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Here's the text of Luke 11:42:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (ESV)

And Matthew 23:23:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (ESV)

So, was Jesus implying that all his followers tithe? Or was he only speaking specifically to the Pharisee who was trying to live under the law? The latter seems to make more sense, but on reflection, I find I don't really have a cohesive explanation of why this should be so.

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How the modern 10% tithe of all your income came about might be good reference for you as well: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/10150/… –  Mike Feb 15 '13 at 2:09

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Actually, I don't know of any Christian denomination or individual that tithes according to the Torah of Moshe. Tithing (עישור) is a relatively complicated process in Judaism, and of course, it's hardly (if at all) practical without a Temple. If Jews cannot tithe without the Temple, then Christians certainly cannot.

With that being said, the general concept behind tithing is support of a ministry. As the Levites ministered in the Temple, and had no particular city or inheritance to lay claim to, they were thus supported by the other Israelites. Christians support the ministry of their pastors and particular churches which likewise serve God and His people.

To be specific, not a single soul tithes according to the Torah since the destruction of the Temple. Therefore, one does not need to look for a verse to support tithing because the endeavor is futile.

On the other hand, if we're talking about the general idea of fiscal support for the ministers of God, then yes, there is a biblical basis for its current practice. Churches freely gave to Paulos in order to support his ministry (cp. 2 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Cor. 9:6-18). One could not have expected Paulos to have a day-to-day occupation when he was traveling around the region preaching the gospel, could he?

Paulos wrote, "Even so, the Lord has ordained that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:14), and he declared that he had the authority to not work (1 Cor. 9:6).

(I doubt that I can, nor do I wish to, change the common understanding of "tithing," but for the sake of this discussion, I thought it was important to make such a distinction.)


Now, respecting the verses in question, as you quoted them:

Luke 11:42:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (ESV)

Matthew 23:23:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (ESV)

You asked:

So, was Jesus implying that all his followers tithe? Or was he only speaking specifically to the Pharisee who was trying to live under the law?

Actually, the Prushim did not have a choice to obey the commandment to tithe and "live under the Law." They were living in the economy of the Old Covenant, under the παιδαγωγός of the Torah of Moshe, so they were obligated to tithe, for God explicitly commanded it.

Jesus' criticism of the Prushim concerns their "hypocrisy" --- focusing on mitzvot kalot ("light commandments") while neglecting the mitzvot chamurot ("heavy commandments") (cp. Matt. 5:19). They were most scrupulous in tithing and focusing on the mitzvot kalot, but they would pervert justice, lack faith, and be merciless towards the laity.

Another example of this hypocrisy is Matt. 15; Mark 7, where the Prushim admonish Jesus' disciples for eating with dirty hands. It wasn't actually prohibited to eat with dirt on one's hands, according to the written Torah. This was a rabbinic decree, later codified in the Mishna. While the Prushim would be scrupulous about immersing so-called "unclean hands" (yadayim meso'avot or yadayim mezochamot), they were unconcerned that "from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders...all these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:23).

Paulos later wrote, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3).


Who does the pronoun "you" refer to??

One might assume that all Christians are being referred to, but I believe this to be erroneous exegesis. It is clear that Jesus, like those whom he was speaking to, was born "under the Law" (Gal. 4:4). It's hardly realistic for a Christian today to assume that Jesus implored us to tithe. 1) We're not born under the Law, and 2) we live in an economy of grace (Eph. 3:2). It's absolutely imperative that the relevance of the Torah of Moshe is considered. To the Prushim, it was absolutely relevant; to us, it is essentially irrelevant. Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, keep the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2), not the Law of Moshe. Indeed, there is a saying in Midrash Kohelet Rabba that "the Law that man learned in this world is vanity in the presence of the Messiah's Law."

As the Old Covenant passed away, so did the Law of Moshe.

