Best before 30AD?

I've not forgotten, that in response to Trevor's post on tithing, I promised to write on the subject. One reader has already reminded me of this in an offline comment! Apologies, this week has been busy, and I wanted to do the subject justice.

I want to start, not with tithing per-say, but with how we apply the Old Testament. Trevor rightly identified that this was at the heart of the issue. We need to understand that while we are not under law but under grace, the reason that is so, is not because the law was part of the Old Covenant which has passed away, and we are now under the New Covenant. People, this is dispensationalism, pure and simple!! The reason is that Christ, the perfect lamb has been slain and so has fulfilled in his body all the requirements of the law in such a way that it leaves nothing to be added.

Do we see God's redemptive plan in two acts, with Jesus coming out in the intermission like the guy who sells the ice-cream, or do we see one eternal plan, centered, focussed and pivoted on Christ as the Lamb in the center of the throne, slain from before the foundation of the world?!

I am disappointed how frequently I come across the attitude amongst brothers, who treat the Old Testament as if it was yesterday's milk. You have to sniff it first to see if it is still OK. As if God's word has a best before date! Or as if the God who wrote the Old Testament was somehow less infallible than the God of the New!

It is because all God's word is eternal that Christ had to come. If the law was only for a dispensation of time, then surely Jesus' anguished prayers in Gethsemane would have been answered. There would have been another way — "Just wait for the dispensation to end, Son. I'm not that bothered about this law stuff really, just thought it would fill some time."

Brothers, I may be being controversial, but I'm unhappy with the "Tithing precedes the law" explanation for why it is still applicable. As if what God said to Abraham is more valid than what he said to Moses. The issue is not when it was said, but who said it! Either it is the eternal word of God or it is not. If it is the word of God then it is applicable for all time, and we are only "free" from it if Christ has fulfilled it for us, once for all, on our behalf. The first commandment was given to Moses, and it is still very much in effect; circumcision was given to Abraham, before the law, and it is not. Let us be very careful that we do not dismiss God's eternal word, just because of when it was spoken, or who it was spoken to. This does not just apply to tithing, but to all the promises and commands in the Old Testament.

As I said on Trevor's comments section, I'll say again: If tithing is a principle in God's word for any time, then it is a principle for all time! Did Christ fulfill the requirement of tithing on the cross? Is it revealed in the New Testament to be just a physical foreshadow of a spiritual reality now revealed though our union with Christ? No? Then it is still very much in effect! The fact that God has said it, is in itself, all we need.

Best before 30AD? You have to be kidding! Heaven and earth have an earlier expiry date!

...this is just round 1...


Anna Sacha said...

Amen to that!! i should say that was quite an eye opener especially in terms of sometimes how we unknowingly fall into the trap of looking at the Old Testament as the Old Covenant and the New Testament as the New one.
waiting for round 2 now...

Matthew said...

Chris - I don't think the appeal to Abraham and tithing (and for that matter Abel, for that is where the principle starts, I believe) is to negate the tithing commanded in the law, or more important than it.

The Law codified spiritual living for a nation; certainly Christ's sacrfice did not do away with tithing, but liberated us from tithing as a legal activity and allows us to undertake it as a faith activity.

Whilst I am sure many under the law in OT times tithed by faith also, I think this should be the reason we look to Abraham.

Also, for me, the principle of "a tenth of everything he had" is a liberation from the legalistic attitudes that can arise in this area.

Chris HH said...

Absolutely, Matthew.
The law is now written on our hearts rather than on tablets of stone.

Just to clarify, I don't have a problem in the slightest with the appeal to Abraham. In fact I think this is right. My problem is with the appeal to "precedes the Law," as if, if it did not, then it would be automatically invalidated. Before law - good, in law - bad, is what I don't buy.

The eternal authority of the word of God itself is unaltered by whether was before, in, or after the law.

Ricky Carvel said...

Hi Chris,

I'm still reading your blog although I haven't posted much of late...

Anyway, you said:
"The eternal authority of the word of God itself is unaltered by whether was before, in, or after the law."

which I agree with.

But the problem is that there are a great many things in the bible, established before, in and after the law, that we (i.e. Christians today) do not do. Virtually all of Leviticus is ignored by most Christians I know, usually because "that doesn't apply to us today" or (as you say) "that was the old covenant, we're in the new..."

I'm afraid that there is even a bit in the bible (Acts 15) where the leaders of the church (the 'Council of Jerusalem') pretty much tell the gentile believers that they can ignore all the law except for four specified things, none of which was tithing. (And I've commented previously on my blog that most Christians today ignore three of those four specified things, but that's another matter.)

While I am in no way anti-tithing (as my monthy direct debits would demonstrate) I wouldn't feel very comfortable trying to use the various bible passages on tithing to convince someone that giving 10% of their income is a requirement for Christians today.

Chris HH said...

Hi Ricky, glad you're still with me.
So far I have only referred to tithing indirectly. My main point in this post is to emphasise the authority of all God's word.

The point being is that I don't believe there are any passages of the Bible that "don't apply". It is all applicable, the only question is how. Leviticus contains wonderful truths about the awesome holiness of God, the nature of priesthood, and the necessity of the atonement. As the book of Hebrews shows, it is full of powerful typology of Christ's work.

We no longer apply it in the natural, but it still speaks to us strongly in the spiritual realm - which is what it was always intended to do. For the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins, they only point towards the realities in Christ.

And there's the rub - it's all about Jesus. Whether something is still applied "as is" or has now assumed its true spiritual nature, depends on how it relates to Christ and his work. Not on where in the redemptive story it was revealed.

The question we must therefore ask about tithing is not "does it apply?", but "how does it apply?" Does it reflect a spiritual new covenant reality, or is it an eternal principle for us to obey with an eternal promise for us to lay hold of...

perfilip (norway) said...

I love your writings on the Old Testament and the law. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful..." as Paul puts it (2.Timothy3:16).

The question is very much this (the way I see it anyway) - Do you want the blessings of the tithe?

Here is the promises of blessings:
"...and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:10-12)

"For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God." (2.Corinthians1:20)

All these promises are available to us through Christ. How great is that!?

Elwyn Jones said...

Surely Chris our brother in Norway and may God bless him needs to be told that the Malachi's prophecy has absolutely nothing to do with tithing money to the church.
Does God suggest somewhere in this prophecy that there isn't enough "money" in His house?. Is our Lord Jesus coming back to this earth to judge these "priests" because the "people" failed to bring enough money to the storehouse so that there would be enough money in God's house? This prophecy is about both the people and the priests who have corrupted themselves. But always God holds the priests/leaders to a much higher standard because that was the warning.We must all rightly divide the word of God because we can not use this prophecy in Malachi as a proof text for christian tithing

perfilip (norway) said...

Thank you Elwyn for wanting to bless me with your thoughts :-)
I see your point! But, when I read this promise from Malachi my first thought is this: Do I want this kind of blessing? My answer is "yes! I want it.." At the same time I can't see how I can separate the promise from the condition of the promise. When God tells the people this has to do with their tithing and offerings, I can’t see why this shouldn’t apply to us… Does God NOT want to bless us in this way? Or is the way we treat our resources LESS important to him today? It all has to do with faith: If a person receives faith (even through this passage) to bring to the Lord his/her tithing, then the Lord will surely bless. This is by the way the ONLY place in the whole of the Bible God tells his people to test him in this way. He has never let me down, living by this principle, and he won’t with anyone else either.

Chris HH said...

I completely agree with perfilip's application of the Malachi prophecy, and I completely disagree with Elwyn's application of 2Ti 2:15.

Too many people are wrongly dividing God's word, based on an false exegesis of this verse, and a false understanding of God's word. Skip on one chapter and one verse to 2Ti 3:16, for an unambiguous clear exhortation on how to apply God's word.

Elwyn Jones said...

I sincerely hope I haven't offended my Christian brethen. You insinuate that i have wrongly divided God's word based on my alleged false understanding of God's Holy Word, even implying that I should be ashamed of my self. WOW! brothers you certaintly go for the jugular just because I've disagreed with your exegesis.
I only passed a comment on a christian blog based on my understanding. I feel quite battered. So we disagree ,Hey! what's new! But perhaps you could give a correct exegesis of the Malachi prophecy. Who was robbing God? But in the my kindest regards to you.

