This is a continuation of our series on giving. At first we asked the question: “What Does the Old Testament Teach About Tithing?” What we found is that the various tithes required of the Israelites served as taxes to fund the government and the national religious festivals. Then we asked, “What Does the New Testament Teach About Tithing?”. Again we saw that the tithe still served as a tax, and that Christians are never commanded to pay tithes. Since we now understand that tithes and taxes are synonymous, and since the New Testament is speaks very little regarding tithes; we must look at God’s teaching in the New Testament on taxes.
Please be sure to read the two previous articles in this series before moving forward.
Since the New Testament doesn’t speak much about tithes, are Christians still obligated to pay taxes?
There are two passages of scripture which sum up Jesus’ teaching on paying taxes. The first is Matthew 17:24-27:
When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in 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 you and Me.”
First we see that Jesus shows Peter that since He is the Son of God, he was exempt from paying the tax (since even earthly kings do not require taxes from their children). However, he then makes it clear that the tax should be paid in order to avoid offending those in authority.
The second is found in Matthew 22:15-22:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
To fully understand this question, let’s turn to a quote from John MacArthur:
At issue was an annual fee of one denarius per person. Such taxes were part of the heavy taxation Rome assessed. Since these funds were used to finance the occupying armies, all Roman taxes were hated by the people. But the poll tax was the most hated of all because it suggested that Rome owned even the people, while they viewed themselves and their nation as possessions of God. It was therefore significant that they questioned Christ about the poll tax in particular. If he answered no to their question, the Herodians would charge Him with treason against Rome. If He said yes, the Pharisees would accuse him of disloyalty to the Jewish nation, and He would lose the support of the crowds.
[The denarius was] a silver coin, the value of a day’s wage for a Roman soldier. The coins were minted under the emperor’s authority since only he could issue gold or silver coins. The “denarius” of Jesus’ day was minted by Tiberius. One side bore an image of his face; the other featured an engraving of him sitting on his throne in priestly robes. The Jews considered such images idolatry, forbidden by the second commandment (Ex 20:4), which made this tax and these coins doubly offensive. (The MacArthur Study Bible, pg 1402 – notes on Matthew 22:17 & 19)
So now that we have a clear picture of the historical background, we can take a closer look at Jesus’ answer. Even in the face of the oppression and hostility of Rome against Israel, Jesus still commands all to pay taxes to the government. Even when the tax is seen as cruel and unfair, or the government is hostile to the people of God, we are required by God to be obedient to the government and pay our required taxes.
Let’s take a brief look at two more passages of scripture in order to look deeper at God’s will for us regarding taxes:
1 Peter 2:13-14 tells us to, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”
In Romans 13:1-7 we find these words:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
The first thing to note is that both 1 Peter and Romans were written to believers – these are direct commands for Christians! So what we can see from these two passages, is that we are to submit ourselves to the “governing authorities”. This is because God has ordained human government for the “punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right”. This has many implications, such as the Christian’s view on capital punishment, protests, deliberate rebellion, and even paying taxes (for our discussion, we’ll stick with the latter). Romans 13:6 explicitly tells us, “For because of this [being under subjection to government] you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” Our obligation to pay taxes stems from our obedience to God, and not from our fondness of the ruling authorities.
***God’s word is clear regarding government and the citizens obligation to financially support it. As we have seen, in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to pay taxes (called tithes) to support their government. In the New Testament, God commands His people to pay taxes to all ruling authorities regardless of the government’s devotion to God. In both cases, God still desired voluntary, cheerful, sacrificial giving from His people on top of their obligation to pay taxes.***
Ultimately, if we desire to be faithful to God in our giving we need to understand what He really commands from us. Over the next few days we will look at these topics in more detail:
- What about the instances of tithing that pre-date the Law of Moses?
- A closer look at the situation in Malachi’s day!
- What does the bible teach about voluntary, heartfelt giving?
Hopefully, at the end of this series we will all have a better understanding on what the bible really teaches about giving for all Christians.
Do you have any questions on tithing, taxes or giving that you would like to be addressed in this series? Do you have any questions on anything in this article? Feel free to leave a comment below.