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This has the makings of a good answer. I was hoping you could work in a conversation about the actual texts in question. You make a leap from Torah to Paulos with a statement that, "the general concept behind tithing is support of a ministry." I think that the 1 Cor. 9 references allow you to make that transition, but I'd like to see how that loops back to address the actual question of Jesus' interaction with tithing and wealth. –  swasheck Feb 14 '13 at 15:53
    
Understood. I will do so. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Feb 14 '13 at 19:43
    
Jesus is temple for Christians, and we his body, so by extension we are living stones in the temple, Jesus is cornerstone, foundation is prophets and apostles –  user1985 Feb 14 '13 at 19:46
    
We are a spiritual temple. Tithing (e.g., the bringing of the firstfruits of one's produce to the Temple) was a carnal matter. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Feb 14 '13 at 19:56
    
There's a lot of good information here, but it answers a different question than the one that was asked. The question here is about what Jesus taught, not about what later Christians should do. –  Gone Quiet Apr 5 '13 at 16:18

I think the exact verses you mention will directly answer the question. First the context is Jesus in his opposition to the mentality of the Pharisees as opposed to his disciples and the beatitudes which they were to emulate (Math Ch. 5). The Pharisees are characterized in the gospels of being self-righteous man-pleasers who do everything in the eyes of men to gain religious esteem and honor while ignoring God and the spirit of his laws. So first we must rule out Christians as the audience.

Second, the Pharisees in the matter of tithing went beyond the requirements of the Law and followed their own ‘traditions’. Traditionalism taught that through additional laws, the elders put a ‘hedge of protection’ around the Law, to ensure no command was broken. In practice they made their Laws ‘equal to’, or rather ‘greater than’ the Laws of scripture. In the matter of tithing, Jesus spoke a parable about a Pharisee (and a tax collector) who went way beyond the requirements of the law and tithed on ‘all that he received’ (Luke 18:12).

The motive for their going beyond the Law in externals was from an inner aversion to the internals of the Law. It was there sinful distaste of the spirit of the Law and their inability to follow it, while seeking to justify themselves by their own effort and toil that made them legalists. This naturally leads to neglecting the spirit of the law and inventing all sorts of external regulations, which one can ‘show’ to another that he had obeyed. This also lead hypocrites to harshly judge others who do not externally measure up and this ‘judgment’ came from jealous desires to commit the sins they see others do, while suffering under their own rules and burden. At least that is how the heart of the older brother in the prodigal son parable suggests. This is the spirit of hypocrisy and it is in direct contrast to Christ’s teaching about making the inside of the cup clean, rather than just the outer. Although Christian’s can be hypocritical, 'the hypocrites' that Jesus refers to must be understood an as non-Christians, or unbelievers, not real Jews. A ‘hypocrite’ is just as bad as a ‘murderer’, a ‘thief’, a ‘drunkard’; it is a termed to define a person without faith. Only in the case of the hypocrite, they are very religious and zealous for good works while being faithless.

Although I do not always agree with Peter Lange’s comments, he is especially clear on this verse:

The ordinances concerning tithes (Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21; Deut. 12:6; 14:22–28) placed the fruits of the field and of the trees under the obligation; but tradition applied the law to the smallest produce of the garden, to the mint, the dill, and the cummin (Babyl. Joma, f. 83, 2. Lightfoot, HOTTINGER: De decimis Judœor.)—The weightier things: βαρύτερα.—De Wette: Those things which were harder, difficiliora. Meyer: The more important, graviora. “It is very probable that Jesus referred to the analogy of the praœpta gravia (חמורים) et levia (קלים) among the Jewish teachers. (See Schöttgen, p. 183.)” But there is no need to distinguish things so closely connected: the important supposes the difficult. Pharisaism is led into legalism and ceremonialism by its aversion to the difficult requirements of internal spiritual religion. (Commentary on Mathew, JOHN PETER LANGE)

