Tithing and the poor

I was just looking at one of the cuneiform tablets I am using for my dissertation and saw the following notation:

eshru sha Marduk u Nabu

It means that for the goods recorded on the tablet, the tithe of the gods (i.e. the temples) has been paid. It was, in effect, a temple tax.

I took a quick look at the Assyriological literature on the tithe. What struck me is that tithing seems to have been rounded down. So, on 85 garments, you tithed 8. Obviously 8.5 wouldn’t work, but if you were really righteous you might have donated 9. They didn’t. So much for over-paying. (But as we know, those Babylonians were a wicked lot.) Of a tangential stripe is the injunction in Leviticus that only the tenth animal that passed under the rod was to be tithed (Lev. 27:32). In other words, if you had fewer than ten cattle they were exempt. (Of course, paying 10% of 9 cows is a bit tricky.)
This is all exegesis lite, but one way of looking at Leviticus is that the very poor (i.e. those with less than 10 cows) do not have to pay tithing.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is famously reticent to define what it means by a “full and honest tithe” of one’s “increase.” This is good as it theoretically leaves things between the tithe payer and God. There are downsides, however. One is the nagging feeling that we are somehow not paying enough. Witness this Splendid Sun discussion on whether “barter” should be tithed. I have never paid tithing on gross income but occasionally some do-gooder tells me that if I pay net tithing I will only get “net blessings.” This is all well and good coming from the mouth of an American, but when you live in Europe and you’ve already been whacked with high payroll taxes, “gross income” bears little relation to the money in your pocket, your “increase.” “Net” is the tithing model I grew up with. Still, I sometimes feel guilty about it.

Incidentally, I found a calculator online for the Jewish tithe — Ma’aser Kesofim — and it was very specific with very little room for doubt. Plug in your numbers, run a few deductions, and you get a dollars-and-cents figure. This tax-like approach to the tithe raises the ire of many Christians who feel contributions to the church should be a gift not a tax. The Mormon tithe, inasmuch as full participation in the church (i.e. the temple) is dependent on it, could even be considered to be “obligatory,” which annoys them further.

Anyway, to the poor. Silence by the church means that poor folk are left without guidance as to how to deal with their welfare cheque, or their student grant, or whatever. If Leviticus was the norm, perhaps the church would have a threshold of say $10,000 (10 cows?), under which a person was exempt. I don’t think this would sit right with Mormons, however. (What would we do without all the stories of people who chose to pay tithing rather than buy food?) After all, a poor person’s $1 on $10 is the same as the rich person’s $10 on $100?

Or is it?

One could argue that for a person earning say, $20k, a $2k tithe would really bite. A family earning that much in the US are going to need every penny just to survive with any modicum of self-respect. But for someone earning $100k, after paying tithing they are still $70k over the poverty line.

All of which is to say that the burden of tithing is heaviest on the poor. This does not mean that the widow should not pay her mite, or that Malachi 3 should not be trusted, but it does behoove the rich Mormon to have some compassion for his fellow member for whom tithing is a real trial. Not paying tithing may exhibit a lack of faith, but it is not a faith test all of us are called to bear in equal measure.


  1. Speaking of tithing and its obligatory nature (like that of taxes), a series of cases emerged a couple of years ago dealing with tax deductibility for Scientology. One case before the Supreme Court dealt with whether fees that Scientologists paid for their “auditing and training” classes were tax-deductible as contributions to charity. This was during a time when the IRS and the Church of Scientology were pretty much in open warfare. In one of the cases, Justice O’Connor spoke briefly about Mormon tithing, even citing the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. She actually lumped it in with the kind of quid pro quo payments being made by Scientologists because it is a necessary condition of entering the temple. Thus, under this reasoning it would not have been tax-deductible. Thankfully, no one in the majority addressed this issue.
    On another tax-deductibility issue, any money you send directly to your sons or daughters who are on missions is not a contribution to charity. I don’t know about money that you send to the Church that gets divided up amongst the missionaries.

  2. Adam L,
    The money you send to the Church that gets dividend among missionaries is tax-deductible.

    That is, if you are an American taxpayer who itemizes and whose deductions haven’t been phased out. And your itemized deductions exceed 2% of your income (likely if you’re paying a 10% tithe, whether on gross or net income). And, of course, you haven’t been caught by the alternative minimum tax.

