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Tithing and The Law of God
Part 1 – Origin and Purpose of the Tithe
by Gerald R. Thompson
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Mal. 3:10).
One of the most oft quoted verses of the Bible, Mal. 3:10 is also one of the most abused. Spoken as part of a prophecy against the people of Israel for their failure to abide by God’s covenant with them, this verse is now used extensively to solicit Christians to make tax-deductible contributions to the organized church. Though people are encouraged to give motivated by love, there is an inevitable undercurrent of obligation – while God loves a cheerful giver, tithing is a moral duty (we are told).
The implication is that a failure of Christians to tithe is likewise a breach of God’s covenant with them. Where tithing fits into (or is specifically made a part of) the New Testament covenant is rarely explained. The Mosaic covenant was given solely to the nation of Israel, but why this particular piece of it should be imported into New Testament Church practice is difficult to justify and is rarely, if ever, explained. Just accept it and obey, and you will do well (we are told).
Frequently this moral obligation shows up at offertory time in the use of admonitions to give to God His tithes and our offerings, subtly distinguishing between moral duty (His tithes) and discretionary charity (our offerings). In a true bit of irony, even the use of offerings in this setting is an inappropriate carryover from the Mosaic covenant to the Church. The appearance conveyed to the person in the pew is that you can give your money to God either way you want (and both are acceptable), but biblically speaking both tithes and offerings have no legitimate place in the Church. After all, both are carryovers from the Mosaic system. So the choice is a false alternative – both are inapplicable.
If you are unconvinced by what you hear from the pulpit and you ask your pastor too many questions, you will likely be told that God does not force anyone to tithe, but if you do it you will be better off for having done so. Ah yes, religious pragmatism at its best. Give to God so He can bless you more. If a sense of moral duty won’t get you to open your wallet, perhaps greed will. Anything to keep the gravy train rolling.
Indeed, the observance of the tithe is as familiar to any churchgoer as the organized church itself, for rarely will one be found without the other. Yet, this Christian usage of Mal. 3:10 assumes a lot: 1) the institution of the tithe at some point became applicable to the Church; 2) the underlying basis of the tithe remained intact after the First Advent of Christ; and 3) tithing is God’s intended financing plan for the Church. As we will see, none of these assumptions are supported in scripture.
To understand what the Bible has to say about tithing in the Church, we need to understand how the tithe originated. Since that origin lies in a legal context (a divine covenant – or legal agreement – with Israel), we need to understand the legal reasons for starting the tithe in the first place. We will also need to consider the limited applicability of that covenant, the interaction between the ministry of Christ and the Mosaic law, and the absence of any of the underlying reasons for the tithe in the Church context.
We also need to examine how the Church was structured by God and the extent to which it may be compatible or incompatible with the prior system. In the course of this discussion, I will also look at instances of tithing in the Bible which preceded the Mosaic law, and whether those give us any further guidance in the matter. Finally, I will consider the real effects of practicing tithing on the Church, the Gospel, and the finished work of Christ.
I’m going to conduct this entire inquiry by resorting to the laws of nature and nature’s God as the means of determining the truth of the matter. For that is my goal – the biblical truth. Not what is customary or usual, not what is approved, and not for the sake of preserving any special interests. Just give me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
If that bucks the established and accredited religious authorities of today, then so be it. I stand with Martin Luther, who bucked the religious authorities of his day regarding the sale of indulgences. And with Jesus, who bucked the religious authorities of His day regarding the practice of Corban. As with both of these prior cases, tithing is yet one more example of a mere tradition of men passed off as the law of God when it is not.
A Tribe Set Apart
Following the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, God told Moses to separate and ordain from among the Israelites his brother Aaron (a Levite) and his male descendants to minister as priests before God. Exo. 28:1; 29:9.
