A History of Early Mormon Tithing


In Mormonism, tithing is seen as a mark of a true believer. It is a sign that the individual firmly believes in the church and is willing to sacrifice their personal gain for that belief. Throughout the history of Mormonism, tithing has taken several different forms and sometimes was voluntary or other times mandatory for full fellowship with the church. Today in Mormonism, tithing is mandatory and is used directly to support the religious side of the church. However, it is also used indirectly to support the commercial side of the church and their vast business holdings. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

Biblical Tithing

It is not the purpose here to analyze the concept of tithing itself. However, a very brief look into the biblical concept of tithing would be helpful. The first occurrence we have is found in JST Genesis 14 where Abram paid his tithing to Melchizedek. It reads:

And [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.

JST Genesis 14

In this passage we can note two important points. The first is that tithing was to be used for the poor. There probably were other uses as well however it seems a major purpose and maybe a primary purpose was to care for the poor. The second major point is that Abraham paid his tithing on whatever he didn’t strictly need. This means whatever was not needed to support his basic living needs and those of his household. Of course, Abraham could define this however he felt was justified, however ultimately, he was the one accountable to God for doing so.

Roughly 300 years later we have the account of Moses and what we refer to as the Law of Moses. In this law, which is described in Leviticus 27, each of the 12 tribes of Israel were given specific inheritances that they used to support themselves. However, the tribe of Levi was given no inheritances and was instead entirely supported by the tithing, or religious offerings, of the other tribes.

According to Numbers 18, the Levites were in turn then required to give a tithe of what they received to the High Priest. Lastly, based on Deuteronomy 14, a major purpose of tithing was to support the Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows. Essentially, whatever the Levities didn’t need for their support was in turn used to support those that did need it.


In looking at more modern times then, after the LDS church was organized in 1830, there seems to be very little specifics about tithing mentioned or recorded in historical records. At that time the church certainly had some financial overhead, and debts, however these were dealt with as needed and not through a systematic collection system like modern tithing. In addition, it was very common for individuals to have a lot of property and very little money therefore monetary tithing, at that time, was quite impractical.

The first formal recording of the concept of tithing was during a meeting between Joseph and Oliver on November 29th, 1834. The church had just received a loan of $430 which was to be used to help the new members throughout the coming winter. Joseph and Oliver were very thankful and in turn covenanted to God that if he would help them, they would help the poor. Joseph’s journal reads:

After conversing and rejoicing before the Lord on this occasion we agreed to enter into the following covenant with the Lord, That if the Lord will prosper us in our business, and open the way before <​us​> … that after that of all that he shall give us we will give a tenth, to be bestowed upon the poor in his church, or as he shall command

Joseph Smith

After this point, little was discussed specifically about tithing and the church continued to gain debt as they built the Kirtland temple and helped expand the church more. It also didn’t help that the church continued to have financial troubles through things like the Kirtland Safety Society collapse and the overall financial panic of 1837.

On December 7th, 1837, Edward Partridge, the Bishop of the church in Missouri met with a council of leaders and attempted to define tithing more specifically to address the financial problems of the church. In this statement Bishop Partridge interestingly defines tithing as 2% of net worth. This of course is massively different from the 10% of income that we use today.

For instance, in my personal life, for many years I was paid a lot of money as a software developer however my net worth was close to zero. This was because of my growing family and financial obligations. Therefore, according to this definition, I was overpaying my tithing by several orders of magnitude. This concept is also quite equitable since it affects everyone the same and is not inherently unfair like the modern system of tithing. For instance, if 100% of my paycheck goes to support my basic needs then how can I pay 10% of that and still meet my needs? Today we are told to have faith and pay it anyways, however this has never been how God has worked. The council minutes read:

We the undersigned a committee appointed yesterday by a general council in the Land of Zion for the purpose of adopting a plan wher by the church of Latter Day Saints may voluntarily raise means by tighing themselves to be a fund ready at all times to assist the poor with. . . and also to compensate the Servents of the Lord for their services in attending to the business of the church. … We believe that a per centage on what a man is worth, is a more equal mode of raising funds than the tithing of what a man raises or his income from year to year … We have estimated that two cents upon the dollar for what every man shall be worth when he renders his inventory to the Bishop will raise a sum suffcient

Far West council minutes

About 6 months later, on July 8th, 1838, Joseph inquired of God as to what tithing should be and he received D&C 119. In this revelation, tithing is specifically defined as 10% of interest however only after all the surplus has been given to the church. It reads:

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, … And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; … 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. 

D&C 119

It is interesting to note that tithing in this case was based on interest however only after surplus was given to the church. According to the 1828 Webster’s dictionary, interest in this case was increase, surplus, or gain. This aligns closely with the statement from Edward Partridge and is quite equitable. If I had a bad year with very little gain, should I be required to pay the same as a good year with a lot of gain? This makes no sense when you think about it.

