Render to All What Is Due Them: What Every Christian Needs to Know about Honoring Civil Authority and Paying Taxes, Part 2

David G. Hagopian

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 4, no. 4 (October 1995). Part 1 is also available.

In the last issue of Ordained Servant (Vol. 4, No. 3, July, 1995), we had an opportunity to examine what Scripture teaches about our general duty to obey civil government. In particular, we saw that all authority comes from God who vests civil rulers with legitimate, albeit derivative, authority here on earth. We also saw that God commands us generally to obey civil authorities—even when they are evil or may permit evil in our midst. According to Scripture, Christians must disobey civil authorities only (1) when they are commanded to sin (either by being commanded to do what God forbids or by being forbidden to do what God commands) and (2) when that command to sin leaves them with no legal means by which they can obey God. Generally, obedience to God will require us to obey man. Sometimes, however, obedience to God will require us to disobey man. In those situations, we must “obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).

With the general principles regarding our obligation to obey civil authorities firmly in place, we can now focus on one particular aspect of that general obedience: the obligation to pay our taxes. This article, then, picks up where the previous article left off. Whereas the previous article focused on our responsibility to render honor to Caesar, this article focuses on rendering our taxes to him. Toward that end, this article will explain the relevant biblical standard regarding our obligation to pay taxes, and thereafter, apply that standard to some of the issues facing modern taxpayers by examining some of the common arguments against paying taxes to see just where they fall short of the relevant biblical standard.

Explaining the Relevant Biblical Standard

As the supreme standard for everything we believe and do, Scripture speaks to every area of life, whether explicitly or implicitly. Even assuming for the moment that Scripture has nothing explicit to say about our obligation to pay taxes, Scripture has quite a bit to say about our general obligation to obey the state—so much, in fact, that our obligation to pay taxes can be deduced by good and necessary consequence therefrom. Provided the state imposes a particular tax on its citizens by force of law, those citizens would be obligated to obey the state by paying that tax. Put differently, paying taxes is simply one form of obedience Christians generally owe the state. And that general duty to pay taxes persists until the tax resister satisfactorily proves that the particular tax in question would force him to sin without leaving him a legal means by which to obey God.

Romans 13:6-8

Even though the duty to pay taxes follows from the general duty to obey the state taught in Scripture, Scripture also has quite a bit to say about paying taxes in particular. Interestingly, Paul himself fuses the general duty to obey governing authorities with the duty to render taxes to them. After exhorting the believers in Rome to obey “the governing authorities” because they are established by God, he moves fluidly to the duty incumbent upon them to pay their taxes:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who 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 upon the one who practices evil. Wherefore 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. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another... (Rom. 13:1-8a).

In this passage Paul makes several points about our duty to pay taxes. First, he gives us numerous reasons why we ought to obey the state by paying our taxes: (1) the governing authorities have been ordained by God (v. 1); (2) those who resist the governing authorities resist God and consequently, will incur spiritual and temporal judgment (v. 2-4); (3) those who obey governing authorities generally provide a sound Christian testimony (v. 3; cf. 1 Pet. 2:15); (4) God has commanded us to obey and to pay taxes (vv. 1, 7) and, by His grace, convicts us in our consciences that it is the right thing to do (v. 5-6); (5) God has not only ordained the end of civil government, He has also ordained the payment of taxes as one of the means of accomplishing that end (v. 6); and (6) the command to render what is due literally means that we are to return it—to give it back to the governing authorities who are rightfully entitled to it, such that our tax payment, properly understood, is a due or debt owed (vv. 7-8).

Second, we are to pay whatever is due to whomever it is due, including, but not limited to, customs and tributes. Paul mentions two different types of taxes—phoros (“tribute,” a land and capitation tax) and telos (“custom,” imposts or duties levied on merchandise)—not as an exhaustive list, but as a representative list, of the types of taxes subjects are to render to their civil rulers. “(B)y custom and tribute,” writes John Calvin, Paul does “not simply mean customs duties and imposts, but other revenues also.” (Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians, at Rom. 13:7). Thus, our obligation to render what is due is not just limited to the types of taxes explicitly mentioned in this passage.

Third, the obligation to pay taxes, like the obligation to obey, is not limited to a particular form of government; we must obey, and render taxes to, the de facto government, no matter what form it may take. It just so happens that the “governing authorities” Paul and his readers had in mind when he wrote Romans was the cruel, barbaric, and oppressive Roman Empire. This fact has tremendous implications for us today. If obedience and taxes were to be rendered to the cruel, barbaric, and oppressive Roman Empire, then all the more are they to be rendered today. While our government is far from perfect, on the whole, it is far less cruel, barbaric, and oppressive than was Imperial Rome.

Matthew 22:15-22

As we have seen, Paul traces out the inescapable connection between obeying civil rulers in general and paying taxes to them in particular. But Paul was simply echoing the words of our Lord, who taught the same truth. In Matthew 22:15-22 and its parallel passages in the other synoptic gospels (Mk. 12:13-17; Lk. 20:20-26), we read about the Pharisees and the Herodians approaching Christ and asking Him whether it is lawful to pay the poll tax to Caesar:

“Then the Pharisees went and counseled 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 therefore, 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 marveled, and leaving Him, they went away.”

The poll tax mentioned in this passage was levied by the Romans against the Jews beginning in A.D. 6 when Judea became a Roman province. When imposed for the first time, it provoked the rebellion of Judas the Galilean recorded in Acts 5:37 and discussed in more detail below. The Herodians favored the tax, but the Zealots, Pharisees, and people resented it. The Pharisees and the Herodians, though common adversaries in New Testament times on the very issue of rendering obedience and taxes to the Roman Empire, found themselves in common alliance in this instance to trap Christ in His words, trying to impale him on the horns of a serious dilemma. Should the authority of Caesar be recognized and the poll tax be paid to him? If Christ were to have affirmed payment of the poll tax to Caesar, he would no doubt have pleased the Herodians but would have made Himself an even greater enemy of the Pharisees and an enemy of the people who shared popular resentment to the poll tax as an unlawful imposition by a heathen government. If, by contrast, Christ were to have denied that the poll tax be paid, he would have made Himself out to be an enemy of the state and possibly, subject Himself to the charge of sedition.

Knowing the common understanding that “he is king of the country whose coin is current in the country,” Christ simply asked His inquirers to produce the coin used to pay the poll tax. With that simple request, He had already answered the question put to Him. The exact coin produced cannot be known for sure, but it most certainly bore the image either of Augustus or of Tiberius. In all likelihood, it was the coin then in use bearing on one side the bust of Tiberius adorned with a laurel wreath as a sign of divinity along with an inscription reading, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus Son of the Divine Augustus,” and bearing on the other side, an image of Tiberius seated on the throne with an inscription reading, “High Priest.”

By producing the coin, Christ’s inquirers tacitly admitted that they already recognized Caesar’s authority over them since coins were symbols of the power of a ruler over the people that used them. While Christ taught that Caesar possessed civil authority, He also taught that Caesar had no religious authority. Highlighting this distinction, Christ responded that his inquirers should render to Caesar that which is consistent with his civil authority, but Jesus also limited that civil authority by reminding his inquirers that God alone possesses ultimate authority. We are to render obedience and taxes to Caesar since they are his due, but we are to render everything to God. And we ought to render religious worship to God alone. Christ thus answered affirmatively the question put to Him by stressing that Caesar is to receive his due. But by limiting divine honor to God alone, and by pointing out that God is the source of all authority, He also distinguished between civil and religious authority. Far from setting the kingdom of God against the kingdom of Caesar, Christ responded that we are to give each their due—that we are under obligation to each but under ultimate obligation to God alone.

Matthew 17:24-27

The exchange between Christ, the Herodians, and the Pharisees in Matthew 22 was not the only time Christ and His followers were challenged on the issue of taxation. In Matthew 17:24-27, we read the following challenge regarding payment of the temple tax:

“And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, ‘Does our 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?’ And upon his saying, ‘From strangers,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Consequently the sons are exempt. But lest we give them offense, 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 stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.’”

This passage, found only in Matthew the tax-collector’s gospel, cannot be understood apart from its historical context. Every male Jew, twenty years old or older, paid this annual tax for the upkeep of the Temple (Ex. 30:11-16; Neh. 10:32-33). It was imposed by the Law with the express purpose that by paying the tax, God’s people would confess Him as their only Redeemer and Sovereign. Ironically, it was “Asiatic monarchs” who “appropriated the tax and then the Romans followed their example. In this way the Jews were, so to say, alienated from God’s rule and paid the sacred tax enjoined in the Law to heathen tyrants” (John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, 2:37).

What is important to note for our purposes is the fact that Christ and Peter could have claimed an exemption from this tax on a number of grounds. Christ, for example, was the Temple, the very fulfillment of its types and shadows (Jn. 2:19-21; Rev. 21:22). Additionally, the temple was the very house of God. Since Christ was the son of God and Peter was a son of God through Him, Christ’s own illustration reveals that they were exempt from the tax since kings do not collect taxes from their sons. Christ and Peter were also fully employed in God’s service and as such, could have claimed biblical precedent for being exempt from the tax (Ez. 4:13, 20; 7:24). Though they were exempt from the tax, Christ instructs Peter to pay it, since the refusal to do so would have brought them into unnecessary conflict with the governing authorities. The main lesson this passage teaches us, then, is that although Christ and Peter were exempt from the temple tax, they paid it anyway to avoid further conflict.

Examining Some Common Arguments Against Paying Taxes

By carefully addressing the primary passages from which our general obligation to pay taxes is derived, we have already answered, albeit indirectly, many of the common arguments advanced in favor of tax resistance. However, for the sake of clarity we will conclude our discussion by examining some of these common arguments one at a time.

