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Deontology of New Testament tithing: An analysis

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Abstract

With the sudden heightened controversy surrounding tithing lately around the world, the subject of tithing deserves a critical analysis and a re-examination especially with regard to its ethical implications both in the New Testament text and the New Testament era. With the Rationality Theory applicable in the framework of Deontology and Form Criticism as its methodology, this study analysed New Testament texts that speak about tithe in line with their moral obligation as a duty both to the organised church and the poor congregants.
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Author:
Prince E. Peters1
Aliaon:
1Department of Religion and
Cultural Studies, Faculty of
Social Sciences, University of
Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
Corresponding author:
Prince Peters,
prince.peters.195254@unn.
edu.ng
Dates:
Received: 08 Dec. 2020
Accepted: 25 Jan. 2021
Published: 30 Mar. 2021
How to cite this arcle:
Peters, P.E., 2021,
‘Deontology of New
Testament thing: An
analysis’, Theologia Viatorum
45(1), a102. hps://doi.
org/10.4102/tv.v45i1.102
Copyright:
© 2021. The Author.
Licensee: AOSIS. This work
is licensed under the
Creave Commons
Aribuon License.
Introducon
Tithe ( ֙ר ׂ ַש ְע ַמ , δεκάτη, decimas obtulerunt, otu uzo n’uzo iri, a tenth), which is supposedly a part of
the larger Christian responsibility of giving, has become an issue of serious controversy lately
(Oluwoye 2013:2) probably because the church is at its ‘height of “prosperity” and “word of
faith”’ (Ajah 2013:107) theological euphoria.
In 2005 when the present author was a serving minister in the defunct Methodist Church
Nigeria (MCN) (1962 Foundation Constitution), the superintendent minister, who he worked
under, came to the pulpit one Sunday morning to ‘counter’ an age-long teaching upheld by
MCN (1962 F.C). This age-long teaching was that tithe is not a New Testament practice. The
church may have held to that opinion earlier on probably because ‘John Wesley is[sic] a
difficult figure in this debate’ (Croteau 2005:18) who it appears gave less than a tithe in the
first year of his ministry.1 The superintendent minister apologised to the church, almost
kneeling down for misleading them into believing that tithe is no longer a New Testament
doctrine.
‘For far too long tithing has been treated as a “taboo” off-limits subject among many
conservative churches. Too many informed seminary professors silently observe’ (Russell
2007:1) whilst the battle rages on. It is obvious that ‘there is some confusion on the subject’
(Van der Merwe 2010:2). Whilst the study is not unaware of the dual challenge from teachings
which claim that Christians under grace in the New Testament (NT) dispensation are not
obligated to tithe like the Jews in the Old Testament (OT) and that Christian tithing is a hoax
(Smith n.d.:online); the study’s statement of problem therefore is as follows: what is the moral
obligation of an NT Christian in the matter of tithing? For example, should Christians pay tithe
as a moral obligation whether or not there is a direct command in the NT texts to make such a
payment? Similarly, the study aims to enquire if the church has the moral obligation to use
tithe to alleviate the sufferings of its congregants. Deontology, which is regarded in general as
‘the study of moral obligation’ (Nelson 1995:331), and considered particularly as a rational
obligation towards a certain duty (here, the duty of tithe payment), is employed to understand
the ethics of tithe payment, especially in contemporary Christianity. Form Critical method
helped in understanding the various NT texts under study in their various sociological
contexts, and Structuralist Critical method enables the comparison of ancient biblical texts with
modern situations. To read more meanings into such passages with uncertain interpretations,
sensus plenior2 was employed.
1.See Harshman (1905:79). Wesley’s idea of thing may have been misunderstood and misinterpreted over the years. Wesley’s popular
phrase ‘Render unto God not a tenth’ may have informed that Wesley never believed in payment of the. However, we should look
at it in the right context; he said: ‘Render unto God not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s (be it more or less)…’
(Chervonenko 2017:65). The supposed understanding that Wesley always refers to ‘a good Jew’ only with reference to ‘giving a tenth
of all you possess’ (Dang. of riches, II, 8; Boddie 2005:9) throws light that Wesley may have believed that thing is mainly for the Jews.
