The Bible’s View
Christians and Taxpaying
“IT’S TAX TIME—But They Refuse to Pay.” “Unreported Work May Cost U.S. Billions in Taxes.” “Income-Tax Cheating Is on the Rise in Britain.” “Tax Dodging Is a Way of Life in Israel.”
These headlines from news items illustrate that reluctance to pay taxes is widespread. How should Christians feel about taxpaying?
The Scriptures often mention taxes. Through Moses, God commanded the Israelites to pay certain taxes for the upkeep of the central sanctuary of worship. (2 Chron. 24:6, 9; Ex. 30:12-16; Num. 18:26-29; 31:26-47; Neh. 10:32) When kingship was established in Israel, taxes were imposed for the support of the king, his household and the various governmental officials and servants. (1 Sam. 8:11-17; 1 Ki. 4:6-19) Under foreign domination, the Israelites had to submit to still other forms of taxation. While subject to Persia, for example, each Israelite had to pay a “tribute” that was apparently quite high, since many of the Jews had to borrow money to meet that obligation.—Neh. 5:4.
But God never instructed his worshipers to avoid taxpaying. After the establishment of the Christian congregation, the apostle Paul was inspired to write: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities . . . Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.”—Rom. 13:1, 7.
This does not mean that Christians must pay more taxes than are required by law. If legislation grants reduced tax rates to individuals or organizations in certain categories, there is nothing Scripturally wrong if those qualified accept such benefits.
In recent years, however, it has become increasingly common for people to find ways of paying fewer taxes, or none at all, by fraudulent means. “Among the people who are fudging on their reporting,” notes U.S. News & World Report (March 27, 1978), “are senior citizens supplementing their retirement income, unemployed people picking up odd jobs, and skilled craftsmen who moonlight on the side. Even highly paid professional people duck their full tax obligation by failing to report income from free-lance work.” Newsweek (April 10, 1978) reported:
“‘The biggest areas of noncompliance involve waiters, maids, doctors, small shopkeepers and businessmen, workmen and independent craftsmen like plumbers,’ says former IRS commissioner Sheldon Cohen. ‘These are all areas that handle large amounts of small cash payments, and even if checks are given, there’s no record in many cases.’
“Of particular concern to the tax collectors are ‘independent contractors,’ from life-insurance salesmen and phone solicitors to housewives who give Tupperware parties. All are regularly employed, but none are subject to withholding by the companies that pay them. And if they choose not to report all or part of their earnings, it is extremely difficult for the tax men to track them down.”
Of course, tax laws differ from country to country and sometimes even from one area to another in the same country. However, a conscientious desire to meet the obligation of taxpaying will motivate Christians to familiarize themselves and comply with tax laws in force where they live.
Why Do They Cheat?
Many believe that cheating on payment of taxes is the only way to ‘make ends meet’ in their lives. The New York Times printed comments by a widow who supports three children in an economically depressed part of Los Angeles: “I support my entire family. I’m not on welfare or anything like that. If I made a lot of money, I would report every penny, but $150 a week sure doesn’t go far. If I had to pay taxes, I would have nothing left.”
The same newspaper also related: “A Chicago woman earning $18,500 at an advertising agency says that she earns an additional $3,500 a year through freelance art, but reports only $1,500 of it. ‘I need the money more than the Government does,’ she says. ‘The I.R.S. takes so much from me, and I’m holding down two extra jobs just to get that $3,500. If I declare it all, it pushes me into a different tax bracket, and I want to feed my kids, not the Government.’”
The Viewpoint of Jesus Christ
How should persons desirous of living according to Bible principles view efforts to avoid paying taxes? Let us consider some well-known words of Jesus Christ:
“The Pharisees went their way and took counsel together in order to trap him [Jesus] in his speech. So they dispatched to him their disciples, together with party followers of Herod, saying: ‘Teacher, we know you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and you do not care for anybody, for you do not look upon men’s outward appearance. Tell us, therefore, What do you think? Is it lawful to pay head tax to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said: ‘Why do you put me to the test, hypocrites? Show me the head tax coin.’ They brought him a denarius. And he said to them: ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said: ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them: ‘Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’”—Matt. 22:15-21.
Since Caesar’s image was on the denarius, the money originated with Caesar; and he had a right to ask some of it back in taxes. It is the same with secular governments today. When giving counsel on taxpaying, the apostle Paul declared: “Render to all their dues.” According to the Bible, taxes are something ‘due’ the government. Regardless of how tax money may be used by officials, it is a Christian duty to pay it.
Matthew’s Gospel contains an interesting account about Jesus paying a certain tax. We read:
“After they arrived in Capernaum the men collecting the two drachmas tax approached Peter and said: ‘Does your teacher not pay the two drachmas tax?’ He said: ‘Yes.’ However, when he entered the house Jesus got ahead of him by saying: ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive duties or head tax? From their sons or from the strangers?’ When he said: ‘From the strangers,’ Jesus said to him: ‘Really, then, the sons are tax-free. But that we do not cause them to stumble, you go to the sea, cast a fishhook, and take the first fish coming up and, when you open its mouth, you will find a stater coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.’”—Matt. 17:24-27.
Though the Son of God was not liable for that two-drachma temple tax, he paid it so as not to be a stumbling block to others. If Jesus’ concern for his fellowman went to the point of paying a tax that he did not have to pay, surely persons who wish to imitate Christ will readily pay taxes demanded by law.
Fine motivation to that end can be had from this further counsel of Jesus: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:16) When Christians conduct themselves honestly, it causes others to view their God and way of worship favorably.
A report from the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Brazil furnishes an illustration: “In João Pessoa, Paraíba State, an elder in the Jaguaribe Congregation said that the local tax inspector says, ‘He’s a Jehovah’s Witness, honest, pays his taxes, has a high moral level.’ Another elder, in Paranaíba, Mato Grosso State, has his own business, but is considered the best contributor to the tax office. Even the tax inspectors respect his honesty.”
“Never Be Anxious”
But what if it seems that the only way one can survive financially is to cheat at taxpaying? It will be helpful to consider an important lesson that Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount:
“Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body than clothing? . . . never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you. So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.”—Matt. 6:25, 31-34.
Those who seek first ‘God’s righteousness’ endeavor to mold their personalities according to the righteous requirements set forth in the Holy Scriptures. They have the assurance of God’s Son that “all these other things,” that is, the daily needs of food, clothing and shelter, “will be added.” Those who desire to imitate Christ need not let anxiety over obtaining life’s necessities lead them to dishonest practices.
Note similar counsel by the apostle Paul and a special blessing that results from heeding it: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6, 7) Enjoyment of the “peace of God” that comes from trust in him, faithful adherence to Bible principles and a clean conscience is truly something special. A report to the Watch Tower Society comments: One man “was always pestered by tax officials, as his business was never in order. When he learned Bible truth, however, he put all his affairs in order and now lives quietly and is no longer bothered by the officials. . . . Those brothers that have made an effort in these cases claim to have a quiet conscience, peace of mind, for obeying laws.”
Economic pressures and the flow of popular opinion today have caused many to succumb to dishonesty when it comes to paying taxes. But the Scriptures encourage Christians to be conscientious taxpayers. In this as in all other aspects of life, God-fearing persons want to follow the fine example mentioned at Hebrews 13:18: “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.”*
For further information about a Christian’s responsibility to pay taxes, see The Watchtower of January 15, 1979, pp. 30, 31.
“Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’”—Heb. 13:5.