The Mosaic Law and the “Law” of Christ; MATT 5:17-19

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 18

When a preacher stands in the pulpit and insists that Christians must pay ten percent of their gross income to the church, that preacher is not grounded in Bible basics about the covenants, the law, national Israel, and the church. He is not “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). He is preaching “another gospel” and is “perverting the gospel” (Gal. 1:6-7). While Paul said that he had “fully preached the gospel” and that he had “kept back nothing that was profitable”, tithing is not once encouraged by Paul (Rom. 15:19; Acts 20:20)! If the epistle of Hebrews is not written by Paul (as many think), then the word “tithe” never appears in his writings.

These straightforward assertions are fully backed up by sources such as  the New Scofield Reference Bible, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Theodore Epp, John MacArthur, and Merrill Unger. Regardless of how many years one has been preaching error, it is never too late to get back to basics, restudy the law and covenants, and preach the truth of God’s Word. A blessing awaits.

Christians are not under the jurisdiction of any biblical legal code which tells them what to do in any area of life. Yet, while many preachers will readily agree with these words, many quickly disagree and take a different stance when the subject turns to tithing. They simply do not understand the principles of the “law of Christ” and the new creation which lead to spontaneous giving wholly from the heart, and wholly apart from law.

The New Scofield Reference Bible Notes on the Law: Galatians 3

One: Law is in contrast with grace. Under grace God bestows the righteousness which, under law, he demanded (Exod. 19:5; John 1:17; Rom. 3:21; 10:3-10; 1 Cor. 1:30).

Two: The law is in itself, holy, just, good, and spiritual (Rom. 7:12-14).

Three: Before the law the whole world is guilty, and the law is therefore of necessity, a ministry of condemnation, death, and the divine curse (Rom. 3:19; 2 Cor. 3:7-9; Gal. 3:10).

Four: Christ bore the curse of the law, and redeemed the believer both from the curse and from the dominion of the law (Gal. 3:13; 4:5-7).

Five: Law neither justifies a sinner nor sanctifies a believer (Gal. 2:16; 3:2-3, 11-12).

Six: The believer is both dead to the law and redeemed from it, so that he is “not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14; 7:4; Gal. 2:19; 4:4-7; 1 Tim. 1:8-9).

Seven: Under the New Covenant of grace the principle of obedience to the divine will is inwrought (Heb. 10:16). So far is the life of the believer from the anarchy of self-will that he is “in-lawed to Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21), and the new “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1; 2 John 5) is his delight, while, through the indwelling Spirit, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in him (Rom. 8:2-4; Gal. 5:16-18).

“The commandments are used in the distinctive Christian Scriptures as an instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 6:1-3; 1 Cor. 9:8-9).”

As an application of Scofield’s comments to tithing, I conclude: One: Instead of demanding tithes, under grace God bestows the ability to give as we desire in our hearts. Three and Four: While the law puts a curse on law breakers and non-tithers, Christ removed the curse. Five: Tithe-paying neither justifies nor sanctifies. Six: The believer is dead to anything the law says. Seven: The believer obeys the indwelling divine will of God.

As previously mentioned, churches that preach tithing based on texts from the Mosaic Law have missed the differences between law and grace, the old and new covenants, and Israel and the church. First, they preach a tithing message to believers who are dead to that law (Rom. 7:4)). Second, they preach a weak and unprofitable law that has ended at Calvary (Heb. 7:18). Third, they preach a law that has absolutely no glory and, therefore, no power to revive the church (2 Cor. 3:10). Fourth, they preach a law that has been canceled, blotted out, nailed to the cross, abolished annulled, and that has long since faded away, because it was obsolete (2 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14; Heb. 7:18; 8:13).

Tithing, as part of the Mosaic Law, is now a spiritless, revival-less doctrine. Tithing turns a good Christian into a fearful legalist who is afraid of the wrath and curse of God if he/she does not “pay up.” It drives many away from church because they are too poor to give ten percent of their gross income. It also deprives well-qualified poor members from holding church leadership positions. On the other hand, churches that preach gospel principles of grace-giving thrive financially under the freedom of the gospel.

The Christian and the Law: Theodore Epp

The following are excerpts about the law from a very excellent book by Theodore Epp, Moses, Volume III, Great Leader and Lawgiver. Epp was the founder of the radio broadcast, Back to the Bible. (The Scriptures between the quotations are omitted.)

“It is clear from these scriptures (Gal. 5:18; Rom. 6:14-15) that the Mosaic Law, as law, has absolutely nothing to contribute in accomplishing sanctification. On the contrary, being free from the bondage of the law, makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to operate effectively in the believer.”

“So the evidence from Scripture is that the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law. All this has been accomplished because Christ fulfilled every demand of both the moral and ceremonial law.

“The Christian is not under the Mosaic Law in any sense. But the whole law is an essential part of the Scriptures, and as such is profitable to believers of all ages.”

“But although we are to profit from all the scriptures in that we learn valuable lessons from them, not all Scripture passages were written to us specifically.”

