The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 5


This is the fifth post in a 6-part series on tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series examines all 17 Bible passages which speak of tithing, and is taken from a term paper I wrote in 2006. The first post included the series outline and an introduction, and covered the two passages where tithing was mentioned prior to the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:8-24 and 28:8-22). The second post examined how tithing was prescribed and practiced under the Mosaic Law (in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The third post looked at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi).  The fourth post examined what Jesus and Hebrews 7 said about tithing, along with an overview of tithing in history. This post will discuss different ways that the law of Moses is viewed today (including a closer look at the book of Galatians), followed by an analysis of tithing in light of Christ having fulfilled the law.  My references will be included in the final post.

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D. Ways of Viewing the Law of Moses Today

How should present-day believers approach the Law of Moses, and the Old Testament as a whole? Although the New Testament is clear that Christ’s followers are no longer “under the law” (e.g. Romans 6:14-15; Galatians 3:25; Hebrews 7:18, 8:13), it’s also clear that the entire Old Testament is inspired by God, and is profitable in many ways to us today (II Timothy 3:16-17, I Corinthians 10:1-12). In fact, much of the New Testament is made up of references to the Old Testament, including references to the law of Moses. We have much to learn by studying the Law of Moses and every other part of the Old Testament.

Walter Kaiser, who has authored a number of books on the Old Testament, says that although the Law came “as a host of specific enactments distinctively relevant to particular times, persons, and places” (1987, p. 155), this “was not meant to prejudice its universal usefulness” (p. 172-3). He affirms that we can derive principles from the Law, but not irresponsibly, or by searching for “hidden meaning.” He says that “this search for principles or axioms must not be imposed as a grid over Scripture; Scripture itself must supply them” (p. 157).

Kaiser (1998) notes that there are two different views generally held by Christians on the relevance of Old Testament Law. The first view says that [1] we are required to obey Old Testament commands if they are specifically repeated in the New Testament, but whatever is not repeated is now passé. The second view says [2] we are still required to obey Old Testament commands, unless the New Testament specifically says otherwise.

Jay Snell (1995), and pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) clearly prefer the second view when it comes to tithing, as can be seen in their statements:

“[U]nless the New Testament has plainly set it [tithing] aside, you New Testament people are grafted right into the Old Testament Abrahamic System. So not only is the tithe, the offering and the first fruits offering not set aside, you are grafted right smack into the middle of all three of them…” (Carter and Clark). “And unless the cross sets aside something from the Old Testament, we are part and parcel of it. The cross has never set aside the tithe, the offerings and the law of the First Fruits Offering. We are in it” (Jay Snell, 1995, p. 36-37, emphasis added).

That’s an amazing statement, in light of the book of Hebrews explicitly teaching that the law, the old covenant, and the sacrifices have become obsolete. Carter and Clark (2006) have a similar view. They teach that the tithing laws did not need to be repeated in the New Testament because they were already well established in the Old Testament. Their stance is that unless “one can find a clear command not to tithe, one should never assume tithing has been done away.

Charles Ryrie clearly prefers the first view. On page 105 of his book Basic Theology, he said:

“Now the Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Timothy 4:4), some old ones (Romans 13:9), and some revised ones… All of the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has. Specific Mosaic commands which are part of the Christian code appear there not as a continuation of part of the Mosaic Law…but as specifically incorporated into that [Christian] code, and as such they are binding on believers today. A particular law that was part of the Mosaic code is done away; that same law, if part of the law of Christ, is binding” (David Yeubanks, 2006, emphasis added).

Kaiser (1998) points out that two of the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, held opposing views. Luther’s view seemed to reflect the first view above, while Calvin more or less held the second. Luther once wrote, “There is one answer that can be made to all attempts to cite passages from the Old Testament to support [monastic vows]. ‘Do you Christians want to be Jews?’ Prove your case from the New Testament. The Old Testament has been set aside through Christ and is no longer binding.” On another occasion, he wrote,

“The Law is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel… [Exodus 20:2] makes it clear that even the ten commandments do not apply to us… The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver-unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law.”

Calvin took an almost opposite stance. Referring to Deuteronomy 32:46-47, he said, “We are not to refer solely to one age David’s statement that the life of a righteous man is a continual meditation upon the law [Psalms 1:2], for it is just as applicable to every age, even to the end of the world.” In the same document, Calvin added,

“What Paul says, as to the abrogation of the Law [Gal 3:10] evidently applies not to the Law itself, but merely to its power of constraining the conscience. For the Law not only teaches, but also imperiously demands… We must be freed from the fetters of the law… Meanwhile…the law has lost none of its authority, but must always receive from us the same respect and obedience” (p. 68-69).

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (1993) note that there are more than 600 commandments in the Old Testament. They are contained within four Old Testament books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Fee and Stuart add that “the function of most Old Testament books is largely to illustrate and apply the Law found in the Pentateuch (p. 149). They then ask (p. 150), “If you are a Christian, are you expected to keep the Old Testament law? If you are expected to keep it, how can you possibly do so, since there is no longer any temple or central sanctuary on whose altar you can offer such things as the meat of animals (Lev. 1-5)?” Fee and Stuart conclude (p. 152):

“The Old Testament represents an old covenant, which is one we are no longer obligated to keep. Therefore we can hardly begin by assuming that the Old Covenant should automatically be binding upon us. We have to assume, in fact, that none of its stipulations (laws) are binding upon us unless they are renewed in the New Covenant. That is, unless an Old Testament law is somehow restated or reinforced in the New Testament, it is no longer directly binding on God’s people (cf. Rom. 6:14-15).”

They also note that we can learn much about God by what we see in the laws that were given. For example, we can see that God loves slaves, and the regulations for slaves were far more compassionate than the treatment slaves received in the surrounding nations of that time (pp. 158-159).

I believe there is also much to be gleaned from the tithing laws. Foremost in my mind is that God showed great concern for the needy and the dependent. Those who tithed had a great responsibility toward orphans, widows, and strangers. When studying the tithing laws, we should be motivated to help the needy as well. The Law sought to ensure that those who ministered to the people, the priests and the Levites, were well taken care of. We should likewise be motivated to give generously to support those who genuinely serve the Body of Christ today.

The entire Old Testament is relevant to us today. This includes the Law, which contained “types and shadows” of the New Covenant God promised He would establish. Circumcision, for example, pointed to a future spiritual reality, being made a new creation (Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 6:15). So this obsolete regulation still illustrates how God cuts away the “flesh” from our hearts today, and this is worth studying and teaching.

The question is this: Are the ordinances of the Law of Moses binding in any way upon believers today, either to [1] govern behavior or [2] to attain some state of acceptance before God? Dwight Pentecost (1971) spoke well when he said, “For the Christian the Mosaic Law has revelatory value (2 Tim. 3:16-17) even though it does not have regulatory value, controlling our behavior” (p. 227).

John Wesley said, in his explanatory notes on Hebrews 7:18:

“For there is implied in this new and everlasting priesthood [the priesthood of Christ], and in the new dispensation connected therewith, a dis-annulling of the preceding commandment – An abrogation of the Mosaic law. For the weakness and unprofitableness thereof – For its insufficiency either to justify or to sanctify” (David Yeubanks, 2006).

There are many Scriptures in the New Testament which speak of our relation to the Law of Moses. Momentarily we’ll take a closer look at the Book of Galatians, but before doing so, consider this brief overview of some other relevant passages:

[A] Romans 6:13-15 (Sin doesn’t have dominion over us, because we are not under law. We are under grace, but we are not free to sin.)

[B] Romans 7:4-6 (We are dead to the law, which used to arouse “the passions of sins.” Now we are “delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by.”)

[C] Romans 7:7:12 (The law is holy, just, and good. But it brought death, because it revealed what sin is, and sin took the occasion to deceive and kill.)

[D] Romans 1:16-8:17 (This large passage discusses the Law at length.)

[E] Romans 10:4 (“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”)

[F] Romans 13:8-10 (“[He] who loves another has fulfilled the law.”)

[G] Ephesians 2:11-18 (The wall of division between Jews and Gentiles, “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” has been abolished. Both groups are reconciled as one in Christ.)

[H] Colossians 2:11-17 (The “handwriting of requirements that was written against us” has been “wiped out”, “taken out of the way”, and nailed to the cross. They were against God’s people in the sense that they condemned those – everyone – who didn’t keep them perfectly.)

[I] I Timothy 1:5-9 (Some wanted to be teachers of the law, but had strayed. The “law is good if one uses it lawfully.” The “law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless…”)

[J] Hebrews 9:8-10 (The gifts and sacrifices offered in the tabernacle were temporary, “fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of the reformation. But Christ came…”)

[K] Hebrews 10:1 (The law had a shadow of good things to come, but could not make anyone perfect.)

[L] James 2:8-11 (The law convicts people as transgressors. Breaking even one point of the law makes a person “guilty of all.”)

We can also add that Jesus and the apostles taught that we fulfill the Law by wholeheartedly loving God and those around us (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 6:2; James 2:8).

The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians

One of the main concerns in the book of Galatians is whether Gentiles who believe in Christ must also be subject to Mosaic Law. The example which Paul looked into the deepest was circumcision (2:3-14, 5:2-12, 6:12-15). He touched on both justification and sanctification in this epistle.

