Some anonymous wag has said, "There are only two things certain in this life — death and taxes!" Other sages have repeated the adage, "There ain't no free lunches!" (meaning any material thing one person may seem to have gotten free of charge, someone else had to work for or pay taxes for). The Bible clearly faces the reality of taxation by civil governments in this world. Biblical sanction for the civil mandate of taxation and the responsibility of human beings to pay taxes is indisputable.

These Hebrew words in the Old Testament text are used for taxation:

  1. erek — taxation, an estimate (II Kings 23:35)
  2. 'arak — taxes (II Kings 23:35)
  3. nuges — taxes, oppression (Dan. 11:20)
  4. mas — tribute (most used word in the Old Testament)
  5. meckes — a toll, a tax (Num. 31:28,37-41)
  6. middah — a treasure (Ezra 6:8; Neh. 5:4)
  7. 'unesh — a fine, punishment (II Kings 23:33)
  8. masso' — a burden, heavy load (II Chron. 17:11)
  9. belu — (a Chaldean word) - tax (Ezra 4:13,20; 7:24), or custom
  10. ma'esar — the tithe, ten percent (Lev. 27:30,31,etc)

These Greek words in the New Testament text are used for taxation:

  1. phoros — (related to the Greek word phero, to bring) denotes tribute paid by a subjugated nation (Luke 20:22, 23:2; Rom. 13:6, 7).
  2. kensos — (the word from which Latin and English derive census) means a poll tax (Matt. 17:25; 22:17,19; Mark 12:14)
  3. didrachmon — the half-shekel, is translated tribute in Matt. 17:24
  4. telos — primarily means, an end, a termination; secondary meaning, that which is paid for public ends — a toll, tax, custom (Matt. 17:25; Rom. 13:7)
  5. tehnion — denotes a custom-house for the collection of taxes (Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).

The Greek word in Luke 2:1, 3, 5, etc., translated "taxed" in KJV is apographo. It means, literally, "to write out, to copy, to enroll in a register." It should not be translated "taxed," but either "enrollment" or "census." The enrollment or census was, of course, for the purpose of determining population count in order to collect taxes, but the apographo was not the tax itself.

The earliest instance of taxation, perhaps, is that offer of tribute made by the king of Sodom to Abram (Gen. 14:21) for services rendered in rescuing the "goods" plundered from Sodom by the unprovoked attack of the "kings of the East" (including the rescue of citizens of Sodom — Lot and his family). Abram had just "tithed" (Heb. ma'eser) part of the rescued "goods" to Melchizedek, God's high priest (see also Hebrews 7:1-10). This became the basis upon which God legislated a form of religious taxation to sustain those who rendered religious services to others — the Levitical tithes of the Mosaic dispensation. The principle that people should be willing to pay (or be "taxed") to sustain those who labor in teaching the truth of God is clearly carried over into the New Testament (see Matt. 10:9-15; I Cor. 9:1-18; II Cor. 12:13; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15-19, etc.).

That exaction of "tribute" was practiced and expected is also exemplified in the account of Jacob s return to his homeland after his exile to Paddan-aram. Jacob evidently expected his brother Esau to demand "tribute" for passage and tenancy upon return to Canaan (see Gen. 32:3-33:11). Jacob called his "tribute" to Esau "a present" (Heb. minechah) and hoped to "appease" (Heb. kapherah phanayv, lit. "cover the face," sometimes translated, "atone") Esau with it.

The earliest example of levied taxation in the Bible is that suggested by Joseph (Gen. 41:33-36) and actually exacted (Gen. 47:24-26) — a twenty percent "social welfare" tax, as it were, on all the people of Egypt. It is significant to notice that the first recorded levying of a "welfare" tax was by a pagan nation — an idolatrous nation! It made no pretense of structuring itself according to the revealed will of the One True God. Yet, God directed Joseph to institute this tax to sustain the civil government of a heathen empire and the truth of God in the messianic nation of Israel was preserved and made available to the world.

The next biblical instance of taxation concerns the nation of Israel. What is called the "tithe" (Heb. ma'esar) was, in some cases, actually a tax. One has only to study the case of the Levites in the theocracy (see Lev. 27:30, 31; Num. 18:20-24) to observe that they were supported by a tax of one-tenth of all agricultural produce (including animals) from the rest of the Israelite citizenry. In this tax legislation, should a citizen prefer to keep his agricultural produce and give money for the Levites, he was ordered to give one-tenth of what the produce would be worth plus he had to add "a fifth" (20% of the tithe) to the monetary tax! Levites were consecrated by God to total service of the nation in both religious and civil duties. They could not support themselves by any other occupation. A priest was a Levite, but not all Levites were priests God levied a tax ("tithe") from the Israelites to support the Levites because they were the nation's civil servants under the theocracy. They served as judges, rulers, policemen (see Exod. 32:21-34) teachers, and workers at civil and religious duties (Num. 7:1-9). The "tithe" had nothing to do with "free-will giving" (See Lev! 23:38; Deut. 16:10; 23:21-23, etc.). The "tithe" was clearly a tax to support the Israelite "system" just like a tax supporting any other form of government (see Mai. 1:8; 3:6-10).

A second tax ("tithe") was the ten percent of produce to be brought at later designated times to the Tabernacle (later to the Temple at Jerusalem) and a sort of "national pot-luck feast" was to be held (see Deut. 12:10, 11). It was to be a festival promoting nationalism. It was a civil celebration to bring about national unity, (see Deut. 12:8) and cultivate the social and cultural life of Israel. It was a "patriotic" service paid for by taxes! The times of these "national pot-lucks" were, of course, the great national feast days (Passover, Day of Atonement, Tabernacles, Pentecost, etc.) of the Israelite nation.

A third tax paid by the Israelite was a ten percent ("tithe") "return" paid of all "increase" at the end of every third year for the "needy." It was kind of "welfare" tax (see Deut. 14:28, 29). Since this "tithe" was collected every third year it would amount to 3.33 percent per annum. But when we consider the provision of leaving small portions of crops in the fields at harvest-time for the "gleaners," the "welfare" tax comes to more than 3.33 percent (see Lev. 19:9,10).

Thus far we see the Israelite paying as much as 23.33 percent "income taxes" for civil and religious services rendered and for the social welfare of the nation.

Finally, the Israelite paid a "census" or poll tax, sometimes called the "Temple tax" of one-half shekel. In the first century A.D. the half-shekel was worth about half a day's wages (about $13 U.S. minimum wage 1988). It was minor to rich people but critical to most of the people who were poor.

In addition to these taxes ("tithes"), the Israelite was expected to be generous with his possessions and to give "free-will offerings" to the Lord's work and to his neighbors:

The tithes that are discussed in the Old Testament are not to be considered as free will giving. They have absolutely no parallel to giving in the church. The Old Testament does speak about every man giving as he will in his heart (Exod. 25:2). That refers to gifts offered to the Tabernacle or Temple. But the tithes did not refer to the spontaneous and sacrificial giving of Proverbs 3:9, 10 . . . freewill giving is — being generous to God. But people in the Old Testament were required to pay taxes....

