044: Tithes and Fasting; Doctrine & Covenants and Church History 17

The Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast

This lesson is about sacrifices, one easier than the other–tithing and fasting (guess which is which). Money is one of those topics considered impolite to discuss, and the message that all we have belongs to God and therefore God should be able to command what we should do with it is certainly a bold and often unwelcome claim!

In this lesson we will explore

  • How tithing functions and is talked about at Church
  • Tithing in early Church history
  • Tithing in the Bible
  • Personal approaches to tithing.
  • Fasting and fast offerings
  • The core question of how we can give of our substance to further God’s work in responsible, effective ways.

And above all this lesson will invite reflection on the relationship between tithing, fast offerings, and other worthy giving.

One Time Donations:

$5   $10   $25   $50   $100

Recurring Donations:

$5   $10   $25   $50   $100

Student Reading: Doctrine and Covenants 59:13–14, 21; 119; 120; Genesis 14:18–20; Leviticus 27:30; Malachi 3:8–12 (cf. 3 Nephi 13:16–18); D&C 64:23; 119; Isaiah 58:5–11; D&C 59:13–16

Additional Teacher Reading: Matthew 6:16–18; 2 Corinthians 9:6–8; (JST Matthew 4:2) Luke 4:2–14



I am heartbroken to say that for the first (and only!) time, I forgot to push record for the discussion! So this is an unusual episode. Following the lesson, Bonnie and I try to reconstruct and give some of the feel of an earlier epic conversation with Bonnie, Rock, Kevin, and John. The episode then has my portion of the earlier conversation which was recorded.

Feel free to continue the conversation by posting your comments and questions here, in the facebook group, or email them to me at MormonSundaySchool at gmail.

You can access my Lesson Notes here.

You can access my Reading Notes here.

(I apologize neither is more complete than usual; I had a crazy week!)

Many thanks to Devin Roth for the beautiful bumper music. Check out his arrangement of hymns and other work at DevinRothMusic!

Thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for heroic work getting this messy episode in shape.





Latest Comments

  1. Utahhiker801 says:

    I really enjoyed listening to this podcast. My wife and I had a lively discussion about this for several hours last night.

    Concerning the idea that tithing is a law as opposed to being a commandment is not something that I’ve been able to sort out in my mind. At first I thought, if it is a law, perhaps that means that when I have an increase, the law of tithing requires me to pay a tenth; if I have no increase, there is nothing to trigger that law in my life (similarly, if I choose to drive a car on a street, the speed limit is a law which applies to me; if I am walking, the speed limit really has no bearing on me other than to be aware of drivers who may or may not be obeying that law.)

    This made sense to me until I considered the law of chastity which, although labeled as a “law”, clearly encapsulates commandments (“Thou shalt not commit adultery). So following that twist, any difference I was able to apply to “law vs. commandment” somewhat fell apart.

    Rock Waterman’s blog post discusses the idea of tithing being a law, but again, I have not been distill the differences to the point where I could explain it to another person.

    If anyone has any thoughts or clarifications on this, I would really welcome those.


    • Jared Anderson says:

      So glad to hear you enjoyed the podcast, and especially that it prompted a lively conversation with your wife! If this episode prompts such conversations and they prove constructive, it has succeeded. Yeah, I don’t know that we can make too much of the law/commandment distinction, though I find Rock’s point that the commandment to care for those in need is far more emphasized than the law/principle of tithing. Also, about chastity, we can have laws and commandments that govern principles.


  2. Jeremy says:

    Did you say that a significant portion of Canada’s tithing goes to BYU? How much roughly? Is there a way to know? As a Canadian Mormon, I’d like to know.


  3. Rock Waterman says:

    I think the confusion regarding Laws and commandments comes from our modern day way of thinking that a “law” is something that has to be obeyed -such as traffic laws.

    Some laws, such as the law of tithing, is procedural law. What that means is that it is a rule of direction regarding the way in which tithing was to be collected and disbursed. It is not a “law” in the sense that one HAS to pay tithing. That would be a commandment.

    The law of tithing, if you will carefully read section 119, is concerned with who should contribute (all who have surplus), the portion to be contributed (10 percent of one’s interest), When it should be contributed (Annually), and what the money is to be used for (Building the temple, building up Zion, and the debts of the First Presidency).

    That is why tithing is more an obligation than a commandment. Those of us who call ourselves members of the earthly Church have an obligation to contribute our share to its operation, much like paying dues in any organization goes to handle the ordinary expenses of the organization.