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    Ronan, I think the real issue may be that tithing laws were formulated in a worldview where disposable income existed for only the tiniest fraction of people. In other words, tithing would have “bit” virtually everyone. So I’m thinking that today, the real issue isn’t finding a way to let the poor ‘off the hook’ but a way to convince the rich to put themselves on a bigger hook.

  4. I don’t know, Julie.

    I doubt that there was ever a time when the majority of Mormons did not have enough food and still paid ten percent of their income. In fact, I read somewhere that in the old days, people would pay tithing on their increase, which meant that widows and orphans would pay nothing.

    It doesn’t say anywhere that the widow’s mite is actually tithing. Neither does it say that tithing is ten percent of our cash flow.

    If tithing goes by increase then the widow’s mite is a contribution beyond tithing, which is heroic because the widow sacrifices a piece of her substance.

  5. Ronan, using social-science rather than Babylonian jargon, I posted on just this topic a bit over a year ago. See the post here; regrettably, my pretty pictures didn’t survive the transition from typepad to wordpress.

    I agree that tithing weighs heaviest on the poor. This has been true ever since tithing became a common practice among the Saints, at about the turn of the 20th century. (See Thomas Alexander’s Mormonism in Transition for historical details.)

  6. Thanks, RT, just looked at that. Tithing is an awkward measure of one’s sacrifice to the kingdom, and at 10% across the board it magnifies the sacrifice of the poor. It is the rich who are “let off the hook” in this equation, and that doesn’t seem fair to me. In terms of tithing, it is easier to be a member in “good standing” (saying nothing of one’s standing before God) if you are rich.

  7. What I think is somewhat problematic about this post is the vague ambiguity of th terms rich and poor. Afterall, someone can be making $100k a year and feel very poor as they are “barely” scraping by on their income and not saving etc. Also, someone can be earning less than $20k and have plenty of residual income.

    I remember when I was first married we made about 1/3 of what we are making now, but we had enough residual income to help pay for my brother-in-law’s marriage. Now, we make a lot more but the money is a lot tighter as our expenses have gone up.

    I am grateful for the 10% tithe, and am grateful for those who give more in fast offerings, humanitarian aid, BYU donations, PEF donations, etc.

    Frankly I am surprised no one has threadjacked this to talk about “transparancy” in church financial accounting yet…

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    A few thoughts on this post:

    1. Yes, since tithing is a flat percentage it is by definition regressive and has a heavier impact on the poor.

    2. I always smile when members get hung up on debating gross v. net income. Defining “income” of any sort is way more complicated than that, and those members who think that is the fundamental nature of the debate simply haven’t thought through all of the permutations of “income” very deeply, as your Splendid Sun link begins to illustrate. The possible permutations of “income” are legion. I think it is a good thing to bring these things up among our people so that they have some concept that tithing isn’t really the simple thing we teach our kids, but requires a bit of a personal philosophy as to how to go about paying it.

    3. Which is why I think the Church is very wise not to try to get into the business of defining “tithable income.” It would take a shelf full of tithing regulations to do the job adequately. The current system favors simplicity and each person drawing her own conclusions, which is a good thing, I think.

    4. This system also allows for the poor to “self medicate” to some extent. Couple A might tithe their student loans, whereas couple B might not, reasoning that one day they will repay those loans with after-tithing dollars, so they’re not increase to begin with. Couple B can report paying a full tithe and can get a temple recommend; the current policy means it is absolutely none of the bishop’s business to second guess their reasoning and approach. (Of course, the poor tend to be those who take the obligation most seriously and are least inclined to self medicate.)

    5. The RLDS/Community of Christ have a different model for tithing. They tithe after basic living expenses, and they actually have a little form you fill out to determine this. (This is one of the things I learned when we had an RLDS minister come and present at our Gospel Discussion group one Sunday evening years ago.)

    6. Regarding deducting missionary support, this is exactly why the Church changed its system. There was a Tax Court case to the effect that direct payments to missionaries for their support were not tax deductible, so now you make the payment to the Church and the Church supports the missionary, which allows for deductibility of the payment.

