The law of tithing (part three)

Continued from part two.

“And after that, those who have thus been 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)

Only First Presidency statements can officially interpret scripture and only those interpretations are binding upon the church, even as binding as the scriptures themselves. The First Presidency has already interpreted the meaning of the word interest in a letter written on 19 March 1970. Here is the quote of that letter dealing with tithing:

What is a proper tithe?

For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself 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. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly. (First Presidency Statement, 19 March 1970)

The above quote is found in the Church General Handbook. Go up to your bishop and ask to see the section on tithing. It quotes from this First Presidency Statement. Those who understand the doctrine, such as the prophet, merely re-iterate this same statement:

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The Brethren have interpreted the word interest to mean income. Beyond that they have not given interpretation.”

The word income, however, is open to interpretation. Who decides what it means? You do. It could mean gross income or net income, after expenses. It could mean profit, surplus or bank interest, etc. During the time of Brigham Young it was defined as increase. Get out your Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young manual and search out what he said about tithing.

Once or twice a year, a GA or two will speak on tithing. Occasionally, they will define the word interest beyond what the First Presidency has stated. Don’t take it as gospel. It’s merely their opinion, and their hope that you will interpret the word interest the same way as they do.

My personal opinion is that interest (income) means surplus. I have come to this conclusion for the following reasons:

  • JST Genesis 14: 39 states, “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.” Abram paid tithes on his surplus.
  • The saints are to pay tithing annually. Not monthly, not weekly, not whenever they get more gross income. When you pay tithing annually, the reason must be because you are doing an accounting of what came in, what went out, what was consumed and what is now left over (the interest, increase, income, surplus.) At the end of the year, you can make a determination of how much surplus you have and then give the tenth-part to the Lord.
  • Webster’s 1828 dictionary defined interest as “5. Any surplus advantage.” Webster’s 1828 dictionary defined advantage as “7. Interest; increase; overplus.” Both of these definitions equate to surplus. D&C 119 came out in 1838, so this was the dictionary in use at the time.
  • The RLDS (now Community of Christ) church defines it as surplus. They tithe after deducting their living expenses.
  • The law of tithing is not meant to oppress the poor. The scriptures define poor as anyone who has no surplus, yet has sufficient for their needs. (See Mosiah 4: 24.) Those who don’t have sufficient for their needs are also considered the poor.
  • When you make your tithing declaration at the end of the year, you can declare yourself a full tithe payer, a partial tithe payer, or exempt. Obviously some people can justifiably declare themselves exempt. Who are they? They are the poor, as defined by scripture, meaning those who have no surplus.

When interest is understood to mean surplus, the law of tithing becomes exceedingly easy to obey. Nevertheless, this interpretation is just my opinion and belief. As the First Presidency stated, You are “entitled to make [your] own decision as to what [you think you owe] the Lord, and to make payment accordingly.”

There is more to come in part four.

Next Tithes and Offerings article: The law of tithing (part four)

Previous Tithes and Offerings article: The law of tithing (part two)

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