Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Many Tithes? -- Redux

I do not want to beat a dead horse, but I wanted to sharpen two points regarding my skepticism that the OT teaches three tithes rather than just one. First, because the tithe in Deuteronomy is listed among other Levitical offerings and, secondly, because provision for the Levite continues to be the tithe's primary purpose.

Again, consider Dt 12.6-7:

"There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offering, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. There also you and your household shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God blessed you."

The tithe sits with all the other Levitical offerings. Consider:

Burnt offerings. Lev 1.3.
Sacrifice. Ex. 29, Lev 3.1.
Tithes. Lev 27.30-33.
Heave offering, Ex 29.28.
Votive & freewill offering. Lev 7.16, 23.38.
Firstborn of herd and flock. Ex 22.9.

It just seems to me to be a really forced reading to see a brand-new tithe authorized in Deuteronomy 12, smack in the middle of all of these other previously authorized offerings, and considering that a tithe was previously authorized as well.

But if Deuteronomy 12 does not authorize a new tithe, then Deuteronomy 14.23-27 cannot either. The Deuteronomy 14.23-27 tithe seems clearly to refer to the same festival as discussed in Deuteronomy 12.

"You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where he chooses to establish his name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock . . . there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household" (vv. 22-23, 26).

Further, just as the concern with the Levitical tithe is support for the Levite, so, too, the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 12 and 14 are concerned with the Levite (Dt 12.12, 18-19, 14.27, 14.29).

The tithe in Deuteronomy 12 and 14 seem to fit seamlessly with the tithe authorized in Leviticus. What Dt 12 & 14 authorize is [a] that the Levitical tithe be brought to a centralized location along with all of the other offerings, and [b] it authorizes Isrealites to skim a bit off the top in order to pay for the costs of the festival.

Dt 14.28-29, then, too, fits, into this scheme. God makes a one-year-out-of three exception to the requirement that the tithe be brought to the centralized location. Instead, it remains in the local town. Calling this a "poor tithe" again neglects that the Levite receives first mention in the purpose of the tithe (v. 29). Only after the Levite is mentioned -- which coheres with the main purpose of the tithe -- are the others mentioned, the alien, widow and orphan.

So that's the nub of my argument. Let me again stress that I'm mainly interested in reading the Bible correctly. I think the tithe passed away with the Levites (although not the obligation to generously support ministers and generously give to the poor). So I'm not arguing for one rather than for three to avoid paying tithes in the amount of 23 and one-third percent. But, shoot, even if God did want all of these tithes to continue on into the New Covenant, I'd be happy to pay it. I owe him my life, after all.


Post a Comment

<< Home