the skeptics of mandatory tithing have decisively proven

their case.



Click here to access essays that defend Christianity's truth

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