What Jesus said about Tithing

Mat 23:23  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and you have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith. You ought to have done these and not to leave the other undone.


Mat 23:23  Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,…. Christ returns to the former epithets he had very rightly given to these men, and very pertinently repeats them here; and which are confirmed by the instances of their conduct and practice here alleged, which abundantly show their hypocrisy and deceit; since they were very strict in observing some outward things, which gave them credit with the people, and especially the priests and Levites, some little trifling ceremonies and traditions of their elders, whilst they neglected internal religion, and those things which were of the greatest moment and importance:

for ye take tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin; which ought not commanded by the law, they were obliged to by the traditions of the elders. Mint is an herb well known, and has its name in the Greek from its sweet smell; on account of which the Jews used to spread it on the floors of their synagogues (y). This was one of the herbs that was subject to the law of the seventh year (z), and is mentioned with those which were to be tithed (a). The Ethiopic version, instead of mint reads “hyssop”; and which also was an herb that was obliged to be tithed (b). “Anise” is a seed also well known, and which the Jews call שבת, and of which they often observe, that it is subject to tithing, both seed, herb, flowers, or stalks (c): instead of this Munster’s Hebrew Gospel has פיגם, “rue”; and which, in the Misna (d), is mentioned along with mint, as it is by Luk_11:42 and said to be one of the things the Pharisees gave tithe of; though in their oral law it is reckoned among the things that are free from tithe (e): and therefore this must be a sort of work of supererogation to give tithe of that, which they were not obliged to. “Cummin” is a sort of anise; its seed is much like fennel seed, and which pigeons are very fond of: mention is made of it in Isa_28:25 and is reckoned with figs, dates, carobes, or Egyptian figs, and rice, which were obliged to be tithed (f), and was what was also bound to the offering of the first fruits to the priest (g). Christ mentions these particular herbs and seeds, as a specimen of what they paid tithes of. In Luke, it is added, “and all manner of herbs”: for, according to the traditions of the elders, they were in general subject to tithes: and it is a common saying or maxim of the Jews, that the tithing of corn is from the law, but ירק דרבנן מעשר, “the tithing of herbs is from the Rabbins” (h): it is a constitution of their’s, and not of Moses:

and have omitted the weightier matters of the law. The distinction of the commandments of the law into lighter and heavier, or weightier, to which Christ here refers, is frequent with the Jews. When one comes to be made a proselyte, they acquaint him with some of מצות קלות, “the light commands”, and some of מצות חמורות, “the heavy”, or “weighty commands” (i). So again, they paraphrase the words in Isa_33:18 “where is the scribe?” he that numbers all the letters in the law. “Where is the receiver?” who weighs the “light” things, וחמורין שבתורה, and “heavy”, or “weighty things in the law” (k). Again (l),

“in the words of the law there are some things “light”, and some things “heavy”, or “weighty”:”

but those weighty things they omitted, and regarded those that were light; yea, that had no foundation in the law at all: and no wonder, since, in the place last cited, they say (m), that

“the words of the Scribes are all of them “weighty” and that the sayings of the elders are more “weighty” than the words of the prophets.”

The things our Lord refers to, and instances in, are as follow;

judgment, mercy, and faith. “Judgment” may mean the administration of justice in courts of judicature; the putting in execution good judgments, righteous laws and statutes; protecting and relieving the injured and oppressed, and doing that which is right and equitable between man and man: but, on the contrary, these men devoured widows’ houses, and oppressed the poor and fatherless. “Mercy” includes all acts of compassion to the distressed, relieving the necessitous, distributing to their wants, and showing all kindness and beneficence to the poor and needy; which the scribes and Pharisees very little practiced, being a set of cruel, hard hearted, and covetous persons. “Faith” may not only design faithfulness in a man’s keeping his word and promise, and fidelity to a trust reposed in him; but also faith in God, as the God of providence, and as the God of grace and mercy; believing in his word and promises, and worshiping him, which the law requires; and the rather this seems to be intended, because Luke, instead of “faith”, puts “the love of God”, which faith includes, and works by, and is the end of the commandment, arising from faith unfeigned: so that Christ instances in the weightier matters of both tables of the law, which these men neglected, and the latter, as well as the former; not believing the revelation of the Gospel, nor the Messiah, who was promised, and prophesied of by God, in the writings of the Old Testament:

these ought ye to have done: more especially, and in the first place, as being of the greatest use and importance:

and not to leave the other undone; meaning either the lighter matters, and lesser commands of the law; or even their tithes of herbs: if they thought themselves obliged to them, Christ would not dispute the matter with them; if they thought fit to observe them, they might, so long as they did not interfere with, and take them off from things of greater moment. But alas! these men preferred the rituals of the ceremonial law, and the traditions of the elders, above the duties of the moral law; and reckoned that the latter were nothing, if the former were wanting; for they (n) Say, that

“the words of the Scribes, are more lovely than the words of the law.”

And also (o), that

“he that profanes the holy things, and despises the solemn feasts, and makes void the covenant of Abraham our father (circumcision), and behaves impudently towards the law (ceremonial), although the law and good works are in his hands, he has no part in the world to come.”

The Persic version renders the words thus; “these ought ye to do, and not them”; as if it was our Lord’s sense, that they ought to observe the weightier matters of the moral law, and not regard their tithing of herbs, and other traditions of, their fathers.

Commentary Resource:

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible