A Critique and Rebuttal of Vincent Cheung’s, 2003 Commentary on Malachi by Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
December 21, 2012
Cheung confuses the Dispensationalist doctrine of grace. In agreement with Titus 2:11, Dispensationalists teach that everybody who has ever been saved has been saved by grace though faith alone.
Cheung is a Calvinist, a Presbyterian-Reformed style theologian who quotes such as his sources. At 3:7 he remarks that “free will” is “non-existent.” He confuses the covenants when he says that Scripture never says that New Covenant documents are superior to Old as if there were no inherent difference between the words “old” and “new.” Cheung’s concept of “moral requirements” and “law” needs to be spelled out clearly before saying that the moral laws remain while the ceremonial law ended. I would ask him for a “consistent” use of the word “law.
“Dispensationalists teach that the moral law has been written in the heart, in conscience and in nature per Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-16 and John 1:9. It is strange that he agrees that the ceremonial laws have ended while ignoring the fact that tithing was at the heart of the ceremonial laws as used by Moses, Malachi and Jesus in Matthew 23:23.
Cheung is wrong when he says that one part of Scripture cannot be less relevant than others.While all Scripture is equally inspired and profitable for doctrine, it is Scripture itself which teaches that the New Covenant is superior to the Old (Heb 8:8-13) and that the Old has faded away. Jesus taught that the standard of Judgment has shifted to what one does with Him in John 16:8, 9.
1:6 to 2:9
While much effort is spent explaining other portions of verse one, no mention is made of the fact that it is solely addressed “to Israel.” This is a fundamental hermeneutical flaw in the theology of non-Dispensationalists. Not everything in the Bible is addressed to everybody.
God was only speaking to Old Covenant Israel which had recently renewed its Old Covenant status in Nehemiah 10:29. Malachi was not speaking to and is not addressed to either non-Hebrew Gentiles or the Church. Only those portions of Malachi which have been repeated to the Church in the New Covenant after Calvary have relevance.
(44) Cheung begins his discussion of 1:6 to 2:9 by saying that he will only discuss some of the main points. Thus he spent 43 pdf pages discussing 1:1-5 and only 10 pdf pages discussing 1:6 to 2:9 which is the heart of the context of the critical passage in chapter 3, verses 8 to 10. This is irresponsible.
(54) Cheung correctly teaches that Malachi began addressing the priests in 1:6 (although he does not point out that this was a change from 1:1). He correctly teaches that 1:6-13 is a dialog only between the priests and God. He correctly points out that the priests were giving a vow offering (instead of a tithe). This is because priests were not required to tithe per Numbers 18:21-24.
However in 1:14 Cheung manipulates the text to make it say something other than what it really says. For no reason whatsoever he says that “the people” (and not the priests) are deceiving God by offering inferior animals to fulfill “their” vows and God then curses “them” – the people. Yet in context it is still the priests who had received the very best animals who were cheating God and not the people. The pronoun “you” has not changed from its reference to the priests in 1:6. Contrary to what Cheung writes in 1:14, there is no pronoun “they” in 1:6 to 1:14.
(47) While Malachi 2:1 repeats God’s specific address to only the priests, Cheung omits it. However he correctly teaches that 2:1-9 is addressed to the priests who are cursed in 2:2 where “curse” occurs 3 times in the KJV.
(52) Cheung again says that the people were the ones who had brought defective sacrifices to the priests. Yet chapter 1:6-14 does not teach that! Any careful contextual reading would conclude that the “you” of 1:6 to 2:10 has not changed. It is the priests who had received the very best sacrificial animals from the Levites and then switched them for their vows (Num 18:25-28).
The fact that the priests had their own pastureland for raising tithed animals is lost to most scholars. See Joshua 21:13-19 and Numbers 35:1-2. 2:10-16 (17)
(54) Cheung makes a crucial mistake when he combines 2:10-12 with 2:13-16 and then does not include 2:17 with 2:13-16. While he correctly points out that the “Israelites” are now in focus, he does not point out that verses 10-12 (probably 11-12) are in third person “they.” God is still speaking to the priests from 2:1 but He is speaking about the people of Judah concerning marriage.
It is wrong to disconnect 2:10 from 2:1-9 as if two different covenants were being discussed in 2:1-10. At least Cheung correctly uses “they” instead of “you” for verses 11-12.
Notice “profane” from 1:12 and 2:13. Verse 13 clearly returns to priests who literally “cover the altar with tears and crying.” And it is also clear that 2:13-17 continues the address to the priests from 1:6 and 2:1. It is wrong to teach that “you” of 2:13, 14 and 2:16 do not refer to the same antecedent of the priests. Cheung is also wrong to teach that the “you” of 2:16 and 2:17 are referring to two different groups (the people and the priests). Read the texts for yourself!