  9. Ronan,

    Like JNS points out, this problem you discuss really does pop right out of any model with diminishing returns to money.

    My take on how God sometimes uses callings to put the rich back on the hook is here.

  10. Something that bothers me is how on earth I am going to figure out to pay tithing on my 401(k). I’ve already paid tithing on the money from my pay, but not the interest or the employee contributution…How will I know what was tithed and what wasn’t when I draw money, and when do I tithe on it, do I tithe as I make withdrawels or what? I assume there will be a way to calculate this, but it makes for a more confusing process. I hope I am in the clear enough that I can just give money to the church and not worry about it.

  11. Kevin,

    Tithing is not regressive in income, it is proportional. Regressive would be to make the poor pay more than the rich as a percentage, which they clearly do not.

    It is, on the other hand, regressive in utility or the value of income, in that it takes a larger chunk of value from the poor, if that makes sense.


    “In terms of tithing, it is easier to be a member in “good standing” (saying nothing of one’s standing before God) if you are rich.”

    I think it is funny that you emphasize how this structure is hard on the poor and lets the rich off the hook, in relation to each other’s social standing of being square with the institutional church. Whereas my post, on just the same question, treats it as the rich who are losing because I am thinking about eternal salvation, and largely ignoring temporal society.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Frank, yes, regressive in utility is what I meant, along the lines of Roasted Tomatoes’ post he linked to.

  13. That’s an important distinction to make, Ronan (#6). I have a hard time considering a poor person who doesn’t have a recommend because of a tithing lapse “unworthy” to enter the temple. They’re not meeting all the requirements, but to say one is unworthy implies a moral failing and the poor person who can’t quite muster the faith to give up 10% is no less worthy in a moral sense than a rich person who only gives up 10%.

  14. Frank (#9),

    I simply don’t buy it that the sacrifice demanded by a poor single mother wondering whether to pay her tithing or eat is equivalent to the executive who lands a major calling. They both sacrifice their time anyway (one to her kids and the two jobs she works, the other to his job and his calling), but in terms of agonising financial choices, her cross is heavier

    As for the model, well, I’m going to have a closer look at OT and Near Eastern tithing some time. But isn’t the >10 cows rule indicative that the really poor were exempt? (I’ll answer that later.)

    Matt (#7),
    I think in most people’s book, $100k = rich and $20k = poor. If that’s not the case then you’ve made my day! Hey, guys, I’m rich! Who knew?

  15. Frank (#11),

    Then there’s a big problem with our worthiness standard, isn’t there? If the poor person simply cannot muster the faith to pay tithing, God (as Tom suggests) may well be merciful. Unfortunately, his church won’t: that person cannot go to the temple.

  16. Something that bothers me is how on earth I am going to figure out to pay tithing on my 401(k). I’ve already paid tithing on the money from my pay, but not the interest or the employee contributution…

    Well, this is exactly why I *don’t* pay tithing on the money that goes into my 401(k). I intend to just pay the tithing when those funds are distributed, which will include, interest/dividends, my contributions, employer contributions and everything, all at once.

    I think the concept of net vs. gross paycheck is anachronistic in today’s economy. It’s much more complicated than that. Of course I pay tithing on the amount that is deducted for federal taxes, health insurance, whatever. But our social security and retirement funds are excluded from tithing now, and we will pay it upon distribution (if any).

    After all, it is entirely possible for someone to pay social security, but never work enough quarters to qualify for a pension. (That happens to lots of women, with their breaks in employment.) And if they didn’t get a pension from it, then that money was never actually part of their increase, it was just money they gave the government. So it shouldn’t have been tithed to begin with.

    I’m wondering if anyone pays tithing on their health insurance, which is provided as a benefit. I note that as an employer, my unit will be paying $9,500 per year for each employee with family coverage, in addition to the premiums that the employee pays. A $10,000 untaxed benefit does seem like an increase, although it never actually entered the employees’ hands.

  17. To be fair, it seems to me that, at least in some places, local leaders do understand the greater tithing burden that poor people carry. I know of leaders who will offer church welfare support in order to enable members to keep paying tithing when things get rough. I’ve been told that one of the main purposes of the Church Welfare is to help members make and keep covenants.

