What Is the Bible’s View?
Should We Pay the Whole Tax?
FEW things irritate people everywhere more than paying taxes. Federal, state and local taxes take about 36c out of every dollar that the average American earns. Most European countries take even more. Yet many taxpayers feel that they personally receive few tangible benefits from the taxes they pay.
Furthermore, some argue that their taxes are wasted, that they are used to support people who refuse to work and to line the pockets of corrupt politicians. Also, they contend that tax collection is unfair, that whereas most citizens pay the whole tax, the wealthy use “loopholes” to pay little or no tax.
The head of the U.S. Internal Revenue’s auditing division commented: “The moral fiber of the public can only be hurt by the things that are going on in government and industry. Every time a taxpayer picks up a newspaper he reads that someone who already makes a lot of money has taken a bribe or done something else illegal. After a while, he wonders, ‘Why should I go to so much trouble to be honest, if nobody else is?’”
Thus millions of people are resorting to tax evasion. News Front magazine reports that a recent computerized investigation in Sweden “discovered that every third doctor turned out to be a tax swindler.” In Italy, tax evasion is reportedly so prevalent that the tax authorities automatically compensate. They may multiply a self-employed taxpayer’s declared income by as much as three before assessing the tax!
How does the Roman Catholic Church view tax evasion? An economic study called “The Individual Income Tax and Economic Growth” reports: “There was quite an uproar, some time ago, when the Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, declared in an editorial that tax evasion is not a sin.”
Is the church’s view a proper one? Does the Bible in any way approve or condone tax evasion?
No, it does not. When Jesus Christ was asked whether it was proper to pay taxes or not, he obtained a coin, and asked: “‘Whose image and inscription does it have?’ They said ‘Caesar’s.’ He said to them: ‘By all means, then, pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’” (Luke 20:22-25) Yes, the tax belongs to “Caesar,” that is, the governmental authorities, and Jesus made no allowance for illegally withholding any part of it.
Simply because tax benefits are community owned rather than individually owned does not lessen the moral obligation to pay taxes. Would you like to buy all your own fire-fighting equipment, or to hire somebody to haul away your garbage or to deliver mail for you to other cities, or to employ a bodyguard in the absence of police and jails? What about protecting your property rights from “squatters” because no one is paid to keep government records? Governments usually provide such beneficial services. So should we not pay for them fully, just as we pay for other services?
The United States government, for example, trusts people to figure out their own tax. Relatively few audits are made to check up on them. This self-assessment system relies mainly on voluntary compliance. In all fairness, should a person violate this trust just because there is no one standing there to demand full payment as with other purchases?
The Christian apostle Paul, after discussing government law protection, wrote: “There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection,” not just because of the police power, “but also on account of your conscience. For that is why you are also paying taxes . . . Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax.”—Rom. 13:4-7.
Just as is often the case today, the Roman government of Jesus’ and Paul’s day had its corrupt officials. These individuals did many wicked things. For example, Roman authorities sentenced Jesus to death, and Paul was jailed and probably executed at their hand. But Christians did not use these deeds as an excuse to evade paying taxes. Neither should Christians today use similar deeds as an excuse not to pay taxes.
Responsibility for Use of Taxes
However, some people recoil at the idea of their tax money’s supporting huge military outlays, or they may object to some particular “unjust” war. They may think that God holds them personally responsible for the way their taxes are used. Such a view was expressed by a pacifist writing in The Christian Century of November 11, 1970.
But does God hold taxpayers responsible for how their taxes are used? Is there any reason to believe that God wants Christians to decide when it is and when it is not proper to pay taxes?
Well, consider: Judea of Jesus’ day was a Roman imperial province. When Jesus told his disciples to give the required tax, he knew that the province revenue supported a large Roman military establishment, which engaged in aggressive warfare. He also knew that governments will answer to God for the way they use the money they issue. They cannot shift the responsibility. It is theirs.
To illustrate: Automobiles each year kill well over 100,000 people in the world. Thus, should Christians feel the obligation to take responsibility for what people do with their cars, and so refuse to work in auto factories? They know that many cars will become instruments of death. Are they responsible, or does the primary responsibility lie with the drivers?
Similarly, a large portion of the tax money that citizens pay is often diverted by governments to the military. But whose responsibility is it that the money is used in that way? Is it not the government’s?
True Christianity does not promote an atmosphere wherein each one is a law to himself. God allows governments the authority necessary to maintain civil order. He also acknowledges their claim to the resources necessary to carry on their business. It is, therefore, the Christian’s obligation to give “Caesar” his “things,” regardless of how “Caesar” uses them.
Jesus made clear that taxes are “things” belonging to “Caesar.” And there is no Biblical hint that Christians bear any responsibility for what “Caesar” does with his “things.” John the Baptist’s advice to a tax collector who wanted to do what is right was, not to stop collecting taxes, but “not [to] demand anything more than the tax rate.”—Luke 3:13; see also Luke 19:2-9.
God’s laws are truly realistic. The Bible wisely outlines just where responsibilities lie, leaving Christians free, for the most part, to carry out the public ministry that God has assigned them.—Matt. 24:14.