In looking for strictly scriptural guidance on how to pay proper tithes and offerings, the first scripture we came to was the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14, found after the Bible Dictionary in the LDS scriptures:
And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace. And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God; Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor. Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need. (JST Genesis 14:36-39)
Tithing in Abraham’s day was defined as “[that] which God had given him more than that which he had need.” It was not a tenth, but more accurately, the “surplus”. This accords with D&C 119, but of course, D&C 119 introduces a change in policy that shifted the responsibility of part of the surplus administration…
O! Lord, show unto thy servents how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a Tithing?Answer. Verrily thus saith the Lord I require all their surpluss, property to be put into the hands of the Bishop of my Church of Zion, for the building of mine house and for the Laying the foundation of Zion, and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the presidency of my Church, and this shall be the begining of the tithing of my people, and after that, those, who have thus been tithed, shall pay one tenth of all their interest anually, And this shall be a standing Law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood saith the Lord, Verrily I say unto you, it shall come to pass, that all those who gather unto the land of Zion, shall be tithed of their surpluss properties, and shall observe this Law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you. and I say unto you, If my people observe not this Law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the Land of Zion unto me, that my Statutes and my Judgements, may be kept thereon that it may be most holy, behold verrily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you, and this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion, even so Amen. (D&C 119, spelling as in earliest manuscript Revelation, Far West, MO, 8 July 1838; in JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, p.56; handwriting of George W. Robinson; CHL).
In the historical context included in prior revelations in the D&C, tithing maintained the definition of all surplus properties as administered in United Orders through the Law of Consecration. Because of the abuses of John Whitmer, William W. Phelps, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and other leaders (the Missouri Presidency and committee members who spent the tithing/surplus monies to buy land in Far West, who sold properties in Independence against the express command of the Lord, and pocketed some of the land sale proceeds for themselves; see Minute Book 2, The Far West Record, beginning with 7 Apr 1837 entry until the 5-6 Oct 1838 Conference entry), the Lord gave D&C 119 to reduce the law to the following:
- Instead of all surplus properties being given to the leadership of the church as a tithe, (since they royally screwed things up such that these abuses were cited in many of their excommunication trials), the Lord dissolved the United Order in Missouri and…
- Instead required the Saints to make one more surplus contribution (see D&C 119:1-3), and then…
- The Lord removed from the leadership the responsibility of administering the surplus amounts on an ongoing basis and instead retained the requirement for individuals to administer to the poor of their surplus on their own, and…
- The Lord required for the members to only have to contribute a tenth of their surplus to the church for the poor who appealed to the church itself for relief (D&C 119:4, and also verse 1 which lists the first instruction for both the contributed initial surplus, and the tenth thereafter to be put into the hands of the bishop of the church, who in Joseph Smith’s day only administered the storehouse for the poor. Verse 2 also includes the stated purpose of “laying the foundation of Zion,” which if the leaders understood the scriptures, expressly includes having no poor among them), and for other legitimate debts, to be governed by “the voice of the Lord” to the council on the disposition of the tithes (D&C 120).
D&C 120 reads:
Revelation Given the same day July 8th 1838Making known the disposition of the properties tithed, as named in the preceeding revelation—Verrily thus saith the Lord, the time has now come that it shall be disposed of, by a council composed of the first Presidency of my Church and of the Bishop and his council and by <my> high Council, and <by> mine own voice unto them saith the Lord, even so Amen. (D&C 120, spelling as in earliest manuscript Revelation, Far West, MO, 8 July 1838; in JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, p. 57; handwriting of George W. Robinson; CHL.)
Obviously the poor have no surplus, and hence no requirement to give anything to the church, and “interest” is defined in Webster’s 1828 dictionary of that era as being synonymous with “surplus” and not “income”.
This accords with Numbers 18:25-32:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress. Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the Lord of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the Lord’s heave offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts ye shall offer every heave offering of the Lord, of all the best thereof, even the hallowed part thereof out of it. Therefore thou shalt say unto them, When ye have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted unto the Levites as the increase of the threshingfloor, and as the increase of the winepress. And ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation. And ye shall bear no sin by reason of it, when ye have heaved from it the best of it: neither shall ye pollute the holy things of the children of Israel, lest ye die. (Numbers 18:25-32)
Therefore the people paid a tenth of the tithe, or a tenth of their surplus, to the priests who made use of this tenth for the poor, the Lord’s house, and other legitimate church debts.
