Tithing Halachah for Gentile Believers

Chapter 12 of the weekly studies in the Didache


DidacheAug 24, 2017

DidacheAug 24, 2017


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First Fruits of Zion is proud to announce the completion of a Messianic Jewish translation and commentary on the Didache entitled The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles. The Didache is sixteen chapters long, and there are exactly sixteen Sabbaths between Shavu’ot and Rosh HaShanah. In turn, it presents a perfect opportunity to study one chapter of the Didache per week throughout the summer. We will be presenting a blog each week previewing some of the commentary of The Way of Life.

Didache 13 continues the legal section that began in chapter 7 and introduces a new section about supporting prophets and teachers.

The chapter offers practical halachic advice on fulfilling the Master’s mandate that “the laborer deserves his food” (Matthew 10:10). Establishing this system of gifts for prophets and teachers ensured that the community would provide for the needs of its leaders, and it gave the Gentile believers of the Diaspora a way to participate in the Torah’s commandments regarding priestly gifts.

Halachah for Gentiles

According to the Didache, the Gentile believers do not give the sacred gifts to priests and Levites but rather to prophets and teachers. The Didache reasons that the “first part” should be given to the prophets because, as the writer indicates to the believers, “They are your high priests” (13.3).

Some scholars interpret this as a replacement of the Levitical system, but the New Testament does not teach substitution or replacement of Old Testament laws and institutions, as Christian interpretation usually assumes. On the contrary, the New Testament assumes that the Torah’s laws of priestly gifts were upheld. The New Testament contains several metaphorical references to tithing that assume that the system is in place. In fact, the Master did not even take issue with the Pharisees’ extension of the laws of tithing to include “mint and dill and cumin” so long as they did not subvert “weightier matters of the law.” Rather, our Master Yeshua taught, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23). If the Master had not been strict about the laws of priestly offerings himself, he would not have been invited to dine with the Pharisees. Even in another apostolic tradition 1 Clement, we find that the apostolic community preserved a positive view of the Temple and the ongoing hierarchical nature of the Levitical system:

To the High Priest were assigned special services, and to the priests a special place hath been appointed; and on the Levites special duties are imposed. But he that is a layman is bound by the ordinances of laymen. (1 Clement 40.5)

So why did the Didache direct its readers to give their gifts to prophets and teachers rather than to Levitical priests? We must remember that the Didache was written to Gentile believers in Messiah who lived in the Diaspora. The laws of trumah in the Torah apply only within the land of Israel and only to Jews. Additionally, many of the communities in which the Gentile believers lived did not have qualified Levitical priests to whom trumah could be given. Therefore, the Didache’s instructions are intended as special legislation for Gentile believers, teaching them how they may participate in the principles of the Torah’s priestly gift commandments. The tithing legislation of Judaism is here “artfully adopted for Gentiles.” [1] In this way the Didache reinterprets the trumah commandments of the Torah and makes them applicable to these new non-Jewish initiates.

This points not to a break with the people of Israel and normative Judaism but rather displays continuity with the Jewish people as the Didache seeks to apply the principles of the Torah to the nations. Marcello del Verme writes that Didache 13 “is a clear sign that the ‘parting of the ways’ between Judaism and Christianity is still far away.” [2] Even the twice-repeated phrase “according to the commandment” points toward a loyalty to Judaism and the Torah and not to a separation:

The natural and straightforward way in which the Didachist refers to the assistance to be given to the prophets as being “according to the commandment” says something about the way in which the Didachist (and his audience) understood their relationship to the Torah (“according to the commandment”) and to Judaism (the priest being replaced by the prophets). [3]

In the spirit of Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” the Didache reinterprets and adapts the trumah commandments of Judaism to make them applicable to Gentiles living outside the land of Israel. If the Didache represents, in some shape or form, the teachings of the apostles, then what is preserved here are legal rulings that were “bound” upon new non-Jewish disciples. The teachings were based on and in continuity with Jewish law, not created in opposition to it.

Footnotes:
  1. Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50‒70 C.E. (New York, NY: Newman, 2003), 518.
  2. Marcello del Verme, Didache and Judaism: Jewish Roots of an Ancient Christian-Jewish Work (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2004), 220.
  3. Ibid., 199.
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About the Author: Toby Janicki is the director of the 12-21 youth initiative, as well as a teacher and writer for First Fruits of Zion. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has authored several books including God-Fearers and a comprehensive commentary on the Didache titled: The Way of Life. More articles by Toby Janicki

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