Paul began his epistle to the Galatians by warning them that they were turning from the grace of Christ to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-7). After relating how he had received the gospel, Paul spoke of false brethren “secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Jesus Christ, that they might bring us into bondage)…” (2:4). Paul even firmly opposed Peter on the issue (2:11-21). Throughout the rest of the book, he warned against the danger of returning to any part of the Law for justification. If righteousness is said to come through the law, Paul warned, then Christ’s death was in vain (2:21).

The Galatians had “begun in the Spirit,” but then were attempting to be made perfect by the flesh (3:3). Here Paul touches on sanctification, the state of being increasingly set aside for God as holy (Strong, 2001). Like justification, this is also to take place in the lives of God’s people by the Spirit, not by the law.

If anyone is “of the works of the law,” he is under a curse, because he can’t possibly keep the entire Law (3:10-11). Christ redeemed His people from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for them (3:13). As a result, the Gentiles can now receive the blessing of Abraham through faith, which is the promised Holy Spirit (3:14). The law had been “added” only until Jesus came (3:19). It was a “tutor” to bring people to Christ, and now His followers “are no longer under a tutor,” but have been justified by faith in Him (3:24-25).

Paul compared those under the law to a child who, like a slave, is still “under guardians and tutors until the time appointed by the father” (4:1-3). Those who are redeemed “receive the adoption as sons” (4:4-7). The law brought bondage (4:3), but in spite of knowing God, the Galatians turned again to bondage (4:9). They were observing “days and months and seasons and years” (4:10), i.e. the annual feasts, etc., as an obligation. 

Galatians 5 begins with Paul exclaiming: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1). In his day, the Galatian believers were obligating themselves to be circumcised, which was indeed an obligation under the law of Moses. False teachers were evidently telling them that they still needed to be circumcised to receive the blessings of God in their lives.

Paul told them that because of their stance on that issue, they were then in debt to keep the entire law: “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (5:2-3). In the next verse, he was even more severe, telling them that they had fallen from grace: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (5:4).

E. Tithing in Light of Christ Having Fulfilled the Law

I believe Paul would have said the same if the issue in Galatia had been tithing rather than circumcision. By this I don’t mean that all who claim to tithe today have fallen from grace, but this is the danger if we teach that tithing is necessary to be justified or sanctified before God.

Is this error taking place today? I believe it is. God’s people are no longer under a curse, but were redeemed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14). By saying that those who do not tithe today are under the curse spoken of in Malachi, it’s implied that Jesus’ work on the cross was not enough to take it away. An additional effort on our part, i.e. tithing, is needed to obtain acceptance before God and remove the curse. I say this is implied, because tithe proponents normally don’t identify the curse of Malachi 3:9 (cf. Nehemiah 10:29) as the curse of the law.

Malachi 3 is probably cited more than any other passage to promote tithing today. It is often used to teach that those who fail to tithe are robbing God, and are cursed. Matthew Narramore (2004) sees this as ironic, because the opposite is actually true. He says, “[If] you put yourself back under the Law you will put yourself under the curse [according to Galatians 3:10].” The curse is not for those whom Christ has redeemed (Galatians 3:13), who are justified by faith in Him (2:16), and are standing fast “in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (5:1).

“Tithing is based on theological premises that are inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the cross. The doctrine of tithing contradicts the most important aspects of the New Covenant and the believer’s new nature in Christ,” says Narramore in the introduction to his book. “The doctrine of tithing has been mindlessly taught and accepted for so long that some of the most outstanding Christian leaders do not recognize how it contradicts the very foundation of the gospel they are preaching.”

The question of whether Christians today are under grace or under the law is at the heart of the issue of tithing today. Narramore adds in chapter 4 of his book, “The New Testament scriptures make it plain that if you put yourself under any part of the Law then you are under the whole Law (James 2:10, Galatians 5:3).” Are some tithe teachers putting people under the Law?

Pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) give further insight into why they believe the tithing law is still required:

“The New Testament contains the same laws as the Old. Jesus did not do away with God’s Law. He expanded it. He said, “…That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees scrupulously tithed. Tithing is an act of worship. Jesus said, “…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). The comparison here is obvious. Caesar had his just dues coming and so does God! The only Bible example of God’s just dues is the tithe.”

It sounds like they believe we need to outperform the scribes and Pharisees in keeping the Law. Carter and Clark then add, “Paul went on to say in Galatians 6:7 that we reap what we sow. The implication is clear. Those who refuse to support His true work will reap little spiritual help. Without the help of God, man stands no chance of ever attaining eternal life.”

Here they come dangerously close to saying that unless we tithe, we have no hope of being granted eternal life. Jay Snell (1995), whose books are frequently sold on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, admits that this is exactly what he used to teach. He used to tell non-tithers that they were “next to going to hell, probably are anyhow.” He admits that formerly, as a Baptist teacher, he also put people under the Law when he told them they needed to tithe:

“You know I could tighten the screws down better and put a Gentile Christian under the Law better than any Baptist preacher you ever heard. But, when God began to show me other things, I got into the deeper things of God and…saw the seven blessings involved with [tithing].”

Now he motivates them to tithe with promises of great material blessings (p. 12). He believes he isn’t putting them under Law anymore, because he presents tithing as the deal that “Abraham got in on” before the Law was given (p. 13). He elaborates:

“It’s a fact that Jesus did away with the law. But it is also a fact that the Holy Ghost wrote it in our hearts now. The blessing part is still valid and we are included in that. Do it. Act on it. Move out upon it and see what comes your way. Failure to do so is a matter of neither acknowledging God as your Source nor honoring Him with your first fruits. If I act on the above, God is obligated, based on the Abrahamic Covenant, to see me through” (p. 37).

Despite his new tactics, Snell does still clearly teach that not tithing amounts to a crime. He says that failing to tithe means “spending God’s money” while “trying to justify it” (p. 37)—no small accusation. Snell may not “tighten the screws down” as hard as he once did, but, sadly, it’s hard to conclude that he has put aside the error of the Galatians. While trying to refute the idea that poverty is associated with righteousness, Snell actually taught the opposite. He believes that obtaining wealth helps him to be righteous before God:

“I am not convinced we have to be “flat busted” to be a “good” Christian. I can be a much better Christian if I have a decent car that runs good, wear decent looking clothes, live in a decent looking house, and have enough money in my pocket to take my wife to the restaurant after church if I want to. Now I can just be right with God a whole lot quicker and easier with things like that” (p. 56, emphasis added).

Matthew Narramore (2004) says,

“Most of the erroneous teaching on tithing comes from one thing; people are trying to apply Old Covenant principles to life in Christ and the two don’t mix. Paul had his biggest problem with people who were trying to fit the New Covenant believers into an obsolete way of living. The same problem continues today. People who teach tithing say they are not promoting the Law. However, the only instructions on tithing that came from God came through the Law to people who were under the Law. That was the only group of people he ever instructed to tithe” (Chap. 7).

David Yeubanks (2006) quotes from another source on why tithing was not taught in the New Testament by Jesus or any of His followers, including Paul:

[1] The silence of the NT writers, particularly Paul, regarding the present validity of the tithe can be explained only on the ground that the dispensation of grace has no more place for a law of tithing than it has for a law on circumcision (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary of Theology).

[2] Tithing is not taught in the New Testament as an obligation for the Christian under grace… Because we are not under law, but under grace, Christian giving must not be made a matter of legalistic obligation, lest we fall into the error of Galatianism… (Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, p. 1152).

Some tithe proponents, while admitting that believers are not under the Law, point to the fact that Abraham and Jacob tithed before the Law was given. However, Abraham and Jacob were also circumcised prior to the Law. Moses’ wife even circumcised their son, just in time to prevent God from killing Moses for failing to do so (Exodus 4:24-26). This was before the Law was given. Abraham gave animal sacrifices before the Law said to do so. If tithing is required today because it appeared before the Law, then, to be consistent, circumcision and animal sacrifices should also be required today.

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas argued with some men who were telling the Gentile believers that they had to be “circumcised according to the custom of Moses” to be saved (15:1). Some believing Pharisees even told the Gentiles to “keep the law of Moses” (15:5). The Jerusalem Council took up this matter. Peter said they were testing God by “putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (15:10). He affirmed that all are saved by grace (15:11).

The consensus of the council was to advise the Gentiles to stay away from four things: [1] things polluted by idols [2] from sexual immorality [3] from things strangled [4] from blood (15:19-20, 22-29). Even this decree was circumstantial, as Paul later advocated freedom in the above areas, except for the area of sexual purity (e.g. Romans 14).

Soon after this council, believing Jews who were “zealous for the law” protested because the Gentiles were not being circumcised or taught “to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:20-21). The leaders of the Church once again affirmed that the Gentiles should “observe no such thing” and repeated their earlier decree (21:25). Paul and his companions did purify themselves according to the Law, but only in an unsuccessful attempt to make peace (21:23-36).

Why wasn’t tithing listed among those “necessary things” decreed by the Jerusalem Council? The answer is that tithing falls into the same category as circumcision and the other Mosaic commands which are not repeated in the New Testament. They are no longer necessary.

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Part 6, the final post of this series, will feature a study on New Testament giving, followed by a conclusion and references.