2.Sensus plenior is that addional, deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist
in the words of a biblical text (or group of texts, or even a whole book) when they are studied in the light of further revelaon or
development in the understanding of revelaon. Brown (1955:92)
With the sudden heightened controversy surrounding tithing lately around the world, the
subject of tithing deserves a critical analysis and a re-examination especially with regard
to its ethical implications both in the New Testament text and the New Testament era.
With the Rationality Theory applicable in the framework of Deontology and Form
Criticism as its methodology, this study analysed New Testament texts that speak about
tithe in line with their moral obligation as a duty both to the organised church and the
poor congregants.
Keywords: tithe; New Testament; ethics; Mosaic law; Old Testament; Melchizedek; Abraham.
Deontology of New Testament thing:
An analysis
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The reflecon of pre-Mosaic thing
in the New Testament
There are arguments that Abel’s gift to God was a tithe
(Croteau 2005:31; Snoeberger 2000:73); therefore, Abel
should be adjudged as the first man to pay a tithe to God.
This idea seems to come from an unclear interpretation of
the Genesis (4:7) account in the LXX (Croteau 2005:71–72).
This is probably first propounded by Landsell (1955). The
word which suggests a possible allusion to tithing in that
passage is ‘ἡμαρτες’ [‘to dissect or divide] as against what is
seen in the Masoretic Text ‘חַת ֖
ֶּפַל’ [at the door].3. God asks
Cain, οὐκ ἐὰν ὀρθῶς προσενέγκης, ὀρθῶς δὲ μὴ διέλῃς, ἡμαρτες.
This question suggests that God’s rejection of Cain’s gift
was because, although he brought the right gift, he was not
able to divide it rightly by bringing out the right portion for
God; this was a sin for Cain. Even though some scholars
(e.g. Brenton 1986) have tried to study the said passage to
see if truly it relates to tithing, it is doubtful that any biblical
narrative compiled by the J redactors which concerns Cain
and Abel’s sacrifice especially Genesis (4:1.8) is tithe related
for its obvious hermeneutical disconnect from other tithe
passages. Some scholars have discussed the Cain and Abel
saga, not as a tithe narrative, but as one related to Election
(see Doukhan 2020:2; Duyndam 2008–2009:238; Orlov
2016:9). However, the context in which the narrative
appears in the NT (Heb 11:4) is faith discourses (Kim
2016:130). The text refers to Abel’s gift as θυσία [sacrifice],
which gained acceptance because it was of an excellent
quality than Cain’s and not a tithe in the current
understanding. But then θυσία being ‘a part of all cultic
religions’ (Link & Brown 1975:III, 415) includes first fruits
ἀπαρχή – which renders ר ׂ֨ ַש ְע ַמ [tenth part or tithe] (Link &
Brown 1975:III, 416) and this leaves a wide opportunity to
translate Abel’s sacrifice as tithe.
Genesis (14:20) speaks about Abram’s (Abraham) presentation
to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God Most
High, the tenth of everything. A tithe of everything (ר֖
ׂ ֵשֲע ַמ ׃ ל ֹּֽ כ ִמ )
in the passage would include but is limited to everything that
soldiers acquire as spoils of war which Abraham took away
from them and subsequently owned.
The word translated ‘everything’ in that passage comes from
the root verb לַל ּ ָכ (kalal), which means ‘to complete or perfect’
which came to acquire the meaning of ‘all’. This Abrahamic
tithe is said to be ‘in obedience to the Arab war custom’
(Budiselić 2015:37; Kelly 2007:23). Two problems pose
themselves in the text: first, the text is ambiguous (Croteau
2005:76), thereby presenting textual unclarity as to who gave
tithe (one tenth) of everything to the other (Emerton 1971:407).
This problem is basically because of the rabbinical
interpretation of the passage which tends to suggest that
Melchizedek and not Abraham gave one tenth (Dalgaard
2013:24). Even Jerome (Lett Lxxiii, 6) agrees that either
Abraham or Melchizedek could be the recipient of the tithe
because of the ambiguity of the text. However, R. H. Smith
3.This argument is advanced by Mark A. Snoeberger (2000:73).