The Christian and Government, by John MacArthur,

pub. Moody Press, p. 62

The following quotations are concise summaries of what the Bible says about civil government and taxation:

TAXES, charges imposed by governments, either political or ecclesiastical, upon the persons or the properties of their members or subjects. In the nomadic period, taxes were unknown to the Hebrews. Voluntary presents were given to chieftains in return for protection. The conquered Canaanites were forced to render labor (Josh. 16:10; 17:13; Jdgs. 1:28-35). Under the theocracy of Israel every man paid a poll-tax of a half shekel for the support of the tabernacle worship (Exod. 30:13; 38:25, 26), and this was the only fixed impost. It was equal for rich and poor (Exod. 30:15). Under the kings, as Samuel had warned the people (I Sam. 8:11-18), heavy taxes were imposed. They amounted to a tithe of the crops and of the flocks besides the forced military and other services which would be imposed. In the days of Solomon, because of his great building program (the magnificent temple, the king's palaces, thousands of stables for chariot-horses, the navy, etc.) the burden of taxes was made so oppressive that the northern tribes rebelled at his death (I Kings 12).

During the days of the divided kingdom Menahem (II Kings 15:19, 20) bribed the Assyrian king with a thousand talents of silver to support him, and he raised this from the rich men of his kingdom. Similarly Hoshea (II Kings 17:3) paid heavy tribute to Assyria and on refusing further to pay he lost his kingdom. Later, Pharaoh Necho of Egypt put Judah under heavy tribute, and Jehoiakim oppressively taxed Judah (II Kings 23:33, 35). Under the Persian domination, "tribute, custom or toll" (Ezra 4:13) were forms of taxation, though Artaxerxes exempted "priests, Levites," etc. (Ezra 7:23, 24). The Ptolemies, the Seleucidae, and later the Romans, all adopted the very cruel but efficient method of "farming out the taxes," each officer extorting more than his share from those under him, and thus adding to the Jewish hatred of the publicans, among whom were at one time Matthew and Zacchaeus, both converts later.

The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Merrill C. Tenney,
pub. Zondervan, p. 828


TRIBUTES (Heb. mas, forced laborers; middah, tribute, toll; Gr. kensos, tax, census; phoros, tax, burden). The Hebrew word mas is incorrectly rendered "tribute," since it means "forced laborers, labor gang." Solomon had a force of taskworkers consisting of 30,000 men, raised by levy upon the people (I Kings 5:13; 9:15, 21). David had had a labor gang too (I Kings 4:6; 5:13). Conquered populations were often compelled to render forced labor (Deut. 20:11; Josh 16:10). In New Testament times the kensos was an annual tax levied on persons, houses or lands paid to a prince or civil governor on behalf of the Roman treasury. The phoros was a tax paid by agriculturists. Customs (tele) were collected by the publicans.

The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, op. cit. p. 871

CUSTOM, RECEIPT OF (RV "place of toll"), from which Matthew (Levi) was called to follow Christ (Matt. 9:9). In post-exilic days the tribute was usually in terms of a road toll. The Romans imposed tribute or tax upon the Jews as upon all their subjects for the maintenance of their provincial government. Tax collectors or publicans were despised because of their notorious dishonesty and willingness to work for a foreign power.

Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary,
op. cit. p. 191

When Jesus was at Jericho, He called Zacchaeus down from a sycamore tree into which he had climbed in order to better see the Lord as He passed by (Luke 19:1-5). Zacchaeus was a publican, or tax-collector; by his own confession (that he would make restoration if he had taken too much) Zacchaeus showed the traits of the tax-collector of ancient times, who extorted all of the money he could from the people. Several papyri have been found concerning the extortions of tax collectors, and they bring vividly to mind the feeling that there must have been against Zacchaeus, as well as against Matthew, who was also a publican (Matt. 9:9). The need for tax collectors in the ancient world is revealed by the documents which have been excavated in Egypt. The custom house receipts of a town named Socnopaei Nesus show that there was a heavy rate upon both exports and imports, while the individual merchants and tradesman of every kind had to pay heavy taxes. There were taxes on land and farm stock, on goats and pigs, on the temple, and on every item, in fact which was taxable. Evidence of the heavy and widespread taxing program in these ancient documents reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. The ancients struggled under a twenty percent tax long before the days of the twenty percent deduction of the twentieth century. In Bible times a very heavy force of collectors must have been necessary, and for this reason we are not surprised to encounter tax collectors such as Zacchaeus and Matthew in the New Testament.

Archaeology and Bible History, by Joseph P. Free,
pub. Scripture Press, pp. 294,295

The period of the Judges says very little, if anything, about the systematics of taxation in civil government. Apparently the only form of taxation was the giving of "presents" or exacting of "tribute" (see Jdgs. 8:24ff). Judges received nothing more than a share of the "booty" taken in battle. It was a time of disorder and civil chaos. "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes, for there was no king in Israel in those days." We would suppose the Levitical taxes ("tithes") continued in that era.

But when the people demanded that Samuel not perpetuate the civil system of "judgeship" in his sons, but that he anoint for them "a king like the nations" the matter of taxation takes on a much more crucial aspect (I Sam. 8:1-22):

As was to be expected, taxation assumes far greater prominence the moment we cross the threshold of the kingdom . . . the passage (I Sam. 8:10-18) gives us a fairly exhaustive list of royal prerogatives. Aside from various forms of public and private service, the king would take (note the word) the best of the vineyards, etc, together with a tenth of the seed and of the flocks. The underlying principle suggested by Samuel's summary and fully exemplified in the actions of Israel's kings, is that the king would take what he needed for his public and private needs from the strength and substance of his people. Constitutional laws regulating the expenditure of public funds and the amount of exactions from the people in taxations seem never to have been contemplated in these early monarchies. The king took what he could get; for constitutional rights has centered from the beginning about the matter of taxation.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. V, article on "Tax, Taxing,"
by Louis M. Sweet, pub. Eerdmans, pp. 2918, 1919

The Israelites cried out to Samuel for justice. Samuel's sons were "perverting justice." But justice in a sinful society must be administered by coercion — and coercion cost. The Israelite wish to be "like the nations" seems also to imply a desire for the "social welfare" they observed in their pagan neighbors. Social welfare administered by the civil state costs — "there are no free lunches." And immediately upon the institution of this restructuring of the Israelite civil system, there was a tax revolt. When Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship (which would include the right to tax) (I Sam. 10:25-27), "some worthless fellows" refused to pay the king his "present" (tax). King Saul, magnanimously (and probably for pragmatic reasons) "held his peace."

During the monarchy there seems to have been various provisions made for exemption from taxes (cf. I Sam. 17:25, etc.). And Samuel wrote in a book (I Sam. 10:25) "the rights and duties of the kingship . . . "so we do have, in effect, a "constitutional" form of civil government in the Israelite monarchy! The king is not totally sovereign. He is subject to the law of God as

Samuel wrote it in a book which was also "told" to the people.

