DO YOU HATE PAYING TAXES?
WHAT DID JESUS SAY ABOUT PAYING TAXES?
I’m often amused when someone is grumbling as if they are the only one in the country paying taxes!
“I don’t want my tax dollars paying for (fill blank with wasteful program).” We all pay taxes of some kind, and we all pay more than we want to pay! Some people want to have a religious or biblical reason for paying less taxes.
In Jesus’s day, Rome often collected taxes through agents in occupied territories such as Palestine. By Luke 20, the scribes and chief priests of the Jewish people were in full-on mode trying to trap Jesus. They watched Jesus, sent spies, acted deferential but were asking questions that would implicate Jesus in blasphemy, some breach of law so they could feel they were legally laying hands on him, to kill him.
Spies: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?
Jesus: (perceiving their craftiness) Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?
Spies: The emperor’s.
Jesus: Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
The spies were so stunned by his answer they were silent and had nothing more to ask.
Renovare’s study Bible has an interesting note about this:
Christians invariably quote Romans 13 when it comes to discussions about the relationship between followers of Christ and the government. The implication often is that, when issues arise, good Christians will obey the authorities God has placed over them. Jesus makes a distinction. The demands of the state and the demands of God are not the same. He suggests it is possible to meet both at the same time, but he never suggests that obeying one is exactly the same as obeying the other. He does not say, “Give to caesar what is Caesar’s, and also give to Caesar what is God’s.” As Luke well knew, the time would come when obedience to God would mean disobedience to the emperor. Even before the clash between Rome and Christ, the early Church would defy the Jewish authorities: “We must obey God rather than any human authority (Acts 5:29). The separation Jesus established between church and state is a distinction many Christians in the twenty-first century have yet to come to grips with.
DOES JESUS SUPPORT PAYING TAXES?
I think we’d be hard pressed to claim that Jesus was against his followers paying taxes. This text certainly doesn’t catch Jesus in any tax evasion. And speaking of catch, there’s a funny story in Matthew 17 where someone asked Peter if he and his Lord pay temple taxes. Peter said yes, then went to Jesus to talk to him about it.
Jesus said something mysterious about how kings collect duties not from their own children but from others. And from that Jesus said, “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “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” (Matthew 17:26-27, NIV).
Neither of these stories, the one in Luke 20 nor the one in Matthew 17, show Jesus to be a tax evader, nor do the texts suggest his followers should evade or try to be exempt from personal taxes. Nowhere does it say we should pay more than we should in taxes either, but the idea is to pay our share, what is fair, what is right in the places we live and paying taxes is required by law.
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.