Understanding Jesus’ Tithing Text
of Matthew 23:23 & Luke 11:42

An Essay by Russell Earl Kelly, PH. D., December 23, 2006

Article is from an e-mail sent by Russ

Matt. 23:23 Woe to you, scribes [teachers of the law: NIV] and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law -- judgment, mercy, and faith; these you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.

Luke 11:42 But woe to you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.

1. In the context of Luke 11:41 true cleanliness of the conscience is achieved through freewill giving to the poor as compared to mandated giving of the law.

    Luke 11:41 But rather give alms [charity: NAS; to the poor: NIV] of such things as you have, and, behold, all things are clean to you.

2. Jesus was BORN while full obedience to the Mosaic Law was required of Jews; Jesus LIVED while full obedience to the Mosaic Law was required; and he was KILLED while full obedience to the Mosaic Law was still required from Jews! The time-context of Matthew 23:23 is Law and not the New Covenant of grace for the Church.

    Gal 4:4-5 But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

3. Jesus was telling his disciples about the sins and the woes he was placing on the Old Covenant Pharisees. He was not addressing the church under the New Covenant. Verses 2 and 3 are crucial for a correct understanding of verse 23.

    Matt 23:1-2 Then Jesus spoke to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.

4. Jesus was condemning the scribes and Pharisees because of their high position as interpreters of the Law. This is the context of verses 2-12 before the woes on them begin. He is speaking TO his disciples ABOUT the dishonesty of their interpreters of the Mosaic Law. He is not discussing matters relating to the New Covenant church. He is “abasing” or “humbling” them with 8 woes from verses 12-36.

    Matt 23:2-3 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do…

5. “Woe to you, scribes [teachers of the law: NIV] and Pharisees …” Matthew 23:23

    Follow the word, “you.” It is absolutely clear that the “you” of Matthew 23:23 is the “scribes and Pharisees”! “You” neither refers to Jesus’ disciples nor to the church! The scribes and Pharisees were the ones sitting in Moses’ seat –not his disciples. They were the ones interpreting the Law –not his disciples.

6. “Hypocrites”: The scribes and Pharisees are the hypocrites --not Jesus’ disciples. They were the ones who had exaggerated the Law to make it a burden. And they were ones who refused to obey the laws they had exaggerated! Jesus is not disciplining his disciples!

7. “For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin …” The “you” is still the scribes and Pharisees from “woe is you scribes and Pharisees”! As interpreters of the Law they had exaggerated it to include ordinary garden spices which the Law had never included. The Mishnah and Talmud, not the Bible, defined tithes as "everything eatable, everything that was stored up or that grew out of the earth.”

The Pharisees prided themselves with scrupulous obedience to circumcision, Sabbath-keeping and tithing. They wanted the Jews to think that they could observe these three rites even better than what was expected of the Law. Meticulously counting micro-small spice seeds was their way of boasting. While quoting this very text to prove that Jesus taught tithing to the Church, there is probably no church on earth which tells its members to literally bring tithes of garden spices.

8. “And [you] have omitted the weightier matters of the law -- judgment, mercy, and faith.” Jesus is telling the scribes and Pharisees that judgment, mercy and faith” are more important “matters of the law” than is tithing.

It is incredible how often Christian tithe-teachers quote this verse and omit “of the law.” They then tell us that Jesus taught tithing and omit the historical context of the verse, the chapter and the covenant.

In fact, ALL of Matthew 22 and 23 is in the context of “matters of the law.” The Herodians had asked, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" (Matt. 22:17). In the next discussion Jesus rebuked the Sadducees by quoting from the law (Matt. 22:32 cf. Exod. 3:6.). Next, one of the Pharisees asked, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matt. 22:36). Matthew 23 continues the discussion of “matters of the law.”

9. “These you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.” Again I have never heard of a church which required its tithers to bring tithes “of mint and anise and cumin” and demand that they “ought to have done” so in obedience to Jesus’ command in Matthew 23:23.

If this verse is supposed to be interpreted as Jesus’ command for Christians to tithe money (which the text does not clearly state) then it should also be interpreted as Jesus’ command for the church to tithe garden spices according to the Law (which the text does clearly state).

When Jesus said in verse 23, "You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former," he was re-enforcing for Jews, not the moral law which is eternal, but the current interpretation of the ordinances of the ceremonial law of the Old Covenant.

In fact, Jesus could not have told Gentile Christians “These you ought to have done” because Gentiles were not allowed to bring tithes and tithes would not have been accepted even it they attempted to bring them! In order to be legitimate, tithes must only come from Israelites and only from inside Israel!

10. Jesus only commanded Jews to observe the Mosaic Law and present themselves to the priests. He did not command non-Jews to do this because their lives were not governed by the Mosaic Law. It was not possible under the Law for non-Jews to be circumcised or tithe.

    Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore if you [Jews] bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift). Matthew 8:4 " . . . go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded [Jews], for a testimony to them."

11. It is easy to demonstrate that ALL of the woes in Matthew, chapter 23, are directed against the scribes and Pharisees. Yet the tithe-teaching church today wants to ignore every word of every woe directed against the Pharisees and burden the Church with tithing from Matthew 23:23. Such is very poor hermeneutics. The YOU is not the church!

    vs13. Woe: YOU shut up the kingdom of heaven against men
    vs14. Woe: YOU devour widows' houses; make long prayers
    vs15. Woe: YOU make a proselyte a child of hell
    vs16. Woe: YOU blind guides; YOU fools
    vs23. Woe: YOU pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin (gnats)
    vs25. Woe: YOU make clean the outside of the cup
    vs27. Woe: YOU are like unto whited sepulchers
    vs29. Woe: YOU serpents, generation of vipers

12. Jesus and his disciples were not required to tithe because they were poor. The gleaning incident recorded three times (Matt. 12:1-12, Mark 2:23-24, and Luke 6:1-2) is important. If a tithe were required from all persons and from all kinds of food harvested, then we could have expected the Pharisees to accuse Jesus and his disciples of not paying tithe on the grain they had just harvested and eaten. The lack of such an accusation proves that no such law applied to poor persons who harvested gleanings. Compare Leviticus 19:10.


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