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How Much Taxes Should Christians Actually Pay?

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How Much Taxes Should Christians Actually Pay?

by Gunner Steele

Generally speaking, and with few exceptions, most Christians today recognize that it is our biblical duty to pay taxes. Jesus Himself taught us that we should pay our taxes and so did the Apostle Paul.

Many Bible studies and Bible lessons have been taught regarding the meaning of taxation-themed passages of scripture and how they relate to Christians duty to pay taxes.

However, there is a big and important question in regards to taxes that seems to never be addressed. And that is this—how much taxes should Christians actually pay?

If taxes are 90%, do we still have to pay them? If my taxes are used to murder Christians, should I still pay them? If I am to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" then what if Caesar requires 99% of my income? In short, is there a Biblical limit on how much tax liability a government can put on God's people?

Keeping the Bible in Context

Before delving into a study like this, we must always remember to keep the Bible in context, or we can and will easily interpret things falsely. Therefore, we must undestand the system of taxing at the time that both Jesus and the Apostle Paul wrote and also we must understand what "taxes" (or "tribute") actually referred to in their day. Otherwise we will simply be talking about two different things.

Remember, the easiest way for the enemy to confuse and deceive the people is to change the definition of words and terms.

Imagine that government officials required you to give your daughters and wives over to them for a night of sexual perversion as a "tax" on their bodies in exchange for their service in governing you. Because the Bible teaches you to pay "taxes," does that mean you must give your daughters over to such an abominable violation of their bodies?

And before you imagine that I'm being too extreme, just understand that this has actually been done before by governments! They didn't call it a "tax" but they did call it the "right" of the government. In fact, this is exactly what the movie Braveheart was all about. It was called jus primae noctis, and it was the "right" that government rulers claimed they had to have sexual relations with women under their rule, particularly on their wedding night (before their own husbands).

Remember this, before you buy into the foolish and unbiblical doctrine that you must "do whatever the government tells you to do."

Our Context Regarding Taxes

As Americans, our context regarding taxes is that we pay a boatload of our incomes to the government in multiple forms of "taxes" that the government forces us to pay, at the point of a gun.

You pay a percentage of your income directly to any of several taxing authorities, and you even have to pay taxes on your property that you already own. Additionally, you pay taxes when you consume anything (typically called a "sales tax"), and taxes are included in the fees of nearly everything you buy, like: gasoline, telephone services, internet services, airplane tickets, rental cars, hotels, etc.

So to you and I, any time the government EXACTS a sum of money from us, whether it be based on your income, your consumption, or your property, or your mere existence, you accept that as a "tax."

But is that the same thing as the "tribute" Paul said to pay? Is that the same as "rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" that Jesus taught?

Biblical Context Regarding Taxes

Remarkably, the Bible actually has two separate categories of taxes:
1. Taxes paid by Israelites within their own community (to be administered by their leaders and priests). These could be called "ecclesiastical taxes." There were several different types of "taxes" in this regard.

2. Taxes paid to Kings or government rulers. Remember that Israel had no king until they literally begged for one so they could be like all other nations (I Samuel 8:5), and in doing so, they rejected God Himself as their king. Saul became their first king, but before anointing him King, God warned him that one of the things their King would do is charge them a 10% tax on their "seed" and of their "vineyards," (I Samuel 8:15) meaning that he would tax the fruit of their labor (their income).

Of course, over time, Israel fell captive to foreign powers and were then subject to their rule and their taxation. During the time of Jesus, Israel was occupied by the Roman government and subject to Roman taxation.

Jesus' Context Regarding Taxes

Payment of Ecclesiastical Taxes

The first time we find the Lord's teaching regarding taxes is in Matthew 17:24. In this instance, when Jesus came to Capernaum (which was Jesus' adopted hometown Matthew 4:13, 9:1), the men who received "tribute money" came to Peter and asked him, "Doth not your master pay tribute?" (Matthew 17:24). Apparently, not wanting to feel or look bad, Peter told them, "yes." Then Peter and Jesus had this exchange:

Matthew 17:24-27 "…And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? 26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. 27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee."

Now there is a very interesting and important distinction to be made in this passage that many Bible students overlook. In verse 24, when the Bible mentions "they that received tribute money," the word "tribute" is a direct translation of the greek word "didrachmon" which means a double-drachma and corresponds to the Jewish "half-shekel" which was essentially a poll tax that every male Jew of 20 years old and upwards was supposed to pay for the maintenance, care, and administration of the House of God (Exodus 30:13-14).

So those that "received tribute money" in this case were collecting an ecclesiastical tax and not a civil tax. This is the key to understanding Jesus' teaching in these verses.

The teaching is simple—Kings exact tribute from their subject and not from their own children. Therefore the children of the king are FREE, or exempt, from paying such tribute.

In short, Jesus was saying, "This is a tax for maintaining my Father’s House. As His Son, that tax is not due by me—I AM FREE."

Interestingly enough, the miracle that took place where Peter then catches a fish that has "a piece of money" in its mouth again demonstrates the Lord's perfection. As this "piece of money" is directly translated from the greek word "stateœr" which was a silver coin exactly equal to two drachmas, or one Jewish shekel. Remember, a half-shekel is what was required of each Jewish male, so a "stateœr" which equaled one Jewish shekel was the exact sum necessary to pay the poll tax for two Jewish citizens. And Jesus told Peter, "give unto them for me and thee."

However, this passage of scripture cannot be used to justify paying civil taxes as the context in this case was the payment of an ecclesiastical tax. If anything, this passage of scripture can loosely, in principle, be used to support giving donations to your local church for its maintenance and expenses.

Nevertheless, we should note the value of a half-shekel in context. Remember, a half-shekel is the poll tax required for every Jewish male 20 years old and over to pay for the upkeep of the House of God (the Temple).

Now it is essentially impossible to make conversions from ancient Bible currencies to modern currencies—particularly the US Dollar. What is best to consider is the percentage in comparison to an annual wage.

A shekel therefore, was roughly equivalent to a day's wages for the average Israelite male. They worked 312 days out of the year (6 days per week x 52 weeks). In America, at the time of this writing, the average income is $36,000 per year. If we divide $36,0000 by 312 working days, you get $115.38 being the approximate value of a Jewish shekel. The ecclesiastical poll tax was half of that, or $57.69.

In other words, $57.69 is roughly the amount of money God required of each Jewish male, 20 years old and up, to pay as a poll tax to the House of God.

Jesus and the Payment of Civil Taxes

Now the most commonly referred to scripture used to justify paying all taxes to the civil or state government is in Matthew 22:15-22 (also Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26) where Jesus says we should "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s."

Again, we need to consider the context of this scripture before we jump right into conclusions.

When Jesus asked these men to show him the "tribute money," the Bible says they showed him a "penny." This word is directly translated from the Greek "denarius," which was likewise equal to a day's wage for the average field worker (Matthew 20:2).

A field worker would earn less than the "average" worker, nevertheless if we use a day's wages as the sum of the poll tax required by Caesar (even though it appears a denarius would be less than that), then it would be the modern day equivalent of $115.38 (calculations given above).

However, a more suitable method is to use a percentage. In this case, the tax is 1 day out of 312 working days, or 1/312 of a man's wages. That is equivalent to .32% of a man's annual income. I don't know about you, but I say SIGN ME UP to pay only .32% of my wages as a tax! I'm all in for that!

By way of comparison, Americans today, on average, must work 105 days to pay for all of our taxes. That is an average of 33.65% of the average American income is paid in taxes.

Why is this important? Because this is the tax Jesus was saying that Jewish and Roman citizens ought to pay—in other words, they ought to "render…unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" and his immediate context he was referring to the poll tax which amounted to .32% of a man's wages.

So yes, these scriptures most definitely teach, by Jesus' own words that we are to pay our taxes, since the context of the passage was specifically about paying taxes. Therefore any attempt (that many make) to claim that Jesus' words were spiritual or metaphoric and refer to civil duties and/or other responsibilities as citizens is pure nonsense and does great damage to the plain understanding of the passage in its rightful context.

But again, context being the most important thing, when Jesus said "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s" he was very specifically referring to a poll tax that was exacted by the Roman government that amounted to about .32% of a man's annual wages.

One can ask,
what then belongs to Caesar, and what must we therefore "render" unto him? We can glean much from this passage, but for further clarification in response to this question, let us consider the passage(s) below in Romans…

Paul's New Testament Teaching on Taxes

In Romans 13, the Bible very plainly teaches us what the proper role and of Civil/State government is:

Romans 13:1-7 "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 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: 4 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. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour."

This passage of scripture is in reference to the civil government as being "the powers that be," which we must be subject to. And yes, this definitely means that the power of civil/state government has been and is "ordained of God."

But that does not mean that every single government body on the planet, and their respective members, are each individually "ordained of God;" rather, it means that the institution of civil/state government is "ordained of God."

Civil government is one of the 3 spheres of government ordained of God—those 3 spheres being:

1. Civil/State Government.
2. Church/Ecclesiastical Government.
3. Family Government.

These institutions were all ordained by God and their limits and boundaries are likewise defined by God. Just like you and I must obey and respect our father and mother, there are limits to that obedience and boundaries that they must not cross as our leaders and caretakers. Likewise, churches (or ecclesiastical authorities), and civil governments have limits on their authority and their proper roles are clearly defined by the Bible!

In fact, Romans 13 perfectly defines the proper role and purpose of civil government. It tells us specifically that the purpose of civil government is: "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: 4 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."

In short, the role of government is to:
1. "Bear the sword" - defend the people from physical attack.
2. "Execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" - which means to execute justice by force.

That is it. That's the purpose and role of government. Anything above and beyond those two categories is unbiblical and beyond the scope of God's ordained limitations on the sphere of civil government.

Now what would that look like using modern terminology?

BEARING THE SWORD
This would include a national military and local police forces. Some would argue that this includes firefighters because they likewise "protect the people." But I would argue against that since the Bible uses the term "bearing the sword" which is an expression regarding defense against other people, and not against natural disasters or other dangers. Otherwise any perceived "threat" could be lumped in to this category. But the Bible doesn't allow that with the plain use of the phrase "bearing the sword." You only "bear the sword" against people and not against fires or hurricanes.

EXECUTING WRATH AGAINST HIM THAT DOETH EVIL
Who is he "that doeth evil?" He is anyone who breaks the law or breaks contracts with his fellow man. He is any unjust man who poses a threat to society by his wickedness. Plainly stated, he is anyone who violates the rights of other men. And justice must therefore be served upon that man.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of civil government to execute justice, preserve rights, and enforce contracts. This is done in our modern day context through the justice system and through the general system of representative government (also ordained in the Bible—Exodus 18:21-22).

The argument can be made, and it is one that I personally support, that the necessary infrastructure to fulfill these government responsibilities is likewise the responsibilty of the government, since how can it fulfill its duty to the people if it can't reach them?

Therefore, as society progresses, and as technology advances, government has the right and duty to build the infrastructure necessary to serve the people. This would include roads, highways, communication lines, ports, etc. However, some could/would make arguments against this, and that is fine. For the sake of argument, I will include it in my summary below.

That means that the sum total of a government's expenditures, in order to fulfill it's God-given role and purpose would amount to:

1. Military
2. Police
3. Justice System
4. Infrastructure
5. Administration (personnel, etc)

That's it. The Bible doesn't give permission nor authority for the government to be involved in education, health care, welfare, pensions, disability, unemployment, research, agriculture, energy, foreign aid, etc.

In 2022, US government spending is estimated to be $9.37 trillion USD. With 329.5 million people, that is approximately $28,437 for every single American citizen (including babies and children). Now that's actually more than the government takes in taxes from each citizen, so the government has to borrow the rest of it.

These numbers are nearly impossible to wrap your head around. But lets go ahead and see how much money the US government is currently spending on the 5 categories mentioned above. Mind you, we know that our government is incredibly wasteful and that even within areas of spending where they are authorized by God, they are still mismanaging and wasting their resources. For example, military spending, while acceptable by God's law, is outrageously bloated, inefficient, and wasteful.

1. Military - $770 billion
2. Police - $174 billion
3. Justice System - $79.4 billion
4. Infrastructure - $327 billion
5. Administration (personnel, etc) - $118.1 billion

That is a total of 1.47 trillion USD, or about 15% of our current annual budget. In other words, even without taking into account the waste in each of these categories, the God-ordained functions of government only amount to 15% of our actual budget. That means that 85% of government spending is illegal and immoral in God's eyes.

Paul's New Testament Teaching on Taxes

Why do all these numbers and all of this analysis matter? Because the Bible teaches us not only to pay taxes "pay/render tribute," but it also tells us WHY we should pay them, "For for this cause pay ye tribute also." (Romans 13:6).

So what was "this cause" that Paul was referring to? He was referring to the role of Government he had just described and explained! In other words, because the civil Government was ordained by God to "bear the sword" and to "execute wrath upon him that doeth evil," and we as citizens receive a civil benefit from that, we therefore ought to pay our taxes (tribute). In short, we owe the civil government the necessary amount of money to execute their God-ordained role and purpose.

But we do not owe a single penny above or beyond that role or purpose. We only owe, according to God's Word, that which is necessary to fulfill the proper role of government.

And in today's context, even with outrageously bloated and inefficient spending, our tax burden should be at least 85% less than it is right now.

Now getting back to the question posed above, "what then belongs to Caesar, and what must we therefore "render" unto him?" Romans 13:7 gives us the perfect answer to this question, as the context of verse 7 comes immediately from the preceding verse (verse 6) which is telling us to pay taxes to the government (represented in Jesus' discourse as "Caesar") because they are "God's ministers" (meaning they are His servants because they are fulfilling a God-ordained role), and we therefore must render unto them "all their dues" which it then lists as:

Tribute to whom tribute is due
Custom to who custom [is due]
Fear to whom fear [is due]
Honour to whom honour [is due]

That is what we owe "Caesar" (the civil government). We owe taxes and customs in order to fulfill the God-ordained role as described above, and we owe fear and honor (which means to honor and respect civil authority in its properly ordained role).

Adam Clarke's commentary on the New Testament teaching regarding taxes is most illustrative:
But while the earth is agitated and distracted with the question of political rights and wrongs, the reader will naturally ask, What does a man owe to Caesar?— to the civil government under which he lives? Our Lord has answered the question — That which IS Caesar’s. But what is it that is Caesar’s? 1. Honour. 2. Obedience. And 3. Tribute. 1. The civil government under which a man lives, and by which he is protected, demands his honour and reverence. 2. The laws which are made for the suppression of evil doers, and the maintenance of good order, which are calculated to promote the benefit of the whole, and the comfort of the individual should be religiously obeyed. 3. The government that charges itself with the support and defense of the whole, should have its unavoidable expenses, however great, repaid by the people, in whose behalf they are incurred; therefore we should pay tribute. But remember, if Caesar should intrude into the things of God, coin a new creed, or broach a new Gospel, and affect to rule the conscience, while he rules the state, in these things Caesar is not to be obeyed; he is taking the things of God, and he must not get them. Give not therefore God’s things to Caesar, and give not Caesar’s things to God. That which belongs to the commonwealth should, on no account whatever, be devoted to religious uses; and let no man think he has pleased God, by giving that to charitable or sacred uses which he has purloined from the state.

So How Much Did New Testament Christians Pay to the Romans?

According to the Encarta Encyclopedia:
The Roman Empire taxed the people under its control, and the taxes fell most heavily on conquered peoples in the empire. Roman citizens did not have to pay the individual or head tax required of each subject of the empire, and the empire exempted Italian land from tribute. However Roman citizens did have to pay the 5 percent inheritance tax, a 1 percent sales tax, a customs or import duty, and a tax on freed slaves. Local magistrates, imperial officials, and professional tax collectors were all employed to gather taxes, and the imperial census became an important tool to identify potential taxpayers.

This means that the average Roman citizen would pay a 1% sales tax and the annual poll tax, which we already noted was .32% of their annual wages. Only merchants would pay the customs or import taxes, and only those who received an inheritance would have to pay the inheritance tax.

By today's standards, these tax rates are ridiculously low and cheap. Nevertheless, the tax collectors in that day, called "publicans," were an absolutely despised class of people and they were considered to be wicked simply by the nature of their job. Plainly stated, people hated tax collectors!

Keeping things in context, when Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit, told the Roman church to "pay ye tribute," he was referring to a whopping 1% sales tax and a .32% poll tax, along with other various taxes that may or may not apply to them (depending upon whether or not they were merchants, received an inheritance, or were freed slaves).

Founding Fathers are Another Example

While it is hard for us to imagine tax rates SO LOW, and its even harder to imagine people in that time complaining about having to pay taxes at a rate so low, most tend to assume that it was "so long ago" in Bible times that things just aren't the same.

So let's use a more recent example—that of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Let us remember that one of the most touted reasons for the American Revolution was burdensome taxes exacted on the colonies by the King of England.

In fact, the famous Boston Tea Party was in response to an increased tax on tea. Remember?

Historians demosntrate that our Founders paid between 1% to 2% of their income in taxes. This is not too different from what they paid in Bible times when both Jesus and Paul taught their followers to pay "tribute."

The point is that historically, people recognized the proper role of government and could reasonably be expected to pay a few percentage points of their income to fund the God-ordained role of government.

But today, Government has metastasized like a cancer, growing far beyond its God-ordained role and purpose, and men, having long been neutered by feminism, public school, and loose morals, no longer have the backbone nor the academic nor biblical basis to fight back against the crippling burden of high taxes.

The Conclusion of the Whole Matter

In short, the Bible teaches us that we should pay our taxes to the government. However, the taxes that Jesus and Paul described and condoned were specific and not the same as the overall tax burden we pay today in America, nor was the term "tax" even in reference to the same concept(s).

We can conclude that Christians should pay taxes up to the amount necessary for Government to provide its God-ordained role and purpose—which in America today, is about 85% less than it's current budget.

Likewise, since that additional 85% is being spent on anti-Christian, anti-Biblical, and altogether wicked and evil programs, actions, and systems—like abortion, socialism, feminism, and the undermining of the church family—then Christians should not support the overtaxing of the citizens of their country.

Additionally, Christians are to honor and respect the government authority to the extent that they are honorable and respectable.

That being said, since there is no Biblical prescribed methodology for taxing the people, other than the fact that taxes are to be used only for fulfilling the government's God-ordained role, then Government bodies are free to determine the manner in which they tax their people—be it through poll taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, etc.

Property taxes, however, are never supported by the Bible and are nothing more than legal plunder—a means of stealing the longterm wealth of a person and their family. It also is a means of the state deifying itself since only God can claim to own the land (Psalm 24:1), so when the state says it owns all land, it is trying to replace God's authority with itself. Christians should seek to abolish all forms of property tax because of its inherent wickedness.

This means that citizens should not be expected to pay a dime more than what their government requires. And morally, Christians have no more responsibility to pay more than that which the government actually needs in order to fulfill it's God-ordained role.

In practice, this means that Christians should take advantage of every legal option to minimize their tax liability and to cease to feed the monster of Government that has breached its God-given boundaries and has usurped its authority in areas of life and society to which it has no right!

Giving more money to the government than it needs or is entitled to, as defined by God, is likened to being an accomplice in the government's ungodly deeds.

Likewise, NOT paying your taxes up to the limit placed on government by God's Word, is likewise disobedience to the scripture, and will be met with negative consequences.

To try to sum it all up in a simple sentence—pay your taxes, but not a single cent more than what is required.

And to sum up how you should feel about it—do not feel morally obliged to pay the government anything beyond what they would need to righteously fulfill their duty to the people as prescribed by God's Word.

And to put American taxation in context—American taxes are outrageous, exorbitant, and immoral, and Christians should work diligently to lower their tax liability through legal tax planning, through influencing legislators, and by affecting the culture through radically righteous lifestyles and Biblical examples of Christianity in our families.
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