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RS/MP Lesson 32: Tithes and Offerings (Gospel Principles Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on April 11, 2011

I will comment on the underlying scriptures in this lesson, a lot on D&C 119, and then briefly on Genesis 14 and 2 Cor. 9.

D&C 119

In order to properly understand D&C 119, and the law of tithing more generally, I think it is important we understand its relation to the law of consecration. Since I don’t have a lot of time, I will rely heavily on Steven Harper’s essay “‘All Things Are the Lord’s’: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants”.

Upon reading verses 1-5 of D&C 119, I have many questions, so I’ll focus on that.

First of all, consider verses 1-2:

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, or 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.

How are we to understand the phrase “all of their surplus property” in the first verse? In what sense is this relevant to us today? This sounds like it pertains to the historical era when the United Order was in effect, doesn’t it?

Steven Harper explains that “section 119 is not given instead of the law of consecration; it is a restatement of the law of consecration and sets the terms by which we can live the law today.” That is, to understand tithing as simply the idea of giving 10% of our income to the church is to separate it from its crucial link to the law of consecration, as the D&C 119 context makes clear.

Harper goes on to elaborate on how the law of consecration is not something that was done away with, but it is still in effect—a teaching that should resonate for anyone who has gone through the temple:

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, that “the law of sacrifice and the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect.”[3] No revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants rescind, suspend, or revoke the law of consecration. The Doctrine and Covenants never refers to a higher or a lower law, only the law. Indeed, the revelations do not speak of the laws of God as we do of bills before the legislature, as subject to passage, veto, or amendment. Rather, they speak of the laws of God as eternal. The law, in other words, was revealed to Joseph Smith in February 1831, but the law itself simply has been, is, and ever will be. Consecration is the law of the celestial kingdom, and section 78 teaches that no one will receive an inheritance there who has not obeyed the law (see D&C 78:7).

If we thus understand the first couple of verses in the context of the larger law of consecration, they make more sense—giving surplus property to the bishop is something we can still relate to, though it is more common nowdays that we make a generous fast offering, instead of giving surplus property.

Consider now verses 3-4 of D&C 119:

And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. 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.

Notice how the giving over of surplus property is called “the beginning of tithing.” Again, without Harper’s explanation above, this would be confusing. Here is more elaboration on this point by Harper:

When the Saints were driven from the Jackson County land Bishop Partridge had legally purchased and deeded to the Saints, Joseph Smith prayed to the Lord in July 1838 and asked, “O! Lord, show unto thy servents how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a Tithing?”[14] Modern Saints may be puzzled that he had to ask the question. Didn’t he know that tithing is 10 percent? The answer is no for two reasons. First, though the Hebrew roots for the word tithes in Malachi 3:8, 10 refer to a tenth, tithing was not associated with one-tenth in this dispensation until the Lord answered Joseph’s prayer with Doctrine and Covenants section 119. Second, that revelation uses the word tithing once and tithed twice. In all three cases the words refer to the revelation’s first commandment: “Thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion” (D&C 119:1). That is the beginning of tithing, which is not a lower or temporary law according to section 119, but rather “a standing law unto them forever” (D&C 119:4), given for the same purposes as the law of consecration in section 42 and several others. Though some of the tactics for implementation are different, there is no great discrepancy between what the Lord expects of the Saints today and what He originally commanded in section 42 or the later amendment in section 119.

It seems, then, that tithing must be understood, esp. for those who have been through the temple, as part and parcel to the law of consecration. That is, we concescrate ourselves wholly to God, and paying 10% of our income is part of this more general law.

Gen 14:19-20

J. Gordon McConville has written a very nice article “Abraham and Melchizedek: Horizons in Genesis 14” (in the book He Swore an Oath) helping to explain these verses. He explains that there is a word play in Hebrew that contrasts the King of Sodom going to war (vv. 2, 8, 17) and Melchizedek bring out bread (v. 20).
McConville also nicely explains how the act of welcoming and giving typifies an inversion of the might-is-right logic of the world at work in most of Genesis 14, including the King of Sodom’s reason for offering Sodom all the spoils of war (Gen 14:21). This logic is similar to the logic of capitalist ownership that the law of consecration seems to subvert: rather than thinking in terms of ownership, the law of consecration recasts property in terms of stewardship.

