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Bible Q

Should we pay income tax?

To start with, at the time of Jesus, taxes were universally reviled. Tax collectors and prostitutes had the same regard in society. Collection of taxes was corrupt, and the taxes went to either the corrupt and hated priests, or the corrupt and hated Romans. And particularly in the latter case, there was no question concerning how the Romans used their tax (lovingly chronicled in the Asterix book series).

As for the priests, twice Jesus cleared the temple courts with a whip, and his trenchant criticism of their evil system lead to his death by crucifixion. So what did Jesus have to say about paying taxes – surely he wouldn’t have stood for that, given that he cleared the temple with a whip?

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Mat 17:24-27)

And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “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.”  (Mat 22:16 – 21)

So, even if we shouldn’t need to, we pay taxes out of respect for everyone else.  But Jesus goes beyond this when he says that the coins belong to Caesar — it’s his authority to do what he wants with them. This lays to rest any concerns we might have about the dreadful things governments do with the tax money we pay them — it’s their responsibility, not ours.

Paul reinforces this:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment…  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 13:1-7)

So it’s clear that we should pay our taxes and obey laws, whatever the pretensions and/or actions of the human government God gave us, while we keenly await a divine one.

One Reply to “Should we pay income tax?”

  1. I don’t think Matt 17:24 – 27 suggests that everyone should pay taxes out of respect for everyone else. It simply suggests that because some tax collectors had asked Peter for tax and he said yes, Jesus paid it, it would offend them if after all Jesus didn’t pay it.

    This of course doesn’t change the fact that we should pay tax because it’s the law, which I think is a much stronger reason.