In the time of David taxes would have continued as a civic duty to support the civil state. However, they do not seem to be severe enough to incite civil unrest. That may be due to the constant enrichment of the treasury of Israel by David's many military conquests (II Sam. 8:2, 7, 8, 10, 12). But bearable taxation was not the case in Solomon's reign. While Solomon also had a famously-large income (I Kings 10:14-28), his thirst for luxury and public works could be slaked only by massive conscription of taxes (even forced labor by Israelite citizens for the first time I Kings 5:13-17). So Solomon instituted a highly organized and pervasive system of collecting taxes (see I Kings 4:7-19). Since Solomon's reign was one of peace and very little military conquest was made, the burden of income for his indulgences became increased taxation of the citizenry.

When Solomon died and his son Rehoboam inherited the throne, the immediate and urgent demand of the "assembly of Israel" (led by Jeroboam) was:

Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke upon us, and we will serve you (I Kings 12:4).

The elders of Israel who had "stood before Solomon" counseled Rehoboam to accede to the wishes of the people (to lighten the tax burden). But Rehoboam rejected that advise in favor of the prompting of the "young lions" of his own association and decided to "add to their yoke" of taxation and subjugation (I Kings 12:1-15).

A tax revolt (I Kings 12:16ff) resulted and the disastrous division of the chosen people of God into two hateful, spiteful and warring nations. As a consequence the true worship of Jehovah was perverted (eventually in both nations), idolatry and moral decadence became the rule rather than the exception. It ended in the devastation of their homelands and the exile of their peoples in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. They were never again the testimony for Jehovah they were in the days of David.

A few references from the Old Testament prophets are sufficient to show that corruption and oppression in taxation was a recurring outrage of the civil leadership against the citizenry of Israel and Judah (see Isa. 3:13-15; Amos 2:6-8; 5:10-13; 7:1; 8:6; Micah 3:1-4; Zeph. 3:1-4). Yet we never read in the Old Testament any precise word from God which would justify a citizen's refusal to pay the taxes or to rise in violent overthrow of the civil government doing the taxing. In the declining and decadent years of the divided kingdoms much of the tax burden was a result of paying forced "tribute" to Mesopotamian overlords (II Kings 15; 17-22; 16:5-9; 17:4; 18:13-18; 23:31-35; 24:1-7; II Chron. 36:7, etc.).

The two Israelite nations (first Israel in 722 B.C., and Judah in 606 B.C.) in exile unquestionably paid taxes to their foreign "hosts" (first as captives, and later as adopted sovereigns). This was what they were told to do when Jeremiah (Jer. 29:7) instructed them to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you. ..." A Jew (Daniel) became a chief tax official of the Persian (and probably the Babylonian, earlier) government (Dan. 6:1-5); the Jews who remained in Persia with queen Esther and Mordecai paid taxes to their Persian protectors (Esther 10:1); the Jews who returned to Palestine after the exile paid taxes to Persia (Ezra 4:13); the restored Jews also paid taxes to sustain their new commonwealth (a few being exempted — Ezra 7:21-26). In the days of Nehemiah a tax crisis arose because of the exorbitant demands of the Persian king. The Jewish people newly established in Palestine were mortgaging everything they owned to pay their taxes (Neh. 5:1-31). In addition to the Persian "tribute" they had to pay taxes to support the Jewish governors (Neh. 5:14, 15). Because of this heavy taxation the Jews came to feel like "slaves in their own land" (Neh. 9:36, 37). But they still laid upon themselves an annual tax of one-third shekel for the Temple and continued to pay taxes ("tithes") to support the Levitical civil government (Neh. 10:32ff).

Taxes on the biblical scene during the interim between the Old Testament and the New Testament is summarized:

The Ptolemies, who practically controlled Pal from 301 to 218 BC, do not appear to have been excessive in their demands for tribute (twenty talents for Jews [Ant, XII, iv, 1] seems no great amount), but the custom which they introduced, or at least established, of farming the taxes to the highest bidder, introduced a principle which prevailed through all the subsequent history and was the cause of much popular suffering and discontent. The story of Joseph, the Jewish tax-collector (Ant, XII, iv, 1-5), who was for 23 years farmer-general of taxes and the cause of a "long train of disaster," is peculiarly significant for the student of the NT.

The conquest of Pal by Antiochus the Great (202 BC) brought a certain amount of relief to the "storm-tossed" (Jos) Jews of Pal, as of old the buffer state between contending powers. According to Jos (Ant, XII, iii, 3), Antiochus gave the Jews generous gifts in money, remitted their taxes for three years, and permanently reduced them one-third ....

That the Seleucid kings were particularly severe in their exactions is clearly shown in the letter of Demetrius to the Jews, whose favor he was seeking in rivalry with Alexander Balas of Smyrna, the pretender to the Seleucid throne (see I Mace. 10:26-30; 11:34,35; 13:39; 11:28).

In this quoted letter Demetrius promises the following exemptions from (1) "tributes" (phorioi — "poll-taxes"); (2) tax on salt; (3) crown taxes (stephanoi — "crowns of gold" or their equivalents); (4) the tribute of one-third of the seed; (5) another of one-half of the fruit of the trees (10:29, 30). This seems almost incredibly severe, but evidence is not lacking of its probability.... With Seleucus IV (187-176 BC) the Jews felt for the first time, indirectly but powerfully, the pressure of Rome. This disreputable ruler had to pay tribute to Rome as well as to find means whereby to gratify his own passion for luxury, and was correspondingly rapacious in the treatment of his subjects (II Mace. 3).

ISBE, Vol. V., op. cit, pp. 2919, 2920

The "Seleucus IV" referred to above is the "little horn" of Daniel 8:9-14 as well as the "contemptible person" of Daniel 11:20-45. The taxes upon the Jewish people by their own Hasmonean (Maccabean) rulers (ca. 160-60 B.C.) were nearly as exorbitant as those of their immediate predecessors, the Seleucids.

The New Testament era, from the birth of Jesus Christ to the Revelation of John to the seven churches of Asia Minor (ca. 4 B.C. — 100 A.D.) is under the Roman imperial system of taxation.

The huge "military complex" of the early Roman Empire which was engaged in almost constant conquest of new territories, which, in turn, necessitated "occupation troops" to maintain its extensive sovereignty, required massive amounts of money. The incredible luxuriating, indulging, and building excesses of the Roman emperors demanded massive revenues (taxes). Most of this revenue had to come from the Roman provinces rather than the homeland. Palestine was in the Roman province of Syria. Essentially, this is what the people of Palestine (Jews and Christians) would have faced in the way of taxation:

Roman Taxes:

  1. Tributum capitis — poll tax (census tax — about 1 day's ucts)
  2. Tributum capitis — poll tax (census tax — about 1 days wages per census)
  3. Annona — grain and cattle, (levied "in kind" for use of the Roman army)
  4. Publicum — customs, sales, salt, etc. (tax on everything traded or sold)
  5. Jewish Taxes:
  6. Temple tax — half shekel (or, didrachma, Matt. 17:24) — every Jew over 13 years of age had to pay once each year (even those living outside of Palestine) (about 1 day's wages)
  7. Tithes — 10% of everything the land produced (including animals)
  8. Synagogue Taxes — for education and local Jewish welfare
  9. Herod-family taxes — to finance Herod's "public works" (remodeling the Temple, building reservoirs, sending gifts to Roman emperors, building race tracks, theaters, baths, vacation spas, etc.)

