A Christian pays taxes out of obedience and gratitude to God. He views this as a way of serving others in seeking their welfare.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2012. 4 pages.

The Gist of GST: God's Service via Tax?


Hands up if you enjoy paying taxes? You don’t?! Well, you wouldn’t be alone. Taxation is about as desirable as tooth extraction for most of us, and rather less preventable. As Christians we might even be tempted to regard taxation as some­thing from which we, as aliens (1 Peter 2:11), should be exempt.

A certain Mr Rupe thought so: before a High Court judge he defended his failure to pay over $30,000 of taxes on the ground that his status as a Chris­tian exempted him from taxes imposed by Parliament. The judge was under­whelmed and noted that:

There is no juridical basis to refuse to pay taxes because one is a Chris­tian. The following passage from the Bible supports the interpreta­tion Jesus recognised that even his followers may have to account to a secular state: 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.'1

Well we can hardly argue with the judge; but we might still have questions about our taxes. In this article we will take a brief but practical look at what the Bible has to say about taxation. We’ll then look at what the Bible has to say to the taxpayer (that’s us!), and to those who levy our taxes.

Before continuing, I would suggest you spend a moment carefully thinking about what you understand by “taxa­tion”. What makes something a tax? Are city council rates a tax? What about speeding fines? Does tax always involve payment, or should your Working for Families credits or National Super pay­ments also be considered as part of the tax system?

Tax in the Bible🔗

While we can find no definition in the Bible, taxation appears frequently in its pages. In contrast to religious contribu­tions (such as tithes and freewill offerings) which were paid to the priests and Levites as the religious leaders of Israel, taxes were levied by those entrusted with secular leadership. Yet both tithes and taxes were paid to God’s ministers, to those persons appointed by God to serve him in matters redemptive (1 Cor. 9) or secular (Rom. 13).

Scripture attests to a variety of taxes. Old Testament taxes on persons were sometimes paid in kind (e.g. Gen. 47) or money (2 Chron. 17:5), at other times by forced labour (1 Kings 5:13). We also find mention of taxes on goods (Ezra 4:13), and taxes on wealth (2 Kings 23:35).

The New Testament also mentions a range of taxes – the gospels mention taxes paid to the Roman oppressor (Luke 20:22), while Paul speaks of taxes levied on persons and property, and customs levied on merchandise (Rom. 13:7). There is nothing new under the sun, even in respect of taxation! Nor have attitudes toward the taxman changed much: While we would not murder the tax-collector (1 Kings 12:18), he or she might still not be a popular addition to our list of dinner guests (Matt. 18:17).

Rates of taxation also varied greatly, depending on both the need of the hour or the rapaciousness of the ruler. Good King Solomon did not hesitate to extract 100 percent of the labour output (income!) of some of his subjects (1 Kings 5:13), leaving his son to deal with the subsequent (indeed consequent) tax revolt (1 Kings 12).

Tax revenue was used in a variety of ways. Contrary to God’s command (Deut. 17), kings enriched themselves, as Solo­mon’s construction of a palace evinces (1 Kings 7; see also 2 Chron. 17:5). Rulers also engaged in public works (1 Kings 16:24), intervened in the economy to avert crises (Gen. 47), raised armies, and bought off enemies.

While the political, social and tech­nological context may change, the essential features of tax remain the same. Like most Biblical taxes, I suspect your definition of taxation would include most of the following features:

Taxation is any non-penal yet com­pulsory transfer of resources from the private to the public sector, levied without receipt of a special benefit of equal value and on the basis of predetermined criteria, enforced to accomplish some of a nation’s economic and social objectives.2

This definition highlights the compul­sory nature of taxation and the lack of any guaranteed benefit in return (that is, taxation is not contractual). It also states the purpose of taxation: to finance public activity in its various forms. Without taxation, government is almost impossi­ble, and government is vital to our life on earth. Calvin aptly comments that government’s function among men is “no less than that of bread, water, sun and air.”3