Contrary to current LDS practice, however, legitimate church debts do not include a paid ministry, which is priestcraft, and shouldn’t be seen as covering living expenses, but would be the equivalent of getting a free temple cafeteria dinner only while you worked your shift as a temple worker. The Levites and Priests still would have to work for their own support on their off time. This is a much misunderstood principle which the Book of Mormon corrects and makes abundantly clear (see Mosiah 18:25-29 and Alma 1:26-31 for instance).
After giving a tenth of the surplus to a community storehouse for the poor, the rest of the surplus, or the other 90% of one’s increase, is to be used first to increase your own stewardship if needed (such as buying new equipment to produce your marketable items next year, see D&C 42:29-39), then the rest is to be distributed to the poor as well (see D&C 73). If you don’t need certain items in your stewardship for the next year, then instead of taking from the 90% of your increase, you add more to the surplus. All of the 90% (plus or minus your stewardship adjustments) are to be given to the poor. You do not need to belong to a United Order to live the Law of Consecration (see Lectures on Faith, L6). All it takes is one person willing to live these principles who has faith that, whatever they give up one year when it is not needed, will be obtainable another year, even if it has to come through a miracle in your view. An old proverb in Ecclesiastes says, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). You can give 90% of your net increase to the poor on your own and tithe 10% to a fellowship in your community or to another worthy charitable organization. The argument that you would pay on your net increase and not your gross is well documented in the scriptures concerning consecration after providing first for your own legitimate wants and needs (see D&C 42:32-33).
Denver Snuffer outlined ways in which anyone can participate in paying tithing, no matter what denomination or faith they belong to:
“I talked about paying and administering your own tithes in Grand Junction. I want to remind you that if you do that, none of it should go to the priests. None of it should go to anything other than helping the poor” (Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, p.4).
“In Grand Junction I spoke about tithing. I talked about organizing yourselves, collecting your own tithing and managing it yourselves, to assist the poor who are among you, and to do this by the voice of your own local group. Do it by common consent. Provide for those who need housing, food, clothing, healthcare, education and transportation. Do it by the voice of united agreement of you all in small groups in which all know one another. Since that time there have been several groups that have begun. Two groups are assisting single mothers with their needs. One group is assisting a family. One group has no needy among them, and they’ve accumulated for large charitable purposes, and they bought for a quadriplegic, a sophisticated electric wheelchair with the tithing money that they gathered.
I have also heard of some failing experiments, where frustration and contention have been problems. As the scriptures warn, and I discussed in Grand Junction, we must overcome ‘jarrings,’ ‘contentions,’ ‘envyings,’ ‘strifes,’ ‘lusts’ meaning ambitions, and ‘covetous desires.’ These conflicts need to be worked out before any gathering. All of the social ills of our day are in the churches of our day. Every denomination that came from Joseph Smith’s ministry is plagued with the same shortcomings. Before any gathering, we must be put through a refining process. We must grow; we must rise up first, before God will gather us to Zion.
There is no reason to pay for priesthood service. Serving should always require sacrifice. Do not pay for ministers. I would recommend if you choose to participate in a tithing group, you do it in the same manner described in Grand Junction. Do it voluntarily among yourselves. Community is necessary. I do not know how you can bear one another’s burdens without administering your own tithes, administering your own fast offerings, doing things to help those people who are in need.
Some are giving tithing to an organization that is purchasing commercial and residential real estate, farms, and developing shopping centers, but has little left by comparison to give to the poor. Even though they give money to help the poor, billions spent in commercial ventures dwarf the amount. If you choose to participate that, that is up to you, but try and care for those among you who have needs. Try to participate in helping others and fellowshipping with them.” (Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, p.21)
Fast Offerings are another way someone can give more to the poor…not through the increase they have earned or produced, but through sacrifice. Therefore, fast offerings can even be for when you don’t have any increase one year, but want to live your religion of giving to the poor. You can always sacrifice something you need in order to give to those even less fortunate than yourself. It is how you can still give out of your own free will and good desires even if you have a loss one year, or for many years, so you don’t lose the habit of living that pure religion that is undefiled (see James 1:27). In acknowledging this option for the poor, we emphasize that there is no scriptural support for tithing, or even fast offerings, being required by the Lord of the poor, or at least, no support for priests or any leaders to have any authority to require it. In fact, there are many scriptures that suggest that the poor are only to receive, unless they sacrifice through freewill offerings to be able to give some small amount themselves, or to make reconciliation for crimes committed in a much discounted way proportionate to what they are able to afford (see Leviticus 5:7,11; Leviticus 23:22; Matthew 12:1-9). And, concerning the latter, the Lord quoted scripture and said, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7).