    There are lots of definitions of the meaning of “Law,” depending upon what is meant. In older dictionaries you’ll find “law” is defined as “that which is established”, particularly in relation to God’s law. “The way things are” can be something God himself established, or it can be the laws of the universe, which often denote the established rules that even God operates under, or in other words, the way the universe works.

    So again, the best way to understand the concept is to divorce your brain from the idea that a law is something that must be obeyed the way statutes, ordinances, and regulations are.

    The law of gravity is something that is established, and cannot be changed at the whim of man. But it is a law that must not so much be obeyed, as acknowledged. It is what it is.

    The Law of Tithing is the procedure God established to arrange for the expenses of the Church. Since it is not a commandment, it cannot be disobeyed; only ignored. And if we ignore it, we don’t get Zion. It’s a law of cause and effect. If we don’t follow the rule of direction required to obtain a Zion society, we don’t get a Zion society. You don’t pay the rent on the hall your club meets at, you soon won’t have a place for your club to meet. Simple as that.

    If Zion fails to come forth, the fault could lie with both members and leaders: members for failing to properly pay, and leaders for using the funds for purposes other than those outlined in section 119. Remember, D&C section 119 IS the Law of Tithing in its totality. Whatever you believe about tithing, if you don’t see it in that section, it is not a part of the law.

    That’s why the First Presidency stated in 1970 that “no one is justified in making any statement other than this [what is contained within the Law itself]. You can go around saying that paying tithing brings blessings, that tithing consists of ten percent of your gross wages, that you should pay tithing even if you will go without food and electricity. You can say all those things, but you aren’t justified in saying them because none of that stuff is mentioned in the law itself.


    • Utahhiker801 says:

      Rock, thank you for taking the time to address my question. I learned a lot from your blog, and I appreciate your insight. I’m sure it made my lesson better by having read it.


    • WonderBoy says:

      Some other ways to think about the term “law.”

      1. The “Law of the Harvest.” This is a “law” of cause and effect–you reap what you sew. It’s a “law.” If this, then that. In this sense, “law” isn’t a commandment. You aren’t “commanded” to sew. But, if you do sew, you will reap. It’s a law–like Newton’s 3 “Laws” of motion.

      2. “Laws” are sometimes the descriptions of what things are, how they’re characterized, and the rules by which they are governed. This is where you can also use the analogies of the “law” of gravity, or the “laws” of motion,” etc. The “law” of tithing is a description of what it is to be used for and how it’s to be done.

      3. Bylaws of an organization are the “laws” or RULES by which things are to be executed. So RULES.


  4. Nate S. says:

    Thanks for this episode. It was a revelation. I’m with you on the interpretation of D&C 119 verse 4. But, I’m still puzzling over how we implement verse 1. It seems to contemplate a one time donation of all surplus into the hands of bishop and then 10% of interest/increase/profit/surplus annually. Any idea how this was done historically? Did converts have to give their surplus upon baptism? And, how do you handle that now, if at all? If you’re going to go back to the original understanding of verse 4, what’s the proper way to implement verse 1?


    • Jared Anderson says:

      Nate, I am glad you brought this up. I realize we didn’t cover it adequately, though Quinn does in the article I link to on the history of tithing. In D&C 119 there is presupposed some mixture of consecration AND tithing. Converts would initially donate their surplus (on everything they had it looks like!) and *then* be tithed again on their surplus annually. They key is *surplus* and that is the factor in the equation Church members are currently missing, to their detriment. And to the detriment of all those who could benefit from resources put elsewhere.


  5. FirstLast says:

    An official church publication indicates that two classes of members should NOT pay tithing:
    1. Members completely dependent on welfare (essentially no surplus), and
    2. Full-time missionaries, including mission presidents, UNLESS they receive income beyond their needs.

    Permitting and promoting anecdotal stories encouraging gross overpayment of tithing, especially when resulting in gross hardship, is dishonest at best, priestcraft at worst.


    • Jared Anderson says:

      Do you have a reference for that? I agree that these are good examples to bring up to apply more broadly, thank you.


  6. FirstLast says:

    2010 CHI Volume 1, p. 125 under “Who Should Pay Tithing”. Now, the handbook is not scripture, but it is revealing that the administration recognizes the correct principle, while encouraging overpayment.


  7. Waldemar says:

    God wants to give you all of your needs and wants, a bowl of rice a day will keep you alive and provide your needs but It is the the wants that gives true meaning to your life.


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