the weblog of Alan Knox

Old Testament Structures and the Church

Posted by on Dec 19, 2008 in church history, definition, discipleship, scripture | 11 comments

Last December, I wrote a post called “Old Testament Structures and the Church“. Many modern church practices are justified from Old Testament practices. Notice what I said: these practices are justified from the Old Testament. I do not think they originally arose from a study of the OT. Instead, I think they were brought into the church from the cultural context of the time, and then justified by the OT. But, is it valid to justify new covenant age practices from the old covenant era? I don’t think so.


Old Testament Structures and the Church

Often, when I’m talking to people about church structures and organizations, they usually point me to Old Testament structure to defend hierarchies, authorities, buildings, positions, etc. After a discussion with Lew from “The Pursuit” and his Question of the Week #17, I’ve been thinking about the trend of associating Old Testament priests, temples, tithes, etc. to New Testament practices.

The conversations tend to go something like this (in a condensed form, of course):

Person #1: “The pastor has authority over the local church.”
Me: “I can’t find anything in Scripture that gives the pastors authority over anyone.”
Person #1: “Well, you have to go back to the priest system of the Old Testament.”

Person #2: “You should give tithes to the local church.”
Me: “I can’t find any teaching in Scripture that tells us to give money to a local church.”
Person #2: “Well, you have to go back to the tithe system of the Old Testament.”

Person #3: “You need someone trained in music to lead your worship.”
Me: “I’m sorry but I don’t see that in Scripture. Nor do I see music called worship.”
Person #3: “Well, you have to go back to the Levites of the Old Testament.”

Person #4: “Why are you not saving money to build a church (meaning, ‘church building’).”
Me: “I don’t see a requirement for having a church building in the new testament.”
Person #4: “Well, you have to go back to the temple in the Old Testament.”

Here’s my concern: I don’t see the New Testament authors making these connections. Instead, I see the New Testament writers calling all believers “priests” (Rom 15:16; 1 Pet 2:5,9; Rev 1:6; Heb 10:19-22 – notice the resemblance to the sanctification of priests). But, pastors/elders/overseers are never specifically referred to as “priests”.

Once again, all believers are taught to share generously with those who are in need, with those who are travelling away from home in order to proclaim the gospel, and with those who teach and lead them well (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35; James 2:15-16; Gal 6:6; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; 3 John 3-6). But, I do not see the New Testament authors comparing this to the tithe of the Old Testament, nor requiring a tithe to be given to the “local church”.

Similarly, all believers are encouraged to exhort one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; 1 Cor 14:26). However, I don’t see where training, practice, or even talent is a prerequisite for this singing (although, it does seem that being filled with the Spirit is a prerequisite). Also, I can’t find any connection between singing in the New Testament and the Levites of the Old Testament.

Finally, I also see that all followers of Jesus Christ are compared to the “temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21). But, as far as I can tell, “temple” is never associated with a designated meeting place for Christians.

So, where did this contemporary practices come from? When did we start going back to the Old Testament to find systems of organization and leadership and finances? When did the Book of Nehemiah start teaching how to have a successful church building campaign? The exact details of how and when and why these interpretations of the Old Testament filtered into the church continue to be debated among church historians today. I think they all started when the church ceased to be the people of God and started to become an institution. In order to justify the institution, the leaders had to go back to the Old Testament system – the very system that the author of Hebrews calls a “shadow” of the reality that we have in Jesus Christ.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-19-2008

    Exactly Alan. Institutions do not focus on people. By their very nature institutions end up focused on whatever it takes to keep the institution going. In the process it ends up losing touch with people. It becomes less and less human while becoming more and more clinical.

  2. 12-19-2008


    Yes. And I think its natural for a group of people to grow towards institutionalization. It takes effort to steer away from that path.


  3. 12-19-2008

    You said right Alan.
    Having come out of the Roman catholic faith many years ago I am amazed at how much of what they do is mostly Old Testament also. Then in the modern evangelical system not much has changed. Except of course the doctrine. Praise God! Yet, we still go back to the Old in order to justify non New Testament pratices as you have pointed out.
    Steven O.

