This objection is full of problems. For anyone who uses this argument, the tithe becomes the least of their worries…
Jesus condemned the Pharisees for many things. One of those was keeping the letter of the law of the tithe while neglecting its spirit:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but you have left undone the weightier matters of the law—justice and mercy and faith. But these you ought to have done and not to have left the other undone. You blind guides, you who strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
He then told them they ought to do both. So we ought to do both, too.
Paying the tithe is a prerequisite to considering the weightier matters of the law. Jesus said it is the minimum requirement. What matters more than paying the tithe, which is easy, is serving God with justice, mercy, and faith.
Critics of the tithe have to wipe away Jesus’s approval and reaffirmation of the law of the tithe. And here is a representative way in which they try:
6 – When Jesus affirmed the tithe, it was before the dawn of the new covenant.
Some defend tithing by saying Jesus praised tithing, even if he said it was less important than other things (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42). This argument appears strong, but it’s not persuasive. Jesus also mentioned offering sacrifices in the temple (Matt. 5:23–24), but Christians don’t think—even if the temple were rebuilt—that we should do that. Our Lord’s words are understandable when we think about his location in redemptive history.
Jesus spoke about sacrifices and tithing before the cross and resurrection, before the dawn of the new covenant. He used tithing and sacrifices as illustrations when addressing his contemporaries. He kept the law since he was “born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). But we can no more take his words as a commendation for tithing today than we can his words about offering sacrifices.
The huge problem is this: most of what Jesus affirmed was before “the dawn of the new covenant.” Which makes it awfully hard to “discern the law of Christ,” since 90% or more of what Jesus spoke was “before the dawn of the new covenant.”
Gary North succinctly explains the problem:
This passage could be dismissed as pertaining only to Old Covenant Israel. But if this line of argumentation is valid, then everything that Jesus recommended or commanded is subject to the same easy dismissal. He spent His earthly ministry preaching to people who lived under the Mosaic Covenant. To strip His words of their binding authority because Jesus and His listeners were under the Mosaic law is to turn the gospels into Old Testament documents.The Covenantal Tithe, page 98.
The beatitudes were issued in the sermon on the mount before “the dawn” of the New Covenant, according to this author’s definition. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Gone also are some of the Greatest Hits:
- Turn the other cheek (Mat. 5:39).
- Love your enemy (Mat. 5:44).
- Do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing (Mat. 6:3).
- The Lord’s Prayer (Mat. 6:9-15).
- Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth (Mat. 6:19).
- Do not judge, and you will not be judged (Mat. 7:1-2).
- Ask, and it will be given to you (Mat. 7:7).
- Love one another (John 13:34).
…and many others, all spoken before the “dawn of the New Covenant,” before “the cross and resurrection.”
To paraphrase this author, “We can no more take His words as a commendation for turning the other cheek today than we can His words about offering sacrifices.”
JUST WHEN IS THE DAWN?
Then there is the issue of timing. The “dawn” represents a transition between two states. As a result, it is a challenge to identify the exact moment at which “dawn” occurs. Since the author uses “dawn” as an analogy, it’s helpful to understand just how fluid it can be.
The formal definition of morning dawn is actually broken into three different categories: astronomical, nautical, and civil dawn. Technically, astronomical dawn occurs when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, but even then “Astronomical dawn is often indistinguishable from night,” according to Wikipedia. Nautical dawn technically occurs when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon, “when there is enough illumination for sailors to distinguish the horizon at sea but the sky is too dark to perform outdoor activities.” Finally, when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon, civil twilight “begins when there is enough light for most objects to be distinguishable, so that some outdoor activities, but not all, can commence.”
Just when, exactly, do we define “the dawn of the New Covenant”? Even at the time of Jesus’s ascension, the Temple and sacrificial system were still in place. They weren’t destroyed until AD 70—after He had already sat down on His heavenly throne. Is AD 70 the proper point to define “after the dawn” of the New Covenant?
The timing issue becomes even more complicated when we examine some of the things Jesus and others said well before His crucifixion. At the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist, one of the first proclamations he made to the people was to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). After John the Baptist was arrested, then “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matthew 4:17).
Couldn’t the drawing near of the kingdom of heaven have something to do with the “dawn” of the New Covenant?
The author mentions two events: “before the cross and resurrection.” But why not include His ascension, when He sat down upon His heavenly throne and began to put all His enemies beneath His feet? Frankly, the author’s line in the sand is arbitrary. He doesn’t defend it. And I can understand why. It’s too hard to see where such lines are as he imagines them. That’s why he used a weasel word, “dawn,” that can mean just about anything you want it to mean.
Let me repeat the words of the author who expressed this objection: “This argument appears strong, but it’s not persuasive.”
After examining the objection in greater detail, I hope you are convinced that it is his argument which is not persuasive.
If we toss out the tithe because Jesus mentioned it prior to his death and resurrection, then we have to toss out a great deal more along with it, including the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount. Are you willing to do that?
It is also worth mentioning that this objection is in conflict with a prior objection, which is that we are no longer under the law of Moses but the law of Christ. Or, to put it another way, “A law is not binding unless Jesus repeated it in the New Covenant.”
As it turns out, He did repeat the law of the tithe in the New Covenant. So now that the prior objection failed, another was needed. Both fail.