The priests alone attended to the obligations of the sanctuary and the altar, to avoid the infliction of God’s wrath on the Israelites. Num. 18:5. The priests alone could offer sacrifices on the altar and enter the sanctuary, the innermost part of the tabernacle (or temple), where the Ark of the covenant was kept and the presence of God resided among His people. In effect, direct access to God was available only to the priests, who acted as mediators between rest of the people and God.
As compensation for their unique services, the priests received all the sacrificial offerings on the altar, the first fruits of the harvest, the first born of every creature, and every devoted thing in Israel. Num. 18:8-14. For this reason the priests had no inheritance in the land of Israel, nor did they own any portion among the nation. God said, “I am your portion and your portion among the sons of Israel.” Num. 18:20.
Since the priests had the right to receive every first born in Israel (whether human or animal), this included the first born son in each family. Num. 18:15. The first born sons were especially significant because God delivered Israel from Egypt by the plague on the first born. So in the mind of God all the first born sons in Israel were dedicated to serve the priests as a logical consequence of the Exodus.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” Num. 3:11-13.
However, rather than take the first born sons evenly from among all the tribes of Israel on an ongoing basis, God decided to give the priests the whole tribe of Levi in their place. This exchange required an accounting – all the first born sons had to be counted, as well as all of the Levites, and any difference accounted for. Note: one’s status as a Levite or priest was determined solely by birth, not by any personal calling, choice, or training.
Accordingly, a census was taken of all the first born sons in Israel, and all of the men of the tribe of Levi, age one month and upward. The numbers were added up and the difference paid in money. The tally: 22,273 firstborn males, and 22,000 Levites. The difference: 273 persons at 5 shekels each, or 1,365 shekels. This sum was paid by the first born sons (collectively) to Aaron and his sons. Then the Levites were presented to the priests for service in the place of the first born sons. Num. 3:39-51.
In this way, the Levites were set apart from the other eleven tribes of Israel solely for the purpose of assisting the priests. They were, in essence, a segregated class of religious workers. Their duties included carrying out the obligation of the tabernacle and caring for the priests themselves, but not the obligations of the sanctuary or the altar. Num. 18:2-7. Consistent with the priestly portion, the Levites were removed from any inheritance of the land of Israel, for God was their portion. Num. 18:23-24. Which is to say, the normal means of income and sustenance were denied to them. Thus, their services to the priests and the tabernacle were “full-time.”
So there was a three-tier system: the nation of Israel consisting of twelve tribes, the Levites who attended the tabernacle and later the temple (a subset of the nation), and the descendants of Aaron who were the priests (a subset of the Levites). Essentially, the Levitical priesthood was a hierarchical structure which reflected the proximity, or access, one had to God.
The Ark of the covenant, representing God’s presence among men, resided in the sanctuary, surrounded by a veil. Around this area was the tabernacle (later, the temple). Those who ministered in the tabernacle were in closer proximity, not only in terms of distance but also in service, to the presence of God as compared to all others, thereby gaining increased access to Him. This access was restricted to the Levites, a tribe set apart, in that all others would bear sin and die if they entered any part of the tabernacle. Num. 18:22.
Prevented from having direct access to God by reason of this death penalty, the people relied entirely upon the mediation of the priests and Levites to access God on their behalf. This access was further restricted in that the priests alone had the privilege to enter the sanctuary at appointed times to petition God on behalf of the people. Anyone else who entered the sanctuary would surely die, including the other Levites. Num. 18:7.
The preceding discussion now gives us the appropriate context for considering the reasons and manner for the institution of the tithe in ancient Israel. We have already seen that the priests received all the sacrificial offerings, the first fruits of the harvest, and every devoted thing in Israel.
The Levites, however, received their provision from the contribution (by the other eleven tribes) of an additional tenth, or tithe, of all produce of the land. Num. 18:21. The Levites then gave a tithe of the tithe (1% of the total) to the priests as an additional provision. Num. 18:25-28. The Levites alone were entitled to all the tithe in Israel, and the tithe was not applicable to any other person.
The structure of the tithe mirrors the hierarchy of access mentioned earlier. Only Levites were permitted to enter the tabernacle. Only the priests could enter the sanctuary within the tabernacle. The non-Levites contributed a tithe of all they had to the Levites in recognition of their service before the Lord. The Levites then contributed a tithe of the tithe to the priests in recognition of their even greater access before God. Thus, the people who had less access to God contributed to those who had more access.
However, the structure of the tithe does not merely reflect the hierarchical system of access to God, it is utterly dependent upon it. The Levitical tithe necessarily presupposes the existence of the Levitical priesthood. Apart from the Levitical priesthood, the tithe has no reason to exist. Let’s break it down:
First principle – The tithe was instituted because of the special and unique services the priests and Levites could perform which all the rest of God’s people were prohibited from performing under penalty of death. But for the segregation of a priestly class together with their associated temple workers, the tithe would not have been instituted. The tithe and the Levitical priesthood as a segregated class of people rise or fall together. Num. 18:21-22.
Second principle – The tithe was instituted because of the lack of any inheritance in the land on the part of the priests and Levites, and the fact that as a result they had no other possible means of support. But for the lack of a land inheritance (and the ability to sustain oneself), the tithe would not have been instituted. The Levitical tithe and the imposition of a legal disability as to inheritance and employment rise or fall together. Num. 18:23-24.
Notice the Levites did not simply choose to devote themselves to full-time religious service, but they were legally prohibited from engaging in any other form of gainful activity or employment. The Levitical tithe was required to sustain the Levites, since all other means of support were prohibited.
Third principle – The consecration of the priests and Levites both presumed the existence of a physical sanctuary or house of God (including the holy of holies) where designated people could enter, but the rest of the people of God could not. But for the existence of the temple or tabernacle and its inner places, neither the priests nor the Levites would have been set apart to begin with and the tithe would never have been instituted.
Of these three, logically, the physical sanctuary is the most foundational. Everything else is dependent on this. It was God’s choice to manifest Himself to the people of Israel through a physical presence in a tabernacle or temple. Likewise, it was His choice to limit the access of the people to the sanctuary. Thus, it was necessary that a special group of people be segregated from the rest of the nation to minister before the Lord, namely, the priests and Levites.
The sanctuary did not exist for the benefit of the priests and Levites, rather, the priests and Levites existed to serve the sanctuary. The sanctuary was first both in time and in priority.
But once the priests and Levites were segregated, other measures necessarily had to follow. It was God’s choice to have these people serve the sanctuary and temple exclusively and not be distracted by other employments. This meant they had to be disabled from any other employments or economic concerns. However, once land and employment were removed, something had to take their place to provide for the sustenance of the priests and Levites, namely, the tithe.
Consequently, the Old Testament tithe was built on three pillars: 1) the establishment of a physical sanctuary with a hierarchy of access for the people of God; 2) a class of priests and their associated religious workers who were segregated from the rest of God’s people not by their choice, but by God’s command; and 3) a legal disability against inheritance and other forms of employment imposed on the priests and Levites.
The Levitical tithe and these three pillars rise and fall together. Take away the segregated class or the legal disability, and the tithe necessarily falls. Remove the physical sanctuary, and the tithe is utterly destroyed.
TITHING NEVER APPLIED TO GENTILES OR TO THE CHURCH
For the moment, set aside any questions in your mind regarding the extent to which these three pillars of the tithe may have been altered or abolished. I must first tell you straight up that the Mosaic covenant never did apply to either Gentile nations or the Church, and quite frankly that fact alone settles the matter irrevocably.
But I know many of you simply are not prepared to accept that conclusion yet, so I need to walk you through it.
A Choice Between Two Evils
People have long debated the extent to which the Mosaic covenant now applies to all people in general or to Christians in particular. Theologians have devised a number of frameworks for analyzing this question. One common approach is to regard all of the laws of the Mosaic covenant as being mandatory today, except to the extent they have been modified in the New Testament. This is commonly known as mandatory unless modified, or M&M.