  4. 12-19-2008

    I agree with the substance of your post. But, as I see it, the problem is not that we look into the Tanach and its practices, there is a lot to learn there! It was Jesus’ scripture. The problem is that we divorce that looking from its original Jewish context and warp its meaning. While the institutionalization is a problem, I think the problem arose when we separated meanings and context.

    I think that we use the phrase “you have to look into the OT” as a way to get around us not really knowing how to support those positions you mentioned from the NT. We also use that phrase because we know that most people won’t look because they do not know how the OT really fits into the Bible, or that it is too complicated, I can’t understand it, it is only for the Jews, etc…

    As you have pointed out, when we really look into the “OT defense” of these practices, our defense is indefensible.


  5. 12-19-2008

    Hi Alan,

    I must say I am starting to love this blog and will probably add it to my list of links at Islam and Christianity along with stuff from Orthdox and Coptic sources 🙂

    But let me just take the bull by its horns here. You ask rhetorically, when did we start looking to the OT as a model for Christian leadersip? I would say around 150±, that is around 50 years after the Gospel of John was completed. My source: the didache.

    But to respond to your four questions:

    Person #1: Indeed, Paul has authority over the churches he has ministered to and says, “You have many gaurdians in Christ, but only one Father,” and on another occassion, “shall I come to you with a whip?” which at least seems to imply some sort of authority.

    Person #2: The Ch in Acts 2 clearly has income. So much that the Apostles require additional servants (deacons) to administer the food and drink to the widows. Also: Paul takes an offering for the ch in Jerusalem. Presumably Paul or someone appointed by him will decide how this should be allocated.

    Person #3: Yes, this one is more iffy. We don’t have music on mosques here. I am not a big fan of the concert-style Bible church worship thing. I was part of that for many years. Then I became Anglican and the music minister and choir are behind me in a loft and when I look in front of me I see a pulpit, and altar, and a cross. Praise be to God.

    Person #4: I agree. In fact, in the Middle East with Muslim believers having a building or trying to get one can be an invitation for trouble. That having been said, buildings are certainly not forbidden.

  6. 12-19-2008

    Stick to what you have written thus far because it is correct. The OT temple and priesthood have been replaced by the priesthood of the believer. The OT Levites have been replaced with unpaid ushers, deacons, choir, musicians, etc. The OT high priest has been replaced by Jesus Christ’s priesthood of Melchizedek which was outside the Hebrew system for all nations. The NT gospel workers function more like OT prophets who were either self-supporting or were sustained by freewill offerings.

    Christians are “dead” to the OT law system per Romans 7:4 and 2 Cor 3:10 and are alive the “Spirit of life in Jesus per Romans 8:2 and 2 Cor 3:18.

    For over 150 articles on tithing see my site at:

  7. 12-20-2008

    Notwithstanding the obvious examples of people manipulating Old Testament passages to prove their points…let me throw an alternate viewpoint at you and see what you think.

    Some of this comes down to the *role* of the OT in our worldview, and how we think it should be used. Some Christians see the NT as *replacing* the OT, and others see it as *revising* the OT. (I don’t know if this is correct terminology, this is just how I explain it.)

    The difference between them is: those who see the NT as *replacing* the OT will look at OT practices as out of date unless they are *specifically mentioned and taught* in the NT. Those who see the NT as *revising* the OT see it the other way around–if the NT does not specifically change something in the OT, they assume (from the standpoint of the earliest Jewish believers) that those OT principles are still relevant and carry over into the new.

    Animal sacrifices, for example, are specifically addressed in the NT–Jesus is now our sacrifice, once for all. But because little is specifically said about things like musical worship or tithing in the NT either way…for the revisionist, the OT becomes the default position in those cases. If the NT does not say *not* to tithe anymore, there would be no reason to assume it passed away–especially since there is evidence that tithing pre-dates the Mosaic Law, and the Law merely institutionalized it.

    So…those who see the NT as replacing the OT tend to see the tithe as strictly an OT concept, while those who see the NT as a revision tend to embrace the tithe, since the NT does not specifically revoke it.