Now, what you will find in many Christian books and churches is that the phrase ‘you ought to have done’ is saying that Jesus congratulated their nitpicking legalistic observance of the tithe, ergo, we should also as Christians follow such punctiliousness?! Nothing could be further from the spirit of this verse and really questions whether we understand hypocrisy at all. Rather, Jesus is saying, 'you do well' with part sarcasm. Taking care abut those small matters (for all aspects of the laws of Moses were to be obeyed) is good but it is said in a sarcastic tone, knowing they excelled beyond what was required to their self-righteous satisfaction. However, while taking so much care in comparatively 'nothing', it only increases the guilt in neglecting the weightier matters of the Law! Jesus is not congratulating those who he proclaims ‘woe’ and ‘warnings of hell’ upon! That is pure nonsense to understand the verse that way.

In conclusion the only thing we can draw about tithing from these versus is that the Pharisees went even beyond the Laws of Moses wickedly. As this particular law is never mentioned after Christ’s resurrection, it is just one of hundreds of external ceremonial/theocracy laws that were superseded under the New Covenant. Paul does not even mention it in all his writings which means it was not even on the radar of anybody.

Of course inner righteousness under the gospel includes giving and in every mention of giving in the Epistles, it is in the context of a free will offering from a cheerful heart, not an obligation under any percent rule or ceremonial/theocracy law.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)


Note: I should mention I have been to a few excellent churches that politely argued for the continuance of the 10% tithe so I would not write them off as hypocrites on this subject alone. Although Jesus is hotly opposing the Pharisees, it on many issues not just this one aspect. We all have our faults and areas of confusion.

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Mike, I think your answer would do better without the mention to churches which support the continuance of tithing, which neither addresses the exegetical question that was asked nor follow from your own biblical argumentation, since your reading seems to be that the Pharisees were not at fault for tithing per se, but for imposing extrabiblical rules and engaging in other practices. –  Tim Gallant Jun 13 '13 at 1:37

Tithing was an institute of the Mosaic Law and consisted of agricultural produce and reared livestock (Lv 27:30-33). The Israelites offered the tithe to the landless Levites who in turn offered a tenth of the tithe to the Aaronic priesthood (Nm 18:26-28). Unlike the other tribes, the Levites were denied any inheritance or land ownership in Israel. They were, however, allocated 48 cities scattered around the nation to live, farm and herd their livestock in (Nm 35:1-3; Jo 21). The Levitical priesthood was divided into 24 courses or shifts serving at the temple a week at a time (1 Chr 24; Lk 1:5) Thus, when they weren't in Jerusalem many were evidently in their pasture lands herding their animals, which they had received from tithing (Neh 10:37-38; 13:10).

Besides this first tithe, which replaced land rights in Israel and provided basic sustenance for the Levites and priests, there was a second and third tithe. The second (or festival) tithe was brought to Jerusalem for use at the festivals and shared by all Israelites, their family and servants (Dt 12:10-19; 14:22-27; 16:11). The third (or poor) tithe, unlike the first tithe, was specifically for all the poor and needy in the land, including the Levites, strangers, orphans and widows (Dt 14:28-29; 26:12-13) and, unlike the second tithe, the third tithe was distributed locally. Even such historical records as the Apocrypha (Tb 1:6-8) and Josephus (AJ bk 4, chap 8, par 3-4, 8 & 22) are consistent with the Bible as to what comprised the tithe and whom were its recipients.

Along with the third tithe the poor, including strangers, orphans and widows, were granted gleaning rights (Dt 24:19-21, Ruth 2). They were also allowed to bring smaller offerings and less redemption money (Lv 14:21; 27:8). In view of the fact that Joseph and Mary, when presenting the newborn Jesus at the temple, didn't pay the customary offering of a first-year lamb, due to their poverty (Lk 2:22-24; Lv 12:6-8), and that Jesus was, along with His disciples, falsely accused by the Pharisees for gleaning on the Sabbath (Lk 6:1-5; Lv 19:10), it is clear that He and His disciples were poor (Mt 8:20; 2 Cor 8:9) and so weren't required to pay tithes, otherwise the Pharisees would surely have charged Him guilty of such in public.

With this background in mind we can clearly understand the context of Christ's condemnation of the Pharisees' rigid compulsion for tithing minutiae in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42. As interpreters of the Law they were the ones who had exaggerated the Law to include the meticulous tithing of micro-small spice seeds despite the Mosaic Law not demanding any such thing. As Russell Earl Kelly explains, the Pharisees were the real hypocrites even when it came to tithing:

Alfred Edersheim explained how the Pharisees actually paid less tithe than did others. When John Hyrcanus (135-100 B.C.) enacted a new law which required the buyer to pay tithes rather than the seller, the Pharisees vowed to only trade within their own fraternities, or chabura. Thus, while others paid certain tithes every time produce exchanged hands, the Pharisees declared all except the first time to be "free" from subsequent tithing (p. 215). In addition to this, the rabbis had excluded themselves from Jewish local taxation. Thus, while the typical citizen paid at least an extra ten percent (10%) in local Jewish taxation, the Pharisees had that much extra to pay in tithes--and boasted about tithing (p. 52). Therefore, in reality, the Pharisees paid less tithes in two different ways than others who did not boast (Should the Church Teach Tithing? pp 117-118).

Note also that all of the woes Jesus pronounces in Matthew 23 are directed to the Pharisees and scribes, not to His disciples or anyone else (vv 13-16, 23, 25, 27, 29). They were the ones who were hyper-scrupulous in their ritual observance yet woefully neglectful of their moral duty toward their fellow man, which is why Jesus accused them of hypocrisy. What Jesus does advocate, however, is clearly mentioned in the preceeding verse of Luke 11:42 wherein He condemns Pharisaical tithing. And it isn’t the payment of tithes, but almsgiving to the poor and needy: “But rather give alms of such things as you have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Lk 11:41). Even the apostle Paul's own ministry exemplifies this NT model of freewill giving to the poor and needy. Paul worked at his trade, like Aquila and Priscilla, to support himself and the poor brethren while preaching the gospel (Acts 18:3; 20:33-35; 1 Cor 9:18; 2 Cor 11:7-10; 12:13-14; 1 Thes 2:9; 2 Thes 3:8-10; cf Jas 1:27), initially in Jewish synagogues on the Sabbaths and then, when the Jews had forbade him, in the lecture halls or marketplaces throughout the week (Acts 13:5, 14, 44; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1-2, 10-11, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9) besides in fellow believers' homes (Acts 20:20; Rom 16:5). According to this NT ideal, therefore, the gospel worker should earn a living and give to the poor.

Under the Old Covenant only the Levitical priests could "draw near" to God and the penalty for disobedience was death (Nm 18:7, 22). The book of Hebrews describes the superiority of this new model: with the new covenant the Levitical priesthood, the physical temple and its associated tithes, sacrifices and offerings have all been abolished and replaced by the high priesthood of Christ Jesus, His "once for all" perfect sacrifice, and the priesthood of all Christian believers (Heb 7:15-17; 9:11-12, 24-26; 10:19-22; 1 Pt 2:9-10). Thus, the "disannulling" (Heb 7:18) of every ordinance pertaining to the Levitical priesthood and temple service included tithing--its chief means of financial support. Now every Christian believer-priest may "draw near" to God (Heb 7:19, 25; 10:22) through Jesus as High Priest, wherein believers might "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:16).

