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Christians must criticize taxation.

by Ian Huyett


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Did Christ command his followers to pay taxes? If you’re a Christian who supports smaller government, you’ve likely been reminded that Christ instructed us “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

This command is often quoted by secular progressives who wish to accuse conservative Christians of hypocrisy – as well as by some misguided Christians who wish to defend the scope of government from fellow believers. In both cases, Christ’s words are being abused.

While the expression “render unto Caesar” is commonly known, its context is rarely discussed. Christ was responding to a question from hostile Pharisees: “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

Luke tells us precisely what the Pharisees hoped to achieve by asking this question. In Luke 20:20, he writes that the Pharisees “watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.”

coinBy trying to corner Christ with this question, the Pharisees did not simply wish to make him look bad: they specifically wanted to solicit an answer that would lead to Christ’s imprisonment by the government. In attempting do so, they asked him for his opinion on taxes. We can deduce, then, that they wished for him to explicitly condemn the paying of taxes. In fact, when Christ was eventually arrested, the charges against him included “forbidding the paying of tribute to Rome.”

If Christ really wanted his followers to pay taxes, he could have responded with an answer akin to “Yes, pay your taxes.” Instead his reply was – in the words of Matthew 10:16wise like a serpent.

Luke continues: Christ “perceived their craftiness, and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius [a coin]. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.”

Notice how Luke tells us that “he perceived their craftiness” as if this were relevant to the answer that Christ was about to give. If Christ wished to advocate the paying of taxes anyway, then the Pharisees’ question would not have been crafty at all – and there would have been no need for a crafty reply.

renderChrist establishes that Caesar’s image and name is on the denarius, and then tells us to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Yet nowhere does he clearly establish that even this denarius is actually Caesar’s. There is a reason for this. Perhaps the strongest reason, in fact, to think that Christ was an opponent of taxes is his addition of the words “and to God the things that are God’s.”

Taken purely linguistically, Christ’s answer seems to suggest that one category of things belongs to Caesar and that a separate category of things belongs to God. Yet Christians know that such a dichotomy does not exist: everything belongs to God. Romans 11:36, for example, reads: “For from him and through him and to him are all things.”

We must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Yet there is nothing that is Caesar’s that is not also God’s.

Religious studies scholar Reza Aslan gives us a different reason to think that Christ was a critic of government. “The word apodidomi, often translated as ‘render unto,’” says Aslan, “is actually a compound word: apo is a preposition that in this case means ‘back again’, didomi is a verb meaning ‘to give.”

“In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be ‘given back’ the denarius coin, not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it… by extension, God is entitled to be ‘given back’ the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land.”

Christ’s wise reply is especially relevant today: our own government has seized the role of God, and the functions of the church and family, for itself. If we are to return to God the things that are His, then Christians must seize them back.


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  • Layla Godey

    Very interesting. I never thought he was explicitly saying to pay taxes or not to pay taxes, but I’ve never seen it laid out this way. (And I cringe when someone says “What would Jesus do?”—How the he!! should *I* know what Jesus would do in any given situation?? Ask Jesus, not me-I’m just doing the best I can.)

  • A very good point. The bible supports individual liberty and limited government.

    • Remember that the laws of Moses required NO GOVERNMENT AT ALL. There was no limited government. When the elders demanded a kingdom of Samuel, God said they had rejected GOD NOT SAMUEL.

      Until then, the “judges” only “ruled” in the sense that they brought disputes to them, that’s all and nothing else.

      And then in Matthew 17 when Jesus paid the taxes with the coin found in the fish mouth, he showed the disciples how taxation is theft: “Then are the children [of the kings and tribute extorters] free” because the people that make tax law and collect it do not pay it themselves. They ALWAYS find a way to get you to pay any taxes they can CLAIM they pay.

      “ALL the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time”.

      If they ask you to run the kingdom like with Joseph or Daniel, okay, maybe, but those are exceptions. Are you able to handle the temptations of managing such a position? Them and Ron Paul, maybe. Good intentions go to Washington DC to die for almost all the rest of us.

  • Alex858

    At the very most Christ supports a flat tax. 10% tithing

    • Rachel

      Tricky.. I’m not so sure as you also have the Lord pointing out that the widow’s mite was worth more because she gave out of her poverty rather than out of abundance – that could be used to argue for progressive tax… Just playing “Devil’s advocate” 😉

      • The widow gave voluntarily, just like the Good Samaritan. Jesus showed what he thought of theft with the painful lashing he delivered to the temple’s money changers.

