08.03.03 Mt. 6:2-4
THE PRINCIPLE OF GIVING ALMS
2 So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
08.03.03.Q1 Why isn’t there a strong teaching on tithing in the New Testament?
The doctrine of tithing has been challenged by some throughout church history and defended by others, just as it is today. Those who claim it is not necessary do so, in part, citing lack of a direct command by Jesus or the apostles to continue it. So why doesn’t support exist in the New Testament?
At this time tithing was a well-established religious and cultural tradition that did not need to be explained, just as the need for giving alms was not addressed. The belief was so strong, that no one would have thought of going to the synagogue, if he had not first prepared his tithe. Note the words from the Oral Law:
A man says within his house when darkness is falling on the eve of Shabbath; “Have you tithed?”
Mishnah, Shabbath 2.7
The Pharisees were known for tithing. In Luke 11:42, for example, Jesus stated that the Pharisees carefully tithed various garden spices, but neglected the justice and love of God. In the section of the Mishnah known as the Maaseroth (meaning “tithes”) is an extensive list of regulations of what to tithe and the “tithing season” of various crops. The Jewish community was evidently in compliance with this biblical requirement.
The New Testament epistles never mention tithing because, in addition to the established tradition, voluntary offerings were sufficient for the needs of the church. Since the early church was essentially Jewish, the members continued the practice of tithing they had been taught from childhood. In addition to the first tithe, there was a second tithe (Deut. 14:22). Known as the maaser sheni, this tithe was only on produce, crops, and livestock. It was to be given or spent only in Jerusalem when the family was there for a festival or other occasion. This second tithe could be spent on personal items or given to the poor, to a synagogue, or to the temple. When given to the poor, it was placed in a quppah, or poor basket. The quppah was the weekly allotment given to the poor and consisted of food and clothing. This biblical tradition continued in the primitive church as recorded in Acts 11:28-30 when Barnabas and the Apostle Paul sent relief to Jerusalem during the famine of A.D. 44-45.
The extra-biblical book of Tobit contributes an interesting insight to the tithing issue. From the early Alexandrius and Vaticanus versions of this Inter-Testamental book are the following comments:
6 I went to Jerusalem taking the first-fruits and the tithes of my produce and the first shearings, and gave them to the priests, the sons of Aaron, who served at the altar. 7 Of all my produce I gave a tithe to the sons of Levi who ministered in Jerusalem. And the second tithe I sold, and in Jerusalem. 8 And the third [tithe] I gave to those to whom it was due.
It should be noted, however, that the second tithe was an annual obligation. Given the seven-year cycle of when fields were to remain uncultivated (lay fallow) in the seventh year, the second tithe was given on the fourth year of a new cattle herd, and on the produce of new trees and vines. This tithe appears to have been given to the Levites, who in turn were to give a tithe of their tithe to the priests. However, it seems that in later Judaism, the definition for this use was broadened and the tithe was to be given or spent in Jerusalem. There was also a third tithe for charity and was paid in the third and sixth year of the sabbatical year (Deut. 14:28-29). Some scholars have debated the second and third tithe and have concluded it was the same tithe that was used for different purposes. So the obvious question is, if the Jews and early Christians observed the second and third tithe, why would there not have been a first tithe?
Some scholars believe that tithing was also apparently an “indirect” factor when establishing a new synagogue. It was the common practice that a group of ten men could begin their own synagogue. But why were ten men needed? It has been suggested that it was because when ten men gathered their tithes, they could afford to employ a scribe who was qualified to teach the Scriptures. Since scribes were generally Pharisees, the Pharisees in effect, controlled or influenced all the synagogues in the country. In fact, after a boy had his bar mitzvah at the age of 13 years and one day of age, he could be one of those men, although his income was rather meager. This clearly suggests that tithing was a commonly accepted practice. However, some scholars believe that in Galilee, women were permitted to be part of the ten members needed to establish a new synagogue, and they seldom were income earners.
Unfortunately, certain wealthy priests were determined to obtain whatever tithes were due to them. Josephus said they even sent out armed servants to the threshing floors in order to take the priestly tithes by force; these ungodly violent acts were recorded later in the Babylonian Talmud. As a result, some lower-ranked priests had their tithes stolen and died of starvation because the “big men of the priesthood” took their wheat. This was especially true in the year A.D. 45 when Claudius reigned, and a severe famine caused the price of grain to skyrocket. The Pharisaic leaders and teachers in local synagogues suffered as much from their aristocratic leaders as did everyone else. The difference between giving a tithe because it is a divine principle, and the tithing demanded by wicked religious leaders, could not have been more profound.
