The Ethics Of Taxation: A Biblical Precis -- By: David W. Jones

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 24:2 (Spring 2007)
Article: The Ethics Of Taxation: A Biblical Precis
Author: David W. Jones

The Ethics Of Taxation: A Biblical Precis

David W. Jones

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587

As the story goes, while having dinner with two friends the French philosopher Voltaire suggested that for entertainment purposes each man ought to tell a tale about thieves. After each guest had shared a short story, Voltaire began his tale by saying, “Gentlemen, there was once a tax collector. . . . Good Lord, I’ve forgotten the rest of the story.”1 While perhaps a fictional account, this narrative highlights a factual truth—that is, few people enjoy paying taxes. In fact, in the United States the payment of taxes is so generally disliked that the Internal Revenue Service estimates over 290 billion dollars in taxes went unpaid in 2005,2 making tax fraud “probably the most widespread crime in the United States.”3 Failure to pay taxes, however, is not a phenomenon that is limited to contemporary American culture. Indeed, a survey of history reveals that at nearly all times a portion of the general public, including many Christian citizens, have either refused or neglected to pay assessments levied by governing authorities. While rarely constituting a majority of the populace, from the inter-testamental sect of the Essenes,4 to some within the early Christian church,5 to a number of the Reformation-era Anabaptists,6 to the 1960s tax-resistance movement,7 throughout history it can be demonstrated that followers of God have occasionally and purposefully not paid their taxes.

That in the past some purportedly God-fearing people have questioned the legitimacy of paying taxes raises an important question for modern-day believers— that is, do Christians have a moral obligation to pay financial assessments imposed by governing authorities? The purpose of this brief study is to explore and to answer this question by examining the biblical record to see if Scripture contains any prima facie evidence that addresses the ethics of taxation.

The Old Testament And Taxation

The first record of governmental taxation in Scripture is at Gen. 41:36-49 where Joseph suggested to Pharaoh that he levy a 20 percent tax on all of Egypt during the anticipated seven years of plenty, a tax that Jos...

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