  18. My personal experiences lead me to believe that Bishops and Stake Presidents are not hard-nosed IRS agents when it comes to those who are truly poor and struggling to pay tithing.

  19. Kevin (8),
    The case went up to the Supreme Court–I think it was Davis, and I think it was around 1990. O’Connor wrote a very good opinion. And I vaguely remember hearing around 1990 that the change in the funding of missions occurred but, being 14 at the time, didn’t much care or pay attention. I’ve been curious, though, since seeing the case, how much it played into the Church’s decision (I also remember hearing that [making up numbers] $3,000 per month for a missionary in Japan vs. $150/month for a missionary in Latin America was unfair, esp. given, when saving up, the missionary didn’t know to which place (s)he was going).

  20. Re #14.

    I simply don’t buy it that the sacrifice demanded by a poor single mother wondering whether to pay her tithing or eat is equivalent to the executive who lands a major calling.

    Well, Ronan, I’ve been a poor single mother and I’ve been a bishop’s wife and ward relief society president, and I have find them to be at least equivalent in terms of sacrifice. I personally was more confortable with the former than the latter, but that is partly my anti-social tendencies showing.

    No doubt the challenges are DIFFERENT, and I won’t argue with you that considering finances alone, the single mom has the greater burden, and so this becomes an apples-to-oranges comparison of sacrifice.

    But I don’t think you should minimize the challenges of being on call 24/7 and having to deal with so many heart-wrenching issues the way a bishop does.

    When we were poor graduate students, we used to hate it when older people would sigh with fondness and say, “Oh, we remember those days, when things were so much simpler.” We figured that they had forgotten what it was like to consider ketchup a luxury, and to suffer through infections and toothache because you couldn’t afford health care. Or that they must have had a fairy godmother or something.

    But now we are starting to learn perhaps a little of what they meant…things are more complicated nowadays, and the more-comfortable finances are just a blessing and tool to allow us to do other things, and to sacrifice in different ways, that would never have been expected of us in our financially poorer days.

  21. In connection to tithing, I don’t see how spending money on taxes is different from spending on other necessities. We like having a government and collectively choose to buy the amount of it we want to provide the kind of benefits we want. I guess it seems like a fiction that the money was ever ours since it never came into our possession. No one ever talks about not tithing income expended on sales tax perhaps because we were allowed to hold it in our wallets before turning it over. Similarly, I’ve never been able to regard the employers’ contribution to Social Security as money taken from me even though there is really no difference between that portion and the employees’ contribution.

    A simple way to go about tithing is what one of my uncles does. At the end of the year he checks how much he has saved; however much more it is than at the end of the previous year is his increase, and that’s what he tithes.

  22. Ronan,

    No no no no. I am not claiming that any particular person has it easier than any other particular person. You have invented two people and said that tithing is a bigger burden for one of them, even if the other guy is spending tons of time on his calling. Fine, but the world is a big place, and it is not just composed of the two extremes you invent. The fact that callings do not exactly undo the effects of tithing for every two people is hardly a reason why it does not help with the overarching inequity.

    Second, you are still fixated on the temporal. Expand your thinking to the eternal consequences and the results flip– it is the poor who benefit from the sacrifice while the rich languish without spiritual growth.

    Third, my comment about “any model” was referencing models of human welfare, not models of tithing. Given the tithing structure, any model of human welfare with diminishing returns will have this feature.

    Fourth, you are worried about our worthiness standard for tithing, but of course this problem you point out is true of every TR question on behavior, and plausibly the ones on belief. But surely God is not an idle bystander to this process, but rather a prime actor. He can buttress the faith of the weak to make their challenge appropriate for them, rich or poor.

    Hopefully my post helped to give the issue a broader setting. In other words, tithing is a bigger sacrifice for the poor, and so is the WoW for the alcoholic, work for the lazy, callings for the busy, scripture study for the barely literate, humility for the learned, etc. etc. The world is a big enough place that God does not need each commandment to affect each group the same, he can balance sacrifice and challenges across commandments. And he can lift us through grace when we can’t pass the bar on their own.

    Actually, thinking about it this way, the TR interview becomes yet again a symbol for entrance into heaven. The standard is absolute, but it is only through God’s help that we pass the bar, and he helps each of us through grace, acording to our own weaknesses and infirmities.