The Christian Taxpayer🔗

As citizens of a heavenly kingdom, how should we think about a matter as earthly as taxation? The biblical teaching to the Christian is quite simple: pay up! To those who wished to confound matters Christ responded: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”; and the apostles were no less direct (Rom. 7; 1 Pet. 2). If God as ruler of all is owed everything we own, those who exercise secular rule on earth have delegated authority from God not only to rule, but to levy their subjects such resources as are necessary for them to exercise rule on earth. Our payment of taxes, then, is a religious duty, and part of the rule by which we express our gratitude to God.

Our duty to pay taxes does not arise from consent on our part. While taxa­tion with representation may be prefer­able to the alternative (and is enshrined in New Zealand’s Constitution),4 Dabney comments that this duty of paying taxes does not arise from consent, but rather from divine command.5 Calvin aptly sum­marises the heart of Christ’s teaching on tax:

For Christ intended to refute the error of those who did not think that they would be the people of God unless they were free from every yoke of human authority. 6

Failure to pay taxes, then, is akin to rebellion and reflects an unbibli­cal view of both the nature of taxes and the divine appointment of government. As Matthew Henry put it, “It is doubt­less a greater sin to cheat a government than to cheat a private person.”7 Calvin sums up, “The amount of it is, that those who destroy political order are rebel­lious against God.”8 While we certainly must obey God rather than a human ruler when the ruler’s commands inter­fere with God’s, tax avoidance is likely to involve a failure to render to both Caesar and to God.

At this point you may be wondering about whether it is right to pay taxes when you disagree with how those taxes are used. Haldane helpfully addresses this scruple by applying Paul’s teaching that since taxation is a debt owed, our obligation is to pay the debt and not to be concerned as to how the lender uses this repayment. Indeed, if we had to scrutinise every use of our taxes before deciding whether to pay, “it would ac­tually be impossible for a Christian to live in a heathen country.”9

You may also be thinking that this was all very well when taxes were low, but our taxes are now so high. In this we may be mistaken. Israelite kings cer­tainly knew how to tax and to spend the money on themselves rather than on the people. In Jesus’ day the total taxation of the Jewish people may have approached the intolerable portion of between 30 and 40 percent, and may have been higher still.10 It would have been little different in Paul’s day, and Roman imperial government did not ask itself, “WWJD?” Conversely, we frequent­ly overestimate our own tax burdens.11

Tax Policy🔗

While there is frequent mention of tax­ation in Scripture, there is little discus­sion of tax policy. Rather we note a range of tax types and rates. Certain­ly rulers are to exercise just rule, and not to fleece their subjects (Deut. 17: 14-17). However, there is little specific guidance from Scripture as to how and how much to tax.

Since taxation relates to secular rather than redemptive matters, this lack of focus is not surprising. Edersheim neatly summarises this distinction in discussing Christ’s statement concerning rendering to Caesar:

Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world; a true Theocracy is not in­consistent with submission to the secular power in things that are really its own; politics and religion neither include, nor yet exclude, each other: they are, side by side, in different domains.12

This is also consistent with our con­fession that the political laws of the Old Testament no longer apply beyond the general equity of such laws.13 In the context of taxation, “equity” is an apt term. The Oxford English Dictionary defines equity as referring to the general principles of justice, matters which by God’s common grace humans hold in common.

