Tithing Was a Statute and Ordinance of the Mosaic Law
Num. 18:23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute [ordinance] forever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance.
Num. 18:24 But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit; therefore I have said to them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.
Mal. 3:7 Even from the days of your fathers you have gone away from my ordinances [statutes] and have not kept them. . . .
As previously discussed in the chapters on Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 12 and Malachi 3, tithing was a statute, or ordinance, of the Mosaic Law. The exact wording of the tithe statute itself, Numbers 18, uses the word, “statute,” in verses 8, 11, 19, and 23. Numbers 18:20-21 contains the most accurate wording of the purpose of tithing found in the entire Bible. Tithes were food products from the land of Israel which were to compensate the Levites for their service to God as a replacement for their lost land inheritance rights in Israel. Those who often quote Malachi 3:8-10 usually omit God’s rebuke of Israel for violating the “ordinances,” or “statutes,” in 3:7.
Ephesians 2:12-16 Abolished Law Ordinances
Eph. 2:12 That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.
Eph. 2:13 But now, in Christ Jesus, you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.
Eph. 2:14 For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us–
Eph. 2:15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace.
Eph. 2:16 And that he might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.
Concerning the abolishment of Mosaic Law ordinances, including tithing, Ephesians, chapter two clearly teaches:
One: Gentiles had been far off from God (vv. 11-12).
Two: The blood of Christ brought them near (v. 13). As believer-priests, they could “come near” and approach God directly.
Three: Christ made Jew and Gentile one (v. 14).
Four: However, he did not make us one by forcing Gentiles to observe ordinances of the law (v. 14).
Five: Instead, he made us one by breaking down the wall which divided the two groups of believers (v. 14).
Six: The wall which divided us was “the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (v. 15).
Seven: Again, Christ destroyed the separating enmity (v. 16).
The Jewish temple had a series of walls which subdivided its people, created inequalities, and created cultural differences. The first wall distinguished between the high priest and other priests; the second wall separated priests from Levites; a third wall separated Levites from other Hebrews; a fourth wall separated Hebrew men from Hebrew women, and a fifth wall separated all Hebrews from Gentiles. A prominent warning sign promised death to any Gentile who dared to pass beyond their wall into the confines of the temple to worship Yahweh.
The “ordinances” of the law defined at least the two most important of these walls; Solomon’s temple arrangement established other walls; and the law itself even served as a partition (Mark 12:1; Neh. 9:13; Ezek. 20:11-12). Various ordinances restricted worship for women, sick persons, persons with missing body parts, persons of mixed genealogies, persons with ceremonial defilement, plus many more who were excluded from full worship and acceptance.
The tithing ordinance was one of the many ordinances which made sharp distinctions between Jew and Gentile, and, of necessity, must be abolished if the church were to be united into one spiritual organism. Tithes were food only to be received from Jewish landowners and herdsmen inside the sacred land of Israel. Ordinances defined the daily lives of every Jewish person and ordinances defined everything the priest was and did.
Tithing, and its associated offerings, were included in the provisional ordinance of the Levitical priesthood. Financially speaking, tithing “created” the priesthood by enabling it to exist! In turn the priesthood received, enacted, controlled and enforced other ordinances such as circumcision, holy days, food laws, and every other distinctly Hebrew custom.
Gentiles did not qualify under the ordinances as tithe-payers! Under the Old Covenant, Gentiles could never be fully considered as God’s people; they could not inherit God’s land and, thus, had no holy land from which to pay tithes. Even Gentiles who had been circumcised as proselytes were always considered “at the gate,” rather than full Jews. A proselyte tithe could not enter the temple. A Jewish priest should never accept a supposed “tithe” from a person who was not a Jew or from land which was considered defiled and pagan. Therefore, tithing must be included among those ordinances which were walls between Jews and Gentiles.
Colossians 2:13-17 Abolished Law Ordinances
Col. 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses–
Col. 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances [statutes] that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.
Col. 2:15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
Col. 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in food, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the New Moon, or of the Sabbath days–
Col. 2:17 Which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.
Colossians discusses a Gnostic-like heresy that had combined some pagan practices with restrictions already existing under the Old Covenant Mosaic Law. False Jewish-Christian teachers (and possibly others) were attempting to force those practices on Gentile Christians. This perverted the gospel.