(1965:129–152) suggests that the one paying the tithe was
Melchizedek based on a parallel Ugaritic text, the Kirta
legend. Again, there is also a case of clear uncertainty from
the text that Abraham continued to pay tithe either to
Melchizedek or to anyone else after the said event. But to
the first problem, it is much more agreeable based on
intrinsic probability that the tithe was paid by Abraham to
Melchizedek chiefly because the passage records that
Melchizedek the priest of God (ןֵ֖הֹ כ ל ֵ֥א ְ ל ) blessed Abraham
(Harris 1975:II, 694) a sign of the superiority of the office of
Melchizedek to Abraham. This narrative is supported by
the NT Hebrews (7:1,7). Westermann (1981:203) opines that
‘the question whether the subject of –ןּ ֶתִּיַו ֥
ל – and he gave to
him – is Melchizedek or Abraham is to be answered from
the structure of the whole, which is a cultic exchange’. Here,
Smith’s earlier assertion did not put into consideration that,
in Ugarit, as well as other parts of the Ancient Near East,
tithe belonged to kings and was received by kings only
(Ajah 2006:32) and Melchizedek, not Abraham, was both the
king and priest. On this same point, Emerton (1971:407–408)
once again suggests that:
[S]ince the word translated ‘tenth’ … is almost invariably used of
a sacred payment, and since Melchizedek is said to be a priest, it
is natural to suppose that he received the tithe and that Abram
paid it.
In short, the Melchizedek–Abram passage is said to be added
to ‘reflect sedentary cult in which priest and tithes have their
proper place’ (Scullion 1992:3101). To the second challenge of
uncertainty of Abraham’s continued payment of tithe after
the Melchizedek encounter, both the sociological condition
behind the OT text and the life situation accompanying the
NT exegesis on the said text do not reflect any possibility of
continuity. However, archaeological findings suggest that the
custom of paying a tithe, or tenth part, to the priesthood, or to
the sanctuary, was very general in ancient times. Traces of it
are found in Assyria and Babylonia. It also prevailed amongst
the Greeks (see https://biblehub.com/commentaries/
pulpit/genesis/14.htm). It is therefore possible that the
practice of paying tithes, primarily a voluntary tax4 for the
servants of the sanctuary, appears to have been obtained
amongst different nations from the remotest antiquity and
was merely incorporated into the Mosaic laws at a much later
date. It is even possible that tithe was not the only heathen
practice culled from the nations and incorporated into the
Levitical institution. Many scholars argue that the Levitical
institution itself ‘was borrowed strictly from early
contemporary heathen practices’.5 Arthur (1912:13–24) and
Stewart (1903:7–13) seem to agree with Landsell that tithe
was a well-known cultural practice in the earliest of cultures
including that of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Akkadians,
Babylonians, Carthaginians, Silicians, Cretans, Phoenicians,
Chinese and going as far back as the civilisations of the
4.Quong 1 Samuel 8:10–17, Rodriguez (1994:82) menons that a non-religious royal
the (tax) was known in Israel. However, for reference to religious tax outside Israel,
see Hendriksen and Kistemaker (1995:187); and for non-religious tax outside Israel,
see Anderson (1987:78–80).
5.Snoeberger (2000:72) cites Jagersma (1981:116–128) and Tate (1973:153).
According to Snoeberger, included in this group are all those who view Israel’s
‘cultus’ as evoluonary and not revelaonal.
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antediluvian age.6 Actually, these early civilisations are
known because they are documented; however, there are
civilisations that are not formally documented, and in such
civilisations, oral tradition maintains its subsistence. For
example, in Igbo civilisation, ndi mbu na ndi egede [the
ancient people] told of the tale of the man Ojadili who
wrestled and conquered the most violent and the best
wrestling spirits. This heroic adventure of Ojadili made him
the king of kings, who was only toppled by Chukwu
[Almighty God]. Ojadili had seven priests who were
considered the wise men (sages) and who were fed by the
communal efforts of the people through one tenth of their
wealth.
Based on the opinions of Arthur, Stewart and Landsell as
cited earlier, it seems that what Abraham did was a normal
practice (to which he must have practised several times in the
past) and the writer of Genesis felt reluctant to elaborate on
this practice probably because of the assumed commonality.
This corroborates Davies’ (1987:87) assertion that, as no
elaboration is given concerning Abraham’s gift, tithing must
have been a common practice during Abraham’s day. This
may also answer the question of Abraham’s continuity of the
tithe. Abraham’s tithe of everything may be the tithe pattern
described by Lukan evangelist in Luke 18:12 because of the
appearance of the construction πάντακτῶμαι. In light of the
scope of this article, Jacob’s tithe, which is a narrative from
the E source, shall not be discussed because of its non-
reflection in the NT.
Mosaic thes and their New
Testament implicaons
The poor’s the [Ma’aser ‘Âni]
In studying the various forms of tithe found in the Yahwist
Elohist Deuteronomist Priestly (JEDP) documents (especially
P and D), this study omits tithe in Leviticus 27 because it ‘is
problematic in that it does not fit the description of either
Numbers 18 or Deuteronomy 14’ (Croteau 2005:91). In
Deuteronomy 14:28–29 CEV, we are looking at the work of
the D redactors concerning tithe, what some have come to
call the third tithe (Köstenberger & Croteau 2006:63), with
verses 22–27 containing the second. Some others, like De
Vaux (1997:141–142) and Murray (2002:76), have even tried
justifying its uniqueness by mentioning its distinct
characteristics. To those who feel it falls in the third type, the
tithe document of the P school in Numbers 18 is the first.
However, some others see what is called second and third as
one as well as the second in tithe classification, whilst the
tithe document in Numbers remains the first (https://
biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/deuteronomy/14.
htm). Of course, a closer look at the earlier two classifications
suggests that it is unnecessary, and could be the error of poor
redaction. For simplification purposes, Maaser Âni shall be
called the second tithe. From the opening text, it can be seen
6.See Snoeberger (2000:71), who according to Köstenberger et al. (2006) lists the
Roman, Greek, Carthaginian, Cretan, Sicilian, Phoenician, Chinese, Babylonian,
Akkadian and Egypan cultures as ones who had some form of thing. See also
Jagersma (1981:78–79) and Weinfeld (1971:1155).
that the D school believed that the Ma’aser ‘Âni was not for
the Levites and priests only; it was also for those who were
handicapped and incapacitated by being landless, and this
could be the reason why Croteau (2005:34) calls it ‘the charity
tithe’. But it is very important to explain that this kind of tithe
(although the Levites can partake in it through the
magnanimity of the one who pays the tithe), however, is
totally different from that which the Levites received from
the people, which is documented by the P redactors and
mainly contained in Numbers, chapter 18. Ma’aser ‘Âni is
strictly an opportunity for those who cannot fend or provide
for themselves for the major reason that they were landless to
still join in the celebration of fruitful harvest. This kind of
tithe is enjoyed every 3 years – Ant. iv, 4.3; Tobit 1:7–8 – (i.e.
the 3rd and 6th years of each 7-year cycle – Sanders 1992:5213).
With time in Israel, it seems that Ma’aser ‘Âni disappeared
from the religious scene and was replaced with organised
charity from the kuppah – charity fund (Rabinowitz
2008:online). Since its disappearance from the religious scene
in Israel took effect even before the NT era, it is hardly
possible that it was ever reflected in any Christian traditions.
Considering that it was precisely in Maaser Âni that the
moral and ritual overlap of OT tithe becomes prominent – by
its provision for charity outside the priesthood – it suggests
for a re-institution or an engrafting of this tithe system into
the Levitical tithe system which currently dominates
Christian liturgy, for the entrenching of sound ethical values
in modern tithing. When Jesus criticised the Pharisees in
Matthew 23:23, although they paid their tithe by law, but
neglected the βαρύτερα [heavier part] of the same law, it
carries the implication that the law Jesus refers to was the
tithe law of which the Pharisees unfortunately fulfilled half
of it (the ritual) and neglected the other half (ethical
obligation), which include κρίσιν [justice], ἔλεος [mercy] and
πίστιν [faithfulness] – moral attributes needed to see the well-
being of the less privileged in the community.