Chris HH said...

Elwyn, I'm not in the least bit offended. I appreciate all comments, whether they agree or not.

If I go for the jugular, it is because of my distaste for dispensationalism as a theology, and not as a personal attack on any brother. When iron sharpens iron, sometimes sparks fly.

I'll accept your challenge on Malachi, but I'll save it for another post.


Trevor Lloyd said...

Hi Chris,

This is a rather belated comment, in response to your original posting and to other comments. I think it is very important that you recognise that it is in no way questioning the eternal appilcability of the Word of God to acknowledge that we are living in days of a new and better covenant (see Hebrews 8:6-13). There is a danger that in your over-reaction to dispensationalism you throw out the baby with the bath-water. I am certainly no dispensationalist, but I do recognise that there is a progressive, unfolding nature to God's revelation and there is something that theologians call salvation-history. Those of us who believe that the Mosaic Law was to serve the purpose of condemning us in order to demonstrate our need of Christ, and is no longer directly applicable to govern personal or social ethics (except in so far as it may indicate and illustrate general Scriptural principles) as it has been surpassed by a Kingdom righteousness, are wholly committed to the eternal Word.

Chris HH said...

You are absolutely right Trevor, and I take that on board. Thank you.

I was trying to make a subtle distinction which was ill-served by the force of my language.

I in no way refute that we have a new and better covenant, nor that the main purpose of the Law is to lead us to Christ, rather than to dictate social-political affairs. I see these as two separate issues, and apologise if I have muddied the waters.

The point I was trying to convey is that all of God's word is eternal, and this new covenant that we are in, is different but not disconnected from the old covenants that precede it. All the promises of God are still 'yes' and 'amen' in Christ.

It is not just dispensationalism that I am passionately against, but any theology that elevates itself over the eternal authority of God's word and has the arrogance to strike out even the smallest stroke of God's word with "Not applicable" or "Out of date".

The book of Hebrews which is most frequently quoted to say that the law is obsolete, is also the same book which so wonderfully illustrates how applicable the law still is to us. Not in terms of legal requirements - which have been annulled by Christ's work. Not in terms of social government. But in revealing the wonders of Christ and his work of atonement on our behalf.

I think we see the same thing, Trevor, but are addressing different concerns. You are confronting the dangers of applying the law in the wrong way (Reconstructionism), whereas what I was confronting is the danger of not applying it at all (Dispensationalism).

Trevor Lloyd said...

Thank you, Chris. That helps.

Chris HH said...

To bring it back to the issue of tithing; I'll try and strip out the emotive language and put the case one more time:

Tithing is mentioned before the law, in the law, and after the law. If anyone wants to make the case that the passages on tithing that are in the law have been annulled, it must be done on the basis that is laid out in the New Testament - which is the fulfilment of the requirements found in the work of Christ.

It is not as clear-cut as everything pre-law transfers directly into the New Covenant, and anything in the law does not. The notion that all the commands of God given during the period of the Mosaic Law are a package deal that was just for a specific period of time is dispensational baggage that we need to shed.

We can appeal to the instances of tithing that occur before the law, but the case for tithing does not stand or fall on this basis.

Elwyn Jones said...

Chris, Thank you for your kind reply. I enjoy reading your blogs.
They are not wishy-washy. I have been accused by some of being like a stodgy old man who bats a critical eye at any christian pastor or ministry that doesn't agree with me, which is rubbish!
I try so hard to comment from the standpoint of love and as a fellow brother in the Lord. That's why you reply was so refreshing, I had a glimpse of your heart.I stuggle sometimes to figure out how to balance "earnestly contend for the faith" with showing forth the quality of love{1 cor 13 4-7 } but sadly i see so many running after men who offer them miracles,healings and deliverance but very little on the truth of the Word of God. You however offer opportunities to discuss the wonderful truth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, like your friend mr Lloyd.I must respect that.
until next time my very best to you and yours.