by:  Noah Knox


I know of no better way to get people`s attention than by saying the word "taxes." It seems to work better than calling out "fire" in a crowded room. No one, it seems, likes taxes, unless they`re on the receiving end. People complain about the taxes they pay, but rarely disapprove when they are the recipients of tax money.

In addition to income tax, there are sales taxes and other impositions on trade that provide money to the government. Any discussion concerning taxes must attempt to answer questions such as these: What is the purpose of taxation? How much tax should we pay? What is the legitimate amount of tax the government may demand? Does the Bible give us any guidelines for determining legitimate levels of taxation? When should we and shouldn`t we pay taxes?

These questions are moral and fortunately, the Bible has plenty to say on the topic.

A Mark of Sovereignty

Taxes are a mark of sovereignty. This is why foreign embassies do not pay taxes to the host government. Foreign governments consider themselves the equal of each other; each nation is independent and not under the jurisdiction of its neighbor. Therefore, governments do not pay taxes to foreign governments.

This is the reason why churches do not pay taxes to the state. Neither church nor state may claim sovereignty (or jurisdiction) over the other. Only God is sovereign, and He is sovereign over both church and state. Since God alone is sovereign, no human agency may claim that prerogative. Thus it was seen that human institutions, such as the family, the church and the state, were equal institutions but confined to their respective God-ordained spheres. This is also another reason why the family did not pay huge taxes to the state. High taxes indicate that the state is sovereign over the family.

Since taxation is a sign of sovereignty, if the civil authorities demand more than ten percent of a person`s income, they are declaring they are more important than God, and deserve a larger portion of a person`s wealth than God does. If they demand the same amount as the tithe, they are saying that they are at least equal with God and deserve the same taxes from individuals. This is undoubtedly wrong on the part of the civil authorities.

There is an illustrative passage in 1 Samuel 8, the historical account of Israel seeking to appoint a king. This was their rejection of God as King, and the consequences for this, said God, would include confiscation of property by the king-i.e., taxes. Not only would the king demand a tithe of grain and animals, but he would also demand sons and daughters become his slaves. Rejecting God as King results in high taxes. God considered it a curse to pay ten percent, while today, we would consider it a blessing if that's all we had to pay.

Proportional or Progressive Taxes?

In the Scriptures taxes were proportional, not progressive. Everyone paid the same percentage. In the case of the poll tax, all paid the same amount. This clearly cuts against the modern view that the rich should pay a higher percentage than poorer members of society. While the motivation for progressive taxes may be noble, there is simply no basis in Scripture to support the notion that this distribution is to be achieved by the state confiscating wealth from one group and handing it to another, deducting and arbitrary administration fee in the process (and a high one at that). Rather, the biblical program for wealth distribution is diligence in our work and labor and a life of moral propriety, which results in the blessing of God. These blessings include material wealth. This is the clear message of Deuteronomy chapter 28.

Taxation as Coercion

The coercive nature of modern taxation is also against the evidence of Scripture. While God commands tithes, He gave no human agency the authority to enforce payment. This He reserves for Himself, as is seen in Malachi 3:8 and following. To give the tax-receiving agency the power to enforce it is clearly opening the way for many kinds of corruption and tyranny-as we see in many countries around the world today.

It is an obvious conclusion that much of the modern taxation system is clearly wrong. When society was governed more by biblical principles than it is today the authorities followed the principles set forth in the eighth commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," and thought it beyond their jurisdiction to take people`s property. Taxes as we know them, and at the very high levels we experience, are a mark of those nations that have not been strongly influenced by biblical morality. When societies have departed from God, they deify the political state that extracts taxes at a far higher level than God does.

This alone explains why our forebears paid little or no income tax. It also explains why the civil authorities were severely restricted in their activities. For well over 1,000 years in the English world, at least since Alfred the Great assisted in developing British common law largely from the Scriptures, and far earlier, our political and legal heritage has been Christian in origin and character. It is largely biblical in terms of the legal framework of society. While it is easy to recognize that the implementation of the Bible has never been perfect and the Bible was often used to introduce ungodly practices, the mark of the Bible on English society is clear.

There was no income tax at one time because our forefathers, who understood far better than we do biblical issues such as taxation, did not believe they had the moral right to be the recipient of other people`s money-even (or especially) when it was taken through the taxation system.

Render Unto Caesar

A popular text in considering the role of government is Matthew 22:15-22. The Pharisees set out to trap Jesus with the question about paying tribute to Caesar. Jesus took a coin and asked whose image was on it. When they replied, "Caesar's," Jesus said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar`s; and unto God the things that are God`s."

These words of Jesus, however, do not give any encouragement to the taxing state. What it clearly identifies is God`s absolute sovereignty. Who is to define what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? The modern state says it determines everything. Had Jesus gone along with this idea, then the Pharisees would have trapped Jesus, for He would have denied the absolute sovereignty of God.

Rather, Jesus was affirming God`s prerogative at determining not only what was His, but also what was Caesar`s. And everything, including Caesar himself, belongs to God. Therefore, if it is Caesar`s intention to do what is right, he may only do what God has said he may do. Anything else is to step outside of his God-ordained jurisdiction.

The purpose of non-voluntary taxation, then, is not just to raise money. It is a sign of sovereignty and that brings the taxing power of the government into direct conflict with the Ten Commandments, the moral foundations of Christianity.

The Role of the State

It is not possible to explore fully here the role of the state so we may know what its boundaries are. But it is possible to recognize their limits, as St Paul makes clear in Romans 13.

In order to provide a framework for this discussion, it is necessary to provide a way of reading the Bible that allows us to correctly identify the role of government. There are two choices available to us. We can read the Bible and say that when the Bible is silent on something, the civil authorities can do whatever they like. For example, under this method of reading, the Bible does not prohibit the government form making roads. Therefore it can take it upon itself to build roads. Another example: there is no direct prohibition against the state being involved in space exploration. Therefore it can undertake space exploration,

But there is another way of reading the Bible. And it is this. Civil authorities may only do those things that are expressly given to it in Scripture. Thus, there is no directive for the authorities to build roads. No road building by the state should be the result. There is no express command to be involved in space exploration, therefore no space exploration by the authorities.

This second method of reading the Bible is the only method that allows for limited government. The first method allows the government to step into any area and do whatever it likes unless there is an express prohibition.

This second method also allows us to easily identify when the government is out of bounds. No abortions at any time; no taxing Peter to pay Paul; no legislation to control prayers in public or private; no demands on citizen to pay hefty fees in order to start a legitimate business.

The civil authorities are a ministry of justice, punishing evildoers and rewarding those who do good. This clearly leaves them with the task of discovering and implementing God`s standards of good and evil. Having discovered these, however, they are not free to apply whatever standards they like, for God has even told us what punishments for evil are appropriate (e.g., restitution for thieves, Exod. 22:1and following).

Limited Jurisdiction- No Other Gods

Most Christians believe there is a time to disobey the government. While they don`t all agree on the timing- that is, at what point we should disobey- they do believe that only God has total sovereignty. Only God can command total allegiance from His subjects. All earthly authorities, whether in the home, the church or the state, may be disobeyed at some point. For some, this disobedience might occur, as it did for many under the Nazis in Germany or the Communists in the former Soviet Union, when they were no longer permitted to worship God openly. For others the point of disobedience came when they had the opportunity to protect Jews from the Nazi regime. Still others would disobey the civil government if they were instructed to kill someone without a substantial reason, such as a defensive war. Some have even accepted a prison cell rather than receive a license to preach from the civil authorities.

In recent years in the USA, many parents and church leaders have felt it necessary to disobey civil government when there were attempts to close their churches because the church operated a Christian day school. Some parents went to jail rather than lose the right of the church to exercise her educational ministry. And in Louisville, Nebraska we had the spectacle of the church doors being padlocked by the sheriff because the congregation refused to let the civil authorities dictate what the church could and could not teach.

The question for each of is this: At what point will we disobey civil authority? The only consistent answer can be: Whenever they go beyond their God-ordained jurisdiction. There is a time when an ordinary citizen, with the Bible in his hand, might have to tell the civil authorities they have gone beyond their God-ordained boundaries. If God, for example, has set no limits on taxation, then we have no moral grounds to complain about the tax rates, no matter how high they are. Taxes could rise to 100 percent and we would have no legitimate grounds to complain. As Christians, we recognize that we are to obey the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-4). But the Bible does not give an open door to taxing authorities. As "ministers: of God, punishing evil rewarding good," this text in Romans clearly identifies the duties of government. We need to know, however, where to draw the line, at which point we can say, with the Bible in our hand, "Thus far and no further!"

When Daniel was confronted with the command not to pray for 30 days to any deity other than Darius, Daniel made a choice. He chose to disobey the civil government of a pagan nation, the authority that he was actually under. And the only explanation that makes sense is he disobeyed because he could not accept that an earthly ruler could make such a law. There was no law in the Scriptures that commanded Daniel to pray three times a day in front of a window. He could have easily gone into the closet and prayed secretly. But Daniel knew that Darius was outside his God-ordained jurisdiction. To obey Darius at this point would have violated the principle of the First Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." The way we have other gods is to allow them to have authority that rightfully belongs to God alone. And only the God of heaven can command to whom men and women might pray.

There were three other Israelites who, like Daniel, took the route of civil disobedience when the king made a command that brought him into conflict with God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol; to do so would amount to worshiping a false god. To Nebuchadnezzar they replied, "We do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."

Property Rights- No Stealing

The Eighth Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," is a problem for every government. For the command applies to kings, princes, and member of Congress just as much as it applies to every other individual. God shows no favors.

What is stealing? It is taking whatever God says does not belong to you or even refusing to give someone what rightfully is owed to them. Thus, we rob God when we refuse to pay our tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:5). By the same token, we can also rob Caesar if we refuse to pay him what is rightfully his. On the other hand, it may also be possible for Caesar to be a thief by exacting more than he is morally entitled to.

If government takes anything by force that God has given to another, it is trapped by this command. Whether it is income tax or customs duties, the government may only take what God has said it may take. Anything above this is theft. In this case, this is called "legalized theft," but at the end of the day, theft is still theft and an attack on God.

Tax Avoidance and Evasion

There are some who believe that we should pay the taxing authorities whatever taxes they demand. They do little to minimize their taxes, and often, to their own financial detriment, pay whatever taxes are demanded. Or, if they do engage in tax minimization, they often feel guilty for doing it, as if they are cheating the tax collector.

If, on the other hand, we see that the state has no moral entitlement to many of its taxes, even though it may legislate the legal obligation to pay them, we can conclude that the state has gone beyond its God-ordained jurisdiction and is asking something it is not entitled to. In short, when the state is a thief we have no more moral obligation to pay it than we have to pay the mafia, or any local gangster.

So the question for us is this: are we morally obliged to pay whatever taxes are demanded? The answer is "no." We may have to say to the taxing authorities what Naboth said to King Ahab: "The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee." The wealth that we have is a gift from God to us. We are not obliged to hand it over whenever someone asks. To protect our God-given assets from such demands, using evasive tactics, is both an example of acting "as shrewd as a serpent" and sometimes the godly thing to do


We are on safe ground if we make the following conclusions from the biblical evidence.

1. The government should limit itself to its God-ordained areas of legitimate jurisdiction. This would primarily revolve around the operation and maintenance of law courts.

2. To take something that God says you are not entitled to is theft. For the state to take people`s property (in this case, money) that it is not entitled to is theft.

3. People who take the money that the government has taken illegitimately are the recipients of stolen money.

4. There are legitimate grounds for opposing the state`s illegitimate demands. Daniel and his friends refused to eat food outside the biblical diet. Daniel even provoked the issue of prayer by a public display of disobedience during the 30-day prohibition.

5. The early disciples refused to obey demands that they cease to tell others about what they had seen and heard first hand. They were prepared to accept the legal repercussions of their civil disobedience but they were unwilling to obey legitimate authorities on this matter.

6. By encouraging people to become Christians, the early disciples ensured there was growing opposition to the civil authorities who progressively believed there were no limits to their jurisdiction. The historical result was the collapse of Rome with its high taxes and the growth of Christendom where taxes were limited. And there was certainly no income tax until recent times.

7. When Jesus said we should render unto Caesar what belongs to him, we are left with the task of determining exactly what does belong to Caesar. The answer is very little, for everything belongs to God.

8. We are entitled to keep that which God has given to us. An ancient king, Ahab, found this frustrating when Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to the king (1 Kings, 21:1ff).

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Last revision: May 21, 2006 09:04 AM
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