Martin Luther Rejected Tithing!
Commentary by Russell Earl Kelly, PH. D., December 15, 2006

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RUSSELL EARL KELLY: While discussing matters of the Law such as tithing, it is necessary to first establish a working hermeneutic, a principle of interpretation, to use for determining exactly how Old Covenant laws apply to Christians.  In chapter 18, titled The Christian, the Mosaic Law and the ‘Law’ of Christ I apply the following hermeneutic: Nothing in the Mosaic Law (as law) applies to Christians unless it is either repeated to the Church after the cross or is evident in natural law and in the conscience of all men. And, since a ten per cent tithing principle is not found either in the New Covenant after the cross or in the inner being, or conscience, of all men, then tithing is not taught to the Church. To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Martin Luther used exactly the same Bible hermeneutic in a sermon delivered on August 27, 1525. These are not “out of context” or random remarks about the Law and tithing. Rather Dr. Luther is speaking precisely to the point because his sermon title is How Christians Should Regard Moses. My comments are followed by Luther’s sermon for comparison. Luther mentions tithing twice. These are greatly reduced. The entire document can be found at: http://www.wordofhisgrace.org/LutherMoses.htm.

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KELLY: The Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments, was not given to the Gentiles.  It was only given to Israel.

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DR. MARTIN LUTHER; 1525: The Law of Moses Binds Only the Jews and Not the Gentiles. Here the Law of Moses has its place. It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel. And Israel accepted this law for itself and its descendants, while the Gentiles were excluded.

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KELLY: Natural law which is written in the hearts of every person reveals which part of the Mosaic Law is eternal and moral.

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LUTHER:  To be sure, the Gentiles have certain laws in common with the Jews, such as these: there is one God, no one is to do wrong to another, no one is to commit adultery or murder or steal, and others like them. This is written by nature into their hearts; they did not hear it straight from heaven as the Jews did. This is why this entire text does not pertain to the Gentiles. 

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KELLY: Christians must not go back to living under any part of the Mosaic Law under any circumstances.

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LUTHER: But we will not have this sort of thing. We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer. Indeed God himself will not have it either. Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law.

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KELLY: Those who place themselves under any one part of the Mosaic Law (which is not revealed in natural law) are placing themselves under all of the Mosaic Law.

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LUTHER: We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, "Thus says Moses," etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff.

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KELLY:  The Law of Moses ended when Christ died on the cross.

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LUTHER:   So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service.

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KELLY: Not even the Ten Commandments apply to Gentiles in the context in which they were given unless found in natural law.

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LUTHER: That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved from Exodus 20:1, where God himself speaks, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews.

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KELLY: Many today tell us that two-thirds of the law have been abolished (the ordinances and judgments) but that the Ten Commandments remain unchanged. This is not what Luther taught.

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LUTHER: The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver - unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law. Therefore it is clear enough that Moses is the lawgiver of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. He has given the Jews a sign whereby they should lay hold of God, when they call upon him as the God who brought them out of Egypt. The Christians have a different sign, whereby they conceive of God as the One who gave his Son, etc. 

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KELLY: The Sabbath commandment which only requires Hebrews to worship on the sixth day of the week (Saturday) as a sign of the Old Covenant is an example that the Ten Commandments were never given to the Gentiles.

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LUTHER: Again one can prove it from the third commandment that Moses does not pertain to Gentiles and Christians. For Paul [Col. 2:16] and the New Testament [Matt. 12:1-12; John 5:16; 7:22-23; 9:14-16] abolish the Sabbath, to show us that the Sabbath was given to the Jews alone, for whom it is a stern commandment. The prophets referred to it too, that the Sabbath of the Jews would be abolished. For Isaiah says in the last chapter, "When the Savior comes, then such will be the time, one Sabbath after the other, one month after the other," etc. [Isa. 66:23]. This is as though he were trying to say, "It will be the Sabbath every day, and the people will be such that they make no distinction between days. For in the New Testament the Sabbath is annihilated as regards the crude external observance, for every day is a holy day," etc.

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KELLY:  Not one little period of the Mosaic Law applies to Christians because it has all been fulfilled in Christ.

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LUTHER: Now if anyone confronts you with Moses and his commandments, and wants to compel you to keep them, simply answer, "Go to the Jews with your Moses; I am no Jew. Do not entangle me with Moses. If I accept Moses in one respect [Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 5:3], then I am obligated to keep the entire law." For not one little period in Moses pertains to us.

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KELLY: There is much in the Old Covenant to study, learn from and teach which is not law. The Old Covenant is still very important and useful for instruction.

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LUTHER: Question: Why then do you preach about Moses if he does not pertain to us? Answer to the Question: Three things are to be noted in Moses. I want to keep Moses and not sweep him under the rug, because I find three things in Moses. In the first place I dismiss the commandments given to the people of Israel. They neither urge nor compel me. They are dead and gone, except insofar as I gladly and willingly accept something from Moses, as if I said, "This is how Moses ruled, and it seems fine to me, so I will follow him in this or that particular."

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KELLY: From his study of Scripture, Luther concluded that the Biblical TITHE was actually a TAX. While agreeing that TITHING is not for Christians, Luther conjectured that, if the ruler and the Church used tithing as a TAX to replace all other taxes, then it would be good. As a TAX, tithing was more fair that what most governments and the pope expected in Luther’s day.

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LUTHER: I would even be glad if [today's] lords ruled according to the example of Moses. If I were emperor, I would take from Moses a model for [my] statutes; not that Moses should be binding on me, but that I should be free to follow him in ruling as he ruled. For example, TITHING is a very fine rule, because with the giving of the tenth all other taxes would be eliminated. For the ordinary man it would also be easier to give a tenth than to pay rents and fees. Suppose I had ten cows; I would then give one. If I had only five, I would give nothing. If my fields were yielding only a little, I would give proportionately little; if much, I would give much. All of this would be in God's providence. But as things are now, I must pay the Gentile tax even if the hail should ruin my entire crop. If I owe a hundred gulden in taxes, I must pay it even though there may be nothing growing in the field. This is also the way the pope decrees and governs. But it would be better if things were so arranged that when I raise much, I give much; and when little, I give little.

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KELLY: Luther also thought that permanent land ownership might be a better idea than the system he lived under, but he still refused to suggest that Moses’ law should become the law of the land.

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KELLY: Again in Moses it is also stipulated that no man should sell his field into a perpetual estate, but only up to the jubilee year [Lev. 25:8-55]. … The Gentiles are not obligated to obey Moses. Moses is the Sachsenspiegel for the Jews. But if an example of good government were to be taken from Moses, one could adhere to it without obligation as long as one pleased, etc. 

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KELLY: The peasant revolt of Luther’s day was caused by literal interpretation of Moses’ promise of God’s Kingdom (to Hebrews) which they tried establish and apply to themselves by violence. Many peasants became end-times fanatics which resulted in their deaths in war. Luther pointed out that they had erred by taking texts from Moses which only applied to the Hebrews and applying them out of context to themselves. He argued that they had confused the Law of Moses with natural law.

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LUTHER: When these factious spirits [peasants] come, however, and say, "Moses has commanded it," then simply drop Moses and reply, "I am not concerned about what Moses commands." "Yes," they say, "he has commanded that we should have one God, that we should trust and believe in him, that we should not swear by his name; that we should honor father and mother; not kill, steal, commit adultery; not bear false witness, and not covet [Exod. 20:3-17]; should we not keep these commandments?" You reply: Nature also has these laws. Nature provides that we should call upon God. The Gentiles attest to this fact. … The Gentiles have it written in their heart, and there is no distinction [Rom. 3:22]. As St. Paul also shows in Romans 2:14-15, the Gentiles, who have no law, have the law written in their heart. 

But just as the Jews fail, so also do the Gentiles. Therefore it is To honor God, not steal, not commit adultery, not bear false witness, not murder; and what Moses commands is nothing new. For what God has given the Jews from heaven, he has also written in the hearts of all men. Thus I keep the commandments which Moses has given, not because Moses gave the commandment, but because they have been implanted in me by nature, and Moses agrees exactly with nature, etc. 

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KELLY: Luther uses TITHING a second time to illustrate his point! Tithing is not revealed by and in nature. Mankind does not naturally KNOW that he must give ten per cent (10%) to God. Therefore tithing is not extended for Gentiles and the Church. Remember that Luther “wished we had” the tithe because he wanted the tithe to replace all taxes from the state and from the church.

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LUTHER: But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [implanted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the TITHE and others equally fine which I wish we had too. Now this is the first thing that I ought to see in Moses, namely, the commandments to which I am not bound except insofar as they are [implanted in everyone] by nature [and written in everyone's heart].

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I find something in Moses that I do not have from nature: the promises and pledges of God about Christ. This is the best thing. It is something that is not written naturally into the heart, but comes from heaven. God has promised, for example, that his Son should be born in the flesh. This is what the gospel proclaims. It is not commandments. And it is the most important thing in Moses which pertains to us. The first thing, namely, the commandments, does not pertain to us. I read Moses because such excellent and comforting promises are there recorded, by which I can find strength for my weak faith. For things take place in the kingdom of Christ just as I read in Moses that they will; therein I find also my sure foundation. In this manner, therefore, I should accept Moses, and not sweep him under the rug: first because he provides fine examples of laws, from which excerpts may be taken. Second, in Moses there are the promises of God which sustain faith. … Genesis 3:15 …Genesis 22:18 … Deuteronomy 18:15-16 …

One must deal cleanly with the Scriptures. From the very beginning the word has come to us in various ways. It is not enough simply to look and see whether this is God's word, whether God has said it; rather we must look and see to whom it has been spoken, whether it fits us. That makes all the difference between night and day.

The word in Scripture is of two kinds: the first does not pertain or apply to me, the other kind does. And upon that word which does pertain to me I can boldly trust and rely, as upon a strong rock. But if it does not pertain to me, then I should stand still. Therefore tell this to Moses: Leave Moses and his people together; they have had their day and do not pertain to me. If Christ had not added, "preach to all creatures," then I would not listen, would not be baptized, just as I now will not listen to Moses because he is given not to me but only to the Jews. This distinction should be noticed, grasped, and taken to heart by those preachers who would teach others; indeed by all Christians, for everything depends entirely upon it.

"God's word, God's word." But my dear fellow, the question is whether it was said to you. God indeed speaks also to angels, wood, fish, birds, animals, and all creatures, but this does not make it pertain to me. I should pay attention to that which applies to me, that which is said to me, in which God admonishes, drives, and requires something of me. …

It is like this with the word of God. Suppose I take up something that God ordered someone else to do, and then I declare, "But you said to do it." God would answer, "Let the devil thank you; I did not tell you to do it." One must distinguish well whether the word pertains to only one or to everybody. … Thus what God said to Moses by way of commandment is for the Jews only. …

Thus we read Moses not because he applies to us, that we must obey him, but because he agrees with the natural law and is conceived better than the Gentiles would ever have been able to do. Thus the Ten Commandments are a mirror of our life, in which we can see wherein we are lacking, etc. The sectarian spirits have misunderstood also with respect to the images; for that too pertains only to the Jews. [[2nd commandment]]

Summing up this second part, we read Moses for the sake of the promises about Christ, who belongs not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles; for through Christ all the Gentiles should have the blessing, as was promised to Abraham [Gen. 12:3].

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In the third place we read Moses for the beautiful examples of faith, of love, and of the cross, as shown in the fathers, Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the rest. …Therefore we should not sweep Moses under the rug. Moreover the Old Testament is thus properly understood when we retain from the prophets the beautiful texts about Christ, when we take note of and thoroughly grasp the fine examples, and when we use the laws as we please to our advantage.

Conclusion and Summary. I have stated that all Christians, and especially those who handle the word of God and attempt to teach others, should take heed and learn Moses aright. Thus where he gives the commandments, we are not to follow him except so far as he agrees with the natural law. Moses is a teacher and doctor of the Jews. We have our own master, Christ, and he has set before us what we are to know, observe, do, and leave undone. However it is true that Moses sets down, in addition to the laws, fine examples of faith and unfaith - punishment of the godless, elevation of the righteous and believing - and also the dear and comforting promises concerning Christ which we should accept. The same is true also in the gospel. For example in the account of the ten lepers, that Christ bids them go to the priest and make sacrifice [Luke 17:14] does not pertain to me. The example of their faith, however, does pertain to me; I should believe Christ, as did they. 

