(1616-1683), HEBREWS 7, Observation XXIV
VIEWPOINT OF TITHING:
and clarified by Russell Earl Kelly, Ph. D., www.tithing-russkelly.com
without solicitousness concerning offense, I shall take leave to say, that it is no safe plea for many to insist on, that
tithes are due and divine, as they speak, — that is, by a binding law of God, — now under the gospel.
Knowing that he is going against the prevailing sympathy of the Church, Owen hesitatingly admits that many teach that gospel
workers are now due tithes because they are the law of God.
be the law and institution what it will, nothing is more certain than that there is nothing due under the gospel, by
virtue of God’s command or institution with respect unto his worship, unto any who do not wholly give up themselves
unto the ministry, and “labor in the word and doctrine;” unless they be such as are disenabled by age and infirmities,
who are not to be forsaken all the days of their lives.
Without approving of tithing, Owen strongly opposes paying any gospel worker anything from any source who is not wholly dedicated
men to live in pleasure and idleness, according to the pomp, vanities, and grandeur of the world, neither rising early, nor
going to bed late, nor spending their time and strength in the service of the church, according to the duties required of
all the ministers thereof in the gospel, to sing unto themselves that tithes are due to them by the appointment and law
of God, is a fond imagination, a dream that will fill them with perplexity when they shall awake.
Owen says that gospel workers who are not wholly dedicated hard workers only “imagine” or “dream”
that they are due tithes.
as unto the question in hand, I shall briefly give my thoughts about it in the ensuing observations and propositions:
Owen does not claim to be the last inspired word on this subject. He is much more forceful when supporting Calvinism.
By “tithes” is understood either (1) the express law of tithing, or (2) paying the tenth of all our substance
and of the whole increase of the earth; or (3) only the dedicating of a certain portion of what we have unto the uses
of the worship and service of God.
Owen states several different possible definitions of “tithes.”
(1)The express law of tithing.
(2)Paying the tenth of all one’s substance and increase.
(3)Dedicating an indefinite portion, or percentage, of what one has
similar to freewill offerings.
merely quoting what others believe. The true biblical HOLY tithe (from the express law of tithing) was always only food from
inside God’s holy land of Israel which God has miraculously increased.
If this latter be intended, it is with me past all doubt and question that a bountiful part of our enjoyments is to
be separated unto the use and service of the worship of God, particularly unto the comfortable and honorable supportment of
them that labor in the ministry.
Owen has no quarrel with the (3rd above) definition of tithes as merely another word for freewill offerings. This
will be his final observation XXIV that only freewill giving is for the Church today.
it is no small part of that confusion which we suffer under, that Christians, being in all places compelled to pay the
tenth by civil laws unto some or other, whether they will or no, are either discouraged, or disenabled, or think
themselves discharged from doing that which God certainly requireth at their hands in a way of duty.
Owen criticizes the civil state church for teaching that the “freewill portion” should be 10%, Some who are required
to tithe to the state civil church (Anglican) become discouraged. Others erroneously think that such forced giving relieves
them of other Christian duties.
this will be no excuse for any, for generally they have yet left unto them that whereby they may discharge their duty
in an acceptable manner; and I cannot but wonder how some men can satisfy their consciences in this matter, in such circumstances
as I shall not now name.
Just because the state forces tithing to its official Church, such is no excuse to fulfill other Christian duties.
2. If the strict legal course of tithing be intended, it cannot be proved from this text [Hebrews 7] nor from any
other instance before the law;
Owen now switches his attention to the strict OT law of tithing which (he thinks) teaches that everybody must give 10% of
all their increase to the church.
very clearly states that the law of tithing (from OT to the Church) cannot be proven either from Hebrews 7 or from any other
Bible text. Owen does NOT believe that New Covenant tithing for the Church is biblical!
[Genesis -20] … for Abraham gave only the tenth of the spoils,
which were not tithe-able by law. For if the places taken or destroyed in war were anathematized, as Jericho was, and
also Amalek, no portion was to be reserved, under a pretense of sacrifice or any other sacred use; as Saul found to his cost.
Unlike almost every tithe-teacher, Owen places no value on Abraham’s tithe because it was from accursed spoils of war
which would have been rejected as tithes under the Law.
of War Tithes After Abraham
if they were not anathematized, all the spoils were left entirely unto the people that went to war, without any sacred decimation.
So the Reubenites and the Gadites, at their return over Jordan into their own land, carried all their rich spoils and cattle
with them, no tithe being mentioned, Joshua 22:8; — although there is no question but many of them offered their
freewill offerings at the tabernacle.
This is new to me. Owen says that un-cursed spoils of war went to the conquerors and NOT to the priests for sacred use.
when God would have a sacred portion out of the spoils, as he would have in the wilderness, out of those that were taken from
the Midianites, to manifest that they fell not under the law of tithes, he took not the tenth part, but one portion
of five hundred from the soldiers, and one of fifty from the people, Numbers 31:28-30. Wherefore the giving of the tenth of
the spoils was not from the obligation of any law, but was an act of free-will and choice in the offerer.
I disagree somewhat with this conclusion. Numbers 31 calls the commands a “statute-ordinance” and makes it an
official statute-ordinance of the law –though far from being equal to the Levitical or HOLY tithes.
yet there was so great an equity herein also, — namely, that God should have an acknowledgment in the fruits of those
successes which he gave in war, — that out of the spoils of his and his people’s enemies David made his provision
for the building of the temple. And the captains of the host that went against Midian, after a tribute was raised for the
Lord out of the spoils according unto the proportions mentioned, when they found the goodness of God in the preservation of
their soldiers, whereof there was not one lost, they made a new voluntary oblation unto God out of their spoils, Numbers
Owen agrees with me that spoils-of-war tithes could be used, not for HOLY Levitical purposes, but for Temple maintenance. Not discussed is the fact that this only applied to metals which could
be cleansed by passing through fire per Numbers 31:23.
28 and Jacob Tithes
[Genesis 22] And as for the instance of Jacob, who vowed unto God the tenth of all, it is so far from proving that
the tenth was due by virtue of any law, that it proves the contrary. For had it been so, it could not have been the matter
of an extraordinary vow, whereby he could express his obedience unto God.
Owen really shows disdain for Jacob’s “tithe.” If it had been a commanded holy tithe, then it could not
have also be a freewill vow.
and Jesus’ Tithe Teaching
] 3. The precise law of tithing is not confirmed in the gospel.
For that saying of our Savior’s approving the tithing of mint and cummin, evidently respects that legal institution
which was then in force, and could not be violated without sin. And by his approbation of that law, and of the duty in
observance of it, he did no more confirm it, or ascribe an obligatory power unto it under the gospel, than he did so
unto all those other ceremonial institutions which both he himself observed as
a man made under the law, and enjoined others so to do. They all continued in full force “until the time of reformation,”
which gave them their bounds and limits, Hebrews 9:10, and ended with his resurrection.
This is a remarkable conclusion from one of the greatest Calvinistic theologians of all time! He fully agrees with the position
of Martin Luther and myself that Jesus’ remarks in Matthew had absolutely nothing to do with the gospel.
other saying, of “giving unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,”
respects our whole moral obedience unto God, and not this or that particular institution. The meaning of it
is, that we are to pay or perform unto God all whatever he requireth of us in a way of obedience; but what that is in particular,
is not here determined. And other mention of tithes in the gospel there is none.
Owen is going through the list of common arguments to support tithing in his time.
for Tithing (to be rejected)
 Whereas by the light of nature, all rules of reason and positive institutions, a portion of what God
is pleased to give unto every may, is to be returned unto him, in the way of his worship and service, wherein it may be
used according unto his appointment; and  whereas before the giving of the law sundry holy men fixed on the tenth part,
as that which was meetest to be so dedicated unto God, and that, as is probable, not without some especial conduct
of the Holy Spirit, if not upon express revelation;  and whereas this was afterwards expressly confirmed
under the law by positive institution,  the equity whereof is urged in the gospel; (5) it is the best
direction that can be given unto any what proportion of their estate should be set apart unto this purpose.
Here Owen presents his best argument FOR tithing only to reject his own logic in the very next paragraph. (1) Whether by nature,
reason or positive institution (law), “a portion of what God is pleased to give unto every may, is to be returned
unto him.”(2) Certain men before the law were “probably” inspired
by the Holy Spirit or express revelation o give a tenth. (3) Under the Law God made a positive institution that the amount
should be 10%. (4) The gospel urges at least equal giving standards as the Law. Therefore (5) 10% is “the best
direction that can be given unto any what proportion” is best to give. Conclusion: Owen is hesitant when
he uses the word “probable” and “best direction that can be given.” I think that he is saying “If
there WERE a certain percentage, then it should be 10%.”
Owen has never dealt with the biblical facts that (1) the tithe was always only food from inside Israel, (2) tithes could
not come from outside Israel, from what man increased or from Gentiles, and (3) not everybody in the Old Covenant began their
level of giving at 10%. The percentage only applied to food producers who lived inside Israel.
to be Certain
Herein, I confess, so many circumstances axe in particular cases to be considered, as that it is impossible any one certain
rule should be prescribed unto all p0ersons.
Owen confesses that there are simply too many extenuating circumstances involved to make a definite declaration about tithing.“it is impossible any one certain rule (10% for all) should be prescribed
unto all persons.” He calls it “impossible” to substantiate tithing from God’s Word for New Covenant
Give Unconsecrated Preachers Good Arguments for Their Position
whereas withal there is no need in the least to furnish men with pleas and excuses for the non-performance of their duty,
at least as unto the necessary degrees of it, I shall not suggest any thing unto them which may be used to that purpose.
I shall therefore leave this rule in its full latitude, as the best direction of practice in this matter.
Owen does not want to validate anybody’s argument that tithes must be given to gospel workers –especially those
who are not fully committed. He can only suggest a “best direction of practice” as the result (not of the tithing
law or of what Jesus said in Matthew ) but
solely because of his “probable” guess that Abraham might have been told to give 10% by divine special revelation.
In my opinion, this is very weak logic and I think that Owen knows that his own argument is weak. The next point is crucial
to see Owen’s logic.
[1 Cor 9] . On these suppositions it is that the apostle, treating of this matter, makes no use of the right or law of
tithing, though directly unto his purpose if it had not been abrogated. For intending to prove that the ministers
of the gospel ought to be liberally supported in their work with the earthly things of them unto whom they do administer the
things of God …
Owen is now arguing AGAINST his own just-mentioned conclusion that, if there were a definite percentage, then 10% should be
the best direction. He points out (as I have) that, if 10% were for all Christians, then Paul missed his opportunity to teach
such in First Corinthians 9 where the subjectwas that of gospel support. “If
it (tithing) had not been abrogated,” then Paul would have taught tithing –but he did not.
… [Paul] argueth from the light of nature, the general equity of other cases, the analogy of legal institutions,
the rules of justice, with the especial institution of Christ in the gospel, but makes no mention of the natural or legal
right of tithing, 1 Corinthians 9:7-14.
Owen does not use the argument used by many that
only refers to . He agrees with my argument that refers to 9:7 through as a general principle.
farther I shall not at present divert on this subject. And we may observe, that, — Obs. XXIV. Whatsoever we receive
signally from God in a way of mercy, we ought to return a portion of it unto him in a way of duty.
Owen’s final comment on the subject of tithing, his observation, is that all should return a “portion” but
that “portion” is NOT 10%.
That this was the practice of the saints of old might easily be proved by an induction of instances, from this act of Abraham
(yea, from the sacrifice of Abel) down to the vow of Jacob, the dedications of David, Solomon, and others, in their
respective places and generations. The light of nature also counted it as a duty among all the civilized heathens.
The offerings and sacred dedications of nations and private families are famous on this account. And it was laid as a lasting
blemish on good Hezekiah, that he rendered not unto the Lord according to the mercy which he had received.
To demonstrate what Owen meant by the “portion, “ in addition to Abraham, he listed Abel, Jacob, David, Solomon
and “the light of nature among all civilized heathens.”