Another frequent approach is to take the opposite presumption, and regard the Mosaic covenant as being repealed, except those portions which have been expressly repeated in the New Testament. This is often referred to as repealed unless repeated, or R&R. However, if you are wondering whether M&M, or perhaps R&R, is really the most scriptural, you can rest secure in the confident knowledge that you are asking all the wrong questions. And asking these wrong questions will lead you to all the wrong answers.
First of all, both M&M and R&R are nothing more than rules of convenience. Neither scheme is actually derived from a biblical principle. There is no biblical text laying out either of those formulas. They are artificial constructs made up by someone (not a biblical writer) as a rule of thumb, but they have no authority.
If we’re going to hinge our entire interpretational scheme for understanding a majority of the Old Testament on the choice between two options, the choice better be directed by a biblical principle which forces our hand in one direction. We can be assured that God’s mind is not divided or ambivalent on the matter, so we better have a darn good reason for choosing one over the other. Merely to state the result of our choice is not a reason for our choice.
Second, each option has a fatal flaw. M&M assumes that at least some portion of the Mosaic covenant (that is, the mandatory and non-modified portion) carries over to Gentiles or the Church. But in fact, the Mosaic covenant in its entirety was only ever given to the nation of Israel by its express terms. There is no portion of the Mosaic covenant that was ever (or could be ever) binding on non-Jews. More on this point below.
As for R&R, it assumes that the inauguration of the Church covenant through Christ (or at the very least, some aspect of the ministry of Christ during His first advent) changed (i.e., repealed or terminated) some or all of the provisions of the Mosaic covenant. In truth, M&M makes this same assumption with respect to the portions of the Mosaic law that were supposedly modified. Modified by what or by whom? By Christ and/or the Church covenant, supposedly.
But here is the reality, folks. Nothing Christ did, and nothing about the inauguration of the Church, had any impact or effect on the Mosaic covenant. Oh, I know, believe me, this is not what you have read, or been taught. With the possible exception of some Messianic churches (that is, Jewish followers of Christ), almost no one in Christian circles believes the Mosaic covenant is still in full force and effect, and has not been abrogated. Yet, that is the biblical reality.
Both M&M and R&R completely disregard the manner in which covenants and laws originate, and how they are altered. Divine laws and covenants only arise when God speaks in a legislative capacity, using direct words like, “This shall be a statute for you throughout your generations.” To alter any statute of this nature would require God to use similar direct words announcing, “This statute shall be changed as follows.” However, God never uttered words of amendment with respect to the Mosaic covenant.
Further, the Mosaic covenant was specifically consented to by the people of Israel three times (twice at Mt. Sinai/Horeb, and once after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years). In order for the covenant to be amended in any way, it would also require the Jews – as a whole – to consent to the changes. Again, this has never yet occurred. Divine laws and covenants can only be changed the same way human laws and covenants can be changed. You can’t change laws and covenants based merely on circumstances, or on the way future writers comment on them. It takes new words of agreement to change old words of agreement. Divine covenants aren’t modified by implication.
Third, people in various theological camps (whether Dispensational, Calvinistic/Reformed, Catholic or Orthodox) are all trying to manipulate you. Each camp has a distinct perspective on the question of how to understand and apply the Mosaic law, and those differences are very real. But the manipulation comes in the presentation of these distinct positions as the only options out there – and that you must choose to align your thinking with one of them. However, these are not the only options.
Dispensationalists would like us all to believe that the Church – simply by its inauguration – either terminated or suspended the Mosaic covenant at least in part. Calvinists would have us think the Mosaic covenant (and the Abrahamic promises) have been subsumed or absorbed into the Church – that the Church has become the new Israel of God. Nearly all hierarchical churches would have us believe the purposes of the Mosaic law were primarily spiritual, and the key to understanding is to interpret the Mosaic law allegorically. All of these beliefs are horribly wrong.
There is another option, which regards the Mosaic covenant as still viable and ongoing, which does not mingle Israel with the Church, and regards the Mosaic obligations as mainly national, not spiritual. I don’t have a fancy name thought up for it yet – I just call it truth.