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

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The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 4


This is the fourth post in a series on tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series examines all 17 Bible passages which speak of tithing, and is taken from a term paper I wrote in 2006.  The first post included the series outline and an introduction, and covered the two passages where tithing was mentioned prior to the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:8-24 and 28:8-22). The second post examined how tithing was prescribed and practiced under the Mosaic Law (in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The third post looked at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi). This post will look at what Jesus and Hebrews 7 said about tithing, and will also take a look at tithing in history. My references will be included in the final post.

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IV. Tithing Spoken of in the New Testament

Passage 14: Matthew 23:23

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

The Pharisees, who rigorously followed the letter of the law, tithed different types of herbs from the ground, not Roman currency. Jesus affirmed that they were correct in doing so, although other matters of the law were more central. His main concern was the same concern that Nehemiah, Amos, and Malachi had. Justice, mercy, and faith were being neglected.

Jesus’ audience was still under the Law. The Law of Moses was still in effect during Christ’s ministry, because He had not yet gone to the cross. Therefore, all the Israelites who had land were to tithe from their herds and crops to the Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows. They were even to consume some of it themselves at the annual festivals. There were still Levites, the temple was still standing, and the priests were still ministering and offering sacrifices. Not only the Pharisees, but other eligible Jews as well, were correct in tithing their crops and animals, and tithing to the poor.

Passage 15: Luke 11:42

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

This is a parallel passage to Matthew 23:23. This wasn’t the only time Jesus advised someone to submit to Mosaic Law. For example, in Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus healed a leper, then told him to show himself to the priest and “offer the gift that Moses commanded.” To be consistent, if we’re going to say that the law of tithing here applies to us, we should also apply this law regarding lepers. Why don’t we do that? Are we authorized by Scripture to pick and choose which Mosaic laws we still want to keep?

            Passage 16: Luke 18:9-14

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus is neither promoting nor devaluing tithing here. His point was that no one can trust in his own righteousness for acceptance with God. The Pharisee did just that, and he felt that all of his efforts to tithe and fast would help his case. He even went beyond the Law by tithing on all that he possessed. Jesus indicated that he was proud. The tax collector came before God as a sinner who had no merit to offer. He cried out for mercy, and was justified.

            Passage 17: Hebrews 7:1-10

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

The author of Hebrews spoke in chapter 6 of the hope set before us, which anchors our soul. Abraham is seen as an example of one who “obtained the promise” (verse 15). The author concluded chapter 6 by saying that Jesus has become an eternal High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. This idea had already been established in Psalm 110:4.

Quoting Warren Wiersbe, Dr. Thomas Constable (2006) briefly outlined the next 4 chapters: “In Hebrews 7, the writer argued that Christ’s priesthood, like Melchizedek’s, is superior in its order. In Hebrews 8, the emphasis is on Christ’s better covenant; in Hebrews 9, it is His better sanctuary; and Hebrews 10 concludes the section by arguing for Christ’s better sacrifice.”

Hebrews 7 is far more descriptive of Melchizedek than both the Genesis 14 and Psalm 100 passages. Still it’s not easy to understand his identity. Some interpret Melchizedek to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Matthew Narramore (2004) writes that scholars “and theologians debate whether this language referring to Melchizedek’s endless life is literal or symbolic.”

Dr. Constable (2006) says a “literal interpretation of this verse [7:3] might lead one to conclude that Melchizedek was an angelic being, but there is no indication elsewhere in Scripture that he was anything but a human being.” He then states the facts: (1) he was a king-priest, (2) he was a blesser, (3) he received tithes, and (4) he had a significant name.” He adds that one of the writer’s aims, as seen in verse 4, was “to show how great Melchizedek was compared to the venerated patriarch Abraham.”

Dr. Constable also makes a note about the style in which the passage is written:

Verse 4 sounds as though the Jewish priests were presenting offerings in Herod’s Temple when the writer wrote… However it is more likely that we should take these present tenses as timeless. The writer was describing what had been done in Judaism as though it was still going on for the sake of vividness (cf. 7:27-28; 9:7-8, 25; 10:1-3, 8; 13:10-11).

One of the points of this passage is that Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham, was greater than him (7:7). Melchizedek’s priesthood, of which we have limited detail, as a prototype of Christ is superior to that of the Levites (7:8-11). Narramore concludes that the phrase “there he receives them” (7:8) refers to Melchizedek once receiving tithes. He also cautions:

Hebrews 7:8 has been taken out of context and misinterpreted. It is erroneously considered by some to be teaching that tithing is the customary way of giving in the New Covenant. This passage of scripture is part of a weighty and complex theological argument. The casual reader may not comprehend its meaning. It requires a careful study of the whole passage, verse by verse and word by word, to get a clear understanding of what is being said.

Some say that Christian ministers are authorized to receive the tithes that formerly belonged to the Levites, based on the idea that both the Levitical priesthood and the tithing laws have been modified. In other words, today’s Christian ministers have replaced the Levites, and are to receive monetary tithes.

Looking beyond the passage quoted above, the law which needed to be changed (7:12) does not refer to tithing, but to the entire Law of Moses received under the Levitical priesthood (7:11). The Law needed to be changed, just as the priesthood had been changed (7:12). That the Law of Moses is being spoken of is made even more clear in verses 19 and 28. Regarding verse 12, Dr. Constable says:

The priesthood was such a major part of the whole Mosaic Covenant that this predicted change in the priesthood signaled a change in the whole Covenant. This verse is one of the clearest single statements in the New Testament indicating that God has terminated the Mosaic Law (Covenant; cf. Rom. 10:4). Paul went on to say that Christians, therefore, are not under it (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 3:24-25; 5:1; 6:2; 2 Cor. 3:7-11). It is not what God has given to regulate the lives of Christians.

Verse 18 points out that “the former commandment” was annulled because it was weak and unprofitable, and no one was made perfect by it. The priests also had weaknesses, because they were limited by death (7:23) and had to offer sacrifices daily (7:28). No wonder they were earlier called “mortal men” (7:8). They have been superseded by a High Priest, Jesus (7:26).

We are told that Christ now mediates a better covenant, with better promises (8:6). The first covenant had faults (8:7), but the biggest fault God found was with the people (8:8). He promised a new covenant in which He would write His laws on the hearts and in the minds of His people (8:8-12). The author of Hebrews concluded that the old covenant was obsolete, growing old, and ready to vanish away (8:13). Dr. Constable comments,

The Mosaic Covenant is now ‘obsolete’ and even as the writer wrote the Book of Hebrews it was also ‘growing old.’ It virtually disappeared in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed the temple, terminated its ritual, and scattered the Jews throughout the world (cf. Matt. 24:1-2).

Matthew Narramore (2004) gives his take on why Abraham’s tithe is recorded in Hebrews:

The discussion of tithing in Hebrews chapter 7 was only included to prove that the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood. By proving that point the writer would also prove that Jesus is superior to the priests of the Old Covenant because Psalm 110:4 had prophesied that he would be a priest forever, “after the order of Melchizedek.” That was the ultimate purpose of the argument, to prove that Jesus was greater than the Old Covenant priests.

Tithing is part of the comparison and the argument because the tribe of Levi was symbolically in the loins of their great-grandfather Abraham when he met Melchizedek and gave him a tithe. Therefore it can be said that Levi paid a tithe to Melchizedek and received a blessing from him. Paying the tithe to Melchizedek and receiving the blessing from him are both considered by the writer of Hebrews to be proof that Melchizedek was greater than Levi and all the Old Covenant priests, which came from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 7:1–17).

Jay Snell (1995) deduces a great deal from this incident in the life of Abraham. He says that God infuses reproductive power into our money when we release it as a tithe or an offering: “With the supernatural, Abrahamic blessing power God promised and gave in His covenant with Abraham, He gives life to the inanimate money when you tithe it and give it in the form of offerings so that it reproduces itself.” Snell concludes that God gave us this power in order to continue His “Abrahamic Covenant” with us, and so that we can be “extremely wealthy” (p. 8).

Matthew Narramore (2004) would disagree: “Abraham was not made rich by giving a tithe to Melchizedek. He was already exceedingly rich before he gave it” (Chapter 2).

This passage does not set out to endorse tithing as a doctrine to be practiced, but seeks to endorse Jesus as our High Priest. As Russell Kelly (2000) says, “The New Testament’s only use of ‘tithe’ after Calvary is in Hebrews 7, and it teaches that God abolished tithing and all other ordinances relating to the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:5, 12, 18)” (p. 267). Intentional or not, the modern practice of tithing seems to be an attempt to resurrect something which God has abolished.

C. Tithing in History

The following observations are made in the Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2006):

Tithes were not adopted by the Christian church for over seven centuries. Although rejected, they were mentioned in councils at Tours in 567 and at Mâcon in 585. They were formally recognized under Pope Adrian I in 787… [Today] Word of Faith advocates espouse that tithing, which is inspired in the individual by God, will enable blessings, usually financial, with references to ten or hundred-fold increases… In recent years, tithing has been taught in Christian circles as a form of “stewardship” that God requires of Christians. The primary argument is that God has never formally “abolished” the tithe, and thus Christians should pay the tithe (usually calculated at 10 percent of all gross income from all sources), usually to the local congregation (though some teach that a part of the tithe can go to other Christian ministries, so long as total giving is at least 10 percent). Some holding to prosperity theology doctrines go even further, teaching that God will bless those who tithe and curse those who do not.

David Yeubanks (2006) has compiled more than 100 quotes on tithing from encyclopedias, dictionaries, commentaries, and other sources. Below is just a small sample of quotes which reveal the place of tithing during the earliest centuries after Christ’s ascension:

[1] “It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes or the tenths of possessions, for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors” (Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church).

[2] “The early Church had no tithing system … it was not that no need of supporting the Church existed or was recognized, but rather that other means appeared to suffice” (The New Catholic Encyclopedia).

[3] “In the Christian Church, as those who serve the altar should live by the altar (1 Cor., ix, 13), provision of some kind had necessarily to be made for the sacred ministers. In the beginning this was supplied by the spontaneous offerings of the faithful” (The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia).

[4] “[The Jews] had indeed the tithes of their goods consecrated to Him. In contrast, those who have received liberty set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes, bestowing joyfully and freely not the less valuable portions of their property, since they have the hope of better things” (Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W 1.484, 485) – Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs [p. 645]).

[5] “If we still live according to the Jewish Law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace” (Ignatius [c. 105, E] – Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, p. 393).

Ken Westby (2006) recently wrote an article for the Churches of God, the fifth in a series on tithing, which featured a variety of views. Observing the first two quotes above, Ken asked:

How, then, was a tithing system introduced as a means of financing the work of the church? Early-church history shows that, just as the Catholic Church, by its own authority, made other far-reaching changes that have been carried down in the Christian-professing world, that church is responsible for much of today’s misunderstanding on the subject of tithing.

Russell Kelly (2006) notes that the following well-known early Church fathers explicitly opposed the practice of compulsory tithing: Clement of Rome (c95), Justin Martyr (c150), The Didache (c150-200), Irenaeus (c150-200) and Tertullian (150-220).

He shows in his book (2000) that tithing did appear in a limited fashion in the life of the early Church. He says that its introduction came “in direct proportion to the disintegration of the doctrine of the priesthood of believers and the emergence of the power of the bishop-priests” (p. 247). One exception to his “gradual emergence” overview was the large group of Jewish believers who remained “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20) in Paul’s day:

Almost every denomination’s historians of early church history agree that, until A.D. 70 the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem faithfully attended the temple in obedience to Jewish law and, as faithful Jews, supported the Jewish temple with tithes and offerings in addition to their church support. Acts 21:21-24 can hardly lead to any other conclusion! The Jewish Christians had merely added their unique brand of Judaism into the already diverse Judaism of their day (p. 249).

Of course, these Jews were unable to support the Jewish temple after it was destroyed by Rome in A.D. 70. However, Kelly writes that from the time of Jerusalem’s destruction until the end of the fourth century, a small group of professing Jewish Christians held themselves bound by Mosaic Law, but did fellowship with Gentile believers. They were called “Nazarenes.” They later split into three factions, including Pharisaic Ebionites, but throughout their existence they considered Paul to be a false teacher. They “eventually found themselves outside of the recognized church. These Jewish Christians never ceased teaching that strict obedience to the Mosaic Law was necessary for salvation” (p. 249).

Kelly believes that the majority of professing Christians during that time probably wouldn’t have found the modern practice of tithing to be relevant for several reasons:

When the New Testament was written, very few, if any, of the churches were organized into a ruling-bishop system which would require or sustain a full-time minister. The churches were too primitive, too small, too poor, and often had to hide from the authorities to meet. Church buildings did not exist because they would not have been tolerated until about A.D. 200 and did not flourish until after A.D. 260 [due to a temporary lapse of persecution] before being destroyed again in 303” (p. 258).

He quotes from Philip Schaff, who points out that until the end of the second century Christians worshiped mostly in private homes, desert places, at the graves of martyrs, or in the crypts of the catacombs. Tertullian was the first to speak of “going to church,” possibly indicating the presence of special houses of worship. Around the same time, Clement of Alexandria mentioned the double meaning of the word “ekklesia” (p. 251).

Kelly writes that many competing centers of Christianity arose leading up to the 4th Century (p. 247). “Cyprian (200-258) followed Tertullian in Carthage (North Africa only) and was probably the first influential leader to suggest (unsuccessfully) that tithes should support a full-time clergy” (p. 254). Kelly goes on to say:

Cyprian’s church now compared the bishop to the Old Testament high priest, the presbyters to the Old Testament priests, and the deacons to Old Testament Levites. Cyprian merely took what he thought was the next logical step (in this scenario of the role of bishops) and insisted that the clergy should cease all secular work and depend on tithes for full-time support.

However, Cyprian repeatedly insisted that the clergy should only keep the bare minimum which they needed, and give the rest to the poor (p. 255). Kelly quotes from the 1912 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia regarding the evolution of compulsory tithe giving:

‘In the beginning [provision] was supplied by the spontaneous support of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of the conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the Canons of the Council of Macon in 585.’ (p. 259)

Kelly clarifies that these councils only enacted regional church decrees for tithing, but did not yet enforce collection because they didn’t have the backing of the king. The Catholic Church did, however, begin to excommunicate non-tithers (p. 260). Charlemagne was the first king to allow enforced tithing, after the pope convinced him to do so by quoting from the Law of Moses. Rome officially became the “Holy Roman Empire” when Charlemagne was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD. Kelly adds, “It is significant that tithing did not emerge historically until the church became powerful in the secular realm” (p. 260).

Tithing was legally enforced in England in 906 AD by King Edgar. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) raised the status of tithing above all other Church taxes, and at the same time prohibited all interference by the common people in Church affairs. Kelly adds,

In 1067 and 1078, at the Church Councils of Gerona, and in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council, tithing was increasingly applied to all lands under Christian rule. All citizens, including Jews, were required to tithe to the Roman Catholic Church. A typical peasant was giving the first tithe of his land to ruler or landlord (which was often the church) and a second tenth to the church outright. In 1179 the Third Lateran Council decreed that only the pope could release persons from the obligation to tithe, and he exempted the Crusaders” (p. 260).

Not long after the Bible had been translated into the language of the common man, Otto Brumfels, in 1524, proclaimed that the New Testament does not teach tithing” (p. 261), says Kelly. Church-sanctioned tithing began to decline as a practice in the 1700’s. The secular authority of France abolished tithes in 1789. Compulsory parish tithes in England did not disappear until 1936 (p. 261). While Europe was making these changes, a different story was emerging in North America:

In Canada, as late as 1868, the Fourth Council of Quebec declared that tithing was mandatory. For a while tithes were even made mandatory in the French lands of the New World until the territory was sold in the Louisiana Purchase. In 1871 tithes were abolished in Ireland. In 1887 they ended in Italy… Elsewhere, the Eastern Orthodox Church has never accepted tithing and its members have never practiced it. The Roman Catholic Church still proscribes tithes in countries where they are sanctioned by law, and some Protestant bodies still consider tithes obligatory (p. 261).

Tithing was never a legal requirement in the United States, Kelly continues, but the Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists in particular have required their members to tithe 10% of their income (p. 261). Many Assemblies of God, Baptist, Churches of God, Pentecostal, and Holiness churches strongly compel their people to tithe (p. 266).

James Sparks (2005) links the modern practice of tithing to the business-like way churches are run today in the West:

[Most churches] operate as businesses, and when they do, they must have a source of revenue in order to operate the business, and must have an executive or businessman to run the business. But, early churches did not operate as businesses, because God did not set them up to run that way.

Tithing today certainly looks nothing like it did from the time of Moses to the time of Christ. Often only select citations from the Old Testament are used to promote the practice and to say it’s the duty of Christians today. However, the methodology governing the practice almost always comes from outside the Law. I’ve even been told that giving part of a tithe to the poor is not valid because they do not “spiritually feed me.” Instead of receiving tithes, today the poor are compelled to tithe. Televangelists even coerce them into making pledges when they can’t immediately come up with the money, and then pile on guilt, threats, and gimmicks if they fail to follow through.

One minister who teaches tithing, Tim Greenwood (2006), expounds on the “who, what, when, where, why, and how of tithing.” In my experience, Greenwood’s synopsis is fairly typical of current teaching on tithing:

[Who] Whoever desires to worship God.

[What] Giving first 10% of income to God.

[When] Whenever you receive income.

[Where] Where you have been fed the Word of God.

[Why] To worship God and to receive His blessings.

[How] By faith, diligently, promptly, cheerfully.

Tim Greenwood insists that those who don’t tithe are trying to do things their own way rather than God’s way. Like Anonymous Pastor (2003), and Pastors Carter and Clark (2006), he sees this as the same attitude which Cain had. He also says that tithing was “acceptable worship” in the Old Testament Law, and nothing was said otherwise in the New Testament. “Anyone who claims Jesus as their Lord and does not give Him at least ten percent of their money should face the truth: money is their Ruler, not Jesus,” he concludes. He lists four reasons why Christians do not tithe: [1] unbelief [2] fear [3] greed, selfishness [4] lack of right teaching.

Ironically, he says that to forsake tithing is to “invent a new method.” The truth is that the modern system of tithing represents a new and unbiblical method.

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In Part 5, we will discuss different ways that the law of Moses is viewed today, including a summary of the book of Galatians, followed by an analysis of tithing in light of Christ having fulfilled the law.

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 2


This is the second post in a series on tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series examines all 17 Bible passages which speak of tithing, and is taken from a term paper I wrote in 2006.  The first post included the series outline and an introduction, and covered the two passages where tithing was mentioned prior to the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:8-24 and 28:8-22). This post will examine how tithing was prescribed and practiced under the Mosaic Law (in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). My references will be included in the final post.

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II. Tithing Prescribed Under Mosaic Law

Kent Hughes, a Senior Pastor, Bible commentator, and author, writes in his book, “Disciplines of a Godly Man” (2001): “There is some confusion today about what it was that God actually required from His people in the Old Testament. Most think it was something like 10 percent, which is a woeful misconception. Actually there were multiple mandatory giving requirements in Israel which came to considerably more” (p. 192). We will later see that there were at least three separate tithes.

Passage 3: Leviticus 27:30-33

And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s. It is holy to the LORD. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.

Looking at the context, God was giving Moses laws which were to come into effect when they came into the Promised Land (25:2). In fact, the tithe spoken of here was called “the tithe of the land.” These commands were given while Moses was on Mount Sinai (27:34).

Of all the instructions on tithing in the Mosaic Law, this one appears to be the most general, perhaps even an introduction. Still we can observe several details in this passage, which indicates two types of tithes. The first type of tithe came from the land, either from seeds or from the fruit of trees. It was holy to the Lord. If a person wanted to redeem it, presumably for money, he had to add another 20% of the value to his tithe. The second type of tithe was from herds or flocks of animals. The tenth animal which happened to pass under the rod would be holy to the Lord, even if it was of bad quality.

Monetary tithes were obviously not encouraged. In fact, a monetary tithe had to be 12%. Those who say they tithe today, but do so in money, fall short of this tithing law by 2%. Those who have a garden, but do not tithe on their crops, also fail to keep this law. Those who say the tithe has to be the best 10% apparently have the “first fruits offering” in mind, but these are not the same. These are not the only areas where they fall short of the tithing laws, as we will continue to see.

The tithing laws given through Moses were for a specific nation, in a specific situation, and for a specific purpose. We will see in the next four passages who these tithes were to go to. At the end I will give a summary.

Passage 4: Numbers 18:21-32 (TITHE #1, Parts A and B)

(Tithes for Support of the Levites) Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.’

(The Tithe of the Levites) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak thus to the Levites, and say to them: ‘When you take from the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them as your inheritance, then you shall offer up a heave offering of it to the LORD, a tenth of the tithe. And your heave offering shall be reckoned to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor and as the fullness of the winepress. Thus you shall also offer a heave offering to the LORD from all your tithes which you receive from the children of Israel, and you shall give the LORD’s heave offering from it to Aaron the priest. Of all your gifts you shall offer up every heave offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the consecrated part of them.’ Therefore you shall say to them: ‘When you have lifted up the best of it, then the rest shall be accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress. You may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward for your work in the tabernacle of meeting. And you shall bear no sin because of it, when you have lifted up the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy gifts of the children of Israel, lest you die.’

The tithes of the Israelites became the Levites’ inheritance. The Levites were responsible to minister in the tabernacle, and could not own land, which gave them limited means of income. God meant for their support to come from those they ministered to. Before giving their tithes to the Levites, the Israelites were to offer them up as a heave offering. The tithes were elevated before the altar, and were presented with an up and down motion (cf. Exodus 29:27, Leviticus 7:34, Numbers 15:20-21).

All the priests were Levites, but not all the Levites were priests. That’s why the Levites also paid a tithe of what they received to the priests (Numbers 18:25-31). They tithed grain and wine, not money. The Levites gave a tenth of the people’s tenth directly to Aaron. Unlike the tithe of the herds in Leviticus 27, they had to give the very best 10%. They were free to consume the other 90% together with their families, as a reward for their service. We don’t see that the priests tithed at all. According to Strong’s Concordance (2001),

“While all the priests had to be from the tribe of Levi, inheriting their office through their fathers, not all Levites could function as priests. For one thing, there were too many of them. Also, some were needed to work in the tabernacle, and later the temple, as maintenance and cleanup people, something that is readily understandable when one thinks of all that was involved in the sacrificial system. The Levites actually lived in various parts of Israel, and they were the welfare responsibility of the Israelites among whom they lived… The Levites, then, were to tithe the tithe they received, giving their own tithe from what they received from the people to the Lord. Part of that tithe was to be a terumah or “heave offering” to the priests, the descendants of Aaron.”

According to Numbers 35:1-8 (cf. Joshua 21), the Levites were given cities to live in, from each tribe of Israel. They were given a total of 48 cities, and could dwell in them together with their animals.

Passage 5: Deuteronomy 12:5-19 (TITHE #2)

But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes— for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you… You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all to which you put your hands. Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.

This passage gives instructions for a second tithe to be given by the Israelites, known as the “Festival tithe.” It was to come into effect some time later, after they crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land. During that time they were to go to Jerusalem at the assigned times to celebrate. The expenses for these festivals were met by this second tithe and various offerings. They were to eat at least part of the tithe, which was said to be of grain, wine, and oil. They were also reminded of the importance of always taking care of the Levites.

This was a time of rejoicing in God’s chosen place. The tithe had to be consumed there, and not at home. They were to go with their families, their servants, and any Levites who dwelled within their gates. Nathan Foy (2006) speculates, “The ones to raise animals and grow plants were probably the richer people of that day, since the Bible says ‘all who were in their gates.’”

Kent Hughes (2001) says regarding this tithe, “According to Deuteronomy 12…another 10 percent had to be given for an annual celebration-feasting with one’s family, friends, and servants.” He adds that the purpose of this second tithe “was to build religious celebration and mutual community in God’s people” (p. 192-193).

Russell Kelly (2006) links it with the three annual festivals in Jerusalem, the Feasts of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles (Exodus 23:14-19, Deuteronomy 16:1-17). He says, “According to Deuteronomy 12 and 14, the second religious tithe, called the ‘feast tithe,’ was eaten by worshipers in the streets of Jerusalem during the three yearly festivals.”

Passage 6: Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (TITHE # 2 repeated, TITHE #3 introduced)

You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.

At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

The first part of this passage (14:22-27) repeats the second tithe outlined in Deuteronomy 12. The firstborn of their herds and flocks were part of the tithe. Their tithe could be sold for money in case long travel was necessary. This relieved them of the burden of transporting large numbers of animals and produce. At the destination where God placed His name, the money would then be spent on food for each family to consume. Money was not presented to the Levites as a gift.

The last part of the passage introduces a third tithe, to be set aside every third year for the strangers, the fatherless, widows, and Levites living within the gates of the Israelites. There was a blessing attached to this tithe. As Kent Hughes (2001) points out, “This tithe averaged out to 3.3 percent yearly, “thus bringing the total to over 23 percent per year” in tithes required by the Israelites (p. 192-3).

Strong’s Concordance (2000) confirms that this tithe, like other tithes, was made up of farm produce, rather than money. Russell Kelly (2001) says that not everyone was required to tithe. He cites a noted authority on Judaism, Alfred Edersheim, as saying that tithing in Israel was not universal, “because it did not apply to crafts and trades” (p. 247).

Passage 7: Deuteronomy 26:12-15 (TITHE #3 repeated)

When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God: ‘I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”’

This command was also given before the Israelites had actually come into the Promised Land (26:1), and repeats the third tithe given earlier. Here it is called “the year of tithing.” Again the recipients are said to be the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. The person tithing needed to be able to say that he had done so according to the correct procedure. He could then pray that his people and land would be blessed.

Russell Kelly (2006) notes that it is “wrong to teach that the poor in Israel were required to pay tithes. In fact, they actually received tithes! Much of the second festival tithe and all of a special third-year tithe went to the poor. In fact, many laws protected the poor from abuse and expensive sacrifices which they could not afford…” He adds that false assumptions on tithing would be minimized if we don’t ignore “the very plain definition of tithe as food from farm increase or herd increase.”

SUMMARY: Looking carefully at the tithes outlined in the Law of Moses, it is apparent that there were three different tithes:

[1] The first tithe is described in Numbers 18:21-32, and has two parts. The first part (18:21-24) tells of the tithes given to the Levites as their inheritance, since they had no land inheritance. It amounted to 10% of one’s livelihood. The second part (18:25-32) shows the Levites tithing from this amount to Aaron for the priesthood.

[2] The second tithe is described in Deuteronomy 12:5-19, and repeated in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. This tithe supported the annual feasts. It was to be taken to Jerusalem and consumed there. The Levites only got a small portion of this tithe, which made up an additional 10% of one’s livelihood.

[3] The third tithe is detailed in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, and repeated in Deuteronomy 26:11-13. It didn’t go primarily to the Levites, but to the needy. It was given every three years, during the “year of tithing,” and was designated for strangers, orphans, widows, and Levites, those who could not provide for themselves. It averaged out to 3.3% of one’s livelihood annually.

Therefore, those who were eligible to tithe needed to set aside an average of 23.3% of their livelihood each year just to fund the tithes for the Levites, the feasts, and the needy. Kelly (2006), Hughes (2001), and Foy (2006) all agree on this figure, and the fact that there were three tithes required of the Israelites. They also affirm that the tithes consisted of crops and herds.

Russell Kelly (2006) indicates just how restrictive tithing was under Mosaic Law:

“True biblical tithes were always: (1) only food, (2) only from the farms and herds, (3) of only Israelites, (4) who only lived inside God’s Holy Land, the national boundary of Israel, (5) only under Old Covenant terms and (6) the increase could only come from God’s hand.”

Therefore, (1) non-food items could not be tithed; (2) clean wild game animals and fish could not be tithed; (3) non-Israelites could not tithe; (4) food from outside the land of Israel did not enter the Temple; (5) legitimate tithing did not occur when there was no Levitical priesthood; and (5) tithes did not come from what man’s hands created, produced or caught by hunting and fishing.

Nathan Foy (2006) paints the picture in personal terms:

“To tithe according to the Old Testament you would have to give up your job and farm so you could raise animals and grow crops to tithe with.  You’d have to find some Levitical priests to give your tithe to.  You would have to celebrate the Old Testament festivals and eat your tithe in the presence of the Lord. For 2 years you would have to give 20% of your herds and crops to God and on the 3rd year you would have to give another 10% to the poor, [totaling] 30% in tithe[s] that particular year.  If you do all this you will be keeping the law of tithing totally.”

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In Part 3, we will look at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi).

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 1


The following post is the first in a series on the subject of tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series is taken from a term paper I wrote in April 2006, and it examines all 17 passages in Scripture which mention tithing: 13 times in the Old Testament and four times in the New Testament. As noted in the outline below, all sources will be listed in the Reference section in the final part (out of discretion, one source is kept anonymous here).

OUTLINE

A. Introduction
B. A look at the 17 Scripture passages which mention tithing

I. Described prior to the Law of Moses: in the lives of Abraham and Jacob

1. Genesis 14:8-24
2. Genesis 28:8-22

II. Prescribed under Mosaic Law: three different tithes

3. Leviticus 27:30-33
4. Numbers 18:21-32
5. Deuteronomy 12:5-19
6. Deuteronomy 14:22-29
7. Deuteronomy 26:12-15

III. Reforms of King Hezekiah, Nehemiah, and the prophets Amos and Malachi

8. II Chronicles 31:4-12
9. Nehemiah 10:28-39
10. Nehemiah 12:44
11. Nehemiah 13:4-13
12. Amos 4:1-5
13. Malachi 3:5-12

          IV. Spoken of in the New Testament by Jesus and the author of Hebrews

14. Matthew 23:23
15. Luke 11:42
16. Luke 18:9-14
17. Hebrews 7:1-10

C. Tithing in history
D. Ways of viewing the Law of Moses today and a summary of Galatians
E. Tithing in light of Christ fulfilling the Law
F. New Testament giving
G. Conclusion/References

A. INTRODUCTION

Tithing is commonly understood to mean the practice of giving a tenth of anything. The term has a secular use, particularly with regard to finances. However, it is best known as a practice among religious groups. Webster’s Dictionary (1988), in defining the word “tithe,” even notes that it is “especially collected to support churches.”

Is it Biblical for churches and ministries to compel their people to tithe? Is the modern practice of tithing Biblical? In light of Christ’s fulfillment of the Law, I believe it is not. At the heart of this issue is one’s view of the Law of Moses, also known as Mosaic Law.

The Barna Group (2005), a well-known research company, determined that 65% of American Christians gave part of their income to churches or parachurch ministries in 2004. During the same year, however, only 6% “tithed” to a place of worship.

According to another study by Ellison Research (2006), a marketing research company out of Phoenix, 68% of all clergy in the US say that tithing is a Biblical mandate for Christians today. Pentecostal clergy are the most agreeable, at 95%. On the other hand, 20% of clergy affirm that Christians are commanded to give, but say that no specific amount or percentage is required.

Among Protestant laity, 59% believe that God’s people today are required to tithe. Pentecostals (80%) and Baptists (75%) are the most likely to hold this view.

Among tithing proponents, there is considerable disparity over whether tithes must be paid only to the local church, or whether a portion can also be given to other Christian ministries. They are almost equally split on whether to tithe on net income (48%) or gross income (52%). Clergy, interestingly, are much more in favor of tithing on gross income (72%).

If these statistics are true, then nearly 60% of Protestant Christians in the US believe that tithing is a Biblical requirement, but only 6% practice this belief. Many would say that the 94% who don’t tithe are guilty of disobeying Scripture. Some would even insist that they are under a curse for robbing God.

In looking into this practice, we will take a look at ALL the Scripture passages which mention tithing. Too often, when a case is made for tithing, only a few select passages are chosen to build the case, and they are often not viewed in their proper context.

I also intend to address the following relevant questions:

[1] How many tithes were commanded in Scripture?
[2] Who received the tithes?
[3] Do those who promote tithing today follow the prescriptions under Mosaic Law?
[4] Why isn’t tithing still required of believers today?

By quoting from those who don’t share my view, I do not intend to judge or attack them. Where they are serving the Lord and His people, I appreciate their sacrifice and their hard work. Their teachings and views, as well as mine, are always subject to the light of Scripture.

B. A LOOK AT THE 17 PASSAGES ON TITHING

I. TITHING DESCRIBED PRIOR TO THE LAW OF MOSES

Although Abram’s tithe is the first recorded in Scripture, some teach that he tithed because he was following an eternal principle. Pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) suggest that the offerings of Cain and Abel were a form of tithe, with Cain being faulted for what he failed to give. They conclude that from the beginning God had set in motion a law requiring either tithes or firstfruits, but Cain held back what was due to God. His sin was that his offering was lacking in quantity. The implication is that those who fail to tithe are like Cain.

Anonymous Pastor (2003) goes back even earlier: “The principle of tithing is one that can be traced throughout the entire Bible. In actuality, it was involved in the Garden of Eden, when mankind took of something which belonged to, or was designated for God.”

Before the Law was given through Moses, there were two accounts of voluntarily tithing. The first story was of Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek, and the second story involved his grandson, Jacob. These are both narratives, which, according to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (1993), are the most common form of literature found in the Bible (p. 78). Fee and Stuart point out that in narratives we are not always told how or why the characters did certain things (p. 81). Narratives are more likely to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

Passage 1: Genesis 14:8-24

And the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim against [4 kings]… Then [the 4 kings] took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. Then one who had escaped came and told Abram… Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants… So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him… Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’— except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

Abram and his men not only rescued Lot, they also brought back all the goods and people taken from Sodom and Gomorrah. Melchizedek, king of Salem, blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth of all the spoils of war. The king of Sodom then told Abram to keep the rest of the spoils, but to give him the people. Abram, however, gave everything to him, except for what his men had eaten, and a small portion for three of his men.

Abram tithed on the spoils of war, not his income. Any idea that Abram regularly practiced tithing can only be presumed, for it is not in the text. Nor does the text say he was commanded to give this tithe. Abram gave away almost the entire remaining 90% of the spoils to the king of Sodom, whose territory was soon to be destroyed by fire and brimstone.

The Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2006) states that “a one-tenth tax was quite common in ancient Babylonian culture,” as well as throughout the ancient Near East, Lydia, Arabia, and Carthage, “and would have been well known to Abraham.” Carter and Clark (2006) say that because of this fact, Abram “kept God’s law of tithing.” They insist that Abraham tithed frequently, and that this instance illustrates “the tithing law given at Creation.”

Matthew Narramore (2004) would disagree. He says that by tithing on the spoils of war, Abram couldn’t have been following an eternal principle. God gave very different instructions to Israel in Numbers 31, regarding the spoils from their war with the Midianites. No tithe was involved. If Abram followed a universal principle, he says, then God would have required the same from His people in Numbers 31. He adds that Abram didn’t give a tithe on his own possessions. In fact, he tithed on something he had vowed to give away, so it actually cost him nothing (Chapter 2).

Jay Snell (1995), a frequent guest on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, has a different take on it. He believes Abram’s motive was to obtain a steady flow of wealth: “The first of the two things that he did to ‘begin and maintain’ the flow of wealth to himself was he gave a tithe” (p. 3). According to Snell, Abram recognized and tapped into the “Law of Sowing and Reaping.” He says that in order to gain wealth like Abram, we also need to take this same step and tithe (p. 5).

Passage 2: Genesis 28:20-22

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.

Jacob made a conditional vow, one that implied He might not even make the Lord His God unless he returned home safely and received protection, company, food and clothing from the Lord. There is no record that Jacob actually fulfilled his vow by giving a tenth back to the Lord, although we can’t assume he failed to do so either. As in Abram’s case, we don’t see that he was commanded by the Lord to tithe.

Going back several verses earlier (28:13-15), we see that God had already promised Jacob that He would be with him, never leave him, protect him, and bring him back to his land! God had also identified Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac, and repeated the promise He had made to both his grandfather and father. Narramore (2004) notes several things about God’s promise and Jacob’s vow:

[1] It was God’s promise to him and it was based on faith alone. It did not depend on any conditional requirements such as tithes, offerings, or sacrifices… All God wanted Jacob to do was to believe him. God wanted to keep the promise for Jacob just like he did for Abraham, who became the father of faith… Jacob didn’t respond to God’s promise in the same way that his father and grandfather did.

[2] Faith takes God at his word; Jacob did not. Jacob responded to God’s promise by making a vow, which showed his unbelief. He said, ‘If You will do all this, then You will be my God, and I will give you a tenth of everything you give me.’ God had just promised to bless, protect, and fulfill the original promise that he made to Abraham. He didn’t ask for a tithe or anything else… Jacob wouldn’t even commit to having the Lord as his God. God didn’t ask for a tithe. He wanted faith… God didn’t praise Jacob for his vow to give him a tenth.

[3] Just because a story is in the Bible doesn’t mean that it portrays the will of God for the people involved. It certainly doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for us today in the New Covenant. The Bible records many things that men did which were not the will of God (Chapter 3).