    • That wasn’t a tax. It was commanded to believers for the support of those who ministered the rites that symbolized the expiation for sin. I’ve read the laws of Moses, and the only force invoked to enforce it was a promise of God’s reaction. Priests would serve as judges, but in the book of Judges it was people who earned that place as fair arbiters who adjudication. No armies, no government, no police. Armies only when they were needed to repulse aggressors.

  • It is a sin to “tax” people. It is not a sin to be taxed. It is a sin to invade a nation and put them under tribute and compel the people to carry a soldier’s provisions for one mile. The Bible says pay the tribute (Romans 13:6-7) and go a second mile (Matthew 5:41). Our goal is to witness to jackbooted thugs and IRS agents and pray they will repent of their sins.

  • Kerry M Adams

    It really depends on your view of kingdom theology. There is two kingdom theology, which teaches that God rules the left-handed kingdom through the secular and the right handed kingdom through the heavenly. Their is the other side, theonomy – which teaches that there is one kingdom and that it must be ruled by the church via Old Testment law. In 2K theology, taxes and government belong to the Secular (Caesar in this case). We are to obey government so long as they do not command what God forbids, nor forbids what God commands. So we are to pay what is necessary to their existence (and are not responsible for the misappropriations of those funds). Jesus was not anti-government. He was cautious of the state, and we are warned not to trust the state, but Jesus had connections to the Zealots (which theonomists who sought to overthrow the Roman Empire). If Jesus was anti-government (and our purpose as Christians were to be against the government) then He had more than enough opportunity to show it, yet at every point He had his Disciples (the ones who were Zealots), stand down. Jesus paid His taxes – and this to Emperor Nero – by far the worst, most oppressing ruler in human history. There is a fine line for Christians to walk here, and it’s not as cut and dry as some want to make it. Oscar Cullman writes a very interesting book that highlights the tenuous nature of government in the New Testament and how Christians are to treat government, called The State in the New Testament.

    • Caesar owns NOTHING he didn’t steal or extort. Under Biblical law, he must return FOUR-FOLD what he stole. Secular law is ungodly. “MANY there be that go in thereat”. Our citizenship is a city not made with hands. Pilate (and Caesar) would have no power unless allowed by God, like Jesus told him face to face. “This world is not my home”. “All the kingdoms in the world…” Romans 13 requires the secular to protect the spread of the Word. If they don’t they are illegitimate.

  • Tiberius

    Whichever way you look at it, it is irrelevant today, and the main thing to remember here, is that the glory of the Roman Republic & Empire would never have been possible had it not been for taxes. And let’s not be ignorant and ignore the fact that taxation existed long before the concept and belief in Christianity ever existed. Many gods and beliefs were worshipped for a far longer timespan and period than Christian based beliefs, humanity far extends past the 2000 or so years since the rise of the Christian based faiths. And as time progresses, Christianity itself will also be forgotten in place of other gods taking it’s place.

    • Benjamin Walburn

      Your argument doesn’t really make any sense. Nobody claimed that taxation never existed before Christianity. Are you saying that because taxation existed longer then taxation is right?

      Your part about religion makes even less sense, is devoid of historical accuracy, and makes claims that are not knowable and even contradict reality.
      Christianity has been around for about 2000 years, and Judaism has been around for thousands of years before. No religion has lasted nearly as long as these. Christianity is still going strong. It isn’t being “forgotten”. Your forgetting does not equal forgetfulness on the large scale. Your argument screams “I don’t believe in God, therefore Christianity is going to disappear from the world” which, is ridiculous.

      The closest you get to actual proof of your claims is stating the obvious, like “humanity far extends past the 2000 or so years since the rise of Christian based faiths”. You use it as if it contradicts the assumptions of some people, but nobody believes that. You give a semblance of knowledge and authority to cover for you talking out of your ass.

    • Voltaire: “Christianity will be forgotten in 100 years after my death”.

      And 100 years after his death, the Bible Society was printing Bibles on his own printing press.

  • This article makes me sad. I’m sad that many Christians read this and think that those with true conviction must think and talk as the author does here. The author welcomes such thinking, by using statements such as “Christians must question taxation” as a subtitle for the article. There is no honor in using inflammatory statements at the top of the page, aimed at all Christians, in an effort to simply incite disagreement and immediately gain readers.

    For scholarly support the author turns to the work of Reza Aslan, who is a well-known Iranian-American Islamic studies scholar. Mr. Aslan converted to Christianity as a teenager, but then re-converted to Islam in adulthood. He has written two best-selling books, and been interviewed on Fox News. No Christian sources are mentioned. This is disturbing, because the interpretation that is advocated here is inconsistent with the rest of the Bible.

