Did Paul Claim the Tithes? What did He Claim Instead?
The official doctrine of the Church is that Paul claimed to the tithes of the churches, saying, “You shall not muzzle an ox while threshing”, and that in Chapter 9 of his first letter to the Corinthians he strongly asserts his rights. But he refuses to avail himself of his right, that he might influence a wider circle of men. For their sakes, he thus voluntarily surrendered his undoubted rights of the tithes. This is what the Christian theologians teach. Can we rethink this? What did he claim?
What it takes to misquote Paul and the tithes
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who shepherds a flock and does not feed on the milk of the flock? Do I say this as a man? Or does not the Torah say the same too? For it has been written in the Torah of Mosheh, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it about oxen Elohim is concerned? Or does He say it because of us all? For this was written because of us, that he who ploughs should plough in hope, and the thresher in hope of sharing. (1Co 9:7-10)
Here Apostle Shaul makes a direct quote from the Torah, as we read,
Do not muzzle an ox while it is threshing! (Deu 25:4)
Let us also consider another Torah law in Deu 23:24-25.
When you come into your fellow’s vineyard, you shall eat to the satisfaction of your desire, but do not put any in your vessels. When you come into your fellow’s standing grain, you shall pluck the heads with your hand, but do not move a sickle on your fellow’s standing grain. (Deu 23:24-25)
This law teaches us that in the vineyard or field of a fellow countryman one might eat at pleasure to satisfy the hunger (see also Mat 12:1 and Luk 6:1), but he is not to put anything into a vessel, or use a sickle to rip, meaning to carry away any store of grapes or grains. That is to say, he is not allowed to gain any profit or advantageous quantity of becoming rich at the expense of someone else.
These verses are interpreted by the Sages to mean that the Scripture is speaking of a worker who enters his employer’s vineyard to work there. In this case the employer is commanded to allow the workers who are employed in processing produce of the earth to eat from the produce they are working with.
This law is extended also to work-animals, as the Torah (Deu 25:4) commands, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is threshing.” (Rashi on verse; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Hire 12:1.) In other words, the Torah implicitly compares a human laborer to an ox; if the laborer works hard like an ox works, he is entitled to eat of the produce like an ox eats. So does Shaul (see 1Co 9:9; 1Ti 5:18).
While the law of the ox may seem out of place among the other laws in Deuteronomy 25, it is actually part of the larger context that gives the answer as to how to understand our verses in 1Corithians 9.
The Torah teaches us that in the simplest terms a domesticated animal is entitled to its rights to eat. Taken out of its context however and applied to our passage, this simple Torah law seems to mean that as an ox is entitled to its food after a hard work, so is a Christian pastor: after his work to teach the Gospel, he is entitled to receive the tithes of the congregants.
Shaul, being educated in the Torah, would not have taken a law of the Torah out of the context of Deu 25:5-10 to make his point. He knew very well, unlike modern-day theologians, what the Torah was teaching further in Deuteronomy 25.
In Deu 25:5-10, we read about the law of the widow, or what the present author calls “The Judah Case”. The context is this: Yehudah (Judah), the son of Ya’akov did not do what was natural or traditional thing to do to give Tamara, his widowed daughter-in-law, as a wife to the next in line of his sons. The context is that if a widow is childless and especially with no one to look after her, she has the right to remarry the next brother in line of her deceased husband, so that she will not be forced to marry a stranger or to sell herself to servitude. Thus, she will have her husband’s brother to father a child with her. The child will carry the name of the deceased brother to continue his lineage.
If the brother refuses to perform this duty to father a child for the sake of the widow, he is disgraced publicly, as the widow spits in his face and takes his shoe. Then, the next brother in line has the obligation to father a child for her. This law of the widow is given to Israel for the sake of the social security of the widow in particular and the integrity of the society as a whole. This is the widow’s due. The Torah thus teaches us that as a widow is entitled to her rights, as is an ox. We see this law performed in Rth 4:1-8.
So, what was Shaul (Paul) teaching concerning the tithes? He asked, “Is it about oxen Elohim is concerned? Or does He say it because of us all?” He answered that the law was written because of us; he who works should work in hope of receiving his reward, as he further gave examples of those who had sown spiritual seed also deserved to reap material goods (1Co 9:11). He even gave an example of the priests and Levites who served in the Temple that they were entitled by the Torah to eat from what had been offered in the Temple (1Co 9:13).
We cannot leave unnoticed the fact that those who have rejected the Law of YHVH and teach that Yeshua the Messiah taught the same (contrary to what He teaches in Mat 5:17-20) have kept very conveniently and protected very jealously only one law of the Torah: the law of the tithes. Sadly, the Christian commentators fall short right there at verse 13 of their interpretations of Shaul’s teaching. They omit the entire verse 14, which we will now read,
So also, the Master instituted that those announcing the Good News should live from the Good News. (1Co 9:14)
What did the Master institute? He instituted that Paul could collect the tithes? This is the turning point in our discussion concerning Paul and the tithes. Was Paul talking about the tithes at all? In order to understand Shaul correctly, we need to see what the Master Yeshua has instituted in the first place.
Yeshua’s teaching concerning the tithes
We read in Matthew 10 that Yeshua sent the twelve disciples eastward having commanded them not to go into the lands of the gentiles and not to enter the cities of the Samaritans, but rather to go the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Mat 10:1-6). He further commanded them, and this is what one cannot find in the Christian commentaries, not to take any monetary rewards, not even shoes. We read thus,
Do not take wages. Without cost you have received, without cost you give. Do not heap up silver and gold, nor wealth in your purse, nor changes of clothes, nor shoes, nor a staff in your hands!
And on another occasion, the Master sent seventy others, two by two, into every city where he himself was about to go, commanding them again the same thing: to take nothing with them, nothing they could gain. Note that the Master commanded his disciples not to take even shoes as a reward for their teachings, but to eat and drink only what would be served on the table.
Do not take a purse, nor a bag, nor sandals. And greet no one along the way. And whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ … And stay in the same house, eating and drinking whatever with them, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not move from house to house. And into whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat whatever is placed before you, (Luk 10:4-8)
And after they returned from their mission, he asked them,
When I sent you without purse and bag and sandals, did you lack any? And they said, None at all. (Luk 22:35)
When they returned to Him without personal gain, they lacked nothing. Their reward was not the money of the hearers of the Gospel, but their reward was the fulfillment of the Master’s command to bring the Good News to the lost tribes of Israel. With that being said, note the very words Yeshua used in Luke 10, “the laborer is worthy of his wages“. Note that he quoted his Father’s Torah in Lev 19:13 and note also that Shaul quotes the same Torah in 1Ti 5:18 speaking of those who teach the Scripture. We read,
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1Ti 5:18)
Therefore, what Paul said in 1Co 9:14 must have been about the tithes but the same what Yeshua had said to his disciples when he sent them out: “the food and the drink you have on the table is provided. Do not take money from the people”. It is a matter of hospitality in the Middle East then and now to serve food and drink to refresh the travelers, but their real reward was the fulfillment of the Master’s command to bring the Good News.
Do not take wages. Without cost you have received, without cost you give.
However, Paul went even further to make his point which was Yeshua’s point, too. He says,
For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward, but if not voluntarily, I am entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in bringing the Good News, I should offer the Good News of Messiah without charge, so as not to abuse my authority in the Good News. (1Co 9:17-18)
A few important things we need to note here. The first thing is that he called his work of teaching the Good News “voluntary” and that his work was his reward, not the food and drink. He continued, if his work was not voluntary, then he was doing what he was told to do in the same manner a hireling would do his job: a hired worker works for the money. At this point of our discussion, we suggest a related reading for the reader’s consideration: The Good Shepherd vs. the Hireling – Time of Reckoning Ministry.
Then, he very explicitly said that his reward was the preaching the Good News of the Messiah, and to make it clear (lest someone might misunderstand him) he pointed out that he was doing his job without charge, without any cost, to the hearers. “Without charge” is the Greek word in question: ἀδάπανος, adapanos. This is a compound word that comes from “a” as a negative particle and δαπάνη, dapaney, “cost, expense” to mean costless, without charge, without expense, that is, gratuitous, voluntarily. And to make it even clearer, if Shaul had not been clear enough, he called that the contrary to this is an abuse of his authority as a teacher. Contrary to this is to work for the money as a hireling does.
In other words, what Paul was saying is this: “I work for the Good News out of love for my Master and this is my reward, nothing else. Contrary to this (receiving money for my teachings) will be to abuse my authority as an apostle of my Master”. It could not have been said more plainly than that. Neither Yeshua nor Paul have ever used the word “money” or “tithes” to refer to the reward of preaching. Neither of them, nor will we.
