In the movie, ‘The Book of Eli’ starring Denzel Washington, one of the characters in the movie seeks to obtain a Bible, use the Bible as tool for oppression. This characterization of the Bible falls in line with the view that ‘religion is opium of the masses’. In context of this view of religion, by wielding of the Bible over others, a person seeking to take advantage of people, a person seeking to manipulate and control can seduce people into ceding control of their own lives to Bible wielders, to Bible thumpers.
Truth be told, people have at various times utilized the Christian religion as tool of oppression. Persecution of people, people such as Martin Luther who brought new truths to light which cast Christian traditions in bad light is sufficient disclaimer or evidence for wielding of the Bible over people for oppression. It was the same Bible, however, that Martin Luther studied for arrival at the truth that church leaders were wielding the Bible for oppression, for arrival at own selfish gain.
So then, which really is right, interpretation by Martin Luther, or interpretation of the Bible by then Church Establishment?
If we apply standards of scientific thinking and evidence to characterization of the Bible, we conclude that if the Bible is tool for oppression, this ought to be evident in contents of self same Bible.
An appropriate context for imposition of standards of scientific thinking and evidence on contents of the Bible is, relations between priests and citizens.
In just about all of the ancient world, priests held an exalted status among their people, were next to kings in authority, status, and wealth. People were afraid to anger priests, else they could be odes of trouble, else they could be cursed by the gods. This is essence of characterization of religion as opium of the masses — the fact that priests become wealthy, attain to status merely because they wield some sort of supernatural spiritual authority over people.
What sort of priestly system do we find then in the Bible?
Arrangements put in place by the God of the Jews, Jehovah concerning priesthood in the Old Testament of the Bible are relevant, appropriate context for arrival at evidence.
In context of Jewish life, a tribe, the tribe of Levi was set apart as priestly tribe. In light of their function as priests, while all other 11 tribes received distinct, adjoining (next or neighboring) allocations of land, the tribe of Levi was dispersed among the other 11 tribes, did not receive a distinct, adjoining allocation of land. All other 11 tribes were directed to provide priests allocated to their tribes with land for building of houses and land for farming.
In addition to dependence on other tribes for land allocations, priests had to have sources of income, this because they were not always in service as priests. Service as priests was by rotation; a priest earned income in capacity as priest only when he was in rotation, only when he was in service.
Evidence 1: In the Bible, priests served by rotation, as such had to have their own personal sources of income, could not depend on the people for their entire livelihood.
In addition to own sources of livelihood, priests lived off of offerings brought by people to the temple.
In it’s original formulation, there was no salary from a king, or benefits from a king for Jewish priests. Priests earned all of their income from the people.
People brought offerings for a host of things, including celebrations of harvest, birth of children, thanksgiving for new prosperity experienced etc. The more the people prospered, the larger offerings got, with outcome priests’ incomes experienced increase.
It was the case then that priests’ income were tied not to their teaching, or to their office, or to authority over the people, but to prosperity of the people. If priests did not teach the right things and the people did not prosper, offerings went down, priestly incomes suffered. If priests taught the right things, people prospered, priestly incomes increased.
Evidence 2: In the Bible, whenever a priest earned income from being a priest, this because he entered rotation to serve as priest, his income was directly proportional to prosperity of the people.
Evidences 1 and 2 provide unequivocal evidence that the priesthood system instituted by Jehovah was a benevolent system designed for encouragement of priests to care about prosperity of the people. Since prosperity clearly is opposite of oppression, and given all offerings were to the intent the people could prosper even more, clearly the Jewish system of priesthood cannot be characterized as tool for oppression.
Are you familiar with any ancient system of priesthood other than that of the Jews within which the priests could not lord it over the people?
Medo-Persian systems, Egyptian systems, Greek systems, Roman systems of priesthood all fail this litmus test, all gave priests superstitious power over their people, all embedded oppression of their people. In all of the systems, kings secretly could be afraid of their priests, always were attempting to placate priests without compromising their position as kings.
This is the reason the historically verified (outside of the Bible) King Nebuchadnezzar was secretly pleased to be able to kill off all of his priests, this because they could not interpret his forgotten dream. Here at last was his chance to get rid of all of these priests whom to some extent he secretly feared. But Daniel, who also held priestly office, rescued all of the priests from their fate.