2:17 to 3:5
(59) A question is asked by priests in 2:17 and that question is answered to priests beginning in 3:1-4. In 3:4-5 the “messenger” shall “purify the sons of Levi and purge them” so that the offering of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasant to the LORD.” The “you” of 3:2 is still the priests who cover the altar with their tears from 2:13.
While Cheung keeps repeating “the people” he does admit that “the primary objects of purification and judgment” were the priests. Contrary to what Cheung says, 3:5 is not a list of sins for which God will judge “the people.” Rather it is a list of sins for which God will judge the priests who dared ask the question of 2:17. They were guilty of sorcery (1:7, 12; 2:8), adultery (Ezra 10; Neh 13:28-30) and false swearing (Mal 1:13-14). Also, while some lists of those being helped by the second and third tithe included Levites, this list does not because the Levitical priests are the guilty party.
3:6 to 3:12
(69) Cheung describes these texts as a reference to Christian devotion. Yet nothing can be further from the truth and context. Malachi is NOT addressed to either Christians or the Church. They are solely in the context to Old Covenant Israel (1:1) and to the priests of Israel (1:6; 2:1; 2:13-17).
It is correct to teach from 3:6 that God’s character, or attributes, remain the same and will never change. It is also true that, in Malachi, God is focusing on His unchanging policy toward His covenant people. However, in context, it is wrong to teach that “sons of Jacob” refers to every Israelite in Judah rather than only the priests (who are also “sons of Jacob”).
In 3:7, rather than saying that Israel had departed from the whole law (of commandments, judgments and ordinances), only “ordinances” are mentioned. The “ordinances” (also called “statutes”) were the cultic ceremonial worship laws and holiness code of Leviticus which were so important to the priests in their “covenant with Levi” from 2:1-10. “Return unto me” from 3:7 reflects God’s desire for one honest priest in 1:10 and His pleading in 2:4-7. (71) If “free-will” is “non-existent” (as Cheung claims here) why is God telling anybody to “return unto me”?
(72) At 3:8 Cheung says that tithing refers to giving ten per cent of one’s possession and income to God. This is not scriptural. Although “tithe” does mean ten per cent, the “holy” tithe from the context of Malachi, the Law and Jesus in Matthews 23:23 always only referred to food from inside God’s holy land of Israel which He had miraculously increased. Only food producers inside that holy land qualified to pay holy tithes. Tithes could not come from non-Israelites, from non-food sources or from outside Israel.
The tithing of Abram and Jacob was only from pagan sources and did not qualify as holy tithes under the Law, by Moses, Malachi or Jesus. The legislation to tithe under Moses was only holy tithes of food from inside Israel. It was not the same as that under Abram and Jacob. Neither was tithing a universal standard required of all Israelites. Persons living inside Israelite cities who earned their livelihoods through trades and non-food skills were not included among those who tithed. Therefore not even Jesus, Peter or Paul qualified as tithe payers under the Law.
(73) The common assertion that the storehouse in the Temple was the repository of “all” tithes in false for the following reasons and contrary to common logic:
1. Since there were far too many Levites and priests to minister in the sanctuary/Temple they were divided into 24 courses/families and each served one week at time. Therefore, since wives and younger children stayed home, only 2% of those who needed tithes for food were at the sanctuary any given time.
2. According to Nehemiah 10:37-38 the people brought their tithes to the Levitical cities and only the Levites and priests brought tithes to the Temple. This is logical.
3. Solomon’s temple did not have storage rooms large enough to hold the tithe of the nation. Therefore King Hezekiah erred in 2nd Chronicles 31:1-5 by commanding that all tithes be brought to Jerusalem and, consequently, much rotted in the streets before being re-shipped back to the cities in 31:15-19. Do not stop reading at verse 5.
4. When comparing Nehemiah 13:5 with 1st Kings 6:6 the temple storeroom was about 10 ft. by 20 ft. – far too small to hold the tithes of 444 B.C., much less Solomon’s time.
5. The “you” from “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” only makes sense if it only refers to priests who had removed the tithes from Nehemiah 13:5-10. Only a deliberate ignoring of the text itself can miss the fact that it teaches that the tithe was “meat,” or “food” and not money. Malachi 3:10-11 talks about “windows of heaven” and crop increase because the blessing would not come in the form of money.
When Cheung says that spiritual revival entails a return to God’s ordinances, including tithing, he manipulates the Word to suit his own interpretation. The “ordinances” (statutes) of Leviticus where holy tithing is first described are the very parts of Scripture which Calvinists teach have been abolished at Calvary! While the priesthood which was supported by tithes was not allowed to own or inherit property, no mention of this part of tithing is mentioned by most Christian commentators today (Num 18:20-28).
Cheung disagrees with fellow Calvinist Verhoef who said that the continuity factor was only reflected in the principle of giving and not the manner. I also find some of Verhoef’s arguments weak because his uses covenant theology hermeneutics which confuse all theology and fail to distinguish between God’s promises to Israel and the Church.