    For that matter…the Ten Commandments are barely mentioned in the NT–in fact, all the commandments are summed up by two (love God, love your neighbor). Yet most believers consider the Ten Commandments valid today…

    Not giving a specific opinion here either way, just wondering what your take is…

  8. 12-20-2008


    I think most of the practices originally came from the culture of the time. But, these were later justified and “Christianized” by appealing to the OT.


    You’re correct. But, for the most part, the desire is not to understand the old covenant system but to justify using the same systems under the new covenant. Thus, many are not interested in the original context. Like you said, if we understood those systems in their original contexts, we would not try to preempt them for today.

    Abu Daoud,

    That’s a great complement. Thank you!

    I don’t remember the Didache justifying any practices from the OT. I’ll read it again to see what I missed. I know that Ignatius did not justify his hiearchical leadership from the OT. Instead, he said that the Spirit directly revealed it to him.

    In response to your answers:

    1) Paul never claimed to be a pastor. He claimed to be an apostle. Notice my initial assertion was, “I can’t find anything in Scripture that gives the pastors authority over anyone”.

    2) Yes, money was given to the apostles to distribute to the poor. As we see in other passages in the NT, often money was often given directly to the poor. It doesn’t seem that the money necessarily must pass through the hands of a church organization.


    Thanks for your work. I’ve read many of your articles. One of my friends and coworkers has your book checked out of the library now.


    My take: Yes, I think those are two views of the OT’s usefulness today. So, what is your opinion of the two views? 🙂


  9. 12-20-2008

    I agree with your statement "I think they all started when the church ceased to be the people of God and started to become an institution". I would place the word "religious" before the word institution.

    Most of the people I know who are not Christians see this, although most of the Christians I know do not. My non Christian acquaintances & friends pretty much identify with Dan Kimball's book title "I love Jesus But Hate the Church".

    Obviously, everything on your list, and a number of similar issues, must be believed and supposedly backed up by Scripture if most churches as we know them are to continue in their present form. I don't think any of us can fix this, even if it is indeed all bogus.

    The declining interest in church by those under about age 35, the death rate of the older generation and declining giving by the baby boomer generation will combine to ring the death knell of many existing churches.

    Undoubtedly a few current style churches will continue to survive for a long time, but most will either close their doors or change dramatically to survive. Hopefully those that change will rediscover what the Scripture really says and will be able to separate that from current practice.

    I love the church as I find it in the Scriptures, and as I think Christ sees His bride, but I do not like that religious organization/performance theater/club that I find scattered throughout America with signs out front that include the word “church”. Nor do many other people.

    Like the old hamburger commercial with the old lady asking “Where’s the beef?”, our culture is asking “Where are the people of God?” Can we answer their question?

  10. 8-31-2012

    Hi Alan,

    I just came across your blog and wanted to provide a comment/Question regarding tithes as noted in the new testament vs the old. This is a question that I was personally trying to resolve recently. From my understanding tithes, as mentioned in the old testament, were primarily given in the form of burnt sacrifice for the payment or restitution of sin, as required by God under the old covenant.

    The new testament references this (Hebrews 8:3) For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices: hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. (Hebrews 8:13 goes on to state that) In speaking of a new covenant, he (Jesus) made the first one obsolete. (Hebrews 10:10) And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all. (Hebrews 10:16) This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,…I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

    In my assessment, given that the old covenant with God required tithes as sacrifice for sin, and the new covenant with God (through Jesus) clearly states that offering is not longer required for sin, tithes are an issue for those religions following the old testament, not the new.

    In following the new testament, though tithes are no longer required for sin, it does not dismiss us from helping others, which may mean financially. The way I see it, if you are a christian through religion only, and tithes are your only form of helping others, then it may be a good idea to continue. Personally, I have always felt (personal opinion) that most churches use tithes as tool of financial support, and don’t necessarily go out in the community and do good with the money they receive.

    What is your assessment of tithes as a christian following the new testament?

  11. 8-31-2012


    I could be mistaken, but I don’t remember tithes being mentioned in the context of sacrifices for sin in either the Old Testament or the New Testament.

    I wrote a series last year about giving and the church based on the New Testament. You can find the introduction to that series here (with a list of each part of the series at the bottom of each post): “Giving and the church in Scripture.”