Tithe for the Levites
The tithe represented in Numbers 18:24–29 NLT is the so-
called first tithe that Yahweh discussed. This tithe as
contained in the above-mentioned passage is given to the
Levites ‘as an inheritance’ (הָ֑ל ֲח ַ נ ְל ) but received from the
hands of the children of Israel. The Levites inherited the
tithe primarily because of the service they rendered to the
children of Israel which is ‘to do the service of the tabernacle
of the congregation and to bear their (the Israelite’s)
iniquity’ (Nm 18:23), and mainly because they were not
meant to hold ‘personal’ landed property. The Israelites
were given the land of Canaan by Yahweh but the Levites
were not to inherit any direct property, and therefore their
heritage from Yahweh was ‘all’ (ל ּ ָכ) of the tithe of the
children of Israel. The study should do well at this juncture
to explain that certain translations like English Standard
Version (ESV) and Christian Standard Bible (CSB) which
replaced ‘all’ with ‘every’ in that P document (Nm 18:21)
could plunge the entire narrative into a mistranslation
because ‘every’ would broaden the tithe scope in this
passage to include even the two other kinds of tithe
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contained in the D document. Another peculiarity of this
tithe was that, out of it, the Levites would pay the priests
(the sons of Aaron) a tithe, the best of what they got from
the whole house of Israel. The beauty here is that this is the
only tithe commanded by Yahweh to be exclusively used by
those who do the temple service. Indeed, this kind of tithe
follows the style of what obtains in almost all brands of
Christianity today.
Malachi 3:6–10 discourses on the
The book of Malachi is grouped under the very broad
‘prophecy’ genre (Everett 2018:9). However, a close study
would indicate that it is precisely kerygmatic apocalypsis. It
seems to follow D document in its legal interpretations
instead of P (Hill 1992:5528). Its composition was circa 430
BC7 by the prophet Malachi (Everett 2018:7).8 It is the
‘concluding book’ (Martin 2014:2) of the minor books of the
prophets contained in the Hebrew Bible. The theology of
Malachi is primarily care for Yahweh’s sanctuary (Fischer
2012:133–138). On the fifth oracle which deals with tithe and
offerings, Malachi justly reminds the people of their flagrant
disobedience to God’s instruction, which they seem not to
be aware of. They took (robbed) God’s tithe and offerings
by not giving in full. The context of the passage suggests
that the tithe that Malachi accused the people of robbing
God was the one contained in Numbers 18:21–29, which
was called the ‘tithe for the Levites’. Whilst the ‘offering’ in
that text could be the heave offering, the breast and shoulder
of the peace offering were the priests’ portions. It will be
recalled that during the return from exile, Nehemiah (10:32–
39) took the attention of the people to the temple, its
worship, including the maintenance of the priests and the
Levites who served along with them through tithe and
various offerings (see Willmington 2018:5). Here Nehemiah
(10:38) instructs them on how the Levites will collect the
tithe (which is theirs by right) and forward the tithe of tithes
(which belonged to the priests) to the treasure house or
store house. With the application of Structuralist Critical
method to Malachi, there is a new awareness that the
priestly cult in Jerusalem and the storehouse phenomenon
went hand in hand and were inseparable from the second
temple period. Whilst in its application we see the priestly
cult existing in vague form in the contemporary Christian
clerical calling, the storehouse also must exist in the form of
church treasury, from where the current Levites (church
workers) and priests (pastors) must feed. Because ‘one of
the fundamental structuralist principles used to interpret
all empirical forms of social behaviour and their deep
structures is the principle of binary opposition’ (Hayes &
Holladay 1934:115), there is therefore a strong assertion that
the priestly cult of selflessness and the Levitical calling of
landlessness pairs in opposition to a storehouse of wealth,
riches and gaiety.