  23. How about the person who pays tithing by donating an appreciated asset, say stock he or she inherited? The cost basis is a few dollars, say $3 per share, but the value of the stock is now $50 per share. How does that compare with the poor member who has nothing but his earned income to pay tithing on, the $20k person cited above? One of my previous bishops told me there were some members in our ward who never paid tithing — meaning they donated appreciated assets to the church instead of cash contributions. I don’t stay awake at nights worrying about this, but it is something to consider. The poor, as usual, get the short end of the stick.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    samdb, yes, equalizing expenses was also a prominent factor. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Church was pushed to make the change and pulled the trigger when they did by the tax case, and I don’t think there is any real concern about trying to disassociate the two events (in contrast to people who want to claim that federal pressure had nothing to do with the Manifesto, for instance).

  25. Dr. McIntyre,

    Well, I tend to be someone who doesn’t think much about my mansion above when trying to figure out my path in life. I am aware that this violates the much-vaunted “eternal perspective” but so be it.

    Anyway, given that the rich and the poor alike are susceptible to all manner of sin and unbelief, but only the poor are likely to find tithing to elicit choices between buying food and not buying food, all other things being equal, tithing is going to tip the balance so to speak. I can be rich and be an alcoholic, I can be poor and be an alcoholic; but I cannot be rich and have no money.

  26. At the end of the year he checks how much he has saved.

    John Mansfield, I’m not sure I’m getting this… If it’s a case of tithing on how much I’ve saved, then I won’t be paying much tithing for a while!

  27. ed johnson says:

    “How about the person who pays tithing by donating an appreciated asset, say stock he or she inherited?”

    I’m not sure why this bothers you, TonyP. You might be donating a $50 bill, a piece of paper that you could have exchanged for 50 dollars worth of stuff, but instead you gave it to the church. The person in your example is giving up a stock which could have been exchanged for 50 dollars worth of stuff, but instead he gave it to the church. The sacrifice is the same in both cases.

    (Of course, people who donate stock probably tend to be wealthier, but that is a separate issue that just brings us back to the subject of Ronan’s post.)

  28. Ronan, you understand my uncle perfectly.

  29. Lets take a look at the precise language of the tithing commandment.

    In 1838, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received the following revelation about tithing:

    And after that, those who have been thus tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their INTEREST annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them FOREVER, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.”

    (D&C 119:4, Emphases added.)

    Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “INTEREST” as

    “5. Any surplus advantage.”

    Smith and Rigdon also produced the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible. It is in Rigdon’s handwriting.

    “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 14:39. (Emphasis added.)

    Therefore, tithing in Mormon scripture means “one-tenth of their surplus advantage annually.” Surplus refers to “more than that which they have need”.

    It follows then that people only can pay tithing if they have more than they need to sustain themselves and their family. Therefore the widows contribution is not tithing.

  30. Ronan,

    The exact thing I am disputing is that “all other things are equal”. God is back there pulling levers you can’t see, in order to make things work out. He can

    1. provide personal challenges, genetic, spiritual, or otherwise in order to make things work out.

    2. send people to earth to places where they face the challenges they need.

    3. buttress people who face challenges which they should not have to cope with.

    Now maybe he does this more or less with some people, but surely he is an actor in the arena and, because of that, “all else” is not equal.

    Lastly, you claim that the rich and the poor are equally susceptible to all manner of sin and disbelief, but that is a highly contestable. As just one example, many people find on their missions that one group is much more willing to convert than the other, even with tithing!

  31. endlessnegotiation says:

    How does all of this discussion reconcile with this 1970 excerpt from a First Presidency letter?

    “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this”

    As far as I can tell this is the most recent authoritative statement on the issue.

  32. Kevin,
    Thanks–I wasn’t trying to disassociate the two, just curious about the timing. I assumed that the case was the trigger, even if the ideas had been percolating for a while, I just don’t know offhand the timing of the change or if any reason was officially given. I remember talks (well, a talk, at least) when I was younger explaining the relative cost issue as it related to the change. Of course, nothing was said of the tax side, but, frankly, there are only a few of us who are interested in the tax half.

