The Bible’s Viewpoint
Must All Taxes Be Paid?
‘YOUR sons he will take to do his plowing and reap his harvest; and your daughters he will take for cooks and bakers. And your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, the best ones, he will take and actually give to his servants. And your menservants and your maidservants and your best herds he will take to use them for his work; and you yourselves will become his servants.’
The above was stated by Jehovah God some 3,000 years ago through his servant Samuel. The description is not that of some uniquely brutal tyrant. Samuel told the people: “This will become the rightful due of the king that will reign over you.”—1 Samuel 8:10-17.
The Israelites soon learned the truthfulness of those words and in so doing joined the masses of humanity who all have, to a greater or lesser extent, felt the burden of supporting their government. We today experience the foregoing in the form of a variety of taxes.
Although taxes existed in the ancient world, they did not play as major a role in the support of government and control of the economy as they do today. Nevertheless, people chafed under their presence. The Jews in Jesus’ day apparently resented the head tax imposed by imperial Rome, and yet Jesus explained that they should pay to the government what it had a right to collect, in this case taxes.—Luke 20:19-25.
Is the situation any different today for Christians? Would the fact that some taxes appear to be inequitable, excessive, counterproductive, or in some other way inappropriate, exempt Christians from paying these? Or if one could point to some use of tax money by the government that was contrary to Bible principles, would Christians have the option to refrain from paying a portion of their taxes?
What if the Tax Seems Unfair?
To get God’s view, let’s reason on a principle enunciated by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. At Matthew 5:41 he says: “If someone under authority impresses you into service for a mile, go with him two miles.”
A representative of the Roman government, while on an official mission, had the authority to impress into servitude any individual whose service could expedite the successful completion of the task at hand. He also had the right to commandeer any privately owned vehicle and put it to similar use. This arrangement could easily result in inconvenience or hardship to anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Did you notice, though, that Jesus did not say that his followers should comply only if they felt the demand was fair and if it did not inconvenience them too much? Rather, he told them to do all they could to assist, even beyond what was required if possible.
Would Jesus’ words mean that we should determine our tax liability and then pay double? No. Rather, we should go out of our way to do what is required of us instead of looking for excuses to shirk our responsibility. This includes efforts to determine what is rightfully due the government and then paying it.
Some businessmen feel that if they paid all taxes that the law required, they could not operate their business profitably. Whether valid or not, this feeling underscores the need to familiarize yourself thoroughly with all tax obligations before embarking on any business venture. This would be in harmony with Jesus’ advice: “For example, who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise he might lay its foundation but not be able to finish it.”—Luke 14:28, 29.
Suppose Taxes Support Unchristian Ventures?
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said: “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” Similarly, the apostle Paul says that one reason we pay taxes is to finance public service performed by governments in our behalf. (Romans 13:4-6) Could certain conduct on the part of governments nullify this obligation?
To answer this, we might draw a parallel with the conduct of the Creator himself in paying a debt to a secular government for services rendered. Righteous indignation prompted Jehovah to decree the destruction of the ancient city of Tyre. In the accomplishment of this deed, God used the military might of Babylon under their emperor Nebuchadnezzar. Although Babylon was victorious, the engagement was costly. Jehovah thus felt that they should be paid for services rendered. His words appear at Ezekiel 29:18, 19: “Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar himself, the king of Babylon, made his military force perform a great service against Tyre. . . . But as for wages, there proved to be none for him and his military force from Tyre for the service that he had performed against her. Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘Here I am giving to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon the land of Egypt, and he must carry off its wealth and make a big spoil of it and do a great deal of plundering of it; and it must become wages for his military force.’”
Bible students know that Nebuchadnezzar was a haughty, self-centered, pagan monarch. Babylon and its armies were known for their harsh treatment of captives. Jehovah did not approve of such conduct, yet to him a debt was a debt, and he paid in full.
Christians, then, must feel obliged to pay all legally tendered taxes regardless of the use to which the money is put. Thus the plain command at Romans 13:7 is adhered to: “Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.”
At the same time, true Christians earnestly support a heavenly government of God’s making. This Kingdom arrangement will soon govern earth’s affairs in a manner far exceeding the capabilities of all human governments and provide benefits surpassing the fondest dreams of its subjects.—Matthew 6:10, 33.
[Blurb on page 26]
“Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar.”—Luke 20:25
[Blurb on page 27]
“Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.”—Romans 13:7