Beliefs Culture Ethics Opinion

COMMENTARY: Even Jesus had a tax man

April 15 Tax Due sign
Taxes are due April 15.
April 15 Tax Due sign

courtesy Shutterstock

Taxes are due April 15.

(RNS) Feeling anxious about your tax liability as April 15 nears? The Bible has many references to taxes that will sound strangely relevant at this time of year  — beginning with the story of David and Goliath.

Many remember a teenage boy offended by insults thrown by a giant foe against his nation and God himself, who volunteers to go into battle with a slingshot. But did you know that a tax incentive was part of his prize?

Visiting the battlefield, David learns: “The king will give great wealth to the man who kills (Goliath) and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel,” (1 Samuel 17:25).

Throughout Scripture, tax discussions mark many passages, as ancient men and women worried about how they would pay.

In Matthew 17, Jesus noted that rulers often use taxes against people without power. Talking with Simon Peter about a temple tax, Jesus asked, “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes — from their own children or from others?”

Peter answered, “From others,” (Matthew 17:26).

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

And yet, when demanding that Jesus be crucified, tax avoidance was levied as an accusation. “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king,” (Luke 23:2).

For the party in power, tax avoidance might have been the greatest offense.

Even so, the truth remains that a healthy respect for reasonable taxes is part of faith-based culture. Writing in Romans 13, the Apostle Paul urged respect for government because of the vital role leaders play in society, an admonition that goes beyond mere money: “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.”

Such a standard requires civil interaction and mutual respect, important reminders for today’s toxic political culture. And every IRS agent can take comfort in the fact that Jesus himself had a tax collector (Matthew) as a disciple.

Nonetheless, the growth in tax rates is cause for concern. While a 10 percent tithe to the church has been the standard for personal giving, today’s combined federal-state bite can reach about 50 percent. Remember, Pharaoh took only 20 percent of the grain in Egypt as a form of taxation during their good years. It’s worth debating whether the government should take such a large bite out of families’ resources.

Still, pay your taxes, treat authorities with honor and know that nothing new is under the sun — not even the IRS.

(Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown, a nonprofit business, personal finance policy and educational organization, and author of “The Worst Financial Mistakes in the Bible and How You Can Avoid Them.”)


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Chuck Bentley


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  • Might I suggest that the amount which a government taxes is far less pertinent than what it provides for that amount. A country where healthcare, education and pensions are provided privately for instance may have low taxes, but that’s pretty irrelevant if a decent standard of living is comparatively unaffordable for most individuals (a side note: I notice that ‘families’ are often used in discussions of tax because the idea of poor children is emotive, let us remember that many are single and/or childless and experience real hardship!).

    To take another biblical example the early church knew the power of collective provision (see Acts), though of course that was voluntary rather than compelled. I wonder if a better question for debate is ‘what level of tax enables all citizens to experience a socially acceptable minimum standard of living, in a way which acknowledges their mutual responsibilities?’ ‘socially acceptable minimum’ and ‘mutual responsibilities’ are naturally open to interpretation.

  • Dear Sirs,
    We have a civic duty to pay legitimate taxes, which constitute from 10 to 12 percent. Additional amounts are only justified when the majority of the population, if not all, receives government sponsored health care, GS retirement plan, no questions asked unemployment, government sponsored day care, GS house payment, GS car payment, GS food stipend.., GS liquor allowance/stipend. Only the heart of Central Europe Germany/Switzerland/Holland offers these programs to it’s people via taxes. Remove all of these additional programs, then anything over that base 10 to 12 percent constitutes extortion….Which is a crime against the law of the land…Remember fellow Americans, that our constitution IS the law of the land!!!We should always resist the criminals….!

  • Today’s system off taxation can not be compared to the old systems in the bible in my opinion. Today it seems everything is a tax. Federal taxes,state taxes, social security taxes(and only on the 1st 108k I believe it is which assures only the lowest incomes pay and the wealthiest skate while the fund is broke “supposedly”), local property taxes, sales taxes, licensing fees, registration fees,etc. Stop and think how long the list really is and what it adds up to. It is unbelievable the amount of money sucked out of the economy to pay for all these fees,taxes,permits, you name it. I see it in a small business. This is why everything cost so much and there seems to be no right price for anything anymore. Just about every system of government is broken in some way right down to the local level. Now add in all the interest payments on mortgages, college debt, etc. Add in all the insurance requirements. There is little left especially if the economy has a hiccup or two. The system is hopelessly corrupt! Man can not govern man; it is obvious to me. Sorry to sound so negative.

  • Talk about exaggeration.

    The system of taxation during the Roman Empire was far worse than the modern US version. Heavy draconian taxes are what kept Roman cities alive by starving the rural and provincial areas almost to death. The relationship between center and provinces in Hunger Games was not that much of an exaggeration of how the Roman Empire functioned.

    Virtually all empires functioned this way. Starving outer areas for the benefit of the government center. The last modern versions of this were what the British did in India during WWII, and Axis treatment of their conquests in Europe and Asia.

    Matthew’s role as a tax collector was a much more feared and despised position in Biblical times than it would be considered today. People became indentured, slaves, or literally died to pay their taxes back then.