  33. In the military, I often have people question whether or not they should pay tithing on their government housing. Depending on their rank and their area where they live, it could amount to a lot of $. My family and I are provided a government house where all the utilities are paid for. If I were to pay for all of those things it could easily reach (for my current duty station) in excess of $2,500/month. Many ask, “well, I never see that money, it never touches my hands or my bank account, should I pay on that?” That’s why I love the church’s policy. My response is “it’s your call. Ponder it in your heart, study about it, and then pray.”

    If you are not provided government housing, we are given (based on rank and location) a housing allowance that is NOT taxable. Some question whether or not they have to pay tithing on that. The response is the same. It’s your call.

  34. endlessnegotiation says:

    BTW… I have always used Helslut’s analysis myself (from #29).

  35. Hellmut,

    Your case would be better if there was not a (5) sitting out front of your definition, giving away the fact that interest can be defined many ways.

  36. Last Lemming says:

    The money you send to the Church that gets dividend among missionaries is tax-deductible.

    That is, if you are an American taxpayer who itemizes and whose deductions haven’t been phased out.

    So far, so good.

    And your itemized deductions exceed 2% of your income (likely if you’re paying a 10% tithe, whether on gross or net income).

    There is no 2% threshold for taking charitable contribution deductions.

    And, of course, you haven’t been caught by the alternative minimum tax.

    Charitable contributions reduce your alternative minimum tax just like they do your regular tax.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    I only remember the timing because at one point I was thinking about writing an article about the case, but when the church changed its policy and the controversy went away I sort of lost interest in the topic.

  38. endlessnegotiation says:

    top vad o cam’t tupe iethr

  39. The next big question is paying on pre-tax income.

    my sense is that most pay on pre-tax income but that a certian percentage pay on post tax income.


    I do think its harder for the poor to pay tithing. Also probably the reward for doing so is also greater. We actually discussed this issue in EQ last month. Consensus was the more money you make the easier is is to pay tithing.

  40. I appreciate the concern for the inequities in the tithe. The comment was made earlier about the bigger the sacrifice the bigger the blessings. In some ways I believe this. While in grad school we had an income of $1200 a month, with rent of $800, car payment s and two kids. Tithing was a sacrifice and was often enough to put us in the hole. Miraculously, our $120 a month tithe kept us afloat. We always had “sufficient for our needs.”

    Now we make quite a bit more, but I doubt I would appreciate what we have without that time of sacrifice. I also suspect that the Lord is currently blessing us with more income for the sacrifices we made earlier to insure an honest (I appreciate that the Church allows wiggle room on this)tithe was paid. It is something I am glad I went through and would not have done it any differently.

  41. Ed Johnson, (27)

    The extra unfairness of the possibility of paying tithing with appreciated securities is that, not only can you deduct it as a charitable contribution, but the capital gain is also untaxed.

  42. Webster’s (1828) other definitions:

    Interest n.

    1. Influence over others. They had now lost their interest at court. He knew his interest sufficient to procure the office.

    2. Share; portion; part; participation in value. He has parted with his interest in the stocks. He has an interest in a manufactory of cotton goods.

    3. Regard to private profit. ‘Tis interest calls off all her sneaking train.

    4. Premium paid for the use of money; the profit per cent derived from money lent, or property used by another person, or from debts remaining unpaid. Commercial states have a legal rate of interest. Debts on book bear an interest after the expiration of the credit. Courts allow interest in many cases where it is not stipulated. A higher rate of interest than that which the law allows, is called usury.

  43. And Hellmut’s #5: “Any surplus advantage.”

  44. endlessnegotiation says:


    Only definitions 2 and 5 from the dictionary Hellmut cites make sense in the context of the D&C passage and Hellmut’s analysis seems to be the more “generous.” Definition 2 would imply that the individual would be required to contruct an annual statement of net worth and then pay tithing on that. For the vast majority of people such a calculation would represent a much smaller sacrifice.

    For example, lets examine a family of 4 earning $50k/year. Suppose the minimum amount required for subsistance is $20k/year. Using Hellmut’s model that family would pay tithing on the surplus of $30k– $3k. Using the other contemporary definition we can create a different model based on net worth. Suppose that same family does not own a home. They own two cars with net values of $2k a piece. They have savings of $10k and they have zero debt. All told their net worth is $14k and so they would pay tithing on that amount or $1.4k.

