FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- What is tithing?
- Should I pay tithing on gross income, net income, or something else?
- Can I donate to a charity and count that as tithing?
- Should I pay tithing before paying for food or rent?
- Why should the poor and destitute pay tithing?
- Is tithing "buying our way" to heaven?
- Will tithing ever go away?
- Has the definition of tithing changed over time?
What is tithing?
The Church has explained:
Tithing is the donation of one-tenth of one’s income to God’s Church (see Doctrine and Covenants 119:3–4; interest is understood to mean income). All members who have income should pay tithing.
The Lord’s covenant people have lived the law of tithing since ancient times (see Genesis 14:18–20; Leviticus 27:30–32). The Lord has said, “The tithing of my people … shall be a standing law unto them forever” (Doctrine and Covenants 119:3–4).
Tithes are holy to the Lord, and members honor Him by paying tithing. This is an expression of faith in God and His promises. Those who pay tithing receive this promise from the Lord: “Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
- "34.3.1 Tithing", General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (accessed 2 March 2023).
Should I pay tithing on gross income, net income, or something else?
The Church has explained:
The First Presidency has answered this question in this way: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, 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” (First Presidency letter, Mar. 19, 1970).
In other words, the way you define your income, and consequently your tithing, is a matter between you and the Lord. Prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance on issues like taxes, gifts, scholarships, and other matters to determine what qualifies as a full tithe.
- "Do I pay tithing on my income before taxes are taken out or on what I receive after taxes?", New Era, February 2008.
Can I donate to a charity and count that as tithing?
Church members are encouraged to donate to help the poor and needy when they are able to do so. However, those donations to charitable organizations are not tithing. Elder Neil L. Andersen taught: "The Lord clearly directed how tithing should be disbursed, saying, 'Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse' [Malachi 3:10], meaning bring the tithes into His restored kingdom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." This echoes the teaching of President Dallin H. Oaks: "We pay tithing, as the Savior taught, by bringing the tithes 'into the storehouse' (Mal. 3:10; 3 Ne. 24:10). We do this by paying our tithing to our bishop or branch president. We do not pay tithing by contributing to our favorite charities. The contributions we should make to charities come from our own funds, not from the tithes we are commanded to pay to the storehouse of the Lord."
- "One day each month, we go without food and donate the cost of that food (and more) to help those in need." Russell M. Nelson, "The Second Great Commandment," October 2019 general conference.
- Neil L. Andersen, "Tithing: Opening the Windows of Heaven," October 2023 general conference.
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Tithing," April 1994 general conference.
Should I pay tithing before paying for food or rent?
If someone is in the situation where they have to choose between tithing and food, it is of benefit to sit down and talk with the bishop as they have access to better training and employment opportunities as well as may be helpful in establishing a better budget so that such a conflict won't arise in the future.
With regard to self sufficiency, we are taught as well that we need to be part of our faith community and that requires of us time to allow others to serve us. It is a kindness to give others such opportunities, even when we don't necessarily need such help. There are blessings that come from being a charitable receiver as well as a charitable giver.
A family in San Salvador had joined the Church and was experiencing a great change in their lives:
The Vigils’ bishop, César Orellana, also saw changes in their lives. Soon after their baptism, Amado approached Bishop Orellana and said, “We want to pay tithing, but we don’t know how.”
Bishop Orellana explained that tithing was 10 percent of their increase. Amado was somewhat concerned. At the time, Evelyn had a job, but he did not. “We always come up short,” Amado explained to his bishop, “but we want to pay tithing.”
Bishop Orellana responded, “Brother, the Lord has made many promises.” Together they read scriptures about the blessings that come from faithfully paying tithing, including the Lord’s words through the prophet Malachi: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, … and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
After reading these scriptures together, Bishop Orellana looked at the new convert and said, “If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.”
The next Sunday, Amado approached Bishop Orellana again. This time he didn’t ask any questions. He simply handed his bishop an envelope and said, “Bishop, here is our tithing.”
Reflecting on this experience, Bishop Orellana says, “Ever since then, they have been faithful tithe payers.” The family received some commodities from the bishops’ storehouse during their financial difficulties. Beyond that, the Lord blessed them to be able to care for themselves. Evelyn received a promotion, and Amado found a good job. Evelyn later lost her job, but they continued to pay tithing and to receive spiritual and temporal blessings for their faithfulness. Once Bishop Orellana asked Amado how the family was doing financially. Amado responded, “We’re doing all right. Sometimes we don’t have much to eat, but we have enough. And more than anything, we trust in the Lord.”
- Aaron L. West, "Sacred Transformations," Ensign, December 2012.
Why should the poor and destitute pay tithing?
Paying tithing is a matter of faith. From a believer's perspective, a more accurate description than "pay what little they have to a multi-billion megamall owning Church" would be to "donate one-tenth of what little they have to the Lord."
There is a Biblical precedent for the idea that even those that are destitute will be blessed by the Lord if they pay their tithing. Elder Lynn G. Robbins related the following at the April 2005 General Conference:
The Lord says to Elijah, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath … : behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee” (1 Kgs. 17:9). It is interesting that Elijah is not told to go to Zarephath until the widow and her son are at the point of death. It is at this extreme moment—facing starvation—that her faith will be tested.
As he comes into the city he sees her gathering sticks.
“And he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.
“And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.
“And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kgs. 17:10–12).
A handful of meal would be very little indeed, perhaps just enough for one serving, which makes Elijah’s response intriguing. Listen: “And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first” (1 Kgs. 17:13; emphasis added).
