Death and taxes: the two certainties in life, right? Well, not quite.
Death and taxes are both consequences of the Fall, but we aren’t destined to trudge around in their shackles forever.
Christians have an answer to the first problem – death. The Gospel proclaims that Christ was raised from the dead as the first fruits, meaning all who trust in Him will likewise conquer death at the end of history. But the Church is a bit slower to comment on how the Gospel of the Kingdom affects taxation.
In this article, I argue that taxation is theft and that God’s law-word teaches us how to bear the burden of taxation well.
Moses on Theft
Millions of good Christian people habitually vote for politicians who insist on breaking the seventh commandment: “Neither shalt thou steal.” (Deuteronomy 5:19) Short, sweet, and damning, isn’t it? Well, it is if you understand it.
The seventh commandment teaches us two things about God:
1.) Implicitly, it tells us He values private property.
2.) Explicitly, it tells us He hates it when private property is taken from its rightful owner.
Notice I did not say, “He hates it when private property is illegitimately taken from its rightful owner.” To say that implies there is a legitimate way to take someone’s private property; there isn’t.
This commandment applies to governments as much as individuals. Theft by majority vote doesn’t change the fact that it’s theft. But this unqualified statement is up for debate, isn’t it? Doesn’t Christ and Paul have a thing or two to say about taxation? Indeed they do. Let’s consider them in turn.
Christ on Taxation
In an attempt to “catch [Christ] in His words,” the Pharisees asked Him about paying taxes to Caesar. The following passage is rich, complex; it teaches us far more about life than whether or not we should pay taxes. However, to understand the Bible’s teaching on taxation, we must understand this passage.
“And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.” (Mark 12:14-17)
There are a couple of things to note about our Lord’s response to the Pharisees:
1.) Christ told them to give Caesar the coin because it bore his image and likeness. He told them also to give to God what is His, namely, man, which bears His image and likeness. In short, He rebukes the Pharisees for their half-hearted devotion, commanding them instead to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
2.) Christ does command them to pay taxes, but He says nothing of the lawfulness of taxes. More on this in the next section.
The Lord tells us to pay taxes to Caesar, not out of devotion to Caesar, but out of devotion to God. We pay Caesar because our money actually belongs to God: “For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” (1 Corinthians 10:26) God alone has authority to tell us what to do with our possessions.
So, even in paying taxes, we are not captive to the state, but bondservants of Christ.
Paul on Taxation
Here comes the most difficult taxation passage in the Bible (*gulp). Will my argument hold, or will Paul blow it out of the water, sending it higher than California state income taxes?
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” (Romans 13:3-7)
Paul tells us to pay taxes (“tribute”) to the state because it is a minister set over us by God. He then commands us to pay taxes to whom taxes are due. How can this not indicate that God approves of some taxation?
Consider this passage alongside a few others (Matthew 5:39-41):
- But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
- And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
- And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
In Romans 13, Paul, like Jesus in Matthew 5, is commanding us to endure evil for Christ’s name’s sake. It’s no more right to impose taxes than it is to strike someone on the cheek or sue a brother in court. But Jesus tells us to endure wrongdoing, and Paul teaches us the same thing in Romans 13.
So what does the Bible teach about taxation? It tells us to endure it. Pay your taxes; that’s how to honor God in the present. But as we labor for a biblical society, we should labor towards a society free from theft by majority vote. Scripture provides the blueprints for a society free from taxation.
This raises questions, of course. How will the government do its work without taxes to fund it? What will happen to roads and parks and schools? These questions must be answered, but not here. I’ll take up the issues of charity and privatization in another article in the near future.