    Most middle-class US families I know have a net worth significantly lower than their surplus incomes. In fact, most of the middle-class families I know have negative net worth.

  45. JST Genesis 14:39

    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.

    I looked it up. Very interesting. Are there different ways to parse this?

  46. mark smith says:

    One line that I’ve often heard given in articles in the Ensign Magazine ect. about tithing is “No Exceptions No Excuses”. That’s always struck me a unduly harsh. If a family member needs a vital medical treatment that prevents me from paying tithing, this seems to be very harsh to me. It really seems to be contrary to the New Testament counsel “the law is meant for man and not man for the law”.

  47. Last Lemming,
    You win on that–I hope never to have to deal, personally or professionally, with the AMT, and so far have been fortunate; with any luck (like, nonpartisan cooperation), it will be gone before it enters the realm in which I have to pay attention to it.

  48. Abram’s tith reminds of paying tribute to a powerful leader. Abram returned after a successful raid and paid his dues to neighboring powers. That’s what it takes to keep the peace.

    If that story holds any parallels for us then they are remote.

  49. Frank #35

    Your case would be better if there was not a (5) sitting out front of your definition, giving away the fact that interest can be defined many ways.

    That’s why there is a link to the source for anyone to check themselves. I am a little miffed that you would suggest manipulation when the push of a button will take you to the 1828 Webster’s.

  50. I’ll view tithing as tax-like when the Church obtains permission to levy my checking account without my permission, or sends men with guns to my door ready to ransack the place looking for evidence of income. Until then, the Church will remain much more benevolent-looking than the government does.

  51. Thanks for the explanation, Endlessnegotiation. It seems to me that once you paid tithing on your networth then the next year you pay on the increase of your networth.

  52. EN,

    two thoughts–

    1. definition 3 seems hard to understand to me, but it appears to be a relevant definition dealing with personal profit (which could be income).

    2. The most relevant definition is the one God provides, and the best guess I know of God’s definition is the one given by a prophet and sustained by his fellow Apostles, which is what we have in the 1970 FP message.


    Note that the scripture says explicitly that he paid on “all that he had”. So is the next sentence a modifier/limiter of that “all”, or a separate statement about blessings from God?

    Put another way, does “which” refer to the total riches referenced in the previous clause, or the part that he tithed referenced in the clause before that? If it referred to the total riches, it is saying God blessed him a ton and then he tithed (an unspecified amount). If it refers to the riches tithed then this is Hellmut’s take (on OT tithing).

    Lastly, as a ancient dead-people guy, what level of consumption would you guess qualified as “needed” in 2000 BC? The current standard for global poverty is $365/year per person.


    Sorry you are miffed. I was not suggesting any dishonesty on you rpart, just sloppiness :).

  53. Mark #50,

    Whether or not the Church is more benevolent than the government, is a function of yout faith. The more faithful you are, the more you believe in punishment for disobedience.

  54. Last Lemming says:

    D&C 119 breaks tithing into two parts: an initial charge on wealth, and an ongoing charge on income. Verse 1 states

    Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

    Not 10% percent. All surplus property. This matches what Abraham did (according to the JST).

    But tithing to day is just the charge on income and follows Section 119:4–“After that…” There is no record of what Abraham paid as tithing on his income after he had donated his surplus property. So I don’t think you have found a valid precedent for tithing only “surplus” income.

  55. Actually, even definition number 5 is too vague nail it down to income “after needs”. If I produce a good, is my “surplus advantage” how much I sell it for, minus how much it cost to produce? Because that is my income If I work for hire, my surplus advantage could readily be considered the amount of money I walk away with, i.e. my income.

  56. I’m reposting my last comment because I missed some relevant punctuation:

    Actually, even definition number 5 is too vague to nail it down to income “after needs”. If I produce a good, is my “surplus advantage” how much I sell it for, minus how much it cost to produce? Because that is my income. If I work for hire, my surplus advantage could readily be considered the amount of money I walk away with, i.e. my income.

  57. Frank,
    I don’t know the answer to that, but FWIW here’s what 1 shekel of silver would buy you: one sheep and about 100 litres of barley. Someone who can figure out calories etc. can tell me how many shekels were “needed” to really subsist and then calculate dollar equivalents!

  58. I was not suggesting any dishonesty on you rpart, just sloppiness .

    In that case, my apologies to you, Frank.

  59. But Hellmut, you weren’t being sloppy either. Stand up to him! Where’s your sword, man?!

  60. The more faithful you are, the more you believe in punishment for disobedience.

    At least the Church is willing and patient enough to leave the punishment in the hands of God. My government may wait a few years before it decides to get serious with me should I be delinquent with my tax filings for whatever reason, but when it does, you can bet that mercy is not going to be considered to be a virtue on its own part. And, as I have found out on my own, the government will be more than happy to file a completely erroneous return for you in order to “prove” that you owe them a sizeable chunk of change rather than a smaller one (even if they are not, in reality, owed anything at all but a completed tax return form that shows that a refund for the year is due).

  61. endlessnegotiation says:


    I think the 1970 FP letter I cited and Hellmut’s tithing model are perfectly in sync given a labor-wage model. For those who get paid a salary or wage I think tithing allows one to deduct the “costs” associated with their labor to calculate income. The energy I used to perform my labor has a cost (food, shelter, clothing). So does the infrastructure I employ (transportation, government) in order to participate in the economy that allows me to earn a wage. If you want to apply def #3 here then have at it.

    Your stance is one typically taken by those who have never run their own business. Given the model you seem to be advocating businessowners would be obligated to pay tithing based on cash inflows and “income” would be entirely irrelevant.

    The long and short of the matter is that earning a wage has its own costs and those cost should be deducted from a tithing calculation.

  62. Where’s your sword, man?!

    He had a six shooter!

  63. “Your stance is one typically taken by those who have never run their own business. Given the model you seem to be advocating businessowners would be obligated to pay tithing based on cash inflows and “income” would be entirely irrelevant.”

    I’m not sure if you read all my comment, or if I just wrote it poorly, but this is the exact opposite of what I said, since I explicitly talked about deducting costs of inputs.

    “The long and short of the matter is that earning a wage has its own costs and those cost should be deducted from a tithing calculation.”

    I understand the argument that labor can be treated as an input to be deducted, but then, so is entrepreneurial ability–should we deduct the return to that from the calculation? IN other words, from my perspecive, all parts of revenue can be thought as going to pay the costs of _some_ kind of input. So that method is not going to solve the problem.

    In the end, none of the 1828 definitions specify that one “should” deduct labor income. You can argue that you think you should, if you wish. You can point out that doing so is consistent with the standards put forward in the D&C and the FP letter. But since those standards are incredibly vague, that does not really mean much, does it?

    Hellmut seemed to be putting forward the claim that LDS scripture clearly contained an exemption for cost of living? I’m arguing that it is not at all clear that that is the case– either in the 1828 dictionary, the OT, or the FP letter.

  64. re: 33, i’m glad i read ahead. we used to be in a military ward and were given very strict tithing guidelines by our gd teacher. “gross versus net” and all of that jazz, but also about paying a tithe on the housing allowance. for those of us who lived in military quarters, she said it was our duty to figure what the housing allowance would have been and pay a tithe on that figure. when my husband brought up the loads of insurance benefits military members receive and how we might tithe on that, she told him he was being obtuse.

    we’ve always been full tithe payers until recently. my husband switched jobs and we live in a ridiculously expensive area. we don’t have car payments, cable television, internet access, don’t eat out, and don’t go out for movies and the likes. we write the tithing check every month, but never have the faith to hand it over, as each month ends the same… pinching pennies and eating noodles for two weeks without anything to spare to cover that tithing. we sacrifice so much to keep our family afloat and our tithing status is a huge source of concern. hearing the “faith promoting” stories makes it hurt a bit more. i sometimes think i have enough faith to hand the check over, but my husband inevitably nips that because the numbers just don’t add up. we’ve yet to talk to our bishop, out of sheer mortification, though i know we need to go in. i sometimes feel like god understands the sacrifices we’re making and wonder how well that will translate to a mortal man. our bishop is a good man, perhaps i need to have some faith in HIM. sorry for the ramble… something near and dear and painful for us…

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