MATTHEW 5:17-19

Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

MATTHEW 5:17-18

By Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

August 9, 2008

Matt. 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.

Matt 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

1. Matthew 5:17 and18 are quoted often by those who want to prove that we are still obligated to observe the Mosaic Law — at least tithing! Jesus’ sermon was, of course, before Calvary which makes it Old Covenant while the entire Law was still in full effect (Gal 4:4). It was also addressed, not to the Church, but Jews —therefore Jesus endorsed the Temple ritual and the Sanhedrin (5:21-24).

Matt 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

2. If 5:17-18 proves that the law is binding on Christians, it proves too much! The Law of Moses was an indivisible whole and no Hebrew would dare exclude two-thirds of it as most Christians do. God’s Word states forty-seven (47) times that His Law is an inseparable whole and even the “least of its commandments” cannot be discarded without discarding all of them. One either obeys ALL or is guilty of transgressing all as a set of instructions. Ex 19:5; 23:22; 24:3, 7; Lev 19:37; 20:22; 26:14-15; Num 15:40; Deu 5:1, 29, 31; 6:2, 24-25; 8:1; 11:8, 22, 32; 12:14, 28; 13:18; 15:5; 17:19; 19:9; 26:16-19; 27:1; 28:1, 15, 45, 58; 29:29; 30:2, 8; 31:12; 32:46; Josh 1:7-8; 22:5; 23:6; 1 Kg 2:3; 6:12; 8:58; 9:4; Jer 7:23; 1:4; 2 Chron 33:8; Matt 5:19; 22:40; Gal 5:3; James 2:10.

Jesus made it very clear from 5:19 and his examples in the remainder of the chapter that he was discussing the entire law –all 613 commands of it. It was “sin” to disobey any of it and all of it carried punishments. Jesus quoted from all three inseparable parts of the law. He quoted from the Ten Commandments in 5:21 and 5:27, from the statutes in 5:33 and 5:43 and from the judgments in 5:31 and 5:38. There is absolutely no validity in arguments that Jesus was only discussing the Ten Commandments. Therefore, in order to be honest with the context of 5:17-19, one should admit it teaches that “if any part of the Law is still in force, then ALL of the Law is still in full force.” However, no Christian today claims to be living under the entire Mosaic Law.

Deut 27:26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. (also Gal 3:10)

3. Those who teach that the Law of Moses is still in force because it has not all been fulfilled place themselves into an inescapable position. a) They should provide a consistent principle for bringing over into the New Covenant that which they want to keep. b) They should provide a consistent principle for leaving that which they want to reject. c) They should do this while explaining what Jesus meant by the “least of these my commandments” in 5:19. d) They should go through all of the 613 commandments of the Law and give logical reasons for their categories. And e) they should explain why their shortened list of commandments is valid while the penalties for violating those commandments are no longer valid. For example the judgments for violating the commandments demanded death for transgression of at least the first seven commandments, including the death of children who strike or curse parents (Ex 21:15, 17).

Matt 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

4. The Gospels almost over-emphasize the fact that Jesus was very quickly “fulfilling” both the “righteousness of the Law” and many prophecies: Matthew uses “fulfilled” twelve times: virgin birth (1:22); out of Egypt (2:15); Rachel weeping (2:17); called a Nazarene (2:23); Gentiles’ great light (4:14); bear our infirmities (8:17); God’s Spirit on him (12:17); Israel blinded (13:14); teach in parables (13:35); triumphant entry (21:4); fulfill prophecies (26:54,56); 30 pieces of silver (27:9) and cast lots for garment (27:35).

Jesus succeeded where the first Adam failed (Rom 5:17-19). More important, he came as Israel (the Overcomer with God) personified, perfectly obeyed the righteous requirements of the Law, and died as the perfect sinless sacrifice of the Law which ended the necessity of offering sacrifices (Heb 9:26-28; 10:1-3, 7-10).

Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without [the] law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

Rom 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.

Heb 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

Heb 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.

Gal 3:19 Wherefore then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come ….