Now doesn’t that sound selfish, asking not just for the first piece, but possibly the only piece? Didn't our parents teach us to let other people go first and especially for a gentleman to let a lady go first, let alone a starving widow? Her choice—does she eat, or does she sacrifice her last meal and hasten death? Perhaps she will sacrifice her own food, but could she sacrifice the food meant for her starving son?
Elijah understood the doctrine that blessings come after the trial of our faith (see Ether 12:6; D&C 132:5). He wasn't being selfish. As the Lord’s servant, Elijah was there to give, not to take. Continuing from the narrative:
“But make me thereof a little cake first [the firstlings], and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
“For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.
“And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
“And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah” (1 Kgs. 17:13–16; emphasis added).
Elder Robbins also noted:
Among those who do not sacrifice there are two extremes: one is the rich, gluttonous man who won’t and the other is the poor, destitute man who believes he can’t. But how can you ask someone who is starving to eat less? Is there a level of poverty so low that sacrifice should not be expected or a family so destitute that paying tithing should cease to be required? Faith isn’t tested so much when the cupboard is full as when it is bare. In these defining moments, the crisis doesn’t create one’s character—it reveals it. The crisis is the test.
Mark 12:41–44 gives us the story of the widows mite:
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
- Lynn G. Robbins, "Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute," Ensign 35, no. 5 (May 2005): 34–35.
Is tithing "buying our way" to heaven?
Tithing is one way Latter-day Saints live the law of consecration, which the Lord taught is essential for those who will live in heaven. Living the law of tithing helps Saints prepare for living in heaven. Tithing does not "buy" anyone access to heaven.
Will tithing ever go away?
In 1907, President Joseph F. Smith announced that Church members had been sufficiently faithful in paying tithing that the Church was essentially debt free (or more accurately, the Church "owes not a dollar that it cannot pay at once. At last we are in a position that we can pay as we go"). President Smith also stated, "We may not be able to reach it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the kingdom of God."
Some have wondered if this means tithing will eventually go away. From the early days of the Church until 1990, Church members were asked to contribute donations beyond what they paid in tithing. These extra donations were added to ward and temple building funds, ward activity budgets, and other activities. In 1990 the Church announced that all activities and operations of local units and facilities would be paid from tithes and offerings. As a result, wards and other local entities no longer were to ask for extra donations to cover building costs, activity costs, and so forth. 
In discussing this change, Elder Boyd K. Packer explained that it was a fulfillment of the statement by Joseph F. Smith. Elder Packer said: "For years, Presidents of the Church have talked of and prayed for the day when tithes and offerings would qualify members for full participation in the Church. President Joseph F. Smith, as early as 1907, stated, [quote from above]. . . . The scriptures speak of tithes and of offerings; they do not speak of assessments or fund-raising. To be an offering, it must be given freely—offered. The way is open now for many more of us to participate in this spiritually refining experience."
President Thomas S. Monson described this change as a "giant step forward in funding all such costs through tithing—even the Lord’s way."
Thus, the donations President Smith spoke of were those that went beyond tithing and were the donations for local building and activity funds and other programs. Thus, tithing was not intended to go away, as noted in a Church manual: "The commandment to “pay one-tenth of all [a person’s] interest annually” is not a lesser law to be replaced at some future time but is “a standing law unto [the Lord’s people] forever” (D&C 119:4)."
- Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, April 1907, 7.
- See Gale Boyd, "A Financial Journey: Fulfilling Prophecy, Blessing Saints," Public Square Magazine, 1 March 2023.
- Boyd K. Packer, "Teach Them Correct Principles," April 1990 general conference.
- Thomas S. Monson, "The Lord's Way," April 1990 general conference.
- "Chapter 45: Doctrine and Covenants 115–20," Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017).
Has the definition of tithing changed over time?
Yes, the definition of tithing has changed over time. From the Church's founding until 1838, "the words tithe and tithing as used in the Church referred to any voluntary offering, regardless of the amount." Beginning in 1831, "the Saints had been instructed to consecrate all of their property to the Church. This effort was moderately successful at first, but, ultimately, unsuccessful business and banking ventures undertaken by Church leaders, as well as nationwide economic problems, failed to produce the necessary funding to carry out the various divinely mandated endeavors. In an effort to cover Church expenses, Edward Partridge, in consultation with his first counselor and the manager of the Missouri storehouse, had suggested in late 1837 that each household donate 2 percent of its net worth each year."
In 1838 "questions arose about the best way to meet the Church’s financial needs and the role donated funds should play." In response to these questions, the Lord instructed that "first, the Saints should make a one-time donation of all their surplus property; 'and after that,' the revelation said, 'those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually.'" By 1841, the requirement for an initial donation of all surplus property "shifted to donating one-tenth of Saints’ net worth at the start of the Nauvoo Temple’s construction or when they joined the Church," while the requirement of donating "10 percent of their increase or income each subsequent year" continued unchanged. This practice of tithing continued through the end of the 19th century. At some point around the turn of the century, the practice of donating 10 percent of net worth upon joining the Church was discontinued. Today, "tithing is [defined as] the donation of one-tenth of one's income to God's Church."
- "Tithing," Church History Topics, Gospel Library, accessed 14 May 2023.
- David W. Smith, "The Development of the Council on the DIsposition of the Tithes," BYU Studies Quarterly 57, no. 2 (2018), 137–138. See also historical introduction to "Revelation, 8 July 1838—C [D&C 119,"] josephsmithpapers.org.
- "Tithing," Church History Topics. See also Doctrine and Covenants 119:1–5.
- "Tithing," note 10, Church History Topics.
- See for example remarks by John Taylor in "Salt Lake Stake Conference," in Journal History of the Church, 8 January 1881, page 5.
- General Handbook,"34.3.1 Tithing," accessed 14 May 2023.