Divisions of the law
The Mosaic law is commonly regarded as having three basic components: 1) the eternal moral law (the law of nature); 2) the ceremonial/ redemptive law (the law of the priesthood); and 3) the civil or judicial law (the theocratic and common social laws). However, these are artificial distinctions contrived by men. God has nowhere divided any of His laws into these groups, nor anywhere declared these divisions to exist. The Mosaic covenant is one undivided whole, and all of its “parts” rise or fall together.
There are really only two types of laws within the Mosaic covenant (and indeed, all of the divine covenants). These are: 1) laws applicable to all people; and 2) laws that are given to, and binding on, the Jews alone. Laws applicable to all people are of two sorts: a) those that are part of the laws of nature derived from creation; and b) those that were later given to all people as the descendants of Adam and Noah (recognizing that every person alive today is a descendant of both of those men).
Of the laws given to the nation of Israel, it is basically irrelevant (as far as Gentiles and the Church are concerned) how many subjects they are divided into. I can just as easily argue for five or seven subdivisions of the laws peculiar to Israel as for two. For example: laws of priests and Levites, laws of religious ritual, laws of the Sabbath, economic and land laws, laws of sanitation and cleansing, laws of government structure, laws regarding kingly succession, non-mixing laws, dietary laws, feast days, and so on. What does it matter? Either the laws are universal, or they aren’t.
Granted, getting a good handle on the nature and extent of the Mosaic laws which reflect the laws of nature is a interesting question. It takes some training, practice and discernment to be able to look at laws directed to a specific national setting and extract those principles which are eternal and universal. And, this is a worthy pursuit – but one beyond the scope of this essay.
For now, it is enough to mention that to the extent the Mosaic laws reflect the laws of nature, such laws apply to all people because they spring from creation, and not because they were given to Israel. The covenantal expression doesn’t make the moral law more binding than it was without the covenant. And the natural law doesn’t expand the covenant to make it universally applied to everyone. The covenant simply agrees with the law of nature, and to the extent natural law binds everyone, it binds them because of nature, not because of the covenant.
For example, the commandment prohibiting murder did not actually originate with Moses at Mt. Sinai. Murder was prohibited when Cain killed his brother Abel back in Gen. 4. But even in that case, God nowhere expressly stated that murder was wrong, before Cain acted. Instead, we understand that the prohibition of murder was merely part of the law of nature, written into the fabric of creation from the beginning. And the commandment coming at Mt. Sinai merely agreed with nature. The same is true with respect to adultery, stealing, and many other laws – if we care to look at them in that light.
Therefore, just because something in the New Testament originating in the law of nature happens to repeat the Mosaic law on that subject, doesn’t make the Mosaic law binding on Gentiles or the Church. It is simply God being consistent with Himself, and saying things that agree with the way He made us from the beginning (the law of nature). That it repeats something in the Mosaic covenant is absolutely irrelevant and signifies nothing whatever about who the covenant applies to or the extent it applies to them.
A Law Unique to the Jews
So now that we have the totally useless constructs of mandatory unless modified and repealed unless repeated out of the way, who does the Mosaic covenant actually apply to? I here defer to a historic legal writer on the subject, Hugo Grotius:
1. Among all peoples there is one to which God vouchsafed to give laws in a special manner; that is the Jewish people, which Moses thus addresses (Deuteronomy 4:7): For what great nation is there, that hath a God so nigh unto them, as Jehovah our God is whensoever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day.’
Similar are the words of the psalmist (Psalm 147:19-20): “He showeth his word unto Jacob, His statutes and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; As for his ordinances, they have not known them.”
2. Nor should we doubt that those of the Jews are in error … who think that even foreigners, if they wish to be saved, must pass under the yoke of the Hebraic law. An ordinance, in fact, is not binding upon those to whom it has not been given. But in the case under consideration the ordinance itself declares to whom it was given, in the words: Hear, O Israel,’ and everywhere the covenant is spoken of as made with the Jews, and they themselves are said to be chosen as the peculiar people of God. The truth of this was recognized by Maimonides, who proves it by the passage in Deuteronomy 33:4.
At this point, Grotius examines at length a variety of instances in the Bible when foreigners living in Israel were subject to different laws than the Jews themselves – showing that the Mosaic laws applied to no one but the Jews. He then quotes Rom. 2:14: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” The principle point of which is: the Gentiles never were under the Mosaic law. Grotius then goes on to say,
7. From this we conclude that we are bound by no part of the Hebraic law, so far as this is law of a special kind. For, outside of the law of nature, the binding force of law comes from the will of him who makes the law; and it is not possible to discover, from any indication, that God willed that others than Israelites should be bound by that law. There is, then, no need of proof that in respect to ourselves this law has been abrogated; for a law cannot be abrogated in respect to those on whom it has never been binding. [Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Book 1, Section 16, “That those not of Jewish birth have never been bound by the Hebraic law” (1625).]
I could here quote as well John Locke and William Blackstone, among other legal writers, who came to the same conclusion as Grotius. But perhaps you are wondering why I do not quote from various theological writers on the subject. The answer is, because the theological writers are the ones who inevitably get trapped in M&M vs. R&R, who propose that the Mosaic covenant has ended, that it has been subsumed (what a wonderful theological mush word) by the Church covenant, or who spiritualize everything.
Such theological musings are exactly the type of thinking which has led to the present confusion, and which shines no real light on the subject. The Mosaic covenant was (and is) a legal agreement, having the force of law, being for all practical purposes the constitution of a nation and a framework for a system of laws. It is legal in nature (not spiritual), and its applicability and interpretation are best determined via legal principles.
And now, in order to provide full disclosure like a good lawyer, I hereby quote all scriptures tending to prove the Mosaic law ever applied to the Gentiles: _________. Further, I hereby cite all scriptures which tend to prove the Mosaic law ever applied to the Church: __________. No, I didn’t leave anything out – that’s all of them. So, for those who are willing to accept it, the tithe never did apply to the Church and that is the end of the matter. However, to be complete in my analysis, I must now pull the loose thread from the prior section and see how far it unravels.
IN WITH THE NEW, BYPASS THE OLD
The New Testament, especially the book of Hebrews, provides a number of arguments that the priesthood of Christ, after the order of Melchizedek, is superior to the Levitical priesthood when compared side-by-side. For example, the Levitical high priest entered a man-made sanctuary once a year, but Christ entered the tabernacle made without hands once for all. The Levitical priests were sinful men who became priests solely because of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, whereas Christ was sinless and became high priest by the power of an indestructible life. The Levitical system only applied to Jews, whereas the blood of Jesus applies to all people, etc.
That much you probably already know, if you ever looked into this matter previously. But don’t make the common mistake, which I made previously, of concluding that Christ thereby put aside (or terminated) the Levitical system with the new covenant enacted on better promises. That is not what is meant in Heb. 8:13, which says the Mosaic law is becoming obsolete.
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. … In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Heb. 8:6,7,13).
Verse 6 (above) says that the covenant Christ mediates is better than the old covenant. What is the covenant mediated by Christ? The Church covenant. What is the old covenant? The Mosaic covenant. OK, but now we have to be very careful. Verse 7 says that the first covenant was faulty, so the scriptures have long anticipated a second covenant. The Mosaic law is the first covenant, right? But what is the second covenant in this text? The Church covenant? Wrong.
We have to account for Heb. 8:8-12 (verses we skipped over). Those verses tell us what the second covenant is, namely, the new covenant with Israel in Jer. 31:31-34, which the text in Hebrews quotes. Now this is where a lot of people get it wrong – the new covenant with Israel is not the Church covenant. It’s really not that complicated.
First, the new covenant in Jer. 31 (repeated in Heb. 8:8-12) is with Israel only. Do I really need to prove that the Church covenant is not with Israel only, indeed, not with Israel at all? Israel and the Church are not the same (Lord, if people would just get that one fact straight). One is a nation defined by biological descent, the other is a body defined by individual faith. You can’t become an ethnic Jew by exercising faith, and you can’t become a Christian based on your ancestry.
Yes, a person can individually become a Messianic (“Christian”) Jew, but the Church will never be a political or ethnic nation, and Israel will always consist of the descendants of Jacob irrespective of their faith. Therefore, Israel and the Church can never become one entity – they have absolutely nothing in common.
Second, the new covenant in Jer. 31 does something the Church covenant has never done (and will never do), namely, give people a perfect conscience to know all the laws of God. To put things in context, recall that Israel was set apart by God in the beginning to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exo. 19:6). Jer. 31 is when these goals for national Israel will be fulfilled. Yes, Christians have the Holy Spirit to guide them, but I’ve never yet heard of a Christian with a perfect conscience, and neither have you. Two completely separate things.
Third, the new covenant in Jer. 31 hasn’t arrived yet. It should be obvious from the fact that Israel is not yet all saved (Rom. 11:26), which they would have to be to possess a perfect conscience. Plus, I’ve never yet heard of a Jew with a perfect conscience, and neither have you. This new covenant – the second covenant referred to in Heb. 8:7 – which will eliminate the faults of the Mosaic covenant, is still future. So it can’t refer to the Church covenant.
Look carefully at the language used in Heb. 8:13. The Mosaic covenant is “becoming obsolete and growing old [and] is ready to vanish away.” NOT already obsolete, grown old, and vanished. None of the words in Heb. 8:13 are in the past tense. The Mosaic covenant needs fixing, but it’s not gone yet. If it’s not gone, then it must still be here.
Perhaps it is a minor point, but I felt it necessary to correct some things I said in the past. So to be completely accurate, Jesus did not terminate the Levitical priesthood, but rather He bypassed it. The Levitical system had nothing to offer Christ that He could use, so He started an entirely new program. The old program, to the extent it is still around (if at all), exists only for the Jews – but then, that’s the way it always was. I have recently examined this whole subject in much greater detail in my essay, No Part of the Mosaic Covenant Has Ended.
In any event, whether the Mosaic covenant continues to operate in whole or in part or not, Jesus completely eliminated all of the pillars supporting the tithe within His Church. First, He eliminated the existence of any segregated class of priests or religious workers among God’s people via the priesthood of all believers. In other words, Jesus eliminated the hierarchy of access to God among the body of Christ, the Church. There are no gatekeepers in Christianity.
Second, by entering the heavenly temple and tearing the veil in the Jewish temple, He negated the need for a physical temple along with its physical altar. Now, instead, each individual believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit of God. 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19. There is no house of God in Christianity.
Third, by introducing a universal inheritance shared by all believers (as co-heirs of Christ), He prevented the possibility that an unequal portion with God could ever arise within the Church. No one in the Church is precluded from having “outside” employments. No one in the Church is prohibited from owning land or other economic resources. No one in the Church is entitled as a matter of law to be supported by the rest of its members.
Also, by virtue of the fact that the priesthood of Christ is perfect and permanent, He made it impossible that any future human priesthood within the Church would ever be needed, or authorized by God. No one in the Church can ever rightfully claim that circumstances have changed or that a necessity has arisen which would call for the re-introduction of a physical temple, a physical altar, or a segregated class of priests or religious workers. That possibility has been forever nullified by the high priesthood of Christ, which is perfect.
Fundamentally, a tithe can only exist where there is a distinguishable priestly recipient class and a non-priestly donor class. But I defy anyone to show where scripture supports the so-called clergy-laity distinction within the Church. In fact, the scriptural evidence is exactly contrary. “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” 1 Cor. 12:24-25. For an extended scriptural proof that there is no clergy in the Church, see my essay on Five Biblical Principles of Church Government.
Next: It’s Time To Bury the Tithe