5. The “law” as the primary revealer of God’s righteous standards to the Jews, was replaced by Jesus, the incarnated Word (compare Ps 119:11 with Jn 1:1).

When Romans 8:4 says that “the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” the requirements of Matthew 5:17-19 have already been received. When Romans 10:4 says that “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness,” the goal of Matthew 5:17-19 has been reached. When Romans 7:4 says “you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ,” the former Law no longer has jurisdiction over the believer.

Rather than being “abolished,” the law-principle has simply been “set aside” (Heb 7:18). This is comparable to a school-bus which has transported the grade-schooler for twelve years before graduation. It still remains to remind one of life’s journeys and teach by example (1 Cor 10:1-11). However the believer is now accountable to God for his/her personal response to the gospel and not the law (Jn 3:16-18; 2 Cor 3:18; Heb 9:28).

6. The Law has changed. Jesus said that he did not come to “destroy” the law. He did not say that he did not come to “change” the law. In fact Jesus declared that his own modified interpretation of the law was the greater standard. “You have heard that it has been said (in the Law), but I say to you” occurs in verses 21-22; 27-28; 31-32; 33-34; 38-39; 43-44 as God’s new and greater revealed will (“law”).

Jesus’ declarations in John 14:6 and 16:8-9 are also both law-fulfilling and law-changing statements: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” replaces the law-standard. “And when he [the Holy Spirit] is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me” also replaces the law-standard.

Ps 110:4 Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

The New Covenant was all about change, not in the character of God, but in the economy (or dispensation) of the way God chose to communicate with man. This drastic change was implied as early as Psalm 110:4 which predicted a new high priest who would be both a priest and a king not from the law-requirement of Aaron. Jeremiah 31:31-34 predicted a change from the location of the law and also teachers of the law. The priesthood and the temple changed to reside within individual believers (1 Cor 6:19; 1 Pet 2:9). God’s people changed to include Gentiles (1 Pet 2:10; Eph 2:11-14). And the change was made by abolishing that part of the Law which was not moral (Eph 2:15-16).

Conclusion: Those who quote Matthew 5:17-18 to prove that tithing is still valid simply ignore the context and are not prepared to extricate themselves from the problems caused by such position. “Law” is neither a reference to the Ten Commandments nor to tithing. Even two of the Ten Commandments had cultic applications –the seventh day Sabbath and “living long in the land” of Israel (Ex 31:13-17; 20:12).

In practice Christians today do not even obey what Jesus did command in 5:21-48 as his “law.” They definitely do not pluck out their eyes as he commanded in 5:27-30. They swear vows on the Bible in court contrary to 5:33-37. And they fail to see that Jesus has actually changed the Old Covenant commandments, statutes and judgments by making His own interpretation the new law. Yet none of this seems to matter as long as 5:18-19 can be quoted out of context to support the continuation of tithing!


such still does not validate tithing of money to gospel workers because —

1. The Law defines tithes as only food from inside God’s holy land of Israel which He had miraculously increased (Lev 27:30-34).

2. The Law does not accept tithes from what man increased or from outside Israel (Lev 27:30-34).

3. The Law commands that the first whole Levitical tithe be given to the Levites servants of the priests (Num 18:21-24).

4. The Law commands the Levites to give one tenth of the tithe they receive to the priests (Num 18:25-28).

5. The Law requires OT priests to kill anybody attempting to enter the sanctuary (Num 18:7, 22).

6. The Law requires those who receive Levitical tithes to forfeit property ownership and inheritance (Num 18:20, 23).

7. The Law requires a second tithe (20% total) to be eaten in the streets of Jerusalem during the 3 annual feasts (Deu 14:22-26).

8. The Law requires a third tithe every third year to be kept in the homes for the poor (total 23%) (Deu 14:28-29).

9. The Law would not permit Gentiles to tithe either to Jesus or to the Temple system (Deu 7:2).

10. The Law’s application did not allow money with images to enter the Temple –thus the money-changers (Mt 22:20-21).

THEREFORE appealing to the Law to justify tithing among New Covenant Gentile Christians still does not justify a changed definition and application of tithing.