Monday, October 21, 2013

Tithing after the Cross

Tithing and Giving have long been an area of interest for me so when I saw this book and the low Kindle price, I decided to read it.  The book is Tithing After the Cross by David A. Croteau (Energion Publications).  Dr. Croteau is a professor of New Testament and Greek at Columbia International University and Seminary ( and hosts one of several blogs at 
I want to tell you about a small book I recently read.

First, I have two criticisms of the book and I want to get them out of the way because they are minor and I don’t want to end this entry with criticism.  Criticism number one: When Dr. Croteau transitions to his final chapter, “Tithing after the Cross” it was not completely clear to me if he was saying, “Tithing is not part of the New Covenant practice so here are some guidelines for giving.” or “Under the new covenant tithing really means giving so here are some guidelines.”  Second, he develops a lot of his theology for giving from II Corinthians 8 and 9.  I think this is fine but in the historical context Paul was gathering a special relief gift for the poor saints in Jerusalem.  The bridge from that context to modern lifestyle principles of giving was not clear to me.  Maybe I missed it.  Both these criticisms are minor so now let me get back to my recommendation.

This book is the third book Dr. Croteau has written on the subject of giving and tithing and is a summary of the other two more in-depth publications.  In his introduction he states his purpose and goal very clearly.  “…I hope to accomplish a simple objective: that people would seek God Himself in the intimate relationship He desires for wisdom regarding the amount they should offer as opposed to being burdened with a legalistic number.”  Later he adds, “Therefore, I hope to present the arguments for tithing and explicitly respond to them in a brief and easy-to-access layout.  I want this book to be a most useful resource, one a minister or Bible study teacher could use to locate certain arguments and corresponding responses.”  (These are from the Kindle edition so I don’t have page numbers.  They are both in his introduction.)  In my opinion, Dr. Croteau delivers on both fronts. 

The book is easy to read and follows a logical liner progression.  He starts by defining the Tithe in the context of the Old Testament.  This alone is worth reading.  Understanding what “Tithe” meant to Old Testament Israelites makes it very clear that the typical understanding of the tithe today is not based on a Biblical understanding.  For example, (this is not in the book), if you asked an Israelite living during the first temple period, “Have you given your tithe?” you might expect a simple yes or no answer.  However, what you would probably get is another question, “Which tithe do you mean?” or if the person was a builder or fishermen he might respond, “Why should I?”  Further, the typical modern definition of tithe is 10% of income.  If you are really spiritual then it is 10% of your gross income.  Dr. Croteau shows clearly that depending how you calculate it the Old Testament tithe was either 20% or 23.3%.  If you calculate the tithe over a 3 or 6 year period you come up with 23.3%.  If you calculate the tithe over a seven year period you end up back at 20%.  How does it work?  Read your Old Testament and figure it out yourself or read his book or, I recommend, read both.  After this introduction Dr. Croteau walks through and responds to popular arguments for tithing from Old Testament texts.  Next he does the same for New Testament texts, theological arguments, historical arguments and experiential arguments for tithing.  He concludes by outlining a theology of giving mostly from II Corinthians 8-9.

In the end you may not agree with Dr. Croteau, but he will challenge your ideas and cause you to think.  The book is only 94 pages and can be read in an afternoon and the Kindle version cost about $5.  There you have it.  For what it is worth, I recommend this book for a thoughtful Saturday afternoon with a cup of coffee and cookies.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Some thoughts on Ephesians 4:9 (Part I): The Usefulness of Greek Grammar?


One of the things I like to teach seminary students is that knowing Greek doesn’t answer all your questions.  In fact, sometimes it brings up more questions than it answers and you find yourself wondering why you didn’t just stick with your favorite translation.  Anyway, a good passage to illustrate the point is Ephesians 4:9.

Paul's language in Ephesians 4:9 has been the object of much debate.  But, no matter where you land in the debate, this verse is an excellent example of how Greek grammar often gives you only options and not clarity.  In other words, Greek is not the ultimate key to understanding a text.  Sometimes it gives you insight that you cannot get from a translation but other times it only brings up more questions.  Ephesians 4:9 is one of the latter cases.  Based on this verse, really based on one genitive noun, many argue that Jesus descended into hell.  Even if one doesn’t know the technical terms, if one attempts to study, translate or teach this passage, the decision one makes about the grammar (specifically the genitive), determines the interpretation of this phrase.

The Genitive of Ephesians 4:9

In Ephesians 4:9 Paul uses the phrase, “κατωτερα μερη της γης (the lower parts of the earth).”  The phrase itself is not hard to translate but the meaning is ambiguous.  Our main concern is the meaning of the genitive, «της γης» (of the earth).  There are two primary grammatical options for this noun.  The noun may be a genitive of material content (also called a partative genitive) or a genitive of simple apposition.  To further complicate matters, each option can be understood in two ways.

  • The genitive may be a Partative Genitive.  According to Dana and Mantey, the partative genitive "may be defined by indicating in the genitive the whole of which it is part".  In other words, a partative genitive is connected to a primary noun and indicates the whole that the primary noun is part of.  If this is a partative genitive then “of the earth” is connected to the primary noun "the lower parts" and “of the earth” indicates the whole that “the lower parts” are part of.  Under this understanding, “of the earth” may refer to Hades (the place where departed spirits live)  or the grave where Jesus was buried.  Both were considered part of the earth.

  • The genitive may also be a genitive of simple Apposition.  The genitive of apposition is connected to a primary noun but this time it renames the noun or makes it more specific.  It works as an "i.e." construction.  If Ephesians 4:9 is a genitive of simple apposition then the "the lower parts” are still the primary noun but “of the earth” is understood as a renaming of “the lower parts”.  What Paul means is that Jesus descended to “the lower parts” that is “the earth.”  Under this understanding the genitive has two more possible interpretations.  “Of the earth” may be referring to Jesus descent in the incarnation or the descent of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost.

The Greek grammar of Ephesians 4:9 has given us at least four options of possible meaning.  “he descended to the lower parts of the earth” may mean either:
  •  Christ descended into Hades.
  • Christ descended from the cross to the tomb (the tomb is the lower part of the earth).  
  •  Jesus descended to the earth in the incarnation. 
  • Finally, the Spirit of Christ descended to the earth on the day of Pentecost.

Unfortunately, this is as much help as the Greek grammar can give us.  How do we decide which option Paul had in mind?  We must turn to other tools in our exegetical toolbox.

It should also be noted that the understanding Ephesians 4:9 does not fully answer the theological question about Jesus descent into hell.  To fully answer the theological question, one must exegete at least four other passages.