The heading to section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants says the following:
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Far West, Missouri, July 8, 1838, in answer to his supplication:
“O Lord! Show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.”
…The Prophet asked the Lord how much of their property He required for sacred purposes. The answer was this revelation.
Here is the text of the revelation:
D&C 119:1Verily, thus saith the Lord,
I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion, 2for the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church. 3And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. 4And 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.
5Verily I say unto you,
it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.
6And 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 judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you,
it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.
7And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.
The individual judges what is surplus property
An excerpt from “The Tithing of My People”:
Shortly after Joseph received the revelation in section 119, he assigned Brigham Young to go among the Saints “and find out what surplus property the people had, with which to forward the building of the Temple we were commencing at Far West.” Before setting out, Brigham asked Joseph, “‘Who shall be the judge of what is surplus property?’ Said he, ‘Let them be the judges themselves.’” (“Discourse,” Deseret News, June 20, 1855, 117; punctuation modernized. )
That covers “the beginning of the tithing of [the Lord’s] people,” now what about the standing law, which concerned the meaning of interest?
Interest = interest; (plain and precious knowledge lost)
Apparently, the revelation said what it meant and meant what it said. In other words, the words were plain to the understanding of the men who lived in the day in which the revelation was given. As Joseph had asked regarding “how much the Lord required of the properties of His people for a tithing,” he received an answer regarding their properties, and this is why we find Bishop Partridge explaining the plain and precious meaning of the words in terms of property in a letter written a few days after the revelation was received:
“Bishop Partridge understood ‘one tenth of all their interest’ annually to mean 10 percent of what Saints would earn in interest if they invested their net worth for a year,” Harper wrote. He cited an example from Partridge who was reportedly in the room when Smith received the revelation.
“If a man is worth a $1000, the interest on that would be $60, and one/10. of the interest will be of course $6. thus you see the plan,” Partridge wrote in a letter just days after the revelation was received.
According to Harper, six percent was a common interest rate at the time. (New historical information reveals original meaning of LDS tithing – KUTV.com)
Unfortunately, the saints apparently did not obey the law of tithing, as evidenced by Lorenzo Snow’s much later administration, in which the church found itself in dire financial straits. As a result of this disobedience on the part of the saints, a gospel principle was invoked:
Alma 12:9And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying:
It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. 10And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. 11And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
1 Ne.13:26And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. 27And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. 28Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. 29And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them….40And the angel spake unto me, saying:
These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.
2 Ne.28:30For behold, thus saith the Lord God:
I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say,
We have enough,
from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
D&C 1:33And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man,
saith the Lord of Hosts.
D&C 43:8And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment,
that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given.
9And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me—10that inasmuch as ye do this, glory shall be added to the kingdom which ye have received. Inasmuch as ye do it not, it shall be taken, even that which ye have received.
D&C 60:3And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have.
D&C 83:39And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
So the Lord took away from His saints the plain and precious meaning of this scripture, removing this light from them, because their minds had become dark, through disobedience.
Interest = increase; (from Brigham Young onward)
After Joseph Smith’s death, we find this new meaning of the revelation’s use of the word interest among the saints. This is the meaning that I used for my 4-part tithing series on this blog, it being the earliest meaning I could find to Joseph’s time.
Interest = income; (1970 First Presidency statement onward)
Here is the part of that First Presidency letter that deals 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)
Interest = interest; (plain and precious knowledge restored*)
On 13 January, 2016, the scholars broke the news of their new historical research, which essentially restored the light we had at the first. So, now we are posed with a question, even the same question that the First Presidency of 1970 asked in their letter: In the light of this newly restored knowledge, what is a proper tithe?
6% is the divinely approved rate for calculating tithing
I suppose it will be tempting for people to think that since interest rates fluctuate, that one can use whatever is the current interest rate to calculate tithing, whether it is smaller or greater than 6%, and still be in full compliance with this law. But not necessarily. We don’t know whether the Lord approved of any other interest rate for calculating tithing, other than the one which was had among the saints in the day the revelation was given. So, using any other interest rate would be using an unknown variable. In other words, you’d just be guessing. It may be that the Lord would be okay with using fluctuating interest rates to calculate tithing, but it also may be that the Lord would not be okay with that. So, why venture into unknown territory?
What we know is this: the revelation was given according to the circumstances of the people of the day it was given in. During that day, 6% was the common interest rate, and this is the rate that had divine approval for calculating tithing. Regardless of what the current fluctuating interest rates may be, six percent will always be a known, divinely approved rate for calculating tithing. So, use it!
The individual judges what is net worth
Just like the surplus property, you, the individual, must be the judge as to what is your net worth. This assessment must be made on a yearly basis, for all stewards must and will give an accounting of their stewardship, and assessing is one of the functions of stewards. This, then, is the only part of the equation that may fluctuate from year to year.
Once you know your net worth, you just multiply that number by 0.006, and that is what you give to your bishop as tithing. That will satisfy the law of heaven and you can then answer truthfully to your bishop, “I am a full tithe payer,” without either under-paying or over-paying.
What is a proper tithe?
To recap: you first assess what is your surplus property, and give that to the bishop. Then you assess, on a yearly basis, your net worth, and for every $1000 of net worth, you give $6 to the bishop.
*This same “light given, light removed, light restored” pattern and process can also be seen in regards to D&C 89, which is the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom. When that revelation was given, it was understood to be, in its entirety, a revelation of God. Later on light was removed and the first three verses were thought to be “originally written as an inspired introduction and description by the Prophet.” Thus, when Brigham Young used the law of common consent to cause the church to make D&C 89 a commandment of God, the saints could (and did) conveniently ignore those first three verses. But then light was restored, and we now know that those verses were and are part of the revelation, which verses (and knowledge) nullify the common consent commandment the saints made, reverting the revelation back to a word of wisdom, and not a word of commandment!