Stewardship Question and Answer

QUESTION: “What does the Bible say about tithing: specifically, do we tithe on our gross income, before taxes, or on our net take-home income? I’m unclear as to the guidance on this.”

ANSWER: In Leviticus 27:32, God says: “And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.” It seems that there was no gross/net argumentation here, even though one may suppose that there were expenses included in raising the cattle presented before the Lord. Anyway, each tenth one should be holy to the Lord, which seems more in line with a gross approach.

But what about those who receive their salaries today? Proverbs 3:9, 10 suggests that it is not only from cattle and agricultural goods that we are supposed to tithe from the gross. He says: "Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of ALL your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (NKJV; emphasis added).

What did Solomon mean by “all your increase,” with which we are supposed to honor the Lord? He could be referring to (1) “all kinds of increase,” or income; (2) “the whole, or complete, increase,” or income (not part of it); or (3) both concepts at the same time, which seems more pronounced.

The subject is relevant because the promised abundant blessings only come with the fulfillment of the condition: to honor the Lord with all the increase, not with a portion of it. But does that “all” mean the gross or the net take-home income? An interesting way to consider this matter is to think about what the government determines as income regarding taxes. Of course, almost all countries in the world will consider the gross income taxable, and they have good and sound reasons for that. If one pays taxes to Caesar based on the gross income, should that person do less for God, returning the tithe based on net income? It doesn’t seem reasonable.

In line with that, Ellen G. White says that some “make their tithe as small as possible, as if afraid that that which they return to God is lost.” Later, in the same paragraph, she adds that “this class act as though it made no difference to them whether they prosper or not” Counsels on Stewardship, p. 43.