But the apostle did not stop here. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he felt compelled to remind them again that he brought the Good News of Elohim to them without being paid, as we further read,
Or did I commit sin in humbling myself in order to exalt you, because I brought good news, the Good News of Elohim to you without being paid? Other assemblies I robbed, by receiving wages from them to serve you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was not a burden to anyone, for what was lacking to me the brothers who came from Makedonia supplied. And in every way, I kept myself – and shall keep – from being a burden to you. (2Co 11:7-9)
The monetary provisions for his travel to Corinth, which he received from other assemblies, Shaul called “robbery”. This is how strict to his Master’s instructions Shaul was. He was honest and genuine to the marrow of the bone to admit that it was wrong to receive money from the other assemblies, even though it was for the purpose to travel to Corinth, i.e., to cover his travel expenses. He did not want to be a burden to his hosts. We find the same recurrent theme in his second letter to the Thessalonians, as we read,
nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but worked with labor and toil night and day, in order not to burden any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example, for you to imitate us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone does not wish to work, neither let him eat. (2Th 3:8-10)
Again, Shaul’s point is the commission to Yeshua’s disciples not to take any wages for bringing the Good News to the lost tribes, “Do not take wages. Without cost you have received, without cost you give”. Thus, he set an example for all to learn from him: “If you stay longer at the host’s expense, work for your bread. Do not be a burden to him”.
With that being said, we see a new element in 2Th 3:8-10 that fortifies the apostle’s point that he was not sent to gain benefits: the disciples when sent in mission were to work for the daily bread in order not to be any burden of their hosts. And he explained that although the disciples had the right of hospitality, they were to work for the bread only and thus to set an example for the rest.
When Shaul said, “not because we do not have authority”, what authority did he mean when he said these words? This is the authority given by the Lord: “And stay in the same house, eating and drinking whatever with them, for the laborer is worthy of his wages”. This very authority that the laborer (that is the preacher) is worthy of his wages (that is the food) Shaul willingly gave up in order to set an example so that he can win more for the Good News. And to be a good example for the rest, he was working for his bread.
The Didache few want to hear
There is a first century work called “The Didache” aka “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”, or “The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles” that the present author believes is compiled either by Shaul and by the other apostles, or by the disciples of the apostles. The reason being is that the directions in The Didache given to those who will bring the Good News closely follow Shaul’s teaching in 2Th 3:8-10. Let us read attentively,
Chapter 11. Let every apostle, when he comes to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abides three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departs let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he finds shelter; but if he asks money, he is a false prophet. But whoever says in the Spirit, “Give me money, or something else”, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him.
Chapter 12. But receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord and prove and know him afterward; for you shall have understanding right and left. If he who comes is a wayfarer, assist him as far as you are able; but he shall not remain with you more than two or three days, if need be. But if he wants to stay with you, and is an artisan, let him work and eat.
Chapter 13. But every true prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his food. So also, a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his food.
Hence, we see that the twelve apostles taught and practice exactly what Yeshua the Messiah had taught them, namely, that no monetary gain was to be asked for teaching the Gospel. If he asks money, he is a false prophet. But if he wants to stay, he has to work for the food; he is worthy of his food. As a true teacher is worthy of his food during his stay, so is the workman of his food.
What Yeshua taught and what His disciples taught afterwards can be basically narrowed down to this: a teacher is to be received with hospitality and provided temporary lodging and food. This is hospitality which is to be his wage and nothing more. He is not to ask for money and not to be given any. If he asks for money, he is a false teacher. This is the teaching of the twelve apostles and the Messiah. Anything else is from men.
Can the Levites be used to justify that Paul claimed the tithes?
The laws in Numbers and Deuteronomy provide a convincing proof that the Levites were not without possession of land and that they lived on the produce of it. This we studied in other articles such as “Is There Any Place for “Professional Priesthood” Today?” and “Do not sell Wisdom, Instruction, and Understanding!” We see, hence, that there is no foundation for the claim that the modern-day priests, pastors, and other clergy staff are entitled to receive free money from the parishioners. Nor are there any merits that Paul had ever claimed the tithes. But what do we see today? We see just the opposite.
The reward of the modern-day clergy has a reward in a large material portion from the laity. Very often the church staff has much better social security benefits, retirement plans, material possessions, etc., than the congregants themselves. They are rich; some of them even millionaires.
And in return, what do they teach? The Torah of YHVH has been done away with.
Furthermore, the law of the lands (the secular laws) allows the pastors to have the so-called tax-exempt allowances. The secular law that regulates the business of the religious corporations (churches) permits the pastors and priests to play with tax-exempt allowances in order to form small taxable salaries and pay less taxes. This scheme allows them to build megachurches and religious empires.
As the hireling-shepherds in Yeshua’s words in Joh 10:11-13, the clergymen work for the money: some for more, others for less, but they all are after “the green” as they travel from one “green pasture” to a “greener one” pursuing better career in the religion. It is a profitable business for them, not a voluntary work for the sake of heaven. The pastors are more concerned about the tax-exempt status of their churches, not the sin-exempt status of the congregants. They are more concerned what to give back to the Ceasar in return for the tax-exemptions they have received.