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Many thanks for putting this together, I appreciate the effort! –  Jack Douglas Feb 21 '13 at 8:27
    
Your welcome Jack and thanks for the encouragement! –  Jonathan Feb 22 '13 at 7:33
    
@Jonathan, I don't know if you saw Jack's ping about this chat thread, so I'm linking to it here FYI. –  Gone Quiet Feb 24 '13 at 19:22
    
@Jonathan, I've made some edits based on our discussion. You can see the edit summary (with diff) by clicking on the "edited (timestamp)" text above my name at the end of the message. I've tried not to alter your meaning but have softened some statements; if there is anything at all that you object to in my edit, please make your own edits or ping me (here or in chat) so we can discuss. Thanks. And kudos once again for a well-sourced and well-written answer -- I should say that here and not just in chat. :-) –  Gone Quiet Feb 26 '13 at 19:54
    
Sounds good Monica! Of course, I'm sure you know, being a Christian, the only thing I would take objection to or have serious reservations about are the redaction of references to Jesus as Lord and Christ (Mt 10:32-33). ;-) Otherwise I've got no problem with it as currently revised. So job well done! –  Jonathan Feb 27 '13 at 9:04

Jesus was born under the law to fulfill the law (Gal. 4:4-5)… He was bound to it in His life and to rebel against it would be to sin. Also note that the point of these versus when read in context was not to promote tithing, but to promote matters of the heart and show hypocrisy on the parts of the Pharisees. When read aloud and in context no-one will point to tithing and say that is the point, it simply is not the emphasis.

Also note that Jesus refers to the practice of tithing in the past tense… he doesn’t say “you ought to do” but instead says, “you ought to have done”—a past tense command.

Jesus did not say the New Covenant church should have tithed, He said the Pharisees should have… The simple truth is that under the law not everyone was to tithe, only certain people were (levites, farmers, and those who tended herds or flocks), Pharisees among them. If we are to Tithe now, where are the instructions that everyone is to tithe, and not just the same certain individuals that tithed under the previous law?

Finally, Jesus mentions tithing three times (Matt 23:23, Lk 11:42, Lk 18:11- 14) and all three times condemns the tither. Jesus says that the actions of these people were not justified (lk 18:14) why are using them as an example, and the only example, to justify tithing? The truth is, they should never be used as a model for someone who is justified; nor should they be used as a model for tithing. There simply is no justified tithing model in the New Testament.

Many argue “No scripture mentions a substitute program for tithing in the N.T, ergo tithing is still in place” -- I would disagree, the substitute is giving. References for giving are proliferant throughout the New Testament.

There are several fundamental flaws with the belief that Jesus reinstates tithing, but one of the biggest is that there are no instructions for New Testament tithing by Jesus, the Apostles, or the early church. With this in mind we would have to revert to the instructions of Old Testament tithing… this does not look at all like what is taught today, and in fact is far more supportive of giving to the poor, the widow, the stranger, the fatherless, and even ministers as they would probably take the place of the Levite. I do not see how this is much different than the teaching of giving in the first place. Unfortunately tithe teachers do not usually teach tithing or giving to those in need, but only to the church as it is in their best interest.

I do not feel that tithing is part of the New Covenant church, and I am not alone in this mindset as many Theologians are and always were on board with this, as are historians who can trace tithing’s roots to the late 1800’s. It has come to my attention that those who do teach the tithe are usually supported by tithing themselves, and not uninvolved parties with nothing to lose. A careful study of old testament tithing brings about many questions of tithing as practiced today, and a look at New Testament tithing reveals a lack of support for the system as all New Testament versus referring to tithing refer to it under the Law and not as part of the New Covenant.

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Thanks for this helpful and in-depth answer. Are you by any chance this JJORDAN? –  Jack Douglas Sep 15 '13 at 20:44

I wrote a letter to a friend once that may better shed light on the subject:

According to scripture Jesus makes use of the words tithe, or tithing, only 3 times (Mat. 23:23, Luk. 11:42, and Luk. 18:12). It is of interesting note that on all three occasions Jesus actually cursed the tithe payer. In fact in all three instances He downgrades the importance of tithes and other matters of the law, and says that they are not nearly as important as matters of the heart such as: Justice, mercy, faith, and humbleness.

