Sunday, April 02, 2017

Seminary PL39: Giving in the Bible

This is the eighth post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-ninth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post looked at church budgeting. This post is about giving in the Bible.
1. The idea of giving of your flock or crop to God stretches back in time well beyond the time of Israel. In Genesis 14, when Abraham is returning from a successful battle in which he has taken spoils, he gives a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, the priest of "El-Elyon." At that time, God was not yet known by his name YHWH and so those who worshiped him simply knew him as "the highest God," in Hebrew "El-Elyon." [1]

This practice of giving a tenth not only signified one's thankfulness to God but also provided food to the priests of God as well. Leviticus 27:30-32 indicates that the Israelites were to give a tenth of their crops and a tenth of their flocks and herds to the LORD. Apparently if you wanted to keep the food, you could give shekels (money) worth 120% the value (Lev. 27:31).

It is currently popular to suggest that when you splice together all the passages in the Law on the tithe, you end up with something like 23.3% worth of tithe. [2] This is in fact how some later Jews interpreted these passages. For Josephus, writing in the late first century AD, a first tithe was for the Levites (Num. 18:21-26). A second tithe was to be eaten at the festivals (Deut. 14:22-27). Then a third tithe was for the poor of your village, every third year (Deut. 14:28-29). [3]

However, most experts on the original meaning of the Pentateuch believe that differing versions of the same traditions appear in different books of the Law. For example, we have the 10 Commandments not only in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6, but also scattered in passages like Leviticus 19.

So when we look at Leviticus 27:30-32, Numbers 18:21-26, and Deuteronomy 14, we probably should not think of different tithes but different traditions about the same basic concept. Some standardization of the tithe no doubt took place after the exile.

2.  In late 1800s America, tithing became the model for churches to support themselves. It was not the case previously. For example, Methodists funded their churches largely by charging for the pew in which you sat. The "Free" Methodist Church was in fact founded in 1860 in part as a church where you could sit anywhere for free.

But around the turn of the century, the model of "storehouse tithing" became popular, based on Malachi 3:10: "Bring the whole tithe into the house of storage." Malachi, written perhaps in the late 400s BC, criticized Israel both for not bringing all their agricultural tithe to the LORD and for bringing defective sacrifices to his altar (1:8).

This model was used at the end of the 1800s to argue that the church should be supported by giving a tenth of a person's income to the church. There was some opposition to this movement at the time, especially by those who felt that a tenth wasn't enough. Because many groups believed that the Lord was going to return any day, some argued that Christians needed to surrender everything to the Lord, not just a tenth.

3. Jesus does assume the tithe in relation to his Jewish audience (Matt. 23:23), and we can wonder if Matthew's Jewish Christian audience in Palestine tithed. Presumably this would have been an agricultural and herd/flock tithe for agricultural families rather than a money tithe. The giving of most Jews outside of Jerusalem was the "half-shekel" tax they sent yearly to Jerusalem, not a very large amount of money.

However, the New Testament never applies the tithe in relation to Gentile converts. The New Testament does teach that Christians need to give to support its ministers and to help others from their surplus. It even honors those who give all that they have to the community of faith. But it does not instruct a specific amount, placing the specifics of Christian giving into the category of personal conviction or of membership in specific church groups.

4. What are the New Testament principles in relation to giving. First, we have already looked at 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, where Paul suggests that churches are obligated to support materially those who minister to them. The Pauline model of giving seems to be that a church should share whatever abundance of blessing God gives it.

2 Corinthians 8-9 suggests a model where God at times blesses one segment of the church and at other times blesses another. When one group is blessed, they should give of their excess to those in need. Then when the situation is reversed, the giving will reversed. We are talking more than ten percent here. The model is that all of your excess is available for those in need, especially those in the church.

We should keep in mind how different the economics were in New Testament times. Most people barely had enough to live--they were on a "subsistence" living. Excess was thus anything above what you needed to eat. I know I could easily eat individually for $300 a month. My excess is way more than 10%. The bulk of my income is excess, although most of us get ourselves entangled in mortgage payments, student loans, and much much more.

The earliest church of Acts 2 shared their possessions in common. Groups that are planning for Jesus to come back any day often go completely communal. Some of those that did so in the late 1800s and early 1900s ended up without anything for their people to live on. There is nothing unbiblical about using a core of resources to generate a continuing stream of blessing for others.

Nevertheless, Acts holds up as a model the idea of sharing any excess we might have with those in need. Paul tells of how Peter and James wanted him to remember the poor (Gal. 2:10). Galatians 6:10 implies that this spreading of good is not limited to the people of God.

5. In the end, nothing we have is ours. It all belongs to the Lord. We are but stewards of it. So do we love the Lord with all our income? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves with all our income?

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 40: Capital Campaigns

[1] Jacob also promises to give Yahweh a tenth of all God gives him at Bethel. The name of YHWH may be an after-the-fact reference to God's name, since Exodus 6:3 suggests that Jacob only knew God as "El-Shaddai," "God Almighty," and that the name YHWH was only revealed at the time of Moses.

[2] E.g.,

[3] Josephus, Antiquities, 4.67, 226, 240; cf also Tobit 1:6-8.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

No comments: