REBUTTAL OF WILLIAM BARCLEY ON TITHING
By Russell Earl Kelly, April 10, 2017
The Bible Commands Christians to Tithe, March 28, 2017
Barcley: Does the Bible command Christians to tithe and, if so, is the baseline 10 percent as expressed in the Old Testament? I believe the answer is yes. The tithe is essential for holiness, vital for the ongoing work of Christ’s church, and required for receiving God’s blessing.
Kelly: First, it is wrong to say that tithing was a “baseline 10 per cent” in the O.T. It never applied to non-food producers in Israel or anybody outside Israel. In fact, Jesus, Peter and Paul did not qualify as biblical tithers. Second, if tithing were “essential for holiness, vital for the ongoing work of Christ’s church, and required for receiving God’s blessing. — the growth and blessings of non-tithe-teaching ministries makes no sense (John MacArthur, Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, etc.).
Barcley: My argument, in a nutshell, is this: The requirement to tithe preceded the Mosaic law, was codified in it with ceremonial aspects added, and was affirmed by Jesus as binding on his followers.
Kelly: All three of these arguments are based on false interpretations. The nearest ordinance equivalent to Abram’s tithing is Numbers 31:27-30 where 1/50th of spoils of war go to Levites and 1/500th to priests.
Barcley: The first explicit references to the tithe appear in Genesis 14, where Abraham tithes to Melchizedek, and in Genesis 28, where Jacob promises to give God “a full tenth.” But where did the idea to tithe come from? Many argue Abraham and Jacob were simply following the customs of the surrounding nations.
Kelly: First, the “explicit” references to the tithe in Genesis 14 and 28 are pagan in source and are very different from HOLY tithe as the word is used by Moses, Nehemiah, Malachi and Jesus. In fact, Abram’s tithe originated in Sodom and Jacob’s pagan-source tithe was a freewill vow which is far different from the tithe of the law. Second, ignoring the fact that all surrounding nations of Abram’s time practiced tithing does not change historical evidence.
Barcley: But Scripture points in a different direction. In Genesis 26:5, God says, “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” This language is almost identical to later instructions regarding the Mosaic law.
Kelly: The logic is weak because it assumes that everything Abraham did was in obedience to God’s command. Beyond lying to Pharaoh about his wife, Abram’s total tithe went to the king-priest while the Law-tithe went to the Levite servants to the priests (Numb 18:21-24). And there is no biblical evidence that he ever repeated it. Also, Abram’s tithe did not require Melchizedek to forfeit owning land in Israel and amassing wealth (Numb 18:20).
Barcley: This passage implies that God gave his people laws in addition to those written in Genesis.
Kelly: Agreed, but it does not imply that Abram or Jacob’s tithe was the same as the HOLY tithe of the Law.
Barcley: It’s clear from Genesis 4 that the first family knew they had a responsibility to give back to God a portion of what God had given them. They were even held responsible for the kind of offering they gave. God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.
Kelly: Your point proves nothing about tithing. While giving is an eternal moral principle written in the heart of all normal men and women, tithing ten per cent is not taught by common sense, nature or conscience.
Barcley: In addition, since the Old Testament later links the offering of the “firstborn” and “firstfruits” to the tithe, it’s possible Abel’s offering was accepted precisely because it was a tithe.
Kelly: This is reaching for something that is not there. While God’s Word often discussed the firstfruits and firstborn together with the tithe, it also always clearly separates the two into different categories of giving. And suggesting that Abel’s offering was a tithe is unscriptural.
Barcley: The Old Testament is clear God’s people were to give back to him—and that he’d given instructions about what that entailed.
Kelly: Yes, very clear instructions about what that entailed. Sixteen texts (16) overwhelmingly prove that the HOLY tithe of the Law was always only food from inside God’s HOLY land which God miraculously increased. The “barter” argument fails because “money” occurs 44 times before the HOLY tithe is first described in Leviticus 27:30-34. While money was essential for poll taxes and some vow offerings, money was never a tithed item.
Barcley: Some have suggested Jacob was offering a one-time tithe in Genesis 28. But as John Currid observes, the verb “to tithe” describes frequent, multiple actions. Jacob appears to be “making a lifetime commitment to Yahweh in the matter of tithing.”
Kelly: Quoting a non-biblical source merely proves that there are no biblical verifications.
Barcley: Why does Moses record these events? Since he later records God’s command to tithe, he would not have attempted to show Abraham and Jacob’s accommodation to the customs of the nations. Rather, he recorded it to demonstrate their piety.
Kelly: Perhaps Moses recorded Genesis 14 and 28 in order to be historically accurate. Unless one is inspired and infallible, it is wrong to conclude a reason not given in God’s Word. Genesis 14 does not exist to teach tithing. Rather it gives a springboard for the writer of Hebrews to build Christ’s credentials upon the “order” of an O.T. king-priest.
Barcley: Moreover, the writer of Hebrews shows the propriety [appropriateness] of Abraham’s tithe since it was given to the “priest of the Most High God” (Heb 7:1). There is an inherent sense of continuity in Hebrews 7 connecting Abraham’s tithe to the tithes the Levites received (and gave) under the Mosaic covenant. This is striking in letter intent on showing aspects of the old covenant that no longer apply to new covenant believers. Yet far from revealing discontinuity, Hebrews leaves the impression that Christians will also tithe to their eternal high priest.
Kelly: Since 7:5 was the only law being discussed, Hebrews 7:12 states that it was “necessary to change the law” of tithing from 7:5. Rather than change tithing from Levite servants of priests to gospel workers, 7:18 concluded that the “necessary change” was its “annulment.” That is plain enough for most to grasp except highly educated theologians.
Barcley: In these passages, then, the apparent requirement of a tithe comes before the giving of the Mosaic law, and is not tied to it.
Kelly: Without any specific texts, Barcley invents “apparent” requirements.
Barcley: So while the tithe becomes codified in the old (Mosaic) covenant, it can’t be dismissed as part of the old covenant that’s been fulfilled in Christ and no longer applies to new covenant believers.
Kelly: First, the “codified” HOLY tithe of the Law was vastly different from the pagan-source tithe of Abram and Jacob. Second, since tithes never applied to non-Old Covenant persons, the “no longer” argument is totally wrong
Barcley: These passages show the piety of the patriarchs and establish what God expects from his people.
Kelly: Again, lacking in biblical verification, Barcley resorts in inventing his own conclusions.
Barcley: When we come to the law, it becomes clear that the tithe is God’s standard for giving.
Kelly: Again, this is an invented conclusion because the tithe was only a standard for food-producers living inside HOLY Israel. It was never a standard for non-food producers such as carpenters (Jesus), tentmakers (Paul), fishermen (Peter), craftsmen, traders and teachers who earned their living from their own skills and work.
Barcley: The tithe doesn’t even belong to the giver, but to the Lord (Lev 27:30 NLT). God’s people were not even to think of the tithe as theirs to do with as they pleased. It was the Lord’s, and they were to automatically give it back to him.
Kelly: The text quoted (Lev 27:30) proves that the HOLY tithe was always only food from God’s HOLY land. It was never money and never came from outside God’s HOLY land.
Barcley: Under the Mosaic law, there appear to be three tithes: a regular tithe given to support the priests and the work of the temple; a “festival tithe” for the celebration of the required feasts (cf. Deut 12:17-19) and a “charity tithe,” given every third year to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow (Deut 14:28-29). If this is true, the Israelites were actually required to give 23.3 percent of their income, not 10 percent.
Kelly: If you believe this, why don’t you teach 23% tithing? Also you are wrong teaching that the first tithe went to the priests; it went to the Levite servants of the priests (Numb 18:21-24) and the priests only received a tenth of that tithe (1%) (Numb 18:25-28; Neh 10:37b-38).
