A CLOSER LOOK AT TITHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
Was Tithing Written for Our Learning?
Let’s take a look at Romans 15:4.
"For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." (Romans 15:4)
Some advocates of tithing cite Paul's statement in Romans 15:4 to justify tithing under the new covenant. Since the old covenant embraced tithing, then the act of tithing should be practiced by believers today. Was that the context of Paul's statement in Romans 15:4? The answer is "No!" As we continue to see, tithing teachers routinely quote scriptures that fit their agenda while completely neglecting their usage and context.
In order to interpret Romans 15:4 in proper context, we must first read Romans 14. In chapter 14 Paul spoke about the requirement for patience between strong believers and weak believers regarding "doubtful things". Those who were weak believed they were refrained from eating meat, drinking wine, and regarding some days as being more important than others. Conversely, those who were strong believed they could eat anything as nothing was considered unclean. They could drink wine, and believed all days were equally important. Paul yearned for both strong believers and weak believers to uphold mutual acceptance for one another. He advised weak believers to desist from judging a stronger believer because he didn’t abstain from eating specific foods, or from drinking wine, or maintain certain days. Similarly, Paul does not desire stronger believers to destroy the faith of a weaker believer by permitting the use of his liberties to become as a stumbling block, or hindrance, to the faith of those who Jesus has saved.
Paul continues in Romans 15:1-2, saying, "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification." In verse three, he demonstrates the core of his point by alluding to the pattern of Christ saying, "For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me." Verse four says, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Here, Paul was persuading his audience not to disregard the things that were written in the Old Testament because it taught the strong to learn patience in coping with their weak brothers … assuring them that they would be comforted in abstaining from their liberties for the benefit of others.
For example, when Abram and Lot divided the land between them (Gen. 13), Abram, who was the elder one, should have had the first pick. However, sacrificing his right, he surrendered that choice to Lot. Thus, Lot chose first … picking the verdant and most beautiful plains of Jordan.
There are more stories in the Old Testament where the stronger sacrificed their right for the benefit of the weaker. If we read these stories we will become more skilled at being patient in dealing with our weaker brothers and sisters.
Now, there is an immense supply of insight to be obtained from the Old Testament. But, in keeping with the theme of our discussion, the point is this: While we can appreciate and afford instruction where they are needed for assistance, this does not mean that believers today are bound by the ceremonial and judicial laws of the old covenant. Let’s consider a few passages from the Old Testament.
"One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD." (Deut. 23:2)
"For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him." (Lev. 20:9)
"They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh." (Lev. 21:5)
"If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear." (Deut. 21:18-21)
Yes, the Old Testament is for our learning; but do we adhere to the laws stated here? Clearly we do not! Thus, why is tithing exclusionary? Under the old covenant Mosaic Law, the nation of Israel was required to obey the entire Law, not just the ones that they consented with or were to their personal benefit (Deut. 6:25).
Now, let's consider Acts 15:24-29. It states:
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law … to whom we gave no such commandment --- it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. (Acts 15:24-29)
During the meeting at the Jerusalem Council, take note that there is no reference of a tithing requisite from the Old Testament law as is contrarily taught by tithing proponents. In this passage there were Jews who taught that Gentile believers had to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law, which undoubtedly embraced tithing. But, Paul disputed in opposition to them (verse 24).
This is further demonstrated by the fact that there are no scriptures in the entire New Testament to suggest that the early Apostolic Church ever taught tithing as a means of financing the church. Giving was always voluntary. Historical research supports this fact as well.
"It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes, or the tenth 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."
(Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the NT: The Apostolic Church, vol. 4, Page 594)
"It (tithing) was not practiced in the early Christian church, but gradually became common by the 6th century." (Encyclopedia Americana, Pages 6, 259)
Let's now move to the next segment of our study.
Are Pastors Worthy of Double Pay?
My encounters with several pastors regarding their tithing doctrine have yielded mixed responses. I have discovered that if some practitioners of today’s tithing system cannot produce a constructive theological rebuttal that proves tithing is a new covenant law or guideline, they will then argue that leaders in the church are worthy of double pay. Their argument is based on the following passage:
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
(1 Tim. 5:17-18)
Many leaders in the church have suggested that "double honor" means double pay for those who preach and teach the gospel. I disagree with their interpretation for the following reasons:
1. The word "honor" in this passage is from the Greek word "time". Its primary definition means "respect". A secondary definition of "time" means "the price of an item or person". A lateral passage to 1 Tim. 5:17 -18 in the context of "honor" meaning "respect" can be found at 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13:
"And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves." (1 Thess. 5:12-13)
2. The Greek word for pay is "misthos"; and it is not used in 1 Timothy 5:17-18.
3. Why would 1 Timothy 5:17-18 suggest double pay when the Bible accentuates equality and affordable giving (2 Cor. 8:11 -13, Phil. 4:10)?
4. While the Bible also stresses sacrificial giving (2 Cor. 8: 2-4), it is never in the context of "double pay" for pastors.
5. The "double pay" misinterpretation is diametrically opposed to 1 Timothy 6:5-10.
It is also often pointed out that "elders" in 1 Timothy 5:17 is pertaining to all pastors. But that conjecture is inaccurate as well. The word "elders" is specifically referring to older spiritually mature church leaders who labored arduously teaching the gospel.
"In ancient times authority was given to older people with wider experience. These were often considered the most qualified to hold places of leadership. The basic meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words for elder is 'old age.'"
(Illustrated Dictionary of The Bible, [Herbert Lockyer, Sr.], "Elder", Page 330)
Due to their age, experience, and diligent efforts, they are worthy of "double honor" (double respect and acknowledgment). Because elders are typically past the age of effective manual labor for self-support, proper recognition and distinct financial remuneration should be paid to older men who work diligently teaching the Word of God. This does not mean, however, that elders are required to be compensated double pay. As noted in the five points above, to accept such misinterpretation would create inconsistencies within the scriptures.