In its discussion on tithing, the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary of Theology says, “The silence of the N.T. writers, particularly Paul, regarding the present validity of the tithe can be explained only on the ground that the dispensation of grace has no more place for a law of tithing than it has for a law on circumcision.”
Concerning the abolishment of Mosaic Law ordinances, Colossians, chapter two teaches:
One: The Christian who has been re-created in Jesus Christ has been forgiven of all trespasses (v. 13).
Two: God’s forgiveness included the “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances which was against us.” The NAS reads “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us.” The NIV reads, “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us, that stood opposed to us.” The RSV reads, “having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands” (v. 14).
Three: Jesus spiritually “nailed” the sinner’s curse and guilt from these “ordinances,” “decrees,” “regulations,” or “legal demands” to the cross (v. 14).
Four: By doing so, he triumphed over our adversaries (v. 15).
Five: As a result of Christ’s actions, we are not to judge one another, specifically regarding the ordinances of unclean food and holy days (v. 16).
Six: These ordinances were only mere imperfect and temporary shadows of future things (v. 17) (Heb. 10:1).
Seven: The reality and substance to which the ordinances pointed is Jesus Christ (v. 17).
While it is certain that unknown Gnostic-like heresies contributed to the problems of the church in Colossae, it is equally clear that some Jewish mixture of Mosaic Law principles with grace principles was also involved. Jewish and Gentile Christians were most likely accusing one another of violating each other’s traditional food laws and holy days. We must remember that each culture had its own set of ordinances, and not just the Jews.
This problem plagued the early church because it had not decided what to do with all of the ordinances of the Mosaic Law since Calvary. This problem is faced in Acts 10, 15, 21, Romans 14, First Corinthians 8, Galatians 2-4, Ephesians 2, Colossians 2, and all of Hebrews. Again, it is important to note the double standard and confusion over law ordinances which existed in the Jerusalem at least thirty years after Calvary. See my added chapter on Acts 15 and 21.
Paul was right! The compromising Jewish-Christian church leaders, including James and Peter, at Jerusalem were wrong by not also excluding Jewish Christians! This church squabble over ordinances, by forcing Paul to go to the temple, indirectly caused Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea and later imprisonment in Rome.
For the following reasons, tithes must be included in the list of abolished ordinances in Colossians.
One: Both reformed theology and dispensational theology interpret law ordinances as abolished at Calvary; a third theological approach also discards it as cultic, instead of an eternal principle.
Two: The second “festival tithe” was essential for the food and drink offerings at the “festivals” of verse 16. There would be no food and drink offerings without tithing.
Three: Just as circumcision was included in Colossians 2:8-11, ALL ordinances are included in the “shadows” of verse 17 and Hebrews 10:1.
Four: Dispensational theology teaches that the Mosaic Law, the Old Covenant, the commandments, ordinances, and judgments are all part of ONE indivisible revelation which belonged to Old Covenant Israel. Only those laws which are restated in the principles and wording of the New Covenant have been passed on to the Christian church.
Five: Since none of the ordinances, including tithing, could be kept perfectly, this resulted in the “handwriting of ordinances which was against us.” This was an open admission in one’s own handwriting of guilt. Nobody (but Christ) could spiritually, or physically, obey every sacrificial law, every food ordinance, every festival ordinance, or every minute ordinance of giving. All of these ordinances were only “a shadow of things to come” (2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1).
Six: The Greek word, dogma, translated in Ephesians and Colossians as “regulations” (NIV) and “decrees” (NAS) is translated “ordinances” in the King James Version. The King James translators could have given the word its more common meaning of “doctrine,” but recognized its context and relationship to the Old Covenant “ordinances.”
Seven: Tithing was not mentioned as an “exception” to the rule decreed by the Jerusalem church leaders in the book of Acts.
Ephesians 2:15 says that Christ “abolished” ordinances. Colossians 2:14 says that he “canceled” or “blotted out” ordinances. Since tithing was the foundational ordinance that made possible the practical everyday operation of the sanctuary service and its festivals, it must be included in that part of Israel’s religious life that Christ ended. This is a logical principle of interpretation. Whether or not one understands the abolished ordinances as including all of the Mosaic Law, or just part of it–even abolishing the one ceremonial or cultic part of it makes New Covenant tithing hard to explain.
Finally, wherever tithing is found in God’s Word, it is usually surrounded by other religious “ordinances” that almost all Christians readily understand as being “nailed to the cross” and not applicable in the New Covenant.