In a narrower sense, equity also refers to the quality of being equal and fair. What might this mean in the context of taxation? Adam Smith’s four maxims of taxation, first published over two centu­ries ago, provide some guidance: fairness (for example levying taxes on the basis of taxpayers’ ability to pay), certainty, con­venience, and economy.14 As a cultural rather than a redemptive activity, good taxation policy is likely to look similar to believers as to unbelievers, and dis­cussions as to what taxation should look like are likely to be similar irrespective of one’s creed.15

Some find in 1 Samuel 8 an “abso­lute, outside limit” rate of ten percent for taxation.16 Without clarifying what “ten percent” might actually mean, this view plucks a passage out of context: the effect on tax policy of differences between an ancient war lord in a rural economy, and the operations of a rep­resentative government in a technologi­cally advanced representative democracy, surely need to be teased out. Further, the argument would suggest that Joseph was not only sorely deluded, but even wicked, in believing that God meant his taxation and related measures for good (Gen. 50:20). In comparing the level of taxation with the tithe, the argument also proves too much: If God only takes ten percent, and God’s ministers may take no more, how can we as subjects justify retaining the balance?

While Scripture clearly teaches the le­gitimacy of taxation and our obligation as believers to pay our taxes, it provides little detail as to taxation policy. Just as the tithe provided God’s people with a reminder of their dependence on him, so our taxes should give us cause to pause and consider the wisdom of God in not leaving us in the position where each man does what is right in his own eyes. Lawful petition against unjust taxa­tion is certainly permissible; but let us beware that our motivation is a desire for God’s glory and the welfare of our neighbour, and not merely self-interest.


So, do you enjoy paying your taxes? Let me suggest that this is the wrong question. As a believer your motivation in paying your taxes should not be your pleasure, but rather obedience and gratitude to God, and a seeking after the welfare of your fellows in this tem­porary home. Peter aptly summed this up, telling us to keep our behaviour ex­cellent among the Gentiles, in part by submitting ourselves to every human institution – which includes paying our taxes – and thereby honouring God. To paraphrase George Herbert:

Teach Me, My God and King
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee...

All may of thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture “For thy sake,”
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who pays his tax, as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.17


  1. ^ Rupe v Commissioner of Inland Revenue, (2004), 21 NZTC 18,519 (HC).
  2. ^ Madeo, S. A., Anderson, K. E., and Jackson, B. R., (1995), Sommerfeld’s Concepts of Taxation, (Hinsdale, IL: Dryden Press).
  3. ^ Calvin, J., (1960 [1559]), Institutes of the Chris­tian Religion (tr. F. L. Battles), (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster), bk. 4, ch. 20:3.
  4. ^ Section 22, Constitution Act 1986.
  5. ^ Dabney, R. L., (1967 [1892]), “Civic Ethics”, in Discussions of Robert Dabney, Vol. 3, (Edin­burgh: Banner of Truth), p. 126.
  6. ^ Calvin, J., (1989 [1563]), Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (tr. W. Pringle), Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House), Vol. 3, p. 44.
  7. ^ Henry, M., (1960 [1710]), Commentary on the Whole Bible in One Volume (ed. L. F. Church), (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), p. 1316 (com­menting on Matt. 22:31).
  8. ^ See n. 6, p. 45.
  9. ^ Haldane, R., (1960), Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, (London: Banner of Truth Trust), p. 587 (commenting on Rom. 13:7).
  10. ^ Bruce, F. F., (1972), New Testament History, (New York: Anchor Books), p. 40.
  11. ^ For example, the Working for Families credits more than offset the income tax paid by a sole income earner on a $70,000 income with four children. Of course, other taxes (erg GST) may still be payable.
  12. ^ Edersheim, A., (1971 [1886]), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), Vol. 2, p. 386.
  13. ^ Westminster Confession of Faith, art. 19:4; Belgic Confession, art. 36.
  14. ^ Smith, A., (1999 [1776]), The Wealth of Nations, (London: Penguin), bk. 4, pt. ii:1.
  15. ^ See further, VanDrunen, D., (2010), Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, (Wheaton, IL: Cross-way), chapter 7.
  16. ^ Chilton, D., (1982), Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulation, (Tyler, TX: Institute for Biblical Economics), p. 70f.
  17. ^ Herbert, G., (1967 [1633]), “The Elixir”, in A Choice of George Herbert’s Verse, (London: Faber and Faber), p88 (words in italics amended).

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