About two weeks later, Edward Partridge wrote a letter to Newel K. Whitney to further explain this new concept of tithing. In the letter, Bishop Partridge defines tithing as 10% of the interest if you invested your net worth for the year. In the example he gives, he assumes an interest rate of 6% which was a standard rate at the time. In the example he says:

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.

Edward Partridge letter to Newel K. Witney

This again is so different from what we do today. For instance, if I made $1000 per month then today, I would pay $100 in tithing. However, if after my bills were paid and I had $50 left over, then I would tithe 10% of that which would come to $5. Bishop Partridge however, who was present when Joseph dictated D&C 119, defined tithing in this case as 10% of the 6% interest. Therefore, in this example I would tithe just $0.30 which is 10% of the 6% interest of my $50.


Tithing continued throughout this way during the early 1840’s. However, almost immediately after the death of Joseph, Brigham and the apostles realized their precarious position. They needed rapid funds to finish the Nauvoo temple and then to fund the migration westward. On August 15th, 1844, Brigham and the apostles issued a directive for all members to immediately pay 10% of all they possessed regardless of whether they had previously paid tithing or not.

Let every member proceed immediately to tithe himself or herself, a tenth of all their property and money, and pay it into the hands of the Twelve; … and then let them continue to pay in a tenth of their income from that time forth, for this is a law unto this church

Brigham Young – HC 7:251

This immediate payment was certainly hard for many members of the church who were not necessarily financially stable to begin with. However, the church was in a very dangerous situation and had previously been lax in building the Nauvoo temple. About 6 months later on January 29th, 1845, the twelve met with Brigham Young to discuss how their service in the church should be a record for their tithing instead of their explicit payments. The record remarks:

[Brigham Young] concluded by giving his mind that the tithings of the committee, and the Twelve should be entered up in full. The proposition was sanctioned cheerfully by all with a hearty amen, and the recorder was ordered to enter the same according to this decision on the record.

Trustee-in-Trust tithing and donation record, 1844 May-1846 January

It is completely understandable why the leaders wanted to do this since prior to this point tithing could be paid for in service to the church or in things like building the temple. However, it does seem a little ironic that the leaders voted to exempt themselves from what was a requirement for everyone else. This is also strange considering that the Levites whose sole job was to administer to the religious needs of the Israelites were themselves required to pay tithing. Honestly though, who wouldn’t vote to exempt themselves from a burdensome requirement if they had the opportunity?

The apostles were then tasked with essentially collecting tithing in whatever way they could. It should be remembered that the apostles were entirely supported by the financial offerings of the church, therefore they had a direct incentive for the members to actually pay their tithing. John E. Page, who was an apostle at the time, remarked how guilty he felt trying to extract tithing from the members when they could obviously not afford it and he himself was exempt from the law. In referencing a family that paid a $4 tithing when they were obviously in need of help themselves, Elder Page remarked:

[I believe] that many paid tithing & in consequence of [this, were in] want of money enough to procure misc. necessaries of life.

John E. Page – statement at meeting of Strangite high council, Voree, Wisconsin, 6 Apr. 1846

In light of this and the idea that he believed Joseph was a fallen prophet, then Elder Page was excommunicated from the church and dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Less than a year later in 1847, the idea of a flat 10% tithing based on income was reiterated by Orson Hyde in The Millennial Star. He wrote:

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.

Orson Hyde – The Millennial Star, January 1, 1847

This is essentially just a reiteration of D&C 119. However, it makes it very clear that those that are not able to afford basic living necessities are under no obligation to pay tithing. Today however, we are told specifically that we should pay tithing first, and then if we are able to, we can pay our bills.


This has been a very brief look into the early history of tithing in the LDS church. There is a lot more to this which we simply don’t have time to look at currently. However, it is clear that tithing, as originally instituted by Joseph, is completely different from the way we practice tithing today. Originally tithing was to be paid on your increase which was determined after all needs were met. However, now tithing is to be determined by your income before your needs are met.

This concept, in my opinion, is hurtful to the poor and the needy, which is the exact group that tithing was created to help. Today however, our tithing goes into vast corporate funds which are used in expert financial ways to generate even more funds. Interest on these sacred funds is then used for any number of secular commercial purposes. While I admit this is smart, according to our financial system. It however seems to completely miss the point of what tithing is for. Did God institute tithing so that the church could become incredibility wealthy with unimaginable corporate holdings, or did he institute tithing so the needs of the church and the poor and needy could be met?

I believe tithing is a correct principle of God. However, this doesn’t mean that we must tithe to the LDS church for our sacrifice to be accepted by God. How many people around us are struggling financially? How many of our neighbors could use our tithe to help with their basic needs? Tithing is simply an acknowledgment that we are putting God’s needs above our own. Think how it would change the world if every time someone lost a job or suffered a setback, their neighbors all pooled their resources together to help them. This would change our society fundamentally more than any government program could ever hope to do so.

Author: Patrick