“The Christian’s standard of living is not the law. If the Christian is not under the law, what is his standard of living? Basically, the standard for a Christian is to do the will of God by the enabling grace that is supplied in Christ Jesus our Lord through the Holy Spirit.”

“The proper formula for getting to know Christ as a believer is presented in Romans 8:1-4. This is a reference to the law of Moses which revealed the awfulness of sin, made sin a transgression and pronounced death as the penalty for sin.” … “Now that we have Jesus Christ as Savior, we have a new life principle–‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.’ Because God has set a new principle into operation within the believer, the believer is enabled to live a life of victory. Therefore, even though the believer is delivered from the Mosaic Law, the righteousness of that law is really fulfilled in him through Christ (8:4).”

“Believers are commanded to ‘fulfill the law of Christ.’ ‘Bear one another’s burdens’ indicates the nature of the law of Christ. The law of Christ is really the law of love.”

“So even though a person in this age is not bound by the Mosaic Law, there are definite commandments of God that are in force today. . . . ‘that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another.’ This law of love is not a new law in itself because it was at the heart of the Old Testament law system . . . but . . . to love as Christ loved is a new principle”.

To summarize my understanding of Epp, if tithing, taken only from the law, contributes to neither justification nor sanctification, then it has no benefit at all in the Christian life! It is only when the believer is released from the commanded obligations of the law (the exact ten percent) that the Holy Spirit is able to work effectively. If we love as Christ loved, and give as Christ gave, it should be totally unnecessary even to mention tithing. Tithing was based on God’s command to support the Levites for their service in exchange for property inheritance. Tithing was not based on any great loving example which the other tribes wanted to demonstrate to the Levites. In fact, history reveals that the Levitical priests were often despised. Tithes were never used as missionary funds to convert non-Israelites.

The New Covenant “Law” of Christ

“Law” in the New Testament does not always refer to the Mosaic Law. Failure to understand the many uses of the word “law” confuses many Christians who do not seriously study the Bible. For example, the “new” “Law of Love” is NOT the Mosaic Law of the Old Covenant!

Scofield says, “The new ‘law’ of Christ is the divine love, (1) as wrought into the renewed heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5; Heb. 10:16), (2) and out flowing in the energy of the Spirit, (3) unforced and spontaneous, toward the objects of the divine love (2 Cor. 5:14-20; 1 Thess. 2:7-8), (4) the law of liberty (Jas. 1:25; 2:12), (5) in contrast with the external law of Moses: a) Moses’ Law demands love (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5; Luke 10:27); b) Christ’s ‘law’ “IS” love (Rom. 5:5; 1 John 4:7, 19-20), c) and so takes the place of the external law by fulfilling it (Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14), d) the law written in the heart under the New Covenant (Heb. 8:8).”

Unger says, “(1) This category includes the doctrines and precepts of grace, addressed to the redeemed child of God in this age. It must be carefully noted that the Christian is not under law. (2) Grace has imparted to him all the merits that he could ever need (John 1:16; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; Col. 2:9-10). (3) Being “in-lawed” to Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-21) does not mean that the Christian is without law. (4) But it does mean, as one redeemed by grace, he has the duty, or rather the gracious privilege, of not doing what is displeasing to God and fully discharging that which is well-pleasing to him on the basis of manifestation as spontaneous gratitude for his salvation in grace”.

Concerning tithing, something cannot be both “spontaneous” and “commanded” or an “expectation” at the same time. The New Covenant “law of love” is not comparable to the Old Covenant concept of law.

Zodhiates’ Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible

“The Gospel, or gospel-method of justification is called (1) The ‘Law of Faith’ opposite the ‘Law of Moses’ (Rom. 3:27). (2) The ‘law of the spirit of life’ opposite the law, i.e., power, dominion of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). (3) The ‘royal law’ (Jas. 2:8) because (4) it is the law of Christ, our King, (5) ‘the perfect law of liberty’ (Jas. 1:25 cf. 2:12) freeing believers from the yoke of ceremonial observances and slavery of sin opposite the Mosaic Law, which made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:19; 10:1)”.

It is illogical to teach tithing when a better law, or principle, has replaced the legalistic Mosaic Law–that is, LOVE! There are no “Thou shall nots,” but the out flowing, spontaneous, response of living FAITH. This is because the true believer is filled with, the Holy Spirit. Giving, like everything else in the believer’s life, is intended to be a purely faith response, and not of law!

From Shadow Laws to Christ the Word

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, to all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference.

The Old Covenant “shadow” law states, “Your word I have hid in my heart, that I may not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11), and “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). In the Old Covenant God’s Word, or the Mosaic Law, represented his standard of righteousness, that is, his standard of judgment. His Word best represented his perfect character and wisdom. That Word was most closely related to the Mosaic Law in all its commandments, statutes, and judgments.