Barcley: Many Old Testament scholars don’t see these as three separate tithes, but as three uses of one. Yet even if there were three tithes, as is likely the case, it’s no surprise the amount would increase when wedded with the ceremonial law, especially with the required festivals—all of which have been fulfilled in Christ.
Kelly: For Hebrews the ceremonial law was just as important and just as moral and violation was just as sinful as the Ten Commandments (Matt 5:17-48).
Barcley: We see this happen with the Sabbath—an eternal moral law rooted in creation—which takes on various ceremonial aspects under the Mosaic law (ceremonies involving showbread, for example). This is what Paul is talking about in Colossians 2:16 when he forbids letting anyone pass judgment in questions of Sabbath. Under the new covenant, the ceremonial aspects fall away while the moral law of the Sabbath remains.
Kelly: So why don’t you worship on Saturday? Your concept of Law is unbiblical. Comparable to the U. S. Constitution replacing ALL British law, the New Covenant replaced the entire Old Covenant Law. There are no holy days after Calvary per Romans 14:5-6 and Galatians 4:9-11.
Barcley: The same is true of the tithe. The basic tithe, supporting the work of ministry, remains, even while ceremonial aspects fall away.
Kelly: Notice no validating texts!!! That is not what Hebrews 7:5, 12, 18 teaches. The O. T. priest only received one per cent and still worked trades while not at the temple 23 of 24 weeks. What gives you the right to receive the full 10% and still own property? (Numb 18:20-28) The parts you ignore have been conveniently abolished so you can have the full tithe, own property and amass wealth. That is hypocrisy.
Barcley: Yet the tithe is a minimum; Christians are always to give to the poor and support other works that extend God’s kingdom (cf. 2 Cor 8-9). The basic tithe is to be given to the church, to support its work and mission, as seen in Malachi 3.
Kelly: You keep repeating “minimum standard” without any validating texts. That is wrong. There is no Bible text proving that the tithe ever transferred to the church for gospel workers (Heb 7:5, 12, 18). Almost all church historians will disagree with your conclusions.
Barcley: Indeed, God’s rebuke of his people in Malachi 3:6-12 is remarkable in at least three ways. 1. God accuses his people of “robbing” him by failing to tithe (3:8). This reflects the biblical teaching that the tithe belongs to God.
Kelly: First, “his people” was Israel under the Old Covenant (1:1). God never commanded Gentiles or Hebrew Christians to tithe. Second, the God-robbers were the priests themselves beginning in 1:6; repeated in 2:1 and the “you” pronoun throughout Malachi. In context, “this whole nation of you” in 3:9 means “of you priests” — every priest in the nation. According to Leviticus 27:30-34 and 15 other texts “the tithe that belongs to God” was always only food from inside HOLY Israel. There are no texts which teach otherwise.
Barcley: 2. In almost unprecedented fashion, God challenges his people to test him. Tithing is always a test of faith. It’s big enough to hurt, and it forces us to trust God to provide. But it’s not big enough to distress God’s people who are living within their means and leveraging their resources for his glory.
Kelly: First, the whole Law was a test, not merely tithing. Exodus 28-30 says “obey all to be blessed; break one to be cursed” (Also Gal 3:10). It is ludicrous today that unmarried couples will tithe and expect God to bless them… Christian ministers are to blame for taking tithing out of context of the whole law.
Barcley: 3. God promises to pour abundant blessings on his people when they tithe (cf. 2 Cor 9:6).
Kelly: No, God does not promise to bless post-Calvary New Covenant believers when they tithe. The tithe never changed from food from inside HOLY Israel. Second, It is deceitful to quote 2nd Corinthians 9:6 as a tithing text when it is clearly a freewill offering text coupled with 9:7.
Barcley: No other ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic law draws condemnation in quite this way, except for offering corrupt sacrifices. God treats the lack of tithing as contemptible.