7.Some scholars propose dierent dates for its composion. For example, Longman III
and Dillard (2006:498) propose 475–450 BC; Spoer (1908:167) dates it to the period
of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Persian period.
8.Marn (2014:5) argues that ‘Malachi, according to the Jews, is a tle, not a man’s
name’. Malachi means ‘my messenger’. It was applied to John the Bapst later as
the ‘messenger of God’. Anyone who is a ‘messenger of God’ can be called a
malachi. It is like an angel is a ‘malacha’ or a king in Hebrew is a melek.
Acve and passive discourse on the in the New
Testament
Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, 18:9–12 are the only passages
in the gospels that spoke about tithe. Additionally, in the rest
of the NT, Hebrews 7:1–10 speaks about it too. In all these
passages, Jesus made implied statements, none had the
discourse on tithe as the primary subject and because of this
Sensus plenior must be employed. In the Q text (Lk 11:42//Mt
23:23), Jesus’ statement was to the Scribes and Pharisees
whom he pronounced ‘woes’ upon. On the first woe, he
accused them of being so superstitious as to observe the
minutest of the law by extension, tithing. They gave tithe of
the smallest plants in Israel which included mint, anise and
cumin. It should be recalled that mint, anise and cumin were
garden seeds of small nature with aromatic flavour. They
were ‘marketable commodities, used as condiments or for
medicinal purposes’ (https://biblehub.com/commentaries/
egt/matthew/23.htm). There is no data to argue that Jesus
attacked the Pharisees for tithing irrelevant things (it is likely
that the rabbinic laws accommodated even herbs – Jacobs
n.d.). Again, it has also been argued that Jesus’ attack against
the Pharisees in the text does not suggest that he opposed
tithe (Davies 1987:88–89). Jesus’ anger on the Pharisees was
their extreme scrupulousness which led to self-righteousness
(see Rodriguez 1994:46). The passage itself gives some
insights into Jesus’ position about tithe: (1) Jesus considered
the kind of tithe obtainable in his time as a continuity of OT
laws. This position hardly suggests that Jesus saw tithe as
part of the fulfilled and abrogated laws, it rather suggests
that it was one of those legal practices that should not take
precedence in the religious life of an average Jew. In fact, the
great zeal to pay tithe by those Jews was an outward zeal of
an inward rotten religious life (Dosker 1915:458). The ‘Jew’ is
mentioned here because the original audience in that
narrative were Jews and not Messianists. One is here enabled
to understand that Jesus’ point was that religious observances
like tithing were good (Budiselić 2014:34) – the last part of the
verse indicates that Jesus approved tithe – (Köstenberger:19;
Wilson 1967:357), but fulfilling the law of righteousness
which would include the conversion of the legalistic
observance to practical moral display was better and in fact
takes precedence. (2) Because the very words of Jesus on this
subject are contained in a Christian text, the application
extends to Christians by implication owing to the fact that the
evangelists wrote those words primarily for their various
gospel communities. Here, it can be argued that Jesus gave a
reason as to why payment of tithe should not be dismissed as
a Jewish ritual, rather one that equally affects Christians
(because Jesus neither frowned at the practice nor condemned
it). Hence, ‘Jesus does not prohibit tithing; he condemns the
wrong attitude and motive of those who were tithing’ (Croteau
2005:125), which was to exclude the moral obligation of
tithing from the practice itself.
Luke’s account of a two-point parable (18:9–12) (see Blomberg
1990:257–258) just like the previous Q text is itself not a
teaching on tithe by Jesus, rather it is a teaching on humility
which is more pleasing to God than a haughty and perfunctory
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performance of religious duties. However, tithing is inferred.
The haughtiness of the Pharisee who prided himself in his
righteousness turns to an abomination before God not
because he reminded God of his righteous deeds but because
he took ostentation as a duty (Culpepper 1983:340). He
reminded God of his twice a week (Mondays and
Thursdays) fasting, a practice without in fact divine sanction
in ancient Israel (https://biblehub.com/commentaries/
pulpit/luke/18.htm). At the same time, his empty
ceremonialism widened to include his tithe of thoroughness
which infuriated Jesus. On the part of the τελώνης [tax
collector], his job alone is offensive to the Jew who sees him
as being in league with Rome to put the Jews to forced labour
and taxation. Consequently, a tax collector was one of the
basest of men with no moral rectitude who cannot even bring
his tithe to the temple. It appears that the Jews in Jesus’ time
saw whoever that enforces Rome’s servitude as defiled (see
Dt 23:18) and so should not be allowed, and neither their
gifts, into the temple. The tithe implication from the text then
is that whilst Jesus did not teach tithing, he at the same time
did not condemn it. Wilson (1992:578–580) is of the opinion
that tithes receive very little attention in the NT, whilst
Coetzee (1992:26–27) argues that ‘we read nowhere that Jesus
and his disciples cancelled the bringing of the tithe’.
Hebrews (7:1–10) gives an occasion to discuss tithing outside
the gospels. This discourse which has no parallel in any
biblical literature introduces a mysterious figure. According
to the author, Jesus was in fashion a High Priest κατὰ τὴν τάξιν
Μελχισεδὲκ ἀρχιερεὺς γενόμενος εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα [according to the
order of Melchizedek right through the age or forever]. Meyer
(https://biblehub.com/commentaries/meyer/hebrews/7.
htm) explains that by delineation of the character of
Melchizedek Hebrews 7:1–3 forms a single proposition, in
which μένει, [he remains] is the tempus finitum. Who was
Melchizedek? Apart from the knowledge that his name
means the king of righteousness, no doubt it can also
mean ‘my king is Zedek’ (Van der Toorn et al. 1996:560)
(a meaning that the church may have hidden especially since
the name ‘Melchizedek’ has ‘entered the canon of the
Roman mass’) (see https://www.britannica.com/biography/
Melchizedek). The scripture said he was the king of
Salem, which means ‘peace’, and had no record of a father
or mother (Finkbeiner 2017:108). Does this suggest that he
was a theophany?9 The Melchizedek’s tithe narrative, just
like Jacob’s tithe narrative, could be unhistorical (Wilson
1992:8962) but if we assume that it is historical, then he had a
real personage. As a real figure, Melchizedek must be the
contemporary of Abraham, which disassociates him from
Shem10. It seems that the two perfect indicative verbs in
Hebrews 7:6, δεδεκάτωκεν [he has collected a tenth] and
9.Some interpreters have thought that Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18–20 is a pre-
incarnate appearance of Christ, mostly on the basis of what Hebrews 7:1–3 says. But
Hebrews 7:1–3 is beer interpreted as teaching that Melchizedek is a type of Christ.
He is both the king and the priest; the lack of menon of genealogy shows that his
priesthood does not depend on tribal descent; the lack of menon of his beginning
or end indicates a similarity to the coming greater priesthood of Christ (Poythress
2018:257).
10. A long-standing rabbinic tradion diered from the Chrisan innovaon and
idened Melchizedek with biblical character of Shem, the son of Noah (Kuehn
2010:510–571).
εὐλόγηκεν [he has blessed] – form the centre of the Melchizedek
discourse in the passage (Heath 2011:192), yet there is no
implication that the writer of Hebrews presents tithing as an
NT practice or an OT norm which must be maintained in the
new era.
Moral obligaon in the ritual ‘the’
within the New Testament church
The trace of tithing through the pre-Mosaic to the NT text in
this study is to prove that there are no textual or historical
evidence of NT tithing either as an instruction or as a practice
throughout the 1st century Christianity. In fact, it has been
argued that the practice of tithing started as a child of necessity
by the Early Church Fathers, after the cost of maintaining
the church became unbearable (Nwokoro 2007:30). However,
tithe was not forbidden or criticised by Jesus. Moreover,
history has established that there are many traditions in
Christianity which, although not explicitly found in the Bible,
enjoys a pride of place in church teachings; tithe should enjoy
more than a pride of place for being a part of Christian
tradition for over 1000 years11 and also for being implied by
Jesus himself; not forgetting that it has solved obvious
ecclesiological and missiological problems over the years.
