1 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,This was not an easy two-stage law. It greatly offends the natural man and were it required today, membership would undoubtedly be but a fraction of what it is. Originally, the first stage was: 1) “all their surplus property” upon joining the Saints, and thereafter, 2) “one–tenth of all their interest annually.” Then verse 5 seems to reveal a future time when: “it shall come to pass that all those who gather to the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law ....”
2 For 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.
3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
4 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.
5 Verily 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.
6 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 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.
7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.
Because the words “interest” and “surplus” can be subject to various interpretations (and have been), it might be helpful to understand how this law was understood in 1847:
The celestial law requires one-tenth part of all a man’s substance which he possesses at the time he comes into the church, and one-tenth part of his annual increase ever after. If it requires all a man can earn to support himself and family, he is not tithed at all. The celestial law does not take the mother’s and children’s bread, neither ought else which they really need for their comfort. The poor that have not this world’s good to spare, but serve and honour God according to the best of their abilities in every other way, shall have a celestial crown in the Eternal Kingdom of our Father. But the rich, and such as have this world’s good which they can spare, without injury to themselves, or without bringing want upon themselves and upon their families, can never obtain a celestial crown unless they pay their tithing. They are not excluded, neither disfellowshipped from the church if they do not do it. We have no law to authorize us to do this; still, such as are able and do not pay their tithing, their light, like that of the foolish virgins, will go out: they will have not oil in their vessels, and consequently cannot be admitted. It, therefore, remains with every man to decide for himself whether he will seek for a celestial crown of his own free will and choice, without compulsion, or not. The poor will readily pay their tithing and more too, because tithing is not particularly required of them. The rich think that it is a hard law as a general thing, yet once in a while a rich man is caught in the gospel net, whose heart is open not only to pay his tithing, but even to sell all that he hath and give to the poor, and go forth and preach the gospel without purse or scrip. But we expect that not only our property will be tithed, but our life also, not one-tenth of it particularly, but even the whole.1Since there has not been another revelation announced to change or refine Section 119, the following scriptures (mostly relating to the Law of Consecration) might help those who remain confused with conflicting interpretations about how or when to calculate interest or surplus (all bold emphasis added):
And he [Melchizedek] 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. (Old Testament | JST Genesis 14:37-38)Sometimes, a person may feel directed by God to covenant more than a tithe, but that is a personal covenant not compulsory on any other—somewhat in the nature of the Nazarite or Rechabite covenants;3 or like the covenant that Joseph and Oliver made after a very trying period in their lives.4
[To Martin Harris:] Impart a portion of thy property, yea, even part of thy lands, and all save the support of thy family. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 19:34)
[Revelation “embracing the law of the Church”:] And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 42:33)
And if thou obtainest more than that which would be for thy support, thou shalt give it into my storehouse, that all things may be done according to that which I have said. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 42:55)
And again, let the bishop appoint a storehouse unto this church; and let all things both in money and in meat, which are more than is needful for the wants of this people, be kept in the hands of the bishop. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 51:13)
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order. (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 4:27)
Moreover by being in haste, and forcing the sale of property, unreasonable sacrifices have been made, and although this is a day of sacrifice and tithing, yet to make lavish and unreasonable sacrifices is not well pleasing in the sight of the Lord.2
So if the more exacting Law of Consecration allows for subtraction (after the first consecration) of what is needed for the support of self and family, then is a similar subtraction in the Law of Tithing sanctioned when calculating surplus and the tithe on that surplus?
Here are some questions to consider about our tithing traditions:
▪ Is God instructing us to take the needs and support of ourselves and our families into account before we know what is surplus? what is to be tithed? what is to be offered?------------------------------------/
▪ Do our current traditions have a different expectation for the business owner as compared to the wage earner when counsel on tithing is given?
▪ If God is asking a perpetual tithe (ten-percent) of our interest / surplus annually (verses 4 and 5), what are we to do with the remaining ninety-percent?
▪ Does He leave us ninety-percent so we can individually practice the second great commandment anonymously?5
▪ Does rote-giving foster a sense of having done our part without more expected?
▪ If we calculate ten-percent on something other than surplus, does that hinder our ability or desire to personally practice, “unto the least of these”?6
▪ Does God leave calculating “surplus” and “interest” to the conscience and circumstance of each individual as a test of integrity, reasonableness, and inspiration?
▪ If we truly calculated surplus, would we be more cognizant of how much, in wisdom, we can further disperse or use under inspiration?
▪ Would we be more inclined to moderate our desires and buy less of everything in order to maximize surplus, or would we do the opposite?
▪ What do we now have that we could, in wisdom, downsize in order to increase surplus?
▪ Have we been “looking beyond the mark” in defining “interest”?
▪ Do we feel burdened to pay tithing? or are we burdened by possessions and debt?
▪ Is tithing just a knee-jerk to cultural expectations or it is a thoughtful, cheerful expression of gratitude?
1. Millenial Star ~ Vol. IX, No. 1, January 1, 1847, p. 12: https://books.google.ca/books?id=UCEEAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA2-
2. (The Elders in the Land of Zion To the Church of Christ Scattered Abroad., Evening and Morning Star, vol. 1 (June 1832-May 1833), Vol. I. July, 1832. No. 2. 13.)
3. Nazarite: Old Testament | Numbers 6; Rechabites: Old Testament | Jeremiah 35.
4. The Covenant of Tithing [by Joseph and Oliver]. On the evening of the 29th of November, I united in prayer with Brother Oliver for the continuance of blessings. After giving thanks for the relief which the Lord had lately sent us by opening the hearts of the brethren from the east, to loan us $430; after commencing and rejoicing before the Lord on this occasion, we agreed to enter into the following covenant with the Lord, viz.:
That if the Lord will prosper us in our business and open the way before us that we may obtain means to pay our debts; that we be not troubled nor brought into disrepute before the world, nor His people; after that, of all that He shall give unto us, we will give a tenth to be bestowed upon the poor in His Church, or as He shall command; and that we will be faithful over that which He has entrusted to our care, that we may obtain much; and that our children after us shall remember to observe this sacred and holy covenant; and that our children, and our children's children, may know of the same, we have subscribed our names with our own hands. (Signed)
Joseph Smith, Jun.
—DHC 2:174-175. (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 70.)
5. New Testament | Matthew 22:39 ~ And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
New Testament | Matthew 6:3-4 ~ But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
6. New Testament | Matthew 25:35-40 ~ For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.