Kelly: First, since there is no death penalty for not tithing, it is wrong to teach “No other ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic law draws condemnation in quite this way, except for offering corrupt sacrifices.” Many death penalties were attached to violations of ceremonial laws. Second, you ignore the fact that tithes are still only FOOD in 3:10 and the blessings for tithing are all related to FOOD 3:10-11. That is dishonest.
Barcley: Jesus Teaches the Tithe. Lightstock: Jesus upholds the tithe in Matthew 23:23 (cf. Luke 11:42). He condemns the Pharisees for their tedious commitment to one part of God’s law, the tithe, while neglecting “the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” Then he states, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Kelly: First, why quote Lightfoot? Why not just state your own thoughts? Is Lightfoot more credible than yourself? Second, although you mention it, you treat the incident as if it is not in the context of the law and relates to the church. Third, of course Jesus taught tithing; the law was still in full effect before Calvary. If Jesus had not taught tithing, He would have SINNED.
Barcley: The Greek word translated “ought” (dei) in the ESV is strong and indicates a necessity. We could translate as follows: “You must do these things, and you must not neglect those things.”
Kelly: The “other things OF THE LAW.” Be honest and quote God’s Word correctly.
Barcley: All of Matthew 23 is devoted to the wrong practices and teaching of the scribes and Pharisees.
Kelly: Yes. And unless you teach your church members to tithe garden herbs, you are disobeying Jesus’ literal words. Jesus was agreeing because the people had allowed the Pharisees to be their interpreters of the Law.
Barcley: The chapter begins by clarifying that Jesus is teaching “the crowds and his disciples.”
Kelly: True and all of them were under the same Old Covenant law — crowds, disciples, scribes and Pharisee.
Barcley: Those who don’t believe tithing is for today argue that Jesus is only addressing scribes and Pharisees still under the old covenant.
Kelly: This is a stupid invented statement. You have added “only” to our argument.
Barcley: Yet this misses the context. These words are for Jesus’s followers.
Kelly: Your determination to prove your point has caused you to miss the context. Again, the law was still in full effect for all Hebrews –not just the scribes and Pharisees!!! In the entire chapter, Jesus was teaching his followers how the scribes and Pharisees had twisted the Law and perverted justice.
Barcley: Elsewhere he doesn’t shy away from setting aside those parts of the law that no longer apply to his disciples (cf. Mark 7:19).
Kelly: How dare you teach that Jesus set aside any of the Law before Calvary!!! That would make Him a sinner! First, it goes against Matthew 5:19. Second, Hebrews correctly looked at the whole law as an indivisible whole. Third, Mark 7:19 is not an end of unclean food before Calvary; it is a focus on more damaging sins than eating unclean food (whose uncleanness only lasted until sunset.)
Barcley: But in teaching his disciples, Jesus upholds the tithe.
Kelly: Jesus upholds the Law for Old Covenant Israel before Calvary. He was not teaching that tithes went to Himself and His disciples and He was not teaching that His Gentile disciples should tithe to Him or His disciples. Be honest with the text.
Barcley: [Personal testimony] We [husband and wife] believe that the tithe should come from our gross income—
Kelly: No texts. Personal opinion only. The HOLY tithe of God’s Word was “increase” of food from inside God’s HOLY land.
Barcley: I would exhort all to take God’s challenge.
Kelly: God never challenged New Covenant Christians to tithe. After Calvary He taught freewill, sacrificial, generous and joyful giving.
Barcley: As the old saying goes, you cannot out give God.
Kelly: True, but that does not validate tithing; it validates sacrificial giving.
William Barcley is senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, and adjunct professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary.
Russell Kelly: If, as Presbyterians teach, God forces the will, why teach anything? If one tithes (they teach) it is because God has predestined one to tithe. If one is saved (they teach), it is because God has predestined that person to be saved before birth. Post Calvary New Covenant giving is freewill.
I challenge Dr. Barcley or anybody else to enter into an extended in depth OPEN dialog with me on the subject of tithing. It is past time for the Church to complete the Reformation and replace Old Covenant giving with sound Holy Spirit-blessed better principles.
In Christ’s love
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD