Follow by Email

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2099--three tithes (revised)

On Sunday, September 11th, during the Bible discussion/teaching at church, we were discussing Matthew 17.  I was not the leader of this discussion, so I wasn’t specifically prepared for the content.  Near the end of the chapter, when we came to verse 24, the person who was leading the discussion came to the word “tax”, and was thinking that this was referring to a poll tax instituted by Josiah; he was reading from Young’s Literal Translation (released 1898).  I, reading from NKJV, had the word “temple” in italics, in front of the word tax.  In that version, a word in italics means that the word doesn’t appear in the original text, but its meaning is there from the context.  For anyone who doesn’t know, when the Bible is translated from one of the original languages to English, there are times when whole phrases are implicit in the context, and other times when one word in the original language means a whole phrase, or a whole phrase in the original language means one English word.  That’s one of the weird things about the original King James Version.  Those translators had five texts to work with; our modern versions come from over 15,000 fragments to books.

            Anyway, he had poll tax, and I had temple tax, so we went and worked on it in our free time this week.  I should also say that he was thinking of a Jewish poll tax, and I was thinking of a Roman one, with it only hitting me later that virtually none of the Jews in Israel had Roman citizenship, as Paul would later need to use on his missionary journeys, but that’s another question. That would have been totally weird to ask Jesus, a poor, Jewish man of the lowest class about something only a few wealthy non-Roman persons could afford to have, that is, citizenship, which would have been necessary for voting, which would bring up a poll tax discussion.

            That’s the background of a total re-write of this commentary.

            Note that no one but I would probably notice: In a previous form, I numbered this topic 2110.  I changed the number because all the other 21XX commentaries are quotations from other persons.  Also, yes, I have some 20XX commentaries which are quotations of others’ writings, but those are, in my opinion, exact topical fits of subjects which have the same last two digits as the two minute commentaries I posted in December, 2010. 


2099-three tithes

My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute.  One day, at my church, the discussion came to Matthew 17 verse 24, which in the NKJV reads, “When they (Jesus and the disciples) came to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”  In some versions of the Bible, the word “temple” does not appear, as it is not there in the Greek, but to the original receivers of the book of Matthew, they would have understood that the word “tax” referred to the temple tax.  The temple tax was the first of the three Old Covenant tithes, which is referred to in Numbers 18, Joshua 14, Leviticus 27,  Nehemiah 10, 12, and 13, First Samuel 8,  and Malachi 3. That was to pay for the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, the Levites, and the priests, of whom God did not give land to.  The second tithe is the festival tithe, to pay for Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Feast of Weeks, which is what is being spoken of in Deuteronomy chapters 12, 14, and 16, Leviticus 5, 7, and 25.  There is a third tithe in Deuteronomy chapter 14 verses 27 and 28.  This was a tithe every third year, was voluntary, and was for the poor, of whom the Levites were included.  Some would argue that this third tithe was just a special commitment of the second tithe every third year, but outside the Bible, we can see the apocryphal Book of Tobit, the historian Josephus, and the early church leaders Jerome and Chrysostom all left writings that showed that they understood that there were three separate tithes for the Chosen People. 

            Additionally, Leviticus 19 verses 9 and 10, and chapter 23 verse 22 places a direction upon the Jewish landowners to leave some crops in the field to be gleaned by the poor.  This is not a tithe as such, but is an economic part of the Law which is behind Ruth going to the fields to glean in Ruth 2, and Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 12 verse 1. 

            Who paid the tithes and left the gleanings?  Jewish male landowners, as the instruction was tied to God’s gift to the chosen people of the promised land.  The tithe was not connected to businessmen, nor single mothers, widows, those crippled, ill, and the poor, which, as I said before, the teachers of Israel were seen as part of.  Therefore, in the passage I started with, Matthew 17 verse 24, why were the tax collectors asking about Jesus paying the tithe?  He didn’t own land, and walking around as a teacher, would have appeared to be an exempt person.

            First, Matthew, until being called by Jesus to follow Him, was a tax collector.  There were two types in Israel, both were considered traitors to Israel for working for the Empire, but Matthew was from the more hated group.  Matthew almost assuredly wrote this a short period of time after the Romans destroyed the temple and started confiscating the temple tax to be given to the pagan temples, which caused the Jews to stop paying that tithe.  Matthew was writing to clarify that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and was reminding his readers that paying the temple tax was throughout the Jewish people a sign of solidarity with Israel when Jesus was ministering. 

            Why did the tax collectors ask Peter whether Jesus paid the tax?  Maybe they heard that Jesus had said something against the temple.  Later, in Matthew 24, Jesus would prophesy about the destruction of the temple, but maybe they thought that they had heard something like that already.  Also, Jesus prophesied that He would rebuild it in three days, referring to his rising from the dead, but unbelievers who heard that might have associated that with his earthly father Joseph and his trade as a teknon, which is closer to our modern trade stonemason than the commonly said nowdays carpenter. 

Maybe the tax collectors were attempting to find out whether he paid the tax in a different area.  Be that as it may, Peter, consistent with his impetuous ways while he was with Jesus, told the tax collectors that Jesus did pay the tax.

            There was a third reason for Jesus to not pay the tax.  We today know that Jesus was and is the King of Kings, and kings and their children do not pay tax.  Matthew tells us immediately after that Jesus teaches exactly that to the disciples, but, so as not to offend the tax collectors, who would not have understood that third reason any more than it doesn’t make sense why they didn’t recognize the first two, Jesus commands the disciples to go catch a fish, and that there would be a coin in the mouth of the fish to pay the tax. 

            What were Jewish non-landowners to do?  As with the story of the widow’s mite, they were to give generously.  Second Corinthians chapters 8 through 10 instruct us to do the same.  What happened to the tithes of the Law?  Jesus, in dying on the cross for the sins of mankind, fulfilled the Old Covenant.  The stories we have from the New Covenant church show us that we are to be generous, and that the early believers spent money on helping the poor, within and outside the church, and to send mature believers to places where the message of Jesus had not been heard, and that is the only things they spent money on.

            If you would like to see references to back up the statements I made, they are with a transcript of this commentary on my blog,, on the entry for September 25, 2011. You can contact me at or call 757-735-xxxx.  For more info on organic church in this area, visit

            Where did I get some of these statements that run counter to what is openly taught in some churches in the West? 

            Craig Keener, ed., IVP New Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993), on Matthew 17:24-27, 92-93.

            Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1993), 745.

  , on gleaning.

  , on temple tax

  , for one of the breakdowns of which OT scriptures refer to which tithe that I used

  , on Matthew’s personal connection to the temple tax collectors how he would have related to recent events in his writing this passage.

  , on the connection to the law about gleaning and the tithes, although in this, it indicates that John MacArthur sees it as a tithe, which I cannot find agreement with by anyone else, sofar.

            As best as I can find, scripture references to:

First tithe/temple tax: Lev. 27:30-33, Num. 18:21-32, Josh. 14:3-4, 2 Chron. 31:5-6,  1 Sam. 8:15, Amos 4:4-5, Neh. 10:37-39, 12:44-47, 13:10, Dt. 12:6, Mal. 3:8, 10, Mt. 23:23, Lk. 18:12.

            Second tithe/festival tithe: Lev. 5:2-10, 7:6-10, 25:20-22, Dt. 12:6-7, 17-19, 14:22-27, 30, 16:1-16, 26:1-15, Lk. 11:41-42.

            Third/tithe for the poor:  Dt. 14:28-29.  Extra scriptural evidence: Tobit 1:6-8, Josephus, Antiquities

            Gleaning: Lev. 19:9-10, Lev. 23:22, Ruth 2, Mt. 12:1.  

            Note:  If anyone, after studying this, has a quibble that one certain passage belongs with, say, second tithe instead of first, I leave all of this to make the general point of three tithes, all of which belong in the Old Covenant, and generosity and no tithes in the New.  The quibble is with one (or more) of the writers cited above.

No comments:

Post a Comment