Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” While there may be some other things in life that are certain, Franklin certainly was not far off with this statement. But are taxes biblical? To what extent can a government reasonably tax its people? Perhaps the Bible can shine some light on this issue.
Taxes in the Old Testament
It is always prudent to look at Israel for direction on God’s intention for how a government should operate. While there are some things today that did not exist back then, the Mosaic Law established parameters by which the nation would function with God as its Head. At a quick glance one might argue that Israel did not pay taxes and therefore taxes are not necessary. However, the people of Israel did give of their livestock, money, harvests, etc. for the ministry of the temple, festivals, and the like. The tithe requirement also was established. While these are not taxes per se, they are sacrifices made by the people of Israel for corporate functions and provisions for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 24:17-22). And they were not voluntary.
Fast-forward a few hundred years to when Israel asked for a king (1 Samuel 8). Samuel warned the people of Israel that a king would take of their possessions and make them his own, taking a 10th of their grain and livestock, as well as taking their land and other resources.
The people of Israel rejected his warning and again asked for a king. Their request was granted, and Saul was made king over them (1 Samuel 10).
Taxes in the New Testament
Things were different in the New Testament because followers of Jesus were under the rule of a foreign nation: Rome. Roman law did not take into account the desires of the God of the Bible, and therefore, it would have been natural for Christians to think that they did not owe taxes to Caesar. In fact, there were likely times in which Christians felt that they were overtaxed by the government (how else would Rome have paid for their buildings, roads, and large armies?). However, when writing to the church in Rome, Paul said, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:5-7). Paul did not say, “Pay this much in taxes and no more.” Instead, he said that if taxes are owed, pay them. The government has been put in place by God and therefore it is necessary to submit to the government as unto the Lord (Rom. 13:1-2).
Jesus also affirmed this when he was questioned as to whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. “‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’” (Matthew 22:18-21). The money ultimately belongs to God, but if the government requires taxes, we as citizens must submit to that.
While taxes might not be a favorite subject of many, they are biblical. Thankfully, we have the freedom in our nation to vote out those politicians who desire to increase taxes if we so choose; however, if elected officials approve new taxes, we cannot use the Bible to justify not paying them.
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