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In Part 2, we will look at tithing as it was prescribed under the Law of Moses, and we will see just how different it looked from the way tithing is so often taught today. 

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

Guest Post: The Biblical Heavens and Earth (Part 3 of 3)


This post concludes Steve’s 3-part series on the Biblical heavens and earth, exploring comparisons between Genesis 1, Jeremiah 4:23-27, and Matthew 24:35. Part 1 can be seen here, and part 2 (which explores Jeremiah 4:23-27) can be seen here.

I would like to thank Adam Maarschalk for allowing me this opportunity to share with his readers even though we do not see eye to eye on many things. Studying the Word of God is a great joy and privilege, and I hope this study will benefit your own Bible studies.

In part two of this study, we saw that the old heavens & earth was synonymous with Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Jer. 4:23-26; Matt. 23:34-38 & 24:29-35). In the final post in this series, we will see that New Jerusalem is synonymous with the new heavens & earth, and that it arrived in 70 AD. (Based upon this, I have been at times accused of being a hyperpreterist, but I am not, since I still believe in the future Second Coming and the resurrection of our bodies, which hyperpreterists deny.) Just as the heavens & earth represented the kingdom of Israel, the new heavens & earth represents the kingdom of the Israel of God here on the earth. The Israel of God was established here on the earth when the old Israel was cast out of “Abraham’s camp” (Gal. 4:21-31). To better understand what the new heavens & earth is and isn’t, it will help to look at the biblical timeline.

The timing of New Jerusalem’s arrival and the new heavens & earth

In the book of Revelation, the bride of Christ is identified as New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2, 9-10). This New Jerusalem is synonymous with the new heavens & earth (Rev. 21:1-2). The bride arrives back in Rev. 19:7-9. The bride’s wedding supper consists of scavenging birds feasting on the flesh of the dead, when Jesus comes in judgment against the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 19:7-21). Likewise, the bride arrives as the people of God are rejoicing over the death of the great harlot Babylon, which is the great city (Rev. 19:1-6, also see Rev. chapters 17 & 18). So when the great city is destroyed, and the two persecutors of the Church are judged (the beast from the sea & the beast from the land/false prophet), New Jerusalem comes down to the earth. So who is the great city Babylon?

Since there is a great deal of material easily available here on this blog to prove this point, I will only provide a few proofs that Babylon is the city of Jerusalem. In Rev. 11:8, the great city is identified as where “their Lord was crucified,” which can only be Jerusalem. This verse also gives Babylon two other symbolic names: “Sodom and Egypt.” In the case of Babylon, Sodom, and Egypt, God poured out His wrath on them even as He brought His people out of those places. The same is true for the Babylon of Revelation (Rev. 18:4-8).  Where else do we read in the NT where Christians are warned to flee a city because its judgment has come? “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-22)

The biblical pattern for New Jerusalem’s arrival

So we see that when Jerusalem is destroyed, the spiritual New Jerusalem arrives to take its place. This fits the pattern seen throughout the Bible: first the natural, then the spiritual. Cain was the first born, and murdered the spiritual Abel. Ishmael was the natural son of Abraham born by the power of the flesh, but Isaac was the spiritual son, born by the power and promise of the Holy Spirit. The first Adam is earthy, the second Adam is heavenly (1 Cor. 15:47). First is the natural body, then comes the spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42-49).

When Moses brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, there was the Jewish people and Law, but they would not receive the Jewish land for forty years, in order to kill off the unbelieving Jews. Likewise, when the Church was established in 30 AD, there was a Christian people and Law (the New Covenant – the law of faith in Christ), but the Christians would not receive their land (the new heavens & earth) until forty years had gone by to kill off the unbelieving Jews. This is why the Christians received the new heavens & earth in 70 AD.

As we have seen earlier in this study, Adam foreshadows the Jewish nation. Both are created to the west of the Holy Land, and then are planted in the Land and given a Law to keep. Both break the Law they were given and are driven out of the Land to the east (to Babylon). This is where the Genesis narrative leaves Adam, with the people of God expelled from the Land in exile to the east, cut off from the tree of life, and with the Land under a curse. However, in Revelation, the people of God are brought out of Babylon, out of the east, and are brought back to the Holy Land, back to (New) Jerusalem. Having been brought back, access to the tree of life is restored and the curse is no more (Rev. 22:2-3).

The nature of the curse of creation

In order to understand why there is no curse in the new heavens & earth, we first need to understand the curse in Gen. 3:14-19. As we have seen in previous posts, since the Genesis creation account isn’t about the universe, the curse isn’t about the universe, either. If the whole planet was pleasant and nice, why the need for a garden at all? But the planting of the garden indicates the rest of the world wasn’t so pleasant or ideal.

For Adam’s sin, he was driven from the Garden. Since the man was no longer there to tend the Garden, the Garden would become overrun with “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:17-18). This is the same thing that is taught in Isa. 5:3-7, Jer. 12:10-13, and Hos. 10:3-8.

Not only would the Garden of God be ruined because of man’s sin, but man’s work would become harder (Gen. 3:17-19). When there is less than ideal sunlight, rain, etc., raising useful plants becomes very difficult. In such circumstances, the only things that want to grow are those things which are useless to man – weeds. We see throughout the OT that God would punish Israel’s sin with droughts and poor crops, making it harder than it should be to raise a crop.

God cursed the woman by greatly multiplying her pain in bringing forth children (Gen. 3:16). Notice that God would increase her pain, which indicates pain was already in the workings of the world prior to Adam’s sin. I do not believe the pain refers to the physical pain of delivering a child, but to mothers mourning the loss of their children (as seen in Deut. 28:18 & 32; Jer. 4:31, 5:17, 9:20-22; Luke 23:28-29; in contrast with Isa. 65:23, 66:22).

Why there is no curse or death in the new heavens & earth

The reason why there is no curse in the new heavens & earth is because there are no wicked people in this “land” (Rev. 21:27, 22:14-15) that would bring about the wrath of God. Unlike “Babylon” (Jerusalem), God never has to abandon New Jerusalem and put it to the sword, because New Jerusalem’s people only consist of spiritual Israel, the Israel of God – those who are obedient to Christ. And since the city is never destroyed, the people remain in the land to tend the land and bear fruit for God, keeping it from being overrun by thorns and thistles.

This is why Rev. 21:4 says that in New Jerusalem, “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” This is all in contrast to what just happened to “Babylon” (Jerusalem). God had just abandoned and destroyed it (Rev. 18). But God would never treat New Jerusalem in that fashion, because it will never become the home of wicked people. To enter this spiritual city, one must first repent and obey Christ (Rev. 22:14). If a Christian falls away, he is removed by Christ from His Church (Gal. 5:4), and is therefore no longer within the New Jerusalem.

When Rev. 21:4 says there is no more death, it is in the context of Isa. 65-66, especially Isa. 65:17-23. (There are numerous parallels between Isa. 65-66 and Rev. 21-22, too many to list here, but notice that Isa. 65-66 also links the arrival of the new heavens & earth with God punishing the culmination of generations of guilt: Isa. 65:7 and Matt. 23:29-36.) In summary of Isa. 65:17-23, God will not put New Jerusalem to the sword the way He did old Jerusalem. It is in that sense there is no more death. And even though Isa. 65:20-21 is speaking of lifespans in a figurative way, natural births and deaths still occur (which indicates this is not referring to the age of resurrection – Luke 20:34-36).

In fact, the presence of sexual reproduction and the marriage/one-flesh relationship prior to the sin of Adam indicates death was “baked” into creation, since resurrection and immortality means the end of marriage/sexual reproduction (Luke 20:34-36). This is because sexual reproduction has to do with the mortality of the flesh – once the flesh is made immortal, it no longer serves a purpose.

The key to understanding the new heavens & earth is realizing that it is not being contrasted with our universe, but with what would/did happen to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. During the age of New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth, the nations of the world still exist (Rev. 21:24-27), but the nations of the world are abolished at the Second Coming (Matt. 25:31-33).

New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth vs. the Second Coming

In Rev. 20, we are given a sequence of events that indicates the Second Coming takes place long after the arrival of New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth. In Rev. 19, we see that the bride (New Jerusalem, see Rev. 21:9-10) arrives upon the destruction of Babylon (old Jerusalem). It is also at this time many people are put to death, and the beast and false prophet (Nero and the Jewish leaders) are punished (Rev. 19:17-21). But noticed who is not punished at this time –Satan. He will not be punished until “a thousand years” later (a symbol for a long, indefinite period of time).

Instead of punishing Satan at this time, God instead has Satan locked away for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3). This is because God is not done with Satan at 70 AD. The end of the thousand years is marked by the temporary release of Satan, so that he can attack New Jerusalem (Rev. 20:7-9). But notice the end of the millennium doesn’t come with the arrival of New Jerusalem – but with Satan’s attack on New Jerusalem. It is only then, a thousand years later, that the devil joins the beast and false prophet in punishment (Rev. 20:10).

New Jerusalem is already there when Satan is released, because New Jerusalem is the millennial reign of Christ. The destruction of Jerusalem, Nero, and the Jewish leaders ushers in the arrival of New Jerusalem, which is Jesus’ capital city. New Jerusalem is where Christ reigns along with His saints for the thousand years. It is only at the end of the thousand years, the end of the reign of Christ that the resurrection occurs and death is defeated (1 Cor. 15:23-28). So it is no surprise that the final judgment and resurrection of the dead happens once the thousand year reign is complete (Rev. 20:11-15).