But the hireling, and not being a shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. Now the hireling flees because he is a hireling and is not concerned about the sheep. (Joh 10:12-13)
The pastors, reverends, bishops, TV evangelists, etc., most of them rich and some of them very rich, take the tithes of the congregants for the simple reason that they believe that “the professional priesthood” has replaced the Levitical priesthood, and they are “the new Levites”. They dare use the verse below,
When you take of the children of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall set apart of it a gift for Yehovah, even a tithe of the tithe. (Num 18:26)
Sadly, they do not even suspect, for the lack of knowledge of the Torah (consider Shimon’s warning in 2Pe 3:14-17), that YHVH forbids any impersonation or substitution of the Levitical priesthood. No one can say today that he is a modern-day Levite, and that he has no portion, nor inheritance, and thus he is entitled to the tithes Paul had allegedly received.
And do not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. At the end of every third year, you bring out all the tithe of your increase of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the sojourner and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, shall come and eat and be satisfied, so that Yehovah your Elohim does bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (Deu 14:27-29)
Strictly speaking, according to Torah, we cannot even tithe today. We cannot tithe because there is no Temple in Jerusalem, we do not know with certainty who the Levites are, and even if we know, still no sacrificial service can be instituted without the Temple. And even if the Third Temple is to be built, it cannot function without the Messiah. And because of all of the above, our charities are for the poor, the widow, the orphans, the sick, for the needy only. This is the essence of Torah of YHVH.
But the pastors do not know that and do not want to know it. Ironically, the same people that have rejected the Law, have kept only one law of it: the law of tithes. How convenient! Their favorite quote of the Scripture is 1Co 9:9. Every Sunday morning they require from the congregants the money otherwise meant for the needy.
Are they entitled to “tithes”?
The wrongness that the preachers are entitled to the money of their laymen, as Paul were entitled to the tithes, also comes from the misunderstanding what the word “apostle” means. Today, many understand the word “apostle” to mean someone who preaches the Gospel. However, the Greek word ἀπόστολος, apostolos, does not mean a preacher, but it simply means a delegate, an ambassador, a messenger; he who is sent by someone to do a work. When Shaul referred to himself as an apostle (1Co 9:1), he simply meant an emissary, a sent one, to do the work his Master Yeshua had told him to do.
When Shaul travelled from place to place, wherever he stayed he was entitled to the food and drink his hosts served him, as Yeshua taught so. And whenever he headed for his next destination, he took nothing with him. He returned to Jerusalem to with no monetary gain, except the gain of his moral reward for preaching the Good News. We do not know with any certainty as to why Shaul went into such an extended discussion concerning preaching the Good News without charge. But we may infer from the opening of his teaching that he was speaking in defense of himself, as he felt falsely accused by some who examined him (1Co 9:3) whether he was preaching for money.
My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? (1Co 9:3-4)
Shaul knew that his jealous critics were watching his every action and seeking to weigh his motives. He went into explanation that he was entitled to the food and drink (1Co 9:4-7), because he was sent in mission. He did not have a wife to take care of, as Shimon (Peter) had, and he felt chosen by the Messiah to travel long distances to the nations and bring the Good News, as Shimon travelled to the Jews. This simple context has been conveniently omitted by the religious leaders, because they see only what they want to see and hear only what they want to hear.
In conclusion of our discussion, what can we say? Is it wrong to collect money? There is nothing wrong for the congregants to collect money to pay the bills and mortgage to cover the expenses. After all, they need to congregate somewhere, and the expenses must be met. But these are just that: expenses, and the expenses are not the charities for the needy. What the people of faith are commanded to do is to take care of the poor, the needy, the widows, and the orphans, not of the pastors who are far from being needy. If the laymen want to pay the salary of someone to teach them, there is nothing wrong with that. But this is just another expense, not act of loving-kindness to the needy they must do. Hardly the religious clergy can be called “needy”.
Let us recall the words of Yeshua at the mountain (for more insight on His teaching in Mat 5:17-20, the reader is encouraged to refer to the article “Has the Messiah abolished the Law?“),
Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to complete. For truly, I say to you, till the heaven and the earth pass away, one yod or one tittle shall by no means pass from the Torah till all be done. Whoever, then, breaks one of the least of these commands, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the reign of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall by no means enter into the reign of the heavens. (Mat 5:17-20)
The Messiah said plainly, “whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens”. The teachers are supposed to teach correctly the Torah and the Prophets, and their reward is the reward to be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Nothing more. If they teach the Scripture for the money, they have already received their reward here on the earth: the money. What other reward would they expect from heaven?
The conclusion of the matter is this: when YHVH gives us a work to do in ministry, He also provides us with the daily bread for our work; the daily bread He provides we need to work for. What a lesson for all of us and especially for those who are ministers of Yeshua the Messiah!
If YHVH did not charge Mosheh, and Mosheh did not charge the people, and if Paul and the other disciples did not claim the tithes, why should the pastors?
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