Note that the vread that Melchizedek bring out, as an inverting symbol of the King of Sodom’s going to war, prefigures the gift of manna during/after the exodus, and this meaning is furthered in the New Testament when John’s Gospel declares that Christ is the bread of life, something we remember each week during the sacrament, and hopefully each time we say grace before each meal, recognizing how we rely on God to give us our “daily bread” (as the Lord’s Prayer expresses it).

2 Corinthians 9:7

In 2 Corinthians 9:7, we read:

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

The idea in this verse of the intentions of our hearts corroborates the link between the tithes/offerings and consecration that I suggested (via Harper) above. This emphasis on the heart as the motivation of action, rather than the mind, is in contrast to the way that we often think about decision-making in modern times. As the theologian James Dunn puts this, “Paul thus in effect refused to reduce the wholeness of the person to rationality, but sought rather to maintain a balance between the rational, the emotional and the volitional” (p. 75, The Theology of Paul the Apostle).

Although sometimes it is thought that this focus on one’s heart is an innovation that is not present in the Old Testament, we read in Deut 15:10, “though shalt surely give . . . , and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest.” It is not just that we need to give, but we need to become the kind of people for whom giving comes naturally. When we give grudgingly, this is a sign that we have not fully repented or come unto God.

10 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 32: Tithes and Offerings (Gospel Principles Manual)”

  1. Justin said

    How are we to understand the phrase “all of their surplus property” in the first verse? In what sense is this relevant to us today? This sounds like it pertains to the historical era when the United Order was in effect, doesn’t it?

    It is relevant to us today because insofar as you or I have surplus property, the Lord requires that it be put into the hands of the bishop in Zion for a tithing. Unless the designation of “my people” applies only to an earlier historical era and not to modern LDS — the first verse applies as it read to modern LDS.

    The payment of 1/10th of your interest annually is called a “standing law” — never tithing [something you point out above].

    Also, re: Genesis 14 — the JST of those verses points out that Abraham tithed on surplus [above which he had need] — not gross or net income. The current LDS view of the 1/10th standing law would impoverish the poor and further take from the needy by requiring their tithing be accounted by income — instead of their interest [or surplus].

    • Matthew said

      It is an interesting point that tithing for Abraham was on surplus instead of income. Which then raises the question of what “interest” means in the D&C 119:4. Looking in Webster’s 1828 it seems like this definition is most relevant “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. …” I do think that fits well with the context here. The base property I am left with after giving of my surplus is essentially the “principle” and the “interest” is the money I make off of that property.” In that sense “interest” here would seem to mean “income.” Do you agree?

      Of course, regardless of what interest meant in D&C 119 it has been interpreted by prophets since to mean income. I see that as a bit like the Word of Wisdom. Regardless of what “hot drinks” may have meant when the revelation was given, prophets have since interpreted it as tea and coffee.

  2. kirkcaudle said

    After reading your (Roberts) comments on section 119 I am reading v4 a little differently.

    V1-2 talks about what the saints have to do with their property. This would be quite a sacrifice. It is also what we are supposed to do.

    V3 “And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.”
    Therefore, the beginning of the tithing is v1-2 (as you and Harper point out)

    V4 starts out with the phrase “And after that” followed by the command of giving ten percent. Therefore, the work of v1-2 is not complete.

    This makes me rethink what we normally teach about tithing. Normally we think of tithing as a sacrifice that brings blessings.

    1. We pay tithing
    2. That tithing is a sacrifice
    3. We are blessed

    Perhaps that is an over simplification (and I know it is) but it will suffice for the moment.

    However, section 119 seems to be saying something completely different.

    1. You sacrifice everything you have to God (v1-2)
    2. Now that you have sacrificed you are now ready to follow the law of tithing (v3)
    3. Further information is given on how you should follow the law (v4)
    4. Blessings?

    Therefore, we normally think tithing itself is the sacrifice. However, section 119 seems to be saying that tithing somehow proves the sacrifice that we have already made.

  3. Justin said

    4. Blessings?

    …All those who gather unto the land of Zion [and] all the stakes of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties [tithing, according to verse 1], and shall observe this law [1/10th of interest annually], 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 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.

    Blessings = We will be found worthy to abide among those in Zion and our land will be sanctified as a land of Zion.

  4. Robert C. said

    Kirk, I really like your formulation. I think that one way of interpreting your two versions of tithing is an understanding before going through the temple vs. an understanding we (should!) have after going through the temple.