The Pentecostal churches in Africa are prospering because of
people’s faithfulness in payment of tithe; Christian missions
are doing well on the international scene courtesy of tithe
(Ehioghae 2012:144). But the practice has received much
criticism from practising Christians who call it ‘extortion’.
Some have argued that with regard to the brand of tithe
taught in Malachi 3:8–12, it is limited to farmers only who
have land to the exclusion of others (Ademiluka 2020:301).
Whilst the context of the Malachi passage gives room to
assume that the material required for tithing was agrarian
products (plants and animals), it should be borne in mind
that revelation is progressive and the essence of hermeneutics
is the application of interpretation gotten from ancient texts
and cultural practices to the contemporary times. One does
not expect Joshua to fight all the wars to establish the 12
tribes on the Promised Land with modern war machines and
ammunitions, neither does one expect Paul to travel on his
missionary journeys in modern fast cars and marine vessels.
In the same vein, the culture upon which the instruction to
tithe was given was an agrarian culture and the major
products for commerce and industry were also agrarian.
There are two moral obligations for which every faithful
should pay tithe; one is that ‘there may be meat in mine
house’. Such provision takes care of the daily sacrifices in the
temple and the personal needs of the priests and Levites who
serve in the temple. This does not include wastages and
extravagance from the priests and Levites. Such provision
from tithe was to satisfy their immediate needs. Jesus taught
clearly on the disapproval of the Father to wastages and
extravagance (Mk 6:43) and it is an abuse of office for pastors
to flagrantly display wealth gotten from tithes and offerings
as some are seen to do (see Kitause & Achunike 2013:7). The
11. Cross (1957:1626) argues that the payment of the has enjoyed a pride of place in
Chrisan tradion since the 4th century.
Page 6 of 7 Original Research
hps://theologiaviatorum.org Open Access
fact that an advocacy has been made that priests and Levites
were given tithe in OT because they had no land and the
present clergy are not denied access to own landed property,
and so should not collect tithe, is a one-sided argument because
it does not consider that tithe in the OT was compulsory in
order to adequately carter for the needs of the entire landless
priesthood. In a dispensation where tithe is not compulsory
and the government does not give out land for free to the
clergy to farm on, tithe is definitely required as a rational
measure. However, if tithe should be collected by the church,
the church should consider humanitarian services to the poor
through tithe; as argued earlier on, this is the second ethical
angle that must become prominent. The call to consider the
poor as a moral obligation from tithe is mainly fuelled by two
factors: the economic downturn amongst Christian faithful
especially in Africa and the unfortunate extravagant lifestyle
of church clergy. Furthermore, to successfully continue the
tradition of tithing in the present church would naturally
require that the church ceases to place curses upon whosoever
did not pay. Such threats, if it ever existed in the Bible, were
within the reins of the OT when it was compulsory and
mandatory under law to pay tithe. The present author once
saw a video clip of a Nigerian pastor who declared that
‘anyone who did not pay tithe will go to hell fire, period’. Such
lies and threats arise from ignorance. Whilst such pastors
command large followership, sadly they have little or no
theological knowledge.
Conclusion
There are no tithe passages in the NT; however, the Bible
with no exception to the NT does not frown at the payment
of tithe. Rightly said, tithe was a lawfully obligatory
responsibility of every Israelite in the OT; it carried no such
import in the NT, but Jesus’ implied statement about tithe
itself including its practice as a church tradition gives it a
pride of place in Christian practice. However, the moral
obligation of tithing has long been partially implemented by
using the proceeds to take care of the church without care for
the poor and the less privileged. This article argues that all
moral obligations accruable to the practice of tithing should
be upheld without discrimination.
Acknowledgements
Compeng interests
The author declares that they have no financial or personal
relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them
in writing this article.
Author’s contribuon
P.E.P. is the sole author of this research article.
Ethical consideraons
This article followed all ethical standards for research without
direct contact with human or animal subjects.
Funding informaon
This research received no specific grant from any funding
agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Data availability
The author confirms that the data supporting the findings of
this study are available within the article.
Disclaimer
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of
the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or
position of any affiliated agency of the author.
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