However, the New Covenant “substance” reveals that the “Word” is actually “Jesus Christ,” and not the Mosaic Law! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “For in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). “[God] has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2). Jesus Christ, the Living Word, not the Mosaic Law, is now hid in the heart of the believer (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:28)! Christ is now the believer’s lamp (John 1:9), not the law. The greater glory of God’s “Law of Love,” in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit, has superseded the written law (Heb. 8:8-13; 2 Cor. 3:3-6; John 16:13-15). God’s standard of judgment is now Jesus Christ! This means that judgment is now determined, not by how we respond to the law, but how we respond to Jesus Christ (John 16:8-9; 2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 9:26-28). The Mosaic Law, good as it was, only served as a shadow truth in comparison to Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:5; 10:1; Col. 2:17). The revelation of God in Christ was the totality of God’s revelation of himself to man. Therefore, only by reading the Old Covenant Law with New Covenant insight can one correctly understand it (2 Cor. 3:13-14). What God wants New Covenant man to know, he now reveals in and through Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2).

Explaining Matthew 5:17-19

Matt. 5:17-19 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 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. 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.

These texts are quoted often by those who want to prove that we are still obligated to observe the Mosaic Law — at least tithing! However, if this text proves that tithing still exists, then it proves TOO MUCH! From the quotations and examples in the remainder of the chapter, Jesus is referring to the ENTIRE LAW and not just the so-called eternal “moral” parts of it. If this quotation means that any part of the Law is still in force, then it must mean that ALL of the Law is still in full force. Yet, to my knowledge, no Christian (or Jew for that matter) today pretends to be living under the entire Mosaic Law.

First, we simply cannot build our entire theology of “law” on Matthew 5:17-19 and ignore all of the other equally inspired texts which, at casual glance, appear to contradict Matthew 5:17-19. The tithing law changed early: the shift from a theocracy to a monarchy changed the tithing laws when it moved the first tithe from the Levites and priests to the king (and re-assigned to them the next tithe) (1 Sam. 8:14-17). As early as Psalm 110:4 God’s Word makes it clear that Messiah will change the laws of the priesthood which was also implied in God’s original plan in Exodus 19:5-6. Jeremiah 31:31 prophesied a new covenant in which the laws would be changed. The many New Covenant texts above which state that believers are not “under the law,” are “dead to the law,” etc., etc., etc. cannot be ignored simply because one does not understand Matthew 5:17-19.

Second, after stating “Till heaven and earth pass, not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law, till all be fulfilled ,” Jesus declared his own interpretation of the law to be 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. Jesus’ declarations in John 14:6 and 16:8-9 are definitely law-fulfilling and law-changing statements:” I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” “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.”

The Gospels go out of their way to show that Jesus was very quickly “fulfilling” the Law in everything he did: Matthew alone uses “fulfilled” very often: 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); lots for garment (27:35).

When Romans 8:4 says that “the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” the requirements of Matthew 5:17-19 are met. 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 Law has no more jurisdiction over the believer.

Third, Jesus totally fulfilled the Law. He 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 to keep on offering sacrifices (Heb. 9:26-28; 10:1-3, 7-10).

[Note:  The following is NOT in the book.]

Fourth, Matthew 5:17-18 must be interpreted in the context of 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.”

If 5:17-18 only referred to the Ten Commandments, and has not yet been fulfilled, then Christians must consider worshipping on the Old Covenant Sabbath which began at sunset Friday. They must also be allowed to own slaves because the Sabbath commandment does not forbid such. Why? Even the “least” of the Ten Commandments was the “dot” or “crossing of a ‘t’” which must be obeyed.

Fifth, it is obvious from 5:20 that 5:18’s “fulfillment” refers to the perfect sinlessness of Jesus Christ which is legally imputed to believers. “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.” (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9).

When Jesus uttered “it is finished” from the cross, His perfect sinless divine/human life had been paid to redeem fallen mankind.  Through imputation the believer’s righteousness does indeed exceed the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. “

Sixth, the context and use of the whole law in 5:21-48 conclusively proves that 5:17-19 refers to the whole law of commandments, statutes and judgments, and not merely the Ten Commandments. According to Galatians 3:10, if one attempts to be righteous before God by obeying one part of the whole law, then one must obey all of the other parts of that same whole law.

One of the TEN COMMANDMENTS in 5:21 (MURDER) was intensified by a worship ordinance in 5:23-24 and by a judicial judgment in 5:22, 25, 26.

Another one of the TEN COMMANDMENTS in 5:27 (ADULTERY) was intensified by Jesus’ interpretation in 5:28 and a judicial punishment in 5:29, 30.

A JUDICIAL LAW in 5:31 (DIVORCE) is intensified by Jesus’ interpretation in 5:32

A second JUDICIAL LAW in 5:33 (OATHS) is intensified by Jesus’ interpretation in 5:34-37

A third JUDICIAL LAW in 5:38 was redirected by Jesus in 5:39-42.

A WORSHIP STATUTE-ORDINANCE in 5:43 was reinterpreted by Jesus in 5:44.

CONCLUSION: The “law” of Matthew 5:17-18 and “commandments” of 5:19 must refer to the whole law consisting of the Ten Commandments, judicial judgments and worship statutes-ordinances as used by Jesus in 5:20-47.