(79-80) In his discussion of the “necessary change of the priesthood” of Hebrews 7:12, Cheung ignores that this was a change “of the law” which refers back to 7:5 where “commandment, tithes and law” all occur for the first time in Hebrews. He admits that, in context, it only refers to laws relevant to the Levitical priesthood. However, in context, the specific law being discussed is tithing from 7:5 which supported the Levitical priesthood!
Cheung’s commentary on the context of Malachi is lost in this discussion when he admits that the Levitical tithe of Malachi has been abolished and reverts to Abram’s pre-Law tithe which was neither holy nor commanded by God. The conclusion of the flow from 7:5 to 7:12 in 7:18-19 is conveniently omitted.
(80) Cheung makes the same errors as all tithe-teachers in discussing Matthew 23:23. He says that Jesus did not abolish tithing. Of course Jesus did not abolish or belittle the law before Calvary! He was still living while the law had full jurisdiction! Jesus would have been sinning if He had taught anybody to disregard any part of the law –commandments, judgments or ordinances. In fact He encouraged observance of all the law with its sacrifices and ritual. Accordingly Jesus was obligated to teach that tithe-recipients could not own or inherit property and that holy biblical tithes could only be food from Hebrews living inside Israel.
(81) While I agree with Cheung that Paul did not teach to withhold support from Christian ministries, I disagree with his conclusion that such support was 10% of income and that gospel workers must be full time. This is especially ludicrous since Paul was almost always self-supported and urged others to follow his example in Acts 21:29-35.
Also, there is not a word from Paul about Christian tithing because he knew very well that holy tithes could only come from food from God’s holy land. The prophets were not supported by tithes and gospel workers more closely follow their pattern. Claiming the right to financial support is not the same thing as receiving tithes.
(82) While referring to 1st Corinthians 9:13-14 Cheung does not realize that his argument is self-defeating because it proves too much. If gospel workers are to be supported “in the same manner” (9:14) as O.T. temple workers (from 9:13), then one must include every kind of support included in 9:13 and not limit it to tithes. The whole Levitical tithe went, not to the priests, but to their Levite servants who correspond to our greeters, ushers, deacons, musicians and maintenance men (Num 18:20-28; Neh 10:37-38). “In the same manner” (9:14) does not solely refer back to 9:13. Instead it refers back to 9:7-13. Paul was teaching that each occupation (vocation, calling) provides for its own principles of support. “In the same way” gospel workers are supported by gospel principles of grace and faith and not by law principles (9:14).
Cheung’s use of 1st Timothy 5:17 is also typical of tithing advocates. He is even bolder than most by stating that “double pay” is correct and “double honor” is clearly wrong.
1. He is disagreeing with the KJV, NKJ, NAS, RSV and NIV and agreeing with a paraphrased Bible. No major real translation reads “double salary.” 2. See 5:1. The context of 5:1-18 is discipline, not wages. Paul would not boast in Acts 21:29-35 that he had received absolutely nothing from the churches of Asia Minor and the write to Timothy that elders deserve double wages.
3. If “wages” or “salary” were intended, Paul would have used several better words.
4. “Timees” (Greek: honor) does not mean “salary” or “wage.” It occurs 38 times: 28 as “honor”, 8 as “price” and once as “sum.”
5. In his letters to Timothy, “timees” occurs 3 other times (1:17; 6:1, 17) with none meaning “wage.”6. The O.T. reference of 5:18 is also referring to the double-worthiness of a grinding-ox to eat the produce of its labor.
When Cheung quotes Jesus in Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7 saying that the worker “deserves his wages,” he ignores the context. In both cases Jesus was discussing temporary workers for evangelistic campaigns who begin and end with no money; they even stay and eat for free. This is very far from what Cheung is making the texts say and no gospel minister follows these examples today. It is ridiculous for Cheung to use these texts to say they teach that money is owed to gospel workers!
(84) When Cheung agrees with Randy Alcorn that the O.T. actually taught 3 tithes of about 23 per cent and he himself is “mild” for only teaching one tithe of ten per cent, he makes a mockery of his own argument that we should obey God and tithe. It that is true, then he should teach 23 per cent and is teaching people to rob God by only giving ten per cent! The common idea that O.T. Levites and priests were all full-time temple workers is totally wrong.
Any quick research will reveal that they only worked in the temple one week of 24. The other 23 of 24 weeks were spent either as farmers and herdsmen for tithed animals or learning and working trades useful for the temple. Good church historians point out that even priests in the first century learned and worked trades and taught their children trades. Where does Cheung think they learned the trades they used to maintain the temple? The tithe was not their only income and Scripture does not teach that it was. Scripture only teaches that the tithe was given to them in exchange for their service in the temple and for loss of land and property inheritance rights. Again compare Joshua 21:13-19; Numbers 35:1-2 and First Chronicles 23 to 26.
For much more details on all of the above discussions, see Should the Church Teach Tithing? A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine, Russell Earl Kelly, PHD and www.tithing-russkelly.com.