    Romans 13:5-7 says: “…it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

    We can come up with many different controversial interpretations of Scripture if we only take one passage into consideration. God would never have us follow his will in one area by going against his will in another area. In the same way, we can’t claim to follow one part of Scripture and go against another part. God’s Word is one.

    The misinterpretation of Christian Scripture is troubling indeed, but more troubling is the way that the article ends. The next-to-last sentence claims that our government has taken the place of God. But Scripture says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” The author not only misinterprets Scripture, but then tries to convince Christians that they need not submit to the authorities that God has placed over them, and that they are doing their service to God by evading their taxes.

    But as if all of this is not enough, the article ends with the statement that “If we are to return to God the things that are His, then Christians must seize them back.” It is hard to even know what is meant by this statement. Are Christians to evade their taxes, AND take things from the government, and somehow submit them to God? Are we to take over the city hall in our town and establish a place of worship?

    Nearly all that this author says is relevant only within an extremely narrow worldview, and does not help the reader follow God better or become a better libertarian. Through a misinterpretation of Scripture, the Christian is actually encouraged to dishonor God, while being drawn in by inflammatory language that casts the author as a supposed ally against the evils of government. I challenge the author to describe the kind of government to which he would be happy to submit. The article seems to articulate a simple problem of submission to authority, rather than a desire to follow Scripture.

    • Christopher Wilcox

      If we are to play the Romans 13 card and assert that God has placed an authority over this nation, then it is obvious that that authority is the Constitution. The Constitution grants no authority for direct taxation. Combine that with the mountain of other unconstitutional laws, and we find that it is our government who is in violation of Romans 13, not the individual who seeks to keep the fruits of his labor.

      I’m curious how the first century Church responded to Romans 13 as well, considering how many of them were martyred by the Roman Empire. Am I to understand that being obedient to the state inevitably leads to being murdered by said state?

      • Bryan

        Christopher Wilcox, you are a lot closer to the truth than Jonathan Trousdale but not quite there. Pastor Chuck Baldwin wrote a book on it and it is filled with a staggering amount of scripture to support what he is saying. I highly recommend it, it is called Romans 13, the True Meaning of Submission and can be found at romans13truth dot com

        • Christopher Wilcox

          Thanks, I’ll check it out.

    • Romans 13 does not say that the secular authorities are of God in the same way that Paul or a prophet is of God. In Jeremiah, God calls the king of Babylon “my servant”. David in the Psalms calls his enemies his God’s “servant”. That is, God uses them to judge his own people, like he did in Jeremiah, and like he promises to do to the “Babylon” of Revelation 17 and 18.

      God has used them to keep some bad guys at bay. Think of it like this, the ones he allows are only because there would be worse, because of man’s depraved nature.

      In Matthew 18 it is clear that Jesus himself paid taxes only because otherwise they would interfere with his work. But he used the occasion to explain that the kings and regimes that collect taxes are corrupt by nature. “Then are [their] children free”, he said, and by logical implication, they enslave those who are not.

      • Bryan

        I think you mean Matthew 17, but, it isn’t clear at all that Jesus paid taxes, seems the opposite is true “Jesus prevented him”.

        • It is Matthew 17, thanks. But verse 27 reads: 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.
          And verses 24 and 25 make clear that Peter knew that his “master” paid taxes.
          But it was for the same reason libertarians pay taxes today: it is required by threat of force. In Jesus’ situation, it would have been a hindrance to his mission which he was still able to accomplish.

          He still told Pilate that he would have no power if not given him by God. But Jesus still shared that lesson to show that “Thou shalt not steal” is a universally applicable requirement of all people, making governments illegitimate.

          • King David

            I just realized you’re in Miami. I’m in Fort Lauderdale. I had no idea.

          • I work in Hollywood, attend meetups in all the tricounty sometimes.

          • King David

            What kind of meet ups? Libertarian? I would be in. I get pretty uncomfortable at the Christian stuff. The holding hand in circles is like singing the national anthem or saying the pledge for me. I’m in the marina district. I’m homeschooling my son so even though I don’t have a job anymore, I have a job.

          • Thought you were in South Florida?

          • King David

            You lost me. Are you saying there are no libertarian meet-ups here? I haven’t heard of any but I still hope. I actually live within a few blocks of Debbie Wasserman Shultz’s district. I used to be in it but I moved. Not because of her. I don’t know who’s district I’m in now.

          • King David

            Marina district = SE Lauderdale.