The following quotation portrays how devastating the Roman tax burden was upon its conquered peoples (this was upon Egypt):

Taxes were laid upon every product, process, sale, export, or import, even upon graves and burials; and additional assessments were levied from time to time, in kind from the poor, in liturgies from the rich. From Augustus to Trajan the country — or its masters — prospered; after that zenith it succumbed to the discouragement and exhaustion of endless tribute and taxation and the lethargy of a regimented economy.

The Story of Civilization — From Caesar to Christ, III, by Will Durant,
pub. Simon & Schuster, p. 409

One is not left to wonder that there were so many poor people mentioned in the New Testament, nor why the just and loving Jesus showed them so much compassion and understanding.

The following quotation, at considerable length, best describes taxation as experienced by people in later Bible times (100 B.C. to300A.D.):

In being excused military service, the Jews were spared the payment of the tax of blood; but the taxes that they did have to pay in money and in kind were exceedingly heavy, and they were all the heavier in that two forms of taxation ran side by side for them, civil taxes and religious taxes; and neither was light.

The first were of great antiquity in Israel. They were at least as old as Solomon, who had ingeniously divided his realm into twelve districts, each of which in turn had to supply his needs. This system, naturally, had been kept and improved upon. At times of great crisis there had even been capital levies, as for example under Menahem to pay the Assyrian tribute and under Jehoiakim of Judah to pay the sum required by the Pharaoh Nechoh. Yet these were still taxes raised by the government of Israel for the glory or the safety of the Chosen People. But after the return from exile the taxation became far more bitter to the people, since the taxes were to be paid to pagans, Persians, Greeks from Egypt and then from Syria, and then Romans or Roman vassals. Herod the Great particularly, made himself so unpopular by the severity of the impositions that he laid on the people to finance his immense undertakings and his ostentatious policy, that on several occasions he was forced to grant a remission in order to prevent an outbreak of rage. His heirs the tetrarchs modestly followed his example: in direct taxes alone Archelaus raised six hundred talents (about 125 million dollars) in Judea and Samaria; and Galilee brought in two hundred for Antipas.

In that part of Palestine which was incorporated into the Roman Empire after the year 6 A.D., the Roman system of taxation was established; and it was the same rapacious system that was known everywhere else. Even Tactitus, who is so hostile to the Jews, lets it be understood that it was this taxation that was the immediate cause of the great rising. There were then, as there are in our modern states, direct taxes and indirect taxes; Saint Paul refers directly to both (Rom. 13:7). The first, which were collected by agents of the imperial treasury, included on the one hand a tax on real property, affecting all producers, especially landowners, which was paid in kind and which is estimated to have amounted to between twenty and twenty-five percent of the product; and on the other hand a capitation or poll-tax, which was perhaps in proportion to the payer's wealth: it was about the lawfulness of this last tax that the Pharisees questioned Jesus one day, trying to draw Him into an embarrassing position (Matt. 22:17; etc.) The indirect taxes were more like the import duties and internal customs of some European countries than our sales-tax: they were collected at certain bridges, fords, important crossroads, the entries into towns and the market-places; and thus we find Matthew "sitting at work in the customs-house" at Capernaum.

These indirect taxes were made far heavier by their manner of collection. They were farmed, as the salt-tax and the aids were in France as late as the eighteenth century. Upon the supreme control of a financial procurator, who had to be a Roman knight, the farmers-general (they might be individuals or groups) signed, a contract, usually for five years by which they agreed to pay the state a fixed sum in return for being allowed to reimburse themselves by collecting the dues as they saw fit. For this they raised a whole army of tax-gatherers, with officers (Luke speaks of the small-statured Zacchaeus as "the chief publican"), gaugers and inferior minions. It need scarcely be said that under such a system every form of dishonesty was possible, and as Jesus Himself implies, the tax-gatherers would claim "more than their right" (Luke 3:13). The employees of the revenue department were therefore cordially hated and despised; partly because they stole and partly because they served the pagans. These men were the notorious publicans who are to be met with so often in the Bible Gospels, and whose very name was synonymous with public sinner, contemptible creature, outcast of society. Everywhere they were seen, with their stick in their hand and their brass plate on their chest, peering in their rasping and rapacious manner into bales and containers. The Talmud says that they formed a positive caste; and when one member of a family became a publican, all the rest followed him. The example of Zacchaeus proves that there were good and generous men among them; that excellent little Zacchaeus who gave "half of what he had to the poor, and if he had wronged anyone in any way, made restitution of it fourfold." And it is quite certain that there were admirable souls, like that publican who stood "afar off" and humbly in the Temple and prayed so well to God. But on the whole, it is comprehensible that this breed of men was not widely popular.

The civil taxes were not the only ones: the religious taxes were to be paid as well as those that the Romans collected. They went back to the remotest antiquity, had not Abraham "given the tithes of all he had won" to the Almighty? But since then the system had been much improved: the rabbis listed no less than twenty-four dues that were owing to the religious authorities, and they exhorted the faithful to pay them with the greatest care. It may be supposed, however, from the repetition of the homilies upon this theme, that the Jews were not always over-eager with their payments. These religious taxes were recognized by the Romans and they had an official character: the Temple authorities were given great facilities for the collection of the money, and its transport was protected by the imperial troops.

In a general manner, these religious taxes fell into two categories. The Temple tax, or rather the true Temple offering, was intended for the upkeep of the sanctuary and the costs of the officiating priests. It was collected everywhere, in Palestine as well as in the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, from the fifteenth day of Adar onwards, that is to say, during the month which preceded the feast of the Passover. Every adult Israelite, by which was meant every Israelite over thirteen, had to pay it, whether he was rich or poor. Traditionally it was half a shekel, as Yahweh Himself had stated to Moses that that was the amount. We know from a very exact verse in Saint Matthew (Matt. 17:23) that at the time of Christ it was a didrachma, or about seventy cents.

This was very little, in comparison with the tithes. In principle the payment of tithes meant the payment of a tenth part of everything that the soil produced, and it was the very type of religious obligation. For was not Yahweh the owner of the earth, and was it not thanks to Him that the fruits of the earth were to be had? It was therefore but right to offer a share to Him, the first-fruits of all the crops which as far back as the days of the desert were put in a basket and carried to the sanctuary "with rejoicing in all the good things that He had given His people" (Deut. 26). These first-fruits were now taken by the priests, and not returned to the producer as they had been in early times, and they had become a due which the priests insisted upon most strictly, sending out Levites to collect it and insisting that everything, however small, should be tithed. The rabbis had laid down the principle that all untithed products of the soil were unclean and that the eating of them was an exceedingly grave sin. The sheep of a flock were to be tithed just as much as the eggs from the poultry-yard or even, as we see in the Gospel (Matt. 23:23), the humblest plants used in the kitchen, such as mint, dill and cummin. It was only during the sabbatical year that the tithe was not due, for in that year, at least in theory, both the land and its workers were to rest.

However onerous the tithes may have been, particularly when they were added to all the other taxes, they were still paid more willingly than the dues that had to be given to the occupying authorities. Indeed, the getting ready of the carts that were to take the first-fruits to the Temple was something of a rural holiday. There was a proper and accepted way of preparing the carts: the barley had to be put in first, at the bottom, then the wheat and the dates, then the pomegranates, the figs and the olives, and at the very top, the grapes. Properly loaded and decorated with branches and flowers the carts met at one of the twenty-four centers, then they were led off in picturesque procession to the sound of psalms as far as Jerusalem, where they were joyfully welcomed by the priestly dignitaries and by crowds of the ordinary people. It would be pleasant to think that these rejoicings made the burden of taxes, dues and payments seem less overwhelming.

Daily Life in The Time of Jesus, by Henri Daniel Rops,
pub. Mentor-Omega Book, pp. 161-165, paperback

Nobody likes to pay taxes. The less one earns, the harder it is to make ends meet after taxes. The more you earn, the greater bite the tax-collector takes from you. Taxation has been a historic root of bitterness periodically springing up through the ages. It was certainly no less so in Bible times and among Bible people. The following summary of taxation in the first century A.D. is helpful:

There were various forms of taxation, just as there are today, and some were direct, like the poll-tax, which in Syria is said to have been one percent on your assessed income, or the tributum, which was also a special sort of property tax, levied in time of emergency, and from which at some periods Roman citizens were exempt. Then there were duties on food, duties payable on the transfer of property, including the sale of slaves, there were land-taxes, taxes on the profits of mining, and so forth, and there were also customs dues to be paid on all exports, purchase-taxes or 1 or 1/2 percent on sales, death-duties, etc. The city-dwellers are said to have loathed the purchase-tax.

How were these taxes collected? There was a Roman official called Censor, and it was the business of his department to see that the revenue was collected in the cheapest manner possible. One common method was to auction the task to the lowest bidder, so that he who tendered the lowest rate of commission got made collector of taxes in a given area. This was no doubt the way that things were done in Palestine, and we know that the tax-gatherers there were unpopular with the citizens, partly because they were collaborators with an alien government, partly because they often extorted more money than they really had a right to do, and pocketed the difference. The contracts with these collectors were for five years at a time. Such a contract of course allowed them in theory a fixed scale of percentage, but they often exceeded this, and cheated the tax-payer and probably the government too, and it is very likely that they took bribes to let off rich citizens from paying their full share of the taxes. Like the unjust steward in the parable, they would say to a wealthy tax-payer: "and how much owest thou unto the government? Take thy demand-note and sit down quickly and alter it by 50 percent." It is not surprising that the publicani as they were called, were classed together with "sinners," which in this case means chiefly people who did not keep the Jewish law of Moses as they should.

Everyday Life in New Testament Times, by A.C. Bouquet,
pub. Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 13-15

There are three major passages in the New Testament with which we conclude our review of what the Bible says about taxes. From these three passages we shall have the final and absolute revelation of Jesus Christ the Son of God, and His Spirit speaking through anointed apostles, as to what the Christian is to believe and practice about taxation and civil government.

The first of these passages is in Matthew's (himself a former tax-collector) Gospel. Matthew is the only gospel writer to record this incident:

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, Does not your teacher pay the tax? He said, Yes. And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or others? And when he said, From others, Jesus said to him, Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel; take that and give it to them for me and for yourself (Matt. 17:24-27).

Some have used this passage to justify not paying taxes. But, in context, the incident teaches quite the contrary. It is altogether possible that Jesus used this incident to teach his ambitious and bickering disciples who had the wrong concept about the kingdom (see Matt. 16:13-28; Matt. 18:1-20) that servanthood is the essence of Christian discipleship. Jesus graciously paid this temple tax which he did not owe because as the Son of God he is the "reigning prince" (actually co-creator and owner) of the temple. Jesus paid taxes he did not owe to keep others who do owe from being tempted to sin by not paying them. "Toll or tribute is tax money for the support of the kings themselves and their sons as well. To tax their sons is tantamount to taxing themselves, like one hand paying the other. No, kings collect taxes, not from their own sons, but from those outside the royal family, i.e. from strangers." (Fowler, in The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. Ill, College Press, p. 657). The Jewish rulers would never have accepted Jesus' claim to be the Son of God and owner of the Temple and, thus, his exemption from paying the tax. Such a statement from Jesus to these tax-collectors would have, in fact, probably precipitated an untimely and violent action against Jesus.

For our magnanimous Lord, the dilemma was easy to resolve: to refuse to pay, merely to prove a point for some, would cause others to stumble and cost the salvation of some precious souls, but to pay when under no obligation to do so, costs exactly one didrachma and He could teach his disciples deference! So He paid, and in so doing He did not violate either His own freedom or the conscience of others. Rather, by submitting, He demonstrated his majesty .... By His example He instructs all disciples not to abuse their freedom and to be sensitive to unbelievers, refraining from unnecessarily offending those who could be positively influenced to accept the Gospel .... To relinquish one's own undeniable, inalienable personal rights for the good of others is true self-denial and the story of Jesus' life.

The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. Ill, by Harold Fowler,
pub. College Press, p. 661

It is Interesting that even after the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D., Titus Vespasian, the Roman emperor, considered the tax so practical and useful, he made the Jews continue to pay the tax and he used it to build and sustain the pagan Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus which was built by the Romans on the grounds where the Jewish Temple had previously stood!

What is most significant, however, is the fact that Jesus paid, and taught his disciples to pay, taxes into a treasury of an ungodly and apostate religion whose priests and rabbis would soon execute him! Jesus paid tax to a temple he called "a den of thieves and robbers." He taught his disciples to pay taxes to an institution that was a mockery to God, corrupt, exploiting every worshiper, and that was doomed to extinction within a few short years. Jesus paid the tax and taught believers to do so because paying taxes is ordained of God — it is right. However, Jesus clearly and demonstrably denounced the injustices and corruptions of the very institution into which he paid taxes.

So the Bible (Jesus Christ, himself) says it is right to pay taxes. And, while the institution to which those taxes are paid may be corrupt and the tax money itself may be used by corrupt people to perpetuate their wickedness, believers have no right to withhold payment of taxes to support civil order and government. Christians should feel obligated (by Jesus' example) to verbally, at least, denounce the corruption — while they continue to pay their taxes. Jesus could well have started a violent reaction over this Temple tax had he desired to do so. But rather than cause civil rioting and disorder, he humbly forfeited his right of exemption and paid the tax.

Our second passage from God's word in the New Testament concerning taxes is recorded by the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We shall quote here the passage as Matthew (former tax-collector) recorded it:

Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? But Jesus aware of their malice, said, Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax. And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said, Caesar's. Then he said to them, Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him, and went away (Matt. 22:15-22).

There are three Greek words used by Matthew in this passage which are of importance to the matter of taxation. The first is nomisma, translated, "money" and is from the Greek root nomos meaning "a custom, a law" — that is the current coin of a state, legal tender. The second word is kensou, translated "tax" and is the word from which we get the English word census — it denotes a poll tax or some form of "tribute." The third word is denarion translated, "coin" — it was the Roman denarius (one day's wages for the common laborer). Matthew's expert and precise description of the coinage being used gives impact to the seriousness of the confrontation. In addition, the "likeness and inscription" (Gr. eikon . . . epigraphe, literally, "icon or image, and drawing") on the denarius was that of Tiberius Caesar, ft read, TICAESARDIVI AUGFAUGUSTUS ("Tiberius, emperor, son of the divine Augustus, the illustrious"); and on the reverse side it read, PON-TIF MAXIMA ("High Priest"). It shows the emperor Tiberius on a throne with someone kneeling to him pouring out a drink offering in worship to him. Some rabbis said, "Whoever pays his taxes acknowledges the truth of this" (idolatry). Thus we have this dilemma: the tax money was (1) a law, (2) a tribute to a foreign conqueror, (3) propaganda for idolatry! What is a loyal and "righteous" Pharisee to do?

To make matters worse, this "tribute" was a poll-tax to be paid to the Roman imperial treasury which had been instituted during the last days of the hated Archelaus, son of Herod the Great. Josephus tells us that "Cyrenius" had been sent by Caesar Augustus about 6 A.D. to depose Archelaus and "to take an account of their (the Jews) substance" (that is, to take a census), and "to dispose of Archelaus's money" (i.e., the taxes Archelaus had collected for the Roman treasury) (see Josephus' Antiquities Book XVIII, 1:1; 2:1; Matt. 2:22).

More than one Jew who paid this tribute was unsure of the basis on which supporting a pagan government could be defended. Several factors contributed to this confusion:

  1. In the Mosaic legislation God had not spelled out His will for His people when they became subjects of foreign powers, so no Old Testament text could be cited. True, various prophets had addressed themselves to specific situations, but what should Israel do in Jesus' day? THAT was the issue. The whole debate revolved around the contradiction between ideal Israel (under God alone) and actual Israel (under Caesar too), or between what seemed to be prophesied for Israel and what Israel suffered under Rome at the time. Although Mosaic legislation had decreed that Israel must establish as king over them only men of Hebrew descent, the choice must be God's appointment (Deut. 17:14f). Since the close of the Old Testament no genuine prophet had arisen to indicate the Lord's choice and anoint His appointee (cf. I Mace. 14:41; 4:46).
  2. Before Christ's coming the Jewish people had been conquered various times by pagan peoples and had been forced to pay them tribute. Naturally, this subjugation bred its deeply-felt bitterness and fiercely proud resentment toward the occupying powers, be they Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek or Roman. As a result of these invariably heathen influences in the national life, there arose religious patriots at various intervals who fomented political revolution. They preached holy war against the pagans as God's will. Engaging in terrorist activities, they sowed terror in the land. Their war-cry was "No king but Jahve! No Law but the Torah!" (cv. Antiq. XVIII, 1,1,6; Wars, II, 8,1)

3. One of the great ironies of Jewish history especially in this context is that around 4 B.C. the Jews sent their best ambassadors to plead with Caesar to establish ROMAN government over them in decided preference to semi-Jewish Herodian rule! (Antiq. XVII, 11,1,2; and again in 6 A.D., Antiq. XVII, 13,1,2,5; XVIII, 1,1). And, if they had requested it, should they not also pay for it?

The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. IV, by Harold Fowler,
pub. College Press, pp. 200, 201

Jesus' answer to the question posed by the disciples of the Pharisees (who would be against tribute to Caesar) and to the "Herodians" (those who supported the dynasty of Herod, and therefore the rule of Rome, who would be for tribute to Caesar) is a master-stroke of logic and truth. It is in fact, a divine exposure of a sinful enigma. The inquisitors said, "Is it lawful to give taxes to Caesar or not?" Matthew (as do Mark and Luke) reports the question using the word dounai (Gr. from didomi, "give, yield, grant, offer"). They looked upon taxes as that which was "yielded" — a grudging gift. Jesus replied, "Pay unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's!" Matthew (as do Mark and Luke) reports Jesus' reply by using the Greek word apodote, "restore, pay, render what is due." Taxes to government is paid for services received (law and order). Taxes are dues (Rom. 13:7), they are not gifts. Every citizen should pay taxes because every citizen receives some service from the government. There are no free lunches!

The outstanding analysis of this passage by Harold Fowler is quoted here at length:

A. Man's Relationship to the State

1. Render unto Caesar. Jesus' attackers had asked, "Shall we give tribute unto Caesar (dounai kenson Kaisari)?" Although didomi, when used in contexts involving taxes, tribute, rent and the like, should be rendered "pay," its usual meaning is "give." (Cf. Arndt-Gingrich, 191ff). Nevertheless, because Jesus Himself does not use their term in His answer, but rather the intensified form, apodidomi, He implies a subtle verbal contrast between their word and His. Accordingly, their question means, "Is it right to GIVE taxes to Caesar?" and He retorts, PAY BACK Caesar and God what is their right." Your tribute is no voluntary gift as your question implies. You are paying back the Roman government money you legally and morally owe for every benefit and advantage that this regime provides its subjects.

2. The things that are Caesar's. What does this involve?

a. Both Jesus and Paul explain that what is Caesar's has been delegated to him by God in the first place. (Rom. 13:1; John 19:11; Study Ps.82:l,6 in connections with Exod. 21:6;22:8f., 28 and John 10:34f. Had the Jews forgotten Dan. 2:21, 37f.; 4:17, 24-32; 5:21,23?) The political irony of the historical situation in which the first century Hebrew nation found itself was the fact that God had not intervened to free them from Roman domination. It could be argued, therefore, that it was at least His permissive will that this domination continue to exist. Even king Agrippa argued similarly (Wars, II, 16,4).

Could any Jew seriously affirm that Rome's liberal policy toward the Jewish faith interfered with its free exercise? Had not Rome rectified the controversy over the images? (Ant. XVIII, 3,1; Wars, II, 10) Had not Rome recalled and banished Archelaus? (Ant. XVII, 13,1-5) Was not even Jewish religion solicitous of the Emperor's good health and government by virtue of the sacrifices offered on his behalf) (Wars, 11,10,4; 17:2) Did not even the Jewish authorities themselves distinctly admit that the acceptance and use of a sovereign's coin was tantamount to recognizing his sovereignty? (Edersheim, Life, 11,385, cites Babha K.113a and Jer. Sanh. 20b) This was not unlikely based on earlier practice (I Mace. 15:6). In fact, Jewish independence from Rome was celebrated by coins blatantly celebrating the first Jewish revolt (66-70 A.D.) Later, Bar-Cochba's revolt spawned a new series of Jewish shekels around 132-135 A.D. (Davis Dictionary of the Bible, 512) Jesus too had expressed the common understanding that taxes were leveled upon subject people (Matt. 17:25f.). For Jews, therefore, to pay Caesar’s head-tax meant that they there-by admitted his political lordship, an admission they later shouted to Pilate (John 19:15).

Insofar as the political government does not interfere with the activities and adoration of God and His people, there is no violation of religious liberty in the paying of revenue to the State to pay for goods and services on behalf of the taxed. Money must come from somewhere to pay for law and order, to build highways for ready access to the entire empire, to construct harbors and public buildings. God expects His people to help pay for the whole realm of governmental activity whereby the State benefits all its citizens by good laws, the protection of civil and religious rights and the general administration of justice. This is no gift to Caesar, but a legal and moral obligation. Can it be right to accept the advantages of orderly government and yet be unwilling to pay the cost of them?

b. Jesus' word is the State's charter that guaranteed its right to function- It also condemns every conniving attempt of tyrannous churchmen to usurp the State's authority. Duty to God recognizes the sphere of obedience to State law too (Rom. 13:1-10; I Tim. 2:1f.; I Peter 2:13-17).

c. But we must render ONLY the things that are Caesar's to him, nothing more. Jesus' second dictum demands this limitation. (Cf. the position taken by Daniel and his three friends: Dan. 1:3-16;; 3:16-18, 28; 6:1-27.)

B. Man's Relationship to God

  1. But the first is that we must be religious about paying our taxes! Obedience to God means to respond conscientiously and positively to His ministers who are attending to this very thing (Rom. 13:5-7). There is a direct chain of command running from God down to the common citizen, a chain which runs right through the hands of the governing authorities of the land. Recognition of this reality should take all the sting out of paying "all of them their due, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due." From this point of view, to render unto Caesar IS to render unto God what is God's! There is no necessary conflict of responsibility between God and the State.
  2. The crisis of conscience arises for the believer only when Caesar thinks that he is god and begins to require that we render unto Caesar the things that are God's. Despite Jehovah's Witnesses' protestations to the contrary, Christ has not established a theocracy wherein we must render unto God what is Caesar's. The Kingdom of God and the State are not essentially in competition.

At this juncture we must face the dilemma of Acts 4:19 and 5:29. The Lord does not suggest that no situations would ever arise where the choice would be the State over against God. In fact, many such occasions have arisen in Church history when wicked rulers have persecuted and slaughtered God's people for refusal to render to Caesar what belongs to God, their highest loyalty and worship. (Study Revelation 13.) Such times call for resolute refusal to submit to this pagan worship and the choice of death to compromise. God has already demonstrated His sovereign might against rulers who claimed His rights (Acts 12:10-23; Dan. 4,5; Isa. 36,37). And He will do so again (Rev. 16:6; 19:11-21; 20:7-15)!

  1. The doctrine of separation of Church and State is solidly rooted in Jesus' declaration. Our Lord did not demand unquestioning submission to all tyrants whatever their requirements, because this would render it absolutely impossible to render unto God the things that are God's. His latter demand places the freedom of conscience and the Church above every secular claim. But only bad, wrong-headed exegesis could ever justify the conclusion that our Lord left the respective spheres of influence of God and of Caesar as so separate that God's will cannot interfere with the Christian citizen's relationship and duty to the State. ("Religion and politics do not mix"!) Rather, the State could not exist or function without God's permission and it is responsible to Him for the exercise of its proper functions. The child of God must always act in harmony with God's will therefore, even when he serves as a citizen of the State. God is ABOVE the State, not sharing equal time with it!
  2. Jesus' sharp distinction between God and Caesar denounces all forms of Caesar — worship. Any godless political philosophy that would deify the State must reckon with Jesus' spiritual demand: and to God. Although His questioners could object that His reply evades what they considered the real issue, His word was clear and definite enough to uphold the principle of the State and civil government. His view of the abuses of the Roman state is more clearly and concretely expressed elsewhere. (See notes on 20:20-28). For Jesus, the ruthless exercise of raw power, or power for power's sake, is Satanic. In His eyes, all ambition to become great and to maintain power by arbitrary and oppressive rule is to be decisively rejected and steadfastly resisted by His disciples. Only humble, useful service is the path to true greatness and proper dominion. (See notes on Matt. 18.)

The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. IV, by Harold Fowler,
pub. College Press, pp.206-209

Our final New Testament passage dealing with taxes is:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:1-7).

In this passage the apostle uses the Greek words phoros and telos to designate, respectively, "taxes" and "revenues" (13:7) (see definitions earlier). He also uses two different Greek words, teleite and apodote both of which are translated, "pay" in 13:6 and 13:7. Teleite is present indicative active, meaning "keep on paying for government ends." Apodote is aorist imperative active, meaning "you are ordered to be making payment." Paying taxes is an apostolic command and it is a perpetual apostolic command! One more Greek word of interest in this text is opheilas, translated "dues" in 13:6. In I Corinthians 7:3 the same Greek words, apodidoto ("pay") and opheilen ("dues") are used concerning conjugal rights that are to be paid by one spouse to another. A wife has a God-given right to be paid conjugal dues by her husband, and vice versa. Civil government has a God-given right to demand that civil government reciprocate (i.e. pay) with its God-ordained ministry for citizens.

It could not be more unequivocal than when it is stated that citizens are obligated to pay taxes "to avoid the wrath of God, but also for the sake of conscience." The person who refuses to pay taxes or cheats on taxes will suffer the wrath of God. He has violated not only the revealed law of God, he has also violated the "natural law" of God written on every human conscience.

Consider some of the "ends" {telos, tribute) for which the Roman tax was used — both good and bad:


  1. equal justice (theoretically) for all Roman citizens
  2. maintenance of civil order through magistrates and soldiers
  3. highway system (approx. 47,000 miles of it) for travelers and merchants; other public services, aqueducts, reservoir, etc.
  4. passenger, freight, and express system including post-stations where riders, drivers, conductors, doctors, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and reserve rolling-stock were always available.
  5. education, schools, literature, arts
  6. firefighters, police
  7. banking and trade expansion and assistance


  1. war, conquest, imperialism, destruction and devastation
  2. incredible extravagance of the Roman authorities (from emperors to senators, to lesser procurators, magistrates, etc.) Tiberius supported a colony of 300 homosexual boys on the island of Capri for his indulgence; Nero married a homosexual in a public ceremony; others gambled away millions of dollars in one night; drunkenness, sexual immorality, assassination, waste was the rule rather than the exception.
  3. building of pagan temples and the support of anidolatrous priesthood (involving sexual perversion and demonology)
  4. building of huge, complex, expensive gladitorial arenas and payment for all expenses incurred for games at which thousands of animals and humans were slaughtered
  5. a welfare "dole" in massive proportions that resulted in a huge class of citizens with nothing to do but mischief
  6. foreign aid to keep in power "puppet" officials (like the Herods) who were brutal and corrupt
  7. supported an empire that arbitrarily and without compassion enslaved large portions of nations and cultures it defeated in war (there were more slaves in first century Rome than free citizens).

For more detailed information on the extravagance and barbarity of the Roman empire to which Paul commanded taxes be paid see, Twenty-Six Lessons on Revelation, Vol. I & II, by Butler, College Press; The Story of Civilization III, Caesar and Christ, by Will Durant, Simon & Schuster; Seutonius, The Twelve Caesars, translated by Robert Graves, Penguin Classic Books; The Greek and Roman World, by W.G. Hardy, Schenkaman Pub. Co.

In light of the "bad" some citizens (especially Christians) might think they would be justified in refusing to pay taxes to such a government. But here are two voices from the ancient past, testimonies of Christians who lived in that barbaric empire of Rome:

Everywhere, we, more readily than all men, endeavor to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by (Jesus) .... Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings, and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment.

Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-163), First Apology, Chapter xvii

Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest — whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish.