Why did kings secretly fear their priests? If priests did not demonstrate their relevance, they easily could be replaced by upstarts who demonstrate supernatural spiritual relevance. This meant priests had to demonstrate some power over kings, or demonstrate they could save kings from danger for maintenance of supernatural relevance. If a king killed off one set of priests, this could not solve the problem. The new set of priests still would seek to demonstrate spiritual relevance, hence killing off of priests lacked any inherent power for solving of kings’ fears of their priests. Sometimes, however, a king figured he would rather just kill off the current set of devils (ahem, priests), and deal with any resulting problems subsequently.
Juxtaposed with all other ancient systems for priesthood, only the Jewish system had priests be no different in status from all other citizens. Only the Jewish system tied prosperity of the priest to prosperity of the people.
Implemented appropriately, the Christian system of giving is founded on exact same principle.
There exists, however, one important dichotomy which is, in context of Christianity all Christians are priests, all have their own vocations or professions. In addition, all Christians ideally have ministries within the church. Those whom God calls to full time ministry arrive at capacity for living off of offerings from other Christians who support or are part of their ministry. This is the tradition of Apostle Peter. Some other Christians have ministries, yet support their ministries out of earnings from their professions, vocations, or businesses. This is the tradition of Apostle Paul. Neither tradition is superior to the other. Any Christian who does work for God in context of Church, who is not employed in context of Church, who simultaneously gives offerings in church, serves Jesus Christ in context of tradition of Apostle Paul.
While Christians do not all agree, the fact that all Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6), and the fact that tithes are designated for support of priests (Numbers 18:25) implies only offerings remain expected of Christians. In fact, whenever priests gave a tenth of their income to God, it was specifically designated offering by God not tithe (Numbers 18:25). But again, this was to ensure income for the High Priest who served in the temple only once a year (Numbers 18:28).
Clearly, it is contradictory and hypocritical for a Christian to say he or she believes blessings come ultimately from God, yet not delight in honoring of God with some of the substance of that blessing.
The Jewish and Christian tradition instituted by God Himself is, Jehovah Father of Jesus Christ is honored when offering is given to someone whom a person acknowledges as benefiting himself or herself spiritually, with spiritual benefit evident in prosperity, that is, in capacity for giving of offering (Numbers 18:28).
Offerings then are not imposed on Christians. Giving of offerings is implied by faith in Jesus Christ. Because giving of offering now is of faith, as opposed to by command, and in absence of any earthly High Priest, the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ releases believers from specification of a certain proportion of income as offering to God. Offering now is by faith, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not legal fiat. Consistent with the new order, in all of New Testament Scriptures, only offerings are expected of Christians, never any allusion to tithing. But some Christians continue to believe in tithing. Like Paul would say, “let everyone be confident in their decisions about tithing or not tithing, and let all things done by Christians be to pleasing of Jesus Christ.”
In the analytical sciences, such as finance and economics, details of any system under study are best understood in context of what are referred to as General Equilibrium statements. Disciplines such as Physics also spend odes of time in search of General Equilibrium statements. We have then that in context of secular intellectual or scientific efforts, understanding of the big picture is important for arrival at proper or appropriate interpretation of details of a big picture.
With respect to reformation incited by Martin Luther, the kicker? The moment the Gutenberg Press placed Bibles in hands of educated non-clergy, it was clear Martin Luther was right, leaders of the Christian Church of that time, wrong. We have then that if educated non-clergy who have good motives, who are willing to speak only about whatever it is they clearly understand, who read the Bible for themselves, read the entire Bible through for understanding of the big picture, church leaders are less likely to get away with utilization of the Bible as tool for oppression.
So then you wonder I have not cited biblical texts in support of my characterization of the Jewish system of priesthood. I have done so deliberately, such that if you question rightness of my interpretation, you can go search out the evidence for your own self, arrive at your very own interpretation, which I hope coincides with mine.
This after all, is essence of utilization of the printing press for placing of the Bible in hands of everyone, Christian or not. That we all have opportunity for searching of Christian Scriptures for our very own selves. But will you search to know truth, or search merely for confirmation of any existing biases, preconceptions, or tendencies?