We are going to continue discussing public giving and how it related to tithing and biblical giving. A “beit din” or a court was set up in cities everywhere. This court would receive applications from the poor and they presented their case. There was accountability on both sides (Mark 7.1-13; 1 Tim 5.3-16; Acts 6.1-6). The beit din compiled a list of eligible people, and the people had to tell the truth about their situation.
There is another aspect to this. Those involved in paganism were not supported. You did not give money to anyone who would donate it or use it for pagan causes. The Didache is an early Christian work from the late first or early second century. It is supposedly a “catechism” that tells the Gentiles about Christian ethics and rituals, such as baptism and the Eucharist and church organization. It says this about giving, “The old saying is in point here, let your alms grow damp with sweat in your hands, until you know who it is you are giving them to.”
Some sects of Judaism (which we call “Judaisms” because their halachah was very different from each other) were very evangelistic until the destruction of the Temple. The Romans “planted” spies within many congregations to find out what was going on, and so Gentiles involved in a synagogue were looked on with suspicion and this began to affect the interaction between the poor and those giving. Also, it is always good to check out the back-rounds of those quoted in the Mishnah and the Talmud because what was going on around them influenced what they said.
Now, the beit din taking applications required that the personal merit of the individual applicant be taken into consideration. Like Paul said, make sure a widow is a “widow indeed” in 1 Tim 5.3-16. You also checked out the heritage and ascertained whether or not there were other relatives who could take care of the person. There were two men who were “sent” by the beit din to collect money, called “shaliachim” or “apostles.” They had to be trustworthy. They had the power to tax and seize property until a certain goal was reached.
Matthew was a Levite and a collector of Roman taxes. Many Levites were employed this way because collecting and distributing the tithe was one of their duties anyway. The food collected for the “tamhoi” or soup kitchens were collected and distributed quickly. The “chupah” collection was one time a week. If you stayed in a city 30 days you were obligated to contribute. If 3 months, you gave to the soup kitchens. If 6 months, you gave clothing and if 9 months, you contributed to the burial fund.
The model for Judaism, but not always practiced, for giving is seen in Acts 2.42-47 where it says that the believers were devoting themselves to the teaching of the shaliachim (the sent ones in the Tanak) and fellowship, eating together and prayer. They were taken with a sense of awe with the signs that were being performed through the shaliachim and they had all things in common, which means they shared. They sold their possessions and property and shared with those in need. They went to the Temple daily, ate together and were growing in number.
You have a similar account in Acts 4.32-37. This brings us to the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.1-6. The problem with what they did was that they gave the impression that sold the land for a certain price and gave it all when they really didn’t. They could do what they wanted with the proceeds of their property, but they wanted to impress others with their “giving” and the Lord was going to have none of that.
Another name for the “administrators” is “parnassim” meaning “providers.” The beit din (court) is over the giving, the parnassim collect and administer it. Paul acted as a “parnas” when he told the congregations to collect money and there would be those who he would name come and collect the money and send them, with the gifts, to Jerusalem to help the needy there (1 Cor 16.1-3). In the Talmud, Shabbat 118b and Bava Batra 9a-11a, it says that not one parnassim was ever called into account over a collection and the administration of funds.
Non-Jewish poor were also cared for from the charity fund (Talmud, Gittin 61.a). If one was not Torah-observant, he could not submit a claim to get support for a relative. A woman’s claim had precedence over a man, a student of Torah over one who isn’t and so on. There were also public “inns” for travelers. The money from idolaters was not accepted in charities (Deut 23.18). Bread was baked during the day and at night for the bashful poor.
In conclusion, it is easy to see that what passes as tithing and biblical giving is far removed from what the Scriptures teach. Deut 4.2 says that we are not to add to or detract from the Word of God. Don’t let others try and “spiritualize” tithing and biblical giving for you, or let them say that you should do what your “heart” is telling you because the heart is wicked (Jer 17.9). We need to do what the Word of God says to do and trust in that. The local church minister is not a Levite and doesn’t live like a Levite, and the church is not the “storehouse.” Don’t let people spiritualize a pastor into a Levite. If they do, then that pastor needs to apply all the laws regarding tithing.
We want to be very clear as we close. Just because tithing is not required right now for the reasons mentioned does not mean that we are no longer to give. Free will offerings are scriptural (1 Cor 8.12; 9.6-9;) and we are to help the needy (1 Cor 16.1-3)James 1.27), support teachers (1 Cor 9.14) and other needs.
Tithing was given to the Levites because they did not have an inheritance in the land and they worked in the Temple. Tithing was established to support the Levites, Kohanim, poor, widows, strangers and orphans. Every verse about tithing was in the context of a Temple, living in the land, a functioning priesthood and Levite, agriculture and it was taken to where the Lord chose to “place his name.” Believers can no longer fulfill these requirements. Hopefully, this series on tithing and biblical giving has cleared up many issues for you and our hope is that you study these things out further and grow in your knowledge concerning this subject.
Hatikva Ministries tape series “Tithing”