Tertullian (A.D. 160-230), Apology, chapter XXX

Any government, no matter how "bad" is better than no government at all. Government is instituted by God for the protection and preservation of basic inalienable human rights, life, liberty and property. And government must be paid for by taxes. The apostolic command is very simple: Pay your taxes! The apostle Paul warns all citizens (especially Christians) to avoid attitudes of rebellion and revolution toward civil government. Christians are obligated by their belief in Christ to avoid disorder, chaos and insurgency. They must be beacon-lights of order and peace in a world of lawlessness. In spite of hostile, persecuting, corrupt, decadent, and often unjust governments, Christians in every age are bound by their covenant of grace in the New Testament of Jesus Christ to submit to civil government and to sustain it by paying taxes.

Abuses of civil governments in the practice of taxation have caused as many violent revolutions and wars as any other matter. Rus Walton, in his book, One Nation Under God, has made the following suggestions for "tax reform" in the United States of America:

  1. Taxes should be used to raise revenues for legitimate government activities, period. Taxes should not be used for social control or social reform.
  2. When taxation is employed to finance the proper and necessary functions of government, it is a legitimate extension of civil authority. When taxation exceeds those limitations, it becomes a license to plunder; it violates God's laws (Thou shah not covet, thou shah not steal).

    There are those who see the instrument of taxation as a means to achieve their concept of "social justice" — of redistributing income and wealth . . . and forcing individual initiative and reward down to the lowest uncommon denominator. "One of the prime functions of government is continually to redistribute market incomes so that incomes are in accordance with our social or collective judgments as to what constitutes a just distribution of economic resources." (L.C. Thurow and R.E.B. Lucas, in The American Distribution of Income: A Structural Problem, Joint Economic Committee, March 17, 1972).

    Where? Where in the Constitution is this "function" of government set forth? Where does it say that "redistribution of wealth" is a power given by the people to the government — at any level? . . .

  3. Taxes should be apportioned so that each citizen pays a fair share of the cost of government — no more and no less.
  4. Every citizen should help pay the cost of government — no matter how small the levy or how minute the share ....

    Tax rates should be proportional, not progressive. If the cost of government is, for example, thirty percent of total personal income, then a flat rate of 30 percent should be applied to all incomes. At the same time all loopholes and exceptions should be eliminated ....

  5. The amount of taxes government collects each year should be clearly established in advance, with a cast-iron lid on that amount.
  6. The citizen has a right to know that government will not take more than a set amount of his wealth and that no open-ended budgets at any level can cause taxation to exceed that limit during the stated (annual) period ....

    Such a lid would force government to set a budget within the people's means — and stay within it ....

  7. Property taxes should be levied at the local level only.
  8. "When the power to tax (property) leaves the county, tyranny will then begin in the United States . . . .The people of a county will be helpless as their property is taxed to the point of expropriation by a distant state capital . . . ."

  9. Property taxes should be levied for "property-connected" services only (police, fire, sewer, special districts, etc.).
  10. Forcing property owners to pay taxes for general governmental functions (such as education, welfare, courts, etc.) is forcing them to pay twice — once through property taxation and again through taxes on income and/or purchases ....

  11. "People" taxes (income, sales, etc.) should be used to finance "people" services (general services such as education, public assistance, justice, etc.).
  12. Financing "people" services through "people" taxes would help to spread the tax burden so that it would be more equitable and easier for all citizens to bear.

    Those who receive a service should foot the bill; as widely as possible, government should base its income on a fee-for-services basis and operate on a cost-price-market system ....

  13. Only those who are to pay a tax should be permitted to vote on the imposition and amount of that tax.
  14. To some this will no doubt seem to be heretical. But, fair's fair! Why is it right that someone who will not pay the tax should have the license to vote on the amount of tax others will be forced to pay?

    (Even Karl Marx, "Mr. Communism" said,) "Is not private property as an idea abolished when the non-property owner becomes legislator for the owner? The property qualification for the vote is the ultimate political form of the recognition of private property" ....

  15. Taxes should always be visible: no more "hidden taxes" — and, no more pyramiding of taxes.
  16. The people have a right to know when, and how, and how much they pay out in taxes. Hidden taxes make for invisible government.

    Further, hiding taxes tends to encourage pyramiding of taxes — taxing the tax on a product. A gross example of this : slapping a sales tax on gasoline that already includes in its price per gallon both state and federal excise taxes. Thus, the consumer is compelled to pay a tax on a tax ....

  17. Government representatives (federal, state or local) who seek to spend the taxpayers' money should be required to levy the tax necessary to raise that money. With the power to tax should go the direct responsibility to answer to the taxpayers.
  18. The common practice of state and local officeholders basing their spending programs on "federal" money invites extravagances and irresponsibility. It is a shell game that permits government offices to escape accountability ....

  19. All tax agencies and agents should be required to abide by and uphold all Constitutional guarantees and protections (due process, restrictions on search and seizure, presumed innocence, etc.).

In a society of freemen, all individuals stand equal before the law and every man is entitled to his full day in court. No man is beneath the law, and no man — not even The President and certainly not tax agents — is above the law.

One Nation Under God, by Rus Walton,
pub. Third Century Publishers, June 1975, pp. 223-228.

All the above propositions are inherently biblical in principle because they advocate "fairness" and "justice" and lawfulness. Furthermore, these principles, because they are in harmony with the biblical doctrines of the dignity of all human beings and their inalienable rights to life, liberty and property, should be the ideal goal of all civil governments.

The Bible clearly teaches and exemplifies that all people are obligated to pay taxes in support of civil government. And that biblical obligation is not qualified by any biblically ideal form of government. In other words, citizens are to pay taxes even if their government does not follow "Christian" or "biblical" principles of taxation. Both the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul obligated believers to pay taxes to Jewish and Roman systems of civil government that misappropriated and misused tax revenues. Both systems left much to be desired in personal "liberties" considered to be fundamental and taken for granted by practically all Americans today.

The total cost of all government for the United States of America estimated in 1974 was 43 percent of the nation's total personal income and 35 percent of it gross national product. That is all government — federal, state and local. But that does not include inflation (a tax, just as certainly as other forms of taxation). Figured on the basis of per producer — per working men and women in the labor force, in 1974 it came to $5,290 per worker per year. Most U.S. citizens would not believe they pay those amounts of taxes per year — but they do not figure the "hidden taxes." Someone has estimated that there are 502 taxes of one sort or another on a pair of shoes; each one levied at a different stage of production and distribution and sale by a different governmental agency.

It is one of the hard cold facts of life that everything civil government spends comes from the taxpayer's pockets — either now, or later. The now we call taxation, the later we know as inflation. The more services demanded by citizens from its government, the more the taxpayer has to pay. There are no free lunches! History bears witness to the spectacle of a number of "great" governments and "states" instituting enormous "social welfare" programs and taxing themselves into oblivion — the Roman empire was one! Bible believers must conscientiously pay taxes for services rendered from their civil governments. And Bible believers are equally obligated to conscientiously exert all peaceful and legal means possible to bring their civil government to the practice of a Bible-based set of principles in the appropriation and use of taxes. The Bible has a great deal to say about civil government and taxes — more than many people realize.

Copyright © 1990, Paul T. Butler