Closing thoughts are as follows: Tithing was never questioned in the New Testament Period, it was simply a continuation of a well-established doctrine. According to Jesus, love would ask, “How much can I give?” But legalism will ask, “How little can I give?” This can be further demonstrated in what a pastor once said, “We make a living by what we get, but make a life by what we give.” Tithing is, in reality, given to the Lord.
The phrase, “Don’t sound a trumpet,” is an interesting double play on words. According to the Mishnah, almsgiving was supposed to be a strictly private affair, so much so that these monies were to be placed into the Chamber of Secrets or in the Chamber of Utensils, both of which were in the temple. As stated previously, the Pharisees who paraded their almsgiving were violating their own rules of righteousness. There are two considerations concerning this verse:
- In the Court of the Women at the temple there were thirteen trumpet-shaped vessels in which financial gifts were placed. When a number of coins were dropped at the same time, the clanging sound became known as “the announcement” or the “sound [of] a trumpet” because the vessels were in the shape of a trumpet and made of copper.
Herein is a classic example of Jewish expression and how it differs from modern onoes. The phrase “Court of the Women” was not for women only, as it would be assumed in modern Western thinking. Rather, any Jewish person could enter this court, but it was the limit as to how far women could go, in that they were not permitted to get closer to the sacred temple. Likewise, the Court of the Gentiles was open to everyone, but it was the limit of how far Gentiles could go within the temple.
- The phrase, “Don’t sound a trumpet,” does not appear in rabbinic writings. Therefore, scholars believe it is reflective of the influential Greek culture. As such, in Greek theaters, the leading actor was introduced to the audience with the sound of trumpets. There is no evidence to suggest the Pharisees walked around the city carrying trumpets that were blown when they placed money in the collection vessels.
Jesus equated the method of giving alms by the leading Pharisees with the actors of a Greek theater, since the sound of trumpets was not permitted in the synagogues when alms were given.
As stated previously in Matthew 6, Jesus spoke of the three pillars of faith:
- Giving tithes
- Giving alms
- Prayer and fasting
In the Mishnah Avot, Rabbi Simon ha Sadeek (Simon the Righteous), also spoke of three pillars of faith. These were
- Temple service,
- Acts of worship, and
- Deeds of love and kindness.
Notice the similarities. Temple service was not only physical work around the facility, but also worship. Jesus refocused these and then added that alms are to be given in secret. Furthermore, He stated that meaningless repetition was not a part of worship.
. St. Cyprian (200-258) was the bishop of Carthage and wrote (De Unitate Ecclesias 23) the need to tithe because it was an unchanging divine principle that predates Moses (Gen. 14:20).
. See additional rules on tithing in the Mishnah, Ma’aserot 1.1 and Moed Shabbath 4.7.
. Josephus spoke of corrupt priests who stole the tithes from other priests in Antiquities, 20.9.2, found herein in, “A den of robbers,” 13.02.02. He also mentioned it in Antiquities 20.8.8 as found herein in “The chief priests” in 15.02.09. See additional rules on tithing in the Mishnah, Ma’aserot 1.1 and Moed Shabbath 4.7. The point is that tithing was a well-established practice.
. Mishnah, Maaseroth; For tithing reasons, see Mishnah, Maaseroth 1.5.
. Jubilees 32:8-14.
. Mishnah, Maaser Sheni. 4.3-4.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 134. Not all Jewish writings indicate that the second tithe was on cattle herds, but mention crops and produce only.
. Mishnah, Maaser Shemi 4.4-5.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 58, 102-03, 131, 134-35.
. Deut. 14:26; Mishnah, Maaser Sheni 2.1; Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.8 (205); Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 102.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 131.
. See also the book of Jubilees 32:8-14, which is dated to the early second century B.C.
. Mishnah, Maaser Shemi 4.3-4; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 134.
. Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.22; Feinberg, “Tithe.” 5:757.
. In fact, one Jewish source indicates that about this time Jerusalem had 460 synagogues and another sources stated 480 synagogues. The difference in number was probably due to the different decades when the synagogues were counted. Clearly, there were many synagogues in the Holy City.
. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 6 & 7.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, page 8.
. This is a minority view among scholars, but it is well known that Galilee promoted education for girls and the rabbis were not as restrictive there as those in Jerusalem.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.8 (181); 20.9.2 (206).
. Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 57a.
. Another name for these priests was “men of violence.” See Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.8 (181); 20.9.2 (206); Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 57a; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 98, 106-07.
. Josephus, Antiquities 3.15.3. Some scholars believe the price of grain increased thirteen times.
. Golub, In the Days. 272-73.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 179-81, 190-97.
. Mishnah, Shekalim 5:6.
. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 137.
. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 28.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:226.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 412-13.