The Accounting Historians Journal Vol. 11, No. 2 Fall 1984
J. Edward Ketz
PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY
TITHING AND INCOME MEASUREMENT
Abstract: This article shows that the concept of income measurement goes back at least to Biblical times. The institution of tithing is examined and is seen to imply a concept of income.
In a recent paper, Hagerman described several accounting con-cepts used in the Bible.1 He found that the Bible described, in general terms, the purposes of financial accounting, the rationale for internal control procedures and some ways to implement them, and examples of managerial accounting. Thus, many of the funda-mental concepts of modern day accounting were known in Biblical times.
One concept not discussed by Hagerman is that of income deter-mination. The purpose of this note is to describe the practice of tithing in the Bible and to show how this practice implies a concept of income. In particular, tithing requires a differentiation between income and capital.
The word "tithe" means one-tenth. The custom of tithing was a common practice in antiquity and consisted of paying one-tenth of agricultural produce to the ruler of the temple. Since ancient societies were primarily based on agricultural economies, the tithe has been viewed by some scholars as a sort of income tax.2
The Old Testament practice of tithing seems to have its roots in actions taken by Abraham, mentioned in Genesis 14:20, and by Jacob, mentioned in Genesis 28:22. After hearing that Lot had been captured, Abraham and his men attacked and routed Lot's captors. Abraham also obtained a large booty from the fight. From this Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek.
Genesis 14:20b: Then Abram gave him [Melchizedek] a tenth of everything.3