          • King David

            Sorry. I didn’t mean to jump in and hijack a thread. I just noticed the topic here with your reply. Cool subject. I’m glad to see so much agreement. I didn’t realize so many Christians are into the freedom movement. Breitbart gives people the wrong idea about Christians. I’ll go there tryng to discuss peace and tolerance and get shouted down by bigots and statists claiming to be christian. It would be nice to see some of these people over there helping to spread the good word.

          • Oh there are but the Christian media and bookstores follow their own compromised “Establishment” just like the muddled masses. As usual, the same decrepit spoiled among “Christians” don’t tolerate us very well, but then complain about secular “intolerance”. (We overlap on perspective there a bit)

            Brother Andrew is famous for smuggling Bibles behind the “Iron Curtain”, and then founded “Open Doors Ministry” for that and other closed countries. Now they take Bibles to Christians in Muslim countries. Virtually all Middle East Christians say it’s worse after US intervention for Christians there. When they interview Christian “converts” from Islam they have to let them say this at least.

            Brother Andrew begged, pleaded, yelled, shouted at Bush and company NOT to invade Iraq. (Tonight on CNN-Not!) His perspective was for the Christians. Christians in Palestine at one time were about half of Palestinians. A Muslim Palestinian might deny it but it’s true. (They’re all over Latin America).

  • matthewchoffman

    What @Jonathan Trousdale writes is very correct. This article is simply wrong. The word apodidom can mean the following in Greek:

    to deliver, to give away for one’s own profit what is one’s own, to sell

    to pay off, discharge what is due

    a debt, wages, tribute, taxes, produce due

    things promised under oath

    conjugal duty

    to render account

    to give back, restore

    to requite, recompense in a good or a bad sense

    The interpretation advocate by the author, which gives the definition as merely to “give back, restore” is not the way that Christians have historically interpreted the passage and doesn’t at all fit with Romans 13 and other passages that clearly interpret this as meaning that you must obey the government and pay taxes. This is how ideologues often seek to manipulate the sacred scriptures: they claim that certain passages have been misunderstood for 2,000 years. Not credible.

    • Yes.
      Matthew 17:24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?

      25 He saith, Yes. 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.

    • Plus the victors that gave us our legacy of martyrs for the faith rewriting doctrines for their own purpose cannot contradict true scripture. Scripture is what it is. Jesus paid taxes because it was an extortion tribute by the Romans who cut off your head if you told them “No”, same as illegitimate IRS. That’s not a spiritual lesson, it’s a lesson in pragmatism. Jesus also went to the slaughter like the Lamb he was. He told Pilate the people that demanded his crucifixion “therefore have the greater sin”.

      If “all the kingdoms of the world belong to [Satan]” then how could it be a practical thing? Go look at the lesson on “Agree with thy adversary quickly whilst thou art in the way with them”, why? To avoid a lawsuit!

      When the gov arrests pro-life demonstrators or orders it they are NOT “God’s servants”.

  • CEvonK

    This article is perfect example of why religion has no place in public governance. The article is utter fullskuckery. A scriptural interpretation has no legitimacy in determining whether the citizens of a nation should pay taxes.

  • Antodav

    This is an interesting take on this scripture, but there is also the fact that the *image* of Caesar was on the coin, the coin, according to the culture of that time, belonged to Caesar. Likewise, because the image of God, both spiritual and physical, is impressed upon us (that is to say, we are created in his image), we are likewise to consecrate ourselves back onto him. In any case, to use this verse to justify taxation is to totally fail to understand its deeper meaning and shows a very shallow and superficial understanding of the scriptures.

    However, Jesus still expects us to obey the laws of the land, inasmuch as they are constitutional, which taxation, unfortunately, presently is. So while taxation is not overtly justified by the scriptures, neither is tax protesting, nor any other deliberate disobedience of the powers that be, when they are acting within their just and constitutional authority.

  • Collins

    This is theologically and exegetically absurd. I’m for limited government, but THIS is unabashedly distorting interpretation of Scripture to fit a particular political lens.

  • Sean

    There’s no mention of Matthew 17:24-27 where he pays tax himself. He points out that people at the top don’t pay but that shouldn’t stop us from paying tax.

  • Nathanael Ginn

    It also says to not break the laws of the land in the New Testament as long as they are not contrary to Christianity. So that really keeps you from using the Bible as an excuse to not follow laws.

  • Ian Huyett

    Any Christian commenting in disagreement should name for me something that is Caesar’s which is not also God’s.

  • Since everything an empire or conqueror confiscates, or a government with threat of force, is theft of what does not belong to them, none of the spoils are theirs. Caesar lives of theft, USG lives of theft.