God and the I.R.S: What the Bible can teach us about tax policy

Nowhere does the Bible say that one tax system is preferable to another, and to suggest that one kind of regime has divine sanction is irreverent.

Nicholas Hahn recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal about preachers and taxes. Hahn rightly challenged a number of pastors who have called for an end to sequestration cuts that would reduce federal spending on welfare programs.

The Bible does not specifically speak about sequester cuts, or any other fiscal proposal or funding law enacted by the U.S. Specific directions for tax policy are never spelled-out in Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible say that one tax system is preferable to another, and to suggest that one kind of regime (progressive income, flat, value-added, etc.) has divine sanction is irreverent.

Moreover, applying Old Testament Israel’s fiscal rules directly to today ignores an important fact about Old Testament Israel: its tax code was unique since the religious regime and the government were intertwined and paid for through common donations (at least before King Saul). Hebrew taxes also largely consisted of animals, produce and the like – the “first fruits” of an agrarian society.

The church oversteps its authority when it comments on matters about which God’s Word does not give it an authoritative, prophetic voice. Yet as with many things in the Bible, we can deduce some general principles that apply to tax policy and that are grounded in Scripture’s teachings about ethics and moral conduct.

First, the Bible endorses the right of governments to tax citizens. Jesus paid taxes and called on His disciples to do so, as well (Matthew 17:24-27, 22:15-22). Paul the apostle also discussed taxation, and wrote in Romans 13, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”

Such other principles as justice help outline acceptable fiscal policy. God continually stands up for the poor in the Bible: Proverbs 14:31 – “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker” – is one example. Scripture also clearly shows that excessive taxation and government burden can have disastrous results. When Solomon’s son Rehoboam announced to the people of Israel that he would require far more from them than his father did, they rebelled, and the nation broke into two parts (I Kings 12). In their case, it wasn’t taxation without representation but insupportable taxation and near slavery imposed by a hostile ruler. God is just, a teaching found throughout the 66 books of the two testaments. Public policies, including those related to taxation, should also be just.

Governments should also use their resources wisely. The Bible calls Christians to be responsible and generous stewards of God’s resources, including money. Although mostly directed at individuals, this also applies to government. Wasteful spending, predatory taxation, and spending on things that violate God’s moral law cannot be countenanced.

Rome did many things to which Jesus objected, yet he still called for his followers to pay what the state required of them. However, a government that functions as God intends should never use the resources it has collected for purposes other than what the true Ruler of Men says is right and good.

Christians sometimes talk too much and too dogmatically on behalf of their Lord. We lack either the mandate or expertise to comment about every subject with equal wisdom and authority. However, the principles of the Word of God are sure, and bear upon the formation of public policy. The biblical commands against theft and long-term indebtedness, combined with those regarding tax payments, justice, payment, and wise use, should be applied with care to the formation and implementation of any tax code.

Image courtesy of Tax Credits.

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  • WmarkW

    God is the fairest individual in the universe?

    Except for the fact that he doesn’t really do anything, so there’s nothing unfair about it, that’s just silliness.

  • Catken1

    “Wasteful spending, predatory taxation, and spending on things that violate God’s moral law cannot be countenanced.”

    And yet your organization supports politicians who cut the tax burden sharply for the wealthy and corporations, those who can most afford it, thus leaving most of it to be borne by the poor and middle classes.
    As for “God’s moral law”, you have no place using American government to enforce your view of religious law on other people. Period. After all, some people might think their God’s moral law forbade the use of money for tax exemptions for your church, or to fund marriage benefits for people who trivialize and insult marriage, as the “Family” Research Council does, by demanding that marriage be defined by genitals rather than by love and commitment, and by seeking to socially, culturally, and legally privilege the latest Kardashian publicity stunt or Limbaugh trophy marriage over a devoted gay marriage that’s lasted for decades, raised good children, and built a solid and caring family.

  • ETBI

    The Torah and Tanachk (Old Testament) repeatedly say: “Remember you were strangers in Egypt” and “treat others as you would be treated.” The more specific requirements are to help the poor, the widow, the homeless and children. Moses asks everyone to voluntarilly give half a shekel for the Temple, but otherwise the requirement is to give ten percent of your earnings or your crops. The difference is the way it was to be administered. The Levites collected the tithe, since they were not allowed to own land, they were allowed to keep 10% or their 10% (1%) to support themselves and religious life. This is called the “Levite rule” and is a good model for any administrative body – 10% for administration. The balance, or 9%, was to be used for Tzedakah – doing right in the sight of Adonai (g-d). As Pope Francis has been saying, religion should be spending time and money helping the poor, and making peace, rather than enforcing narrow moral rules and supporting war.

    As Karen Armstrong has cogently argued, the real gist of the major religions of the world have much of the same values, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism. The rules may come out different, but the reason behind the rules stay the same.

    Cantor Elliot Taubman

  • leibowde84

    During his lifetime, Jesus stressed a socialistic approach to economics. He asked that his followers give up all of their earthly possessions and follow him. During this time and the time after his death when his apostles were spreading the Word, Christian communities also lived in a socialistic economic environment which is clearly described in the Bible. They did not have possessions of their own but, instead, shared everything and every member got what they needed.

    Jesus clearly thought of charity and generosity as our supreme callings. To deny this or to disregard it simply because, now, you find it to be unrealistic is to go against Biblical demands. Thus, I would strongly argue that the only way to follow the Word when thinking of the economy is to stress generosity of those who can afford it, charity to all those who need it, and a diminishing of social statuses and norms that act to separate us financially.

    I am not saying that I agree with this way of thinking, but it seems clear that it was Jesus’ intention for us all.

  • Vic Christian

    Some of the believers in the NT did follow this. One of the rules was that if you did not work, you did not eat. Reminder – this was only believers, not those outside the church.

  • justaguy22

    Jesus did not support socialism. Socialism is government corecion by force. I am unaware of Jesus coercing by force people to give up their property.

  • leibowde84

    justaguy, I don’t know who told you that was the definition of socialism, but you are incorrect. Here is the definition of socialism. There is absolutely no requirement of force.

    “Socialism: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

    Where did you even get your crazy definition from … Rush?!

  • immigrant1

    Matthew 22:20-22

    New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    20 And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

    From a biblical stand point I personally don’t mind paying taxes as long as it is being used for the social good of others. But when that money is being used against the teaching of the bible then there arises the issues.

  • jarandeh

    And in that 2 minutes and 52 seconds, Ben Carson destroyed any credibility he ever had as a physician.

  • jarandeh

    justaguy-

    You do realize that WE are the government, right?

    It’s not some distant, removed regime. It’s us. Public policy is how we the people, in the United States, address issues that effect us all.

  • Catken1

    Sorry, but in this country, other people have the right not to follow the teachings of your holy book, and not to have their tax dollars diverted to enforcing the rules of your holy book on everyone. You have no more right to demand that everyone’s tax money be used only for purposes your holy book sanctions than a Muslim has to demand that your taxes go only to purposes that support Koranic laws and beliefs.

  • letsfixit

    Study history to find out how the champions of socialism get things done. Start with the national socialists of pre-World War II Germany. Our government is not meant to be socialist. We are a constitutionally limited republic established with the ratification of the US Constitution. That knowledge is also evidenced throughout our country’s history.

  • NedNetterville

    Schwarzwalder: “Jesus paid taxes and called on His disciples to do so, as well (Matthew 17:24-27, 22:15-22).” There in no evidence in Matthew, Ch 17, that Jesus paid a tax. He told Peter to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth and use that coin to pay the Temple tax, which Peter had impetuously but falsely said Jesus paid. (Jesus obviously didn’t pay, for he said he and his disciples were exempt.) The gospel neglects to inform us whether or not Peter followed through on Jesus’ instructions, which may have been ironic Jewish humor, and actually caught the fish, found a coin in its mouth and paid the tax, which may remain unpaid to this day as far as it can be determined from the bible. Peter was notoriously bad at following Jesus’ directions. So stop making claims you cannot substantiate!

    And as far as Matthew chapter 22 is concerned, Jesus certainly DID NOT call on his disciples to pay Caesar’s tax. On the contrary, he cleverly told them not to pay. He was asked, “Should we pay Caesar tax?” His divinely negative response was this: “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and Give God what is His.” You put your own words in Jesus’ mouth when you say he told his disciples to pay taxes. He did not! Jesus meant exactly what he said. His words do not require any interpreting whatsoever. Indeed, they defy your efforts to have Jesus endorse your own predeliction for paying taxes. Jesus words are a clear statement of how one must treat the property of another in accord with God’s commandment, “Thou shall not steal.” And since his disciples had nothing in their possession belonging to Caesar, he was clearly telling his disciples to pay that murdering, warring, enslaving pedophile NOTHING. Furthermore, Jesus knew everything Caesar owned was stolen through taxation. And finally, Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lords and everything in it,” which leaves nothing for Caesar.

    As for Paul, he was a Roman citizen who benefited from Rome’s tax schemes. Jesus was murdered by Rome.

  • leibowde84

    Letsfixit, I completely agree with you. I agree that socialism is not right for the United States, which is why it is so much more comfortable than many other countries (just go to Europe during July and see how long you can last without AC). It is clear that the ACA is not going to work, no matter how good the intentions behind it were. The web-site (among other things) killed it for good. Now no one is going to try it again, because they will be fearful of wasting more time. I merely said that Jesus and his followers stressed a socialistic society, which is clearly indicated in the Bible. There are many references to it.

    I don’t know whether the Nazi’s are a good example either. Although their name had the term Socialist Party included in it, it was a militarily driven, yet capitalistic society where everyone got rich (albeit off the destruction of Europe).

  • DRJJJ

    The money is used for abortions now, late term included and millions of them in the last decade. It’s called legislating immorality and it’s the new norm.