Many have quoted the words of Jesus as definitive proof that the New Covenant church is supposed to tithe, and on its outset it does seem to advocate it:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Mat 23:23, NKJV)

There is an obvious problem when declaring that this is definitive proof that the New Covenant church is supposed to tithe, the fact that He was not talking about the New Covenant Church but about the Scribes and Pharisees, people who were bound to the Mosaic Law and should in fact pay tithes.

The New Covenant did not yet exist, it only starts at Jesus’ death when the curtain was ripped and the inner temple was revealed. Jesus was “Born under the law to redeem those under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). At this point Jesus was bound to the law, and of course advocated it; to not do so would have been a sin. It is what happens after Jesus fulfilled the law (Mat 5:17) that is relative to the New Covenant Church, as well as Jesus’ words specific to the New Covenant Church.

Many have argued that the instances of the words “You” in Matthew 23:23 actually refer to the New Covenant Church. This is a stretch to say the least, and doesn’t make a lot of sense when put into context. When read in context Jesus is speaking to His disciples about the dishonesty of the interpreters of the law and was not discussing matters of the New Covenant Church.

Let’s look at the instances of “You” in Matthew Chapter 23: 13 Woe: YOU shut up the kingdom of heaven against men 14 Woe: YOU devour widows' houses; make long prayers 15 Woe: YOU make a proselyte a child of hell 16 Woe: YOU blind guides; YOU fools 23 Woe: YOU pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin (gnats) 25 Woe: YOU make clean the outside of the cup 27 Woe: YOU are like unto whitened sepulchers 29 Woe: YOU serpents, generation of vipers

The “You” in Matthew Chapter 23 clearly is in reference to the Scribes and Pharisees, and is a string of curses for their dishonesty, and does not at all refer to matters of the New Covenant Church.

To further illustrate the point that Jesus advocated the law when he was alive and bound to it we must take note of Matthew 5:23-24, and 8:3-4:

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first bereconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Mat. 5:23-24, KJV)

“And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man;but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (Mat. 8:3-4, KJV)

In both of these instances Jesus advocated the Jewish Law of sacrifice, a law that obviously has no place in the new covenant church. Is tithing another such Jewish law that Jesus advocated in His lifetime because he was under it, but never had any intention of having it be passed on to the New Covenant church as He fulfilled it?

Remember the words of Paul , “We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6, NIV). This leads to another question: Gentiles were never under the Jewish Law (as they were not Jewish), if Jesus ever intended aspects of the law to be passed on to the New Covenant Church wouldn’t He not have placed emphasis on these laws to the Gentiles that He met and that He was involved with? There is no evidence that Jesus ever did so. The law was meant for the Jewish people until the New Covenant came about, and not supposed to be adopted by Gentile or the modern day Christian.

What we do with our resources Is a common theme within Jesus ministries, it is often quoted that Jesus spent more time talking about money than He did Heaven and Hell combined, that He talked about money more than any other subject but the kingdom of God, that 11 out of His 39 parables talk about money, and that 1 out of every 7 versus in the Gospel of Luke talk about money; yet throughout all of this, Jesus only mentioned tithing 3 times (Mat. 23:23, Luk. 11:42, and Luk. 18:12), and all three times he cursed the one who tithed and illustrated how matters of the heart were of far more importance than the act of tithing itself.

Jesus spoke about money for sure, but not as something we should become involved with, but something we should give away freely. I come to the conclusion that Jesus had no intention of furthering the law of tithing; tithing was not the emphasis or intent of His ministry concerning money and resources. Instead He instilled the concept of giving on the New Covenant Church; giving from the heart, and not as an obligation to a law. We are free from the law, and no longer bound to it as we are under grace; to teach anything else would be to bind us to something Jesus freed us from in the first place. Jesus’ message was to give, and give freely. In this way we are to support the ministry.

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