    As I taught this lesson today, I was somewhat disappointed as I read the heading to D&C 119 more carefully, esp. the part that reads:

    The Lord had previously given to the Church the law of consecration. . . . Because of failure on the part of many to abide by this covenant, the Lord withdrew it for a time and gave instead the law of tithing to the whole Church.

    I this part of the heading perpetuates a misunderstanding of the relationship between consecration and tithing (precisely the relationship that Harper’s article tries to debunk). Interestingly, I grabbed an old edition of the D&C today from our church library, and the heading is much shorter (and less misleading, IMHO…).

  5. Matthew said

    I taught this lesson today and really appreciated having read Robert’s and Steven Harper’s thoughts before hand. It definitely helped my lesson. Thank you Robert for taking the time to write this up.

    For me one of the most important quotes is that by President Hinckley. I think it makes a big deal whether I think of the law of consecration as something that I promise to be willing to live if I am asked to, or whether I think of it that I am already asked to live. I wonder though, why this point isn’t included in the lesson manual? Is it because the authors don’t think we are ready to live this “higher law”?

    In our lesson today we had a wonderful story from one of the brothers who told us that in a time when he had made an excuse for why he shouldn’t be paying tithing, a close relative of his asked him to go to the temple with her (she was going for the first time). He didn’t have a current recommend and she decided to postpone the date she could go to the temple so she could have him go with her. When he went to his temple recommend interview he realized that he couldn’t get his temple recommend because he wasn’t a current tithe payer. He then had to tell this close relative that she would have to go without him. It was a very touching story and I really drove home the meaning of the law of tithing and how obedience and visiting the temple is a foreshadowing of obedience and the celestial kingdom.

    Anyway, this story and my experience in Elder’s Quorum got me thinking that there is a real sense in which the law of tithing, with it’s concreteness, is a lesser law and the law of consecration is a higher law. So even if D&C 119 doesn’t really justify this line of thinking (as Harper points out), it is still a helpful way of thinking about these laws.

  6. Matthew said

    Does Harper overstate his case when he says “That is the beginning of tithing, which is not a lower or temporary law according to section 119, but rather ‘a standing law unto them forever'”? Wouldn’t a more natural reading of the “standing law unto them forever” not be the “beginning of tithing,” aka the surplus part, but rather the part immediately preceding which says “after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually”?

    It seems to me the first verses in 119 are most naturally read as referring to giving your surplus to the Church as a one-time event. For the people already in Zion they are expected to give all of their excess to the church. Then from that point forward they are expect to pay 10% of their interest. As new people gather to Zion they go through the surplus thing once and then they pay 10% of their interest after that. Am I reading that wrong?

    Note: I do believe that the Lord expects us to live the law of consecration today and give away to others more than 10% of our interest where we have the means to do so. I just wonder whether Harper forces the meaning of these verses to make them fit more neatly to his point than they really do.

  7. Les said

    I really liked Harper’s article as well, but had a difficult time correlating aspects of it with the following statements by Church leaders:

    Robert D. Hales said, “Early in this dispensation, the Lord commanded certain members of the Church to live the higher law of consecration – a law received by covenant. When this covenant was not kept, great tribulations came upon the Saints. The law of consecration was then withdrwn. In it’s place the Lord revealed the law of tithing for the whole Church….the law of tithing prepares us to live the higher law of consecration.” General Conference 2002.

    Joseph Fielding Smith said, “This celestial law [the law of consecration] of necessity was thereupon withdrawn for a time, or until the time of the redemption of Zion.”

    Orson F. Whitney, “The Law of Tithing was given to supercede, for the time being, a greater law known as the Law of Consecration…the Lord withdrew the Law of Consecration, and gave to his people a lesser law, one easier to live, but pointing forward, like tht other, to something grand and glorious in the future. That lesser law, the Law of Tithing, is a schoolmaster, a disciplinary agent, to bring the Saints eventually up to the practise of the higher law.”

    D&C 105: 9-11 lets us know that the Lord was going to hold off on the “redeption of Zion” in order to prepare the people more perfectly. And though it doesn’t state outright that the law of consecration was revoked it does say that “this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.” Thus I think Pres. Hinckley’s statement that “the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect” still correlates with these previous statments on account of temple endowment that was later revealed and currently practiced.