The beginning of the millennium vs. the end of the millennium

The triggering event for the beginning of the millennium is the destruction of Jerusalem. God rallies the nations of the world (the Roman Empire) against Jerusalem, and the city of Jerusalem is afflicted with demons (Rev. 9:1-11). The nations of the world destroy and loot Jerusalem, carrying off all of her treasures.

Contrast this with the event that triggers the end of the millennium. Satan rallies the nations of the world against New Jerusalem (Rev. 20:7-9). New Jerusalem is filled with “treasure” because it has “looted” the nations (Rev. 21:24-27, referring to the righteous who have been brought out of this world into the kingdom of Christ), but far from being looted, the city cannot even be harmed (Rev. 20:9). The city is not looted or harmed because unlike old Jerusalem, this city is filled with the righteous. God does not withdraw His protection as He did with old Jerusalem, because God protects His own people (Matt. 23:37). The attack on old Jerusalem brought about the judgment of one nation in one generation, but the failed attack at New Jerusalem brings about the judgment of all nations and all generations.

The resurrection vs. 70 AD

Some of those who correctly believe the new heavens & earth is a present reality mistakenly believe the resurrection happened, or at least began, in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. One problem with this view is that Scripture routinely treats the Second Coming and the resurrection as being distinct from 70 AD.

Take the Bible’s primary teaching on resurrection: 1 Cor. 15. This passage provides the most comprehensive teaching on the subject of the resurrection, and yet there is nothing there about the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple.

Take another example, the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is all about the resurrection, much more so than the synoptic Gospels. Even the first sign John records, the apparently trivial miracle of turning water into wine, is really about the resurrection. Common water is placed into stone waterpots (“buried in the earth”), where Jesus miraculously changes it, and when it is “raised out of the earth,” Jesus turns it into something far superior: an excellent wine (John 2:6-10). In fact, the turning point in John’s Gospel is when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53). And yet there is nothing taught about the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple anywhere in his Gospel, at least not explicitly. The one Gospel that focuses on the resurrection is also the one Gospel that doesn’t focus on the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. If the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are an integral part of the day of resurrection, how can John spend his entire Gospel talking about the resurrection and yet never mention 70 AD?

The only passage that appears to tie the new heavens & earth with the resurrection is Rom. 8:18-25. The redemption of creation (which refers to the death of the old heavens & earth, and the arrival of the new heavens & earth in 70 AD) is compared to the redemption of our bodies (at the resurrection). But notice Paul does not say these events happen together. Instead, Paul merely compares the two: just as the creation will be set free from its corruption, so we will be set free from the corruption within ourselves. The creation is set free when it is resurrected/transformed from a natural land to a spiritual land, just as we will be set free of this body of death (Rom. 7:24, 8:10) when our natural bodies are resurrected/transformed from a natural body to a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44).

In 70 AD, the wicked are killed (Rev. 19:17-21) and sent down into Hades (Matt. 11:23). But at the final judgment, the wicked are resurrected out of Hades (Rev. 20:12-15). It is at this time death and Hades are abolished (Rev. 20:14, 1 Cor. 15:26). The resurrection brings about the permanent end of physical death and Hades (the spirit realm of the physically dead) because at the resurrection, everyone is made alive and immortal (1 Cor. 15:52-54). So how can the 70 AD judgment, which sent people to Hades, also be the day of resurrection which empties and abolishes Hades?

When the new heavens & earth arrived in 70 AD, New Jerusalem came down to the earth (Rev. 21:2, 10). New Jerusalem isn’t Heaven, it is a kind of “heaven on earth.” But at the Second Coming, we do not remain down here, but we are taken up there forever (John 14:3, 1 Thes. 4:17).

The physicality of the resurrection body

The ultimate argument against 70 AD being the day of resurrection is the physicality of the resurrection body. The resurrection involves the raising and transforming of our flesh bodies, which obviously hasn’t yet happened. The resurrection passages do not focus on a city or a temple, but on the bodies of believers. Passages such as Philip. 3:21 and 1 John 3:2-3 make this clear.

Jesus, Paul, and the Pharisees all used a grain of wheat to illustrate their teaching on the resurrection (John 12:24, 1 Cor. 15:37, Sanh. 90b). They used the same illustration because, as Paul repeatedly pointed out while on trial for his faith, they believed the same thing (Acts 24:15, 26:6-8).

What does “the Law and… the Prophets” say about “the promise made by God to our fathers”? King David wrote Psalm 16:9-10, which is quoted both by Peter and Paul in Acts (2:25-31, 13:35-37). We do not have to wonder what David meant, because Peter provides us with the inspired interpretation: David foresaw the resurrection of Christ, and seeing it gave hope to his flesh (Acts 2:25-31). Seeing the resurrection of Christ gave David hope for his aging, dying body because he understood the same thing Paul understood, that the resurrection of Christ is proof for our own future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-23). Just as Christ was raised in His flesh and bone body never to die again, so our mortal bodies will be made immortal, too (Luke 24:39; Rom. 6:5-9, 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:52-54).

The Apostle Peter makes a very simple argument for proving Jesus has been resurrected, and that David has not:

Empty tomb = resurrected

Body still in tomb = not resurrected

Peter makes a simple argument that was easily understood by his audience. We know Jesus has been resurrected because His tomb is empty. Likewise, we know David has not been resurrected because his body is still in the tomb. If that argument was sound in 30 AD, then it remains sound today, because the Christian doctrine of resurrection hasn’t changed. Since the ancients are still in the tomb, how can some claim David and the rest of the OT saints were resurrected in 70 AD?

A spirit body resurrection?

Some who reject a physical resurrection believe in the resurrection of a “spirit body.” (Notice the Bible doesn’t teach a spirit body, but a spiritual body – compare 1 Cor. 15:44 with 2:14-16.) A “spirit body” is like a “square circle,” it is nonsensical because it is a contradiction in terms. By definition, a spirit is not a body, and a body is not a spirit. When Paul looks forward to the resurrection, Paul looks forward to being “set free from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24). The solution was not to be set free from the body, which happens at death, for Paul did not wish to be “unclothed” (2 Cor. 5:2-4).  Nor can the resurrection be said to be merely spiritual life, because the Christian already had that prior to both 70 AD and the resurrection (Rom. 8:9-11). The solution is not found in death, but in life evermore.

Baptism for the dead

When Paul speaks of Christians “who are baptized for the dead” (1 Cor. 15:29), what is Paul talking about? The answer can be found in the context. Paul gives no indication that this baptismal practice is strange or wrong; in fact, he uses the practice to reinforce his point, which suggests his agreement with the practice. But what is it? Although ambiguous in the English translation, the “dead” in the original Greek language is definitely plural.

Paul is pointing to the fact that when Christians are baptized into Christ, they are baptized for their own dead bodies. Read 1 Cor. 15:29-35, and everywhere you read the word “dead,” read it as “dead bodies” and you will see that this not only make sense, it becomes explicit by v. 35 and throughout the rest of the chapter. In Rom. 7:24, he refers to his own living body as “the body of this death,” and in Rom. 8:10, even though the bodies Paul refers to were still physically alive, he nevertheless refers to them as being “dead.” Paul links Christian baptism with the body, death, and resurrection in Rom. 6:2-9 and Col. 2:11-13.

If the body was still alive, then in what sense was it “dead”?  Since the body is of the earth, and is made for life on the earth, it is earthy (Gen. 2:7, 3:19; 1 Cor. 15:44-49) and so has earthly, fleshly appetites. So in a sense, the body has a mind of its own, and its appetites are geared toward the things of this world, which is the mindset of death (Rom. 8:12-13). This means the body is weak towards carrying out the will of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:14-23, 8:3-8; also see Matt. 26:41). Since the flesh is in a sense morally dead because of our sin, it was a body of death, and therefore, mortal. The body is dead because sin is living in it (Rom. 7:14-21, 8:10).

Jesus became a life-giving spirit

When Paul writes that Jesus “became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), some believe this proves a spirit-only resurrection. But we do not become “life-giving” spirits like Christ, for we have no life in ourselves. Rather, we receive life from the Spirit of Christ. How so? We do not have to wonder, because Paul tells us in Rom. 8:9-11. In v. 9, Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ,” and relates it to our resurrection by giving “life to your mortal bodies.”

The resurrection is not only about making our mortal bodies immortal, but about making our bodies into spiritual bodies – bodies that are strong to carry out the desires of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:42-54). Just as Jesus supplied the missing ingredients to transform the water buried in the earth into excellent wine at the end of the wedding (John 2:6-10), so Jesus will one day return from Heaven to supply the missing ingredients to transform our earthly tent into a heavenly building (2 Cor. 5:1-10) on the last day (John 6:54, 11:24). At that time, our transformation into the likeness of Christ (Eph. 4:13) will finally be complete!

Conclusion

New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth represents Christ’s spiritual kingdom here on the earth right now. It is Christ reigning through His Church, and on behalf of His Church. One day He will return, bring an end to death and sin through the power of His resurrection, punish the wicked, and take us into Heaven where the glory of God will “be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). There we will be with God and each other in a state of perpetual spiritual bliss. “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes. 4:18).