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KELLY: The great preachers of the 21st century who preach tithing are making the same mistake of misusing Moses as did the great preachers of the past.

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LUTHER: Enough has now been said of this, and it is to be noted well for it is really CRUCIAL. Many great and outstanding people have missed it, while even today many great preachers still stumble over it. They do not know how to preach Moses, nor how properly to regard his books. They are absurd as they rage and fume, chattering to people, "God's word, God's word!" All the while they mislead the poor people and drive them to destruction. Many learned men have not known how far Moses ought to be taught. Origen, Jerome, and others like them, have not shown clearly how far Moses can really serve us. This is what I have attempted, to say in an introduction to Moses how we should regard him, and how he should be understood and received and not simply be swept under the rug. For in Moses there is comprehended such a fine order, that it is a joy, etc. God be praised.

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COMMENTARY AND FOOTNOTES BY TRANSLATORS:

(1) Martin Luther, "How Christians Should Regard Moses," trans. and ed. by E. Theodore Bachmann, Luther's Works:  Word and Sacrament I, vol. 35 (Philadelphia:  Muhlenberg Press, 1960), 161-174.  This sermon was delivered on August 27, 1525 in Luther's long series of seventy-seven sermons on Exodus preached from October 2, 1524 to February 2, 1527

(2) Further, they [the peasants] argued that the social laws of the land ought to be replaced by judicial laws of the Mosaic covenant.  …  Luther opposed the notion that the Scriptures would be properly exalted if Mosaic precepts were suddenly, as law, to replace laws of the German state and church.  He warned that while seemingly honoring the Scriptures, one can actually distort the meaning and intention of the Word of God . . . 'Moses' is not the Word of God in the sense that 'Moses' could be substituted for a piece of human legislation . . . Anyone who, like the enthusiasts, erects Mosaic law as a biblical-divine requirement does injury to the preaching of Christ.  …Christ is the end of the Mosaic law.  For all the stipulations of that law, insofar as they go beyond the natural law, have been abolished by Christ.  The Ten Commandments are binding upon all men only so far as they are implanted in everyone by nature.  In this sense Luther declares that 'Moses is dead' . . . The era of Mosaic law extends from Sinai to Pentecost.  …  (from introduction to sermon, pp. 157-159; written by E. Theodore Bachman). 

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JOHN CALVIN ON THE LAW OF MOSES:

FROM THE END OF: http://www.wordofhisgrace.org/LutherMoses.htm.

Calvin referred to these laws as the "equity" of the Mosaic Law (Inst. 4.20.16).  Both Calvin and Luther agreed that anything in the Mosaic Law that was not "general," "common," or "equitable" to all nations no longer applied to the state, seeing that those specific laws were applicable only to Israel

***Calvin argued, "I would have preferred to pass over this matter in utter silence if I were not aware that here many dangerously go astray.  For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common laws of nations.  Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish . . . It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men.  Consequently, the entire scheme of this equity of which we are now speaking has been prescribed in it.  Hence, this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws.  Whatever laws shall be framed to that rule, directed to that goal, bound by that limit, there is no reason why we should disapprove of them, howsoever they may differ from the Jewish law, or among themselves . . . For the statement of some, that the law of God given through Moses is dishonored when it is abrogated and new laws preferred to it, is utterly vain.  For others are not preferred to it when they are more approved, not by a simple comparison, but with regard to the condition of times, place, and nation; or when that law is abrogated which was never enacted for us.  For the Lord through the hand of Moses did not give that law to be proclaimed among all nations and to be in force everywhere; but when he had taken the Jewish nation into his safekeeping, defense, and protection, he also willed to be a lawgiver especially to it; and -- as became a wise lawgiver -- he had special concern for it in making its laws (Inst. 4.20.14, 16; also see Calvin's comments on Rom. 1:21-27 and 2:14-15).



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