  8. Robert C. said

    Matthew, I too ended up discussing the Law of Tithing as a kind of lesser law that is more easily measurable—something we can do even if we aren’t really doing it cheerfully (we spent a fair bit of time during our lesson discussing the 2 Cor 9 verse, and related quotes). We talked a fair bit about blessing we pretty much all have enjoyed by doing something we were supposed to do, even though we didn’t start out with the best of intentions or motivations. Then, we are additionally asked to give an unspecified amount in fast offerings, and of course living up to our temple covenants is a very non-specific thing (i.e., it’s very personal and individual-specific).

    This seems like a very nice system God has set up to get us optimally motivated, so that we can enjoy the blessings of specific obedience, even if our motivations are not absolutely pure (even Christ seemed reluctant during his moment of truth, though he said “nevertheless, thy will be done”), plus we can enjoy the greater blessings of acting based more on our own initiative.

    Les, I like your way of reconciling Pres. Hinckley’s comments with the other statements you mentioned. I’m not apt to worry much if a current President says something different than previous presidents or general authorities have said, and I do think Harper makes some good points as to ways we (including our leaders) have perhaps previously misunderstood our own history—regardless, I do think it’s worth thinking and discussing ways to better live up to our temple covenants (even if such discussions aren’t specifically prescribed by the manual).

  9. Jim Siniscalchi said

    Thank you…I found this interesting and with thought provoking perspectives that show a keen interest and understanding of holy writ and the words of our prophets and our leaders in general.

    I wish I had more time to really delve into this kind of writing as I am passionate about this, but suffice it, that I can contribute as I am able or capable of at this time. I really like and enjoy reading some of the other blogs here and will eventually work my way over contributing to it.

    I appreciate what time was spent by Robert putting this together and how Kirk really simplified this to where even I can understand. The additional comments brought even more to the table of understanding.

    I would like to make a few observations and you can take it for whatever value you may see fit. I think perhaps the law of consecration may have something more to it.

    I am inclined to agree that the law of consecration were not done away with and still is in effect. No revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants rescind, suspend, or revoke the law of consecration. The Doctrine and Covenants never refers to a higher or a lower law, only the law.

    I believe like Justin [3] that Blessings = we will be found worthy to abide among those in Zion and our land will be sanctified as a land of Zion.

    I also have a notion that the law of consecration is not just a one- time up front thing. This is just a thought; I had a year (call it year one) where my income was marginal after expense s and another year
    (Year 2) where surplus was a bit more, say in abundance. Now if I paid into the storehouse of consecration based on year one earnings, very little would have been contributed to the kingdom, although something of a sacrifice, because it would have been from the heart and all that I had, that which was given, at the altar of consecration. Yet, I would like to emphasize the very little part.

    Now year two I earn much more income, where a more meaningful contribution monetarily could be given to building up of the kingdom of God, although not necessarily any different from the heart then when I had little. This is where it gets a little sketchy, especially when my 10% would also increase.

    However, when the intentions of our hearts are pure and holy, truly we become the kind of people for whom giving comes naturally. Remembering all the while, whom we belong to and who’s kingdom we are building up here upon the earth. So perhaps for now it is more of an individual ability and capability and our desire to be obedient and in becoming.

    Each of are going to be asked to give that which is most difficult for us to give as we consecrate and devote ourselves unto God. For many that is our income and that which is esteemed by the world to be of great worth, whereas Latter-Day Saints believe the great worth is in saving souls.

    “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”

    “For behold, this is my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

    Remember, glory and spiritual light are synonymous!

    Also being quick to observe and …especially in light of temple covenants…obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, and honoring the covenants each of us entered into.

    We can find joy in obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. According to Eldred G. Smith, our effort should be diligent, not just passive: With the assurance of this great promise, obedience to eternal law should be a joy, not a burden, and give each the incentive to not just be passive members of the Church but to be diligent in trying to further advance his kingdom on the earth.

    Who are we? The armies of God on the earth!

    Being obedient, helps further our ability to become holy and godly and has the effect of an increase of light which opens the doors for a further increase in light, knowledge and blessings.

    Now considering all the related scriptures together, it is clear that spiritual light provides for a person to receive truth, to recognize truth, and to use truth for the benefit of oneself and others. Spiritual light can also prepare an individual to be a source of truth. In each instance, the benefit will be in proportion to the strength or amount of spiritual light possessed by a person.

    When spiritual light is united with spiritual truth, that combination is spiritual intelligence

    God Bless…

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