“Taxes are Inherently Evil”

At the far extreme some argue that because civil government is inherently evil, so are taxes exacted by the government, and because taxes are inherently evil, they need not be paid. This argument is mistaken for two reasons. First, its fundamental premise is misguided. Admittedly, the institution of the state postdated the Fall. But that fact does not mean that the state is an inherently evil institution. As we already pointed out, the institutional church postdated the Fall too, but that fact alone does not make it an inherently evil institution. Far from being an inherently evil institution, we have already seen in the previous article that the state was established by God, is vested with legitimate albeit derivative authority by God, and is generally to be obeyed. Paul could hardly have described pagan civil rulers as God’s “ministers” and “servants” if the office they occupied was inherently sinful. The state, then, is not inherently evil. Second, we have also seen that we are to pay our taxes for a whole host of reasons, not the least significant of which is that we are commanded to do so. If, as this argument maintains, the payment of taxes is inherently sinful, then the proponent of this argument is at a complete loss to explain why God commands us to do that which is inherently sinful. This argument cannot be saved by suggesting that while payment of taxes may not be inherently sinful, taxes are nonetheless inherently tyrannical. John Murray, in his commentary on the book of Romans, dispenses with this line of reasoning with one fell swoop:

“If the magistrate is to perform the ministry which is given him of God, he must have the material means for the discharge of his labors. Hence the payment of tribute is not a tyrannical imposition but the necessary and proper participation on the part of subjects in the support of government” (The Epistle to the Romans, the New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 154). Thus, the payment of taxes is neither inherently sinful nor inherently tyrannical.

“Taxes are Oppressive”

Not all Christians are brazen enough to argue that taxes ought not to be paid because they are inherently evil. Some take a different tack by arguing that because taxes are oppressive, they need not be paid. And there is a certain ring of truth to this argument. After all, “Tax Freedom Day” now arrives sometime in June, which means that the average American works nearly half a year to pay one form of taxation or another (state and federal income tax, customs, tariffs, property tax, special assessments, sales tax, gasoline tax, etc.) So oppressive is federal taxation policy alone that it actually classifies the portion of money the taxpayer is allowed to keep as an “implicit grant.” In other words, the money that isn’t taxed is treated by the federal government as a grant to the taxpayer, which is simply another way of saying that everything we have belongs to the state (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, p. 187). Clearly, we live in an age of oppressive taxation.

But does the conclusion that we ought not to pay our taxes follow from the premise that taxes are unduly oppressive? Does oppressive taxation justify tax resistance? Not when we consider the important historical context of the passages discussed above. The taxes imposed on the inhabitants of Judea and Rome at the time the New Testament was written were every bit as, if not more, oppressive than the taxes we pay today. When Judea became a Roman province in A.D. 6, its inhabitants became liable to pay tribute (taxes) to the emperor at the same time that they were also obliged to maintain the Temple. Thus, they paid two sets of dues, each with a complete disregard of the other (religious dues and civil dues). The religious dues (two tithes) were abused by the high priestly class which used the revenues to amass great personal wealth. The civil dues were an unwelcome impost. In addition to the temple tax and the poll tax, a tribute or land tax was also required as well as import and export duties. The inhabitants of Jerusalem also paid a “house duty” (Josephus, Antiquities, 19.6, 3). The heavy taxation imposed on the inhabitants of Judea discouraged economic initiative. At least one scholar has surmised that the approximate amount of taxation at the time of Christ may have been as high as 40% or more. To add insult to injury, this onerous taxation was administered by extortionate publicans. As one author has written,

“Among the Jews, tax collectors (publicans) became special objects of class hatred. Other Jews despised these tax collectors, or more accurately, toll collectors, because of their unnecessary contact with Gentile superiors. The Romans auctioned the job of collecting tolls to the lowest bidder, that is, to the one who bid the lowest rate of commission for a five-year contract. The toll collector would gather not only the toll and his commission but also whatever he could pocket illegally. For this reason, as well as for his collaboration with foreign overlords, he was generally hated. Bribery of toll collectors by the rich increased the burden of the poor” (Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, p. 27).

Thus, in New Testament times, tax collectors almost always deceived and fleeced the taxpaying public; with few exceptions, they were extortioners. This is why they were hated and classified with the worst of sinners (e.g., Matt. 9:18; 18:17; Lk. 18:11). The oppressive taxes and tax collection methods brought the province of Judea to the brink of economic collapse (F. F. Bruce, New Testament History, p. 39-40). Yet even so, New Testament believers were commanded to pay their taxes.

In addition, recall that when Israel rejected God and demanded a king like the nations around them, God specifically warned them, through Samuel, of the kinds of things a king would exact from them (1 Sam. 8:1-22). Among other things, Samuel told them that the king would draft their sons to serve in his armies (8:11), require them to render forced labor (8:12-13, 16, 17), take fields, vineyards and groves (8:14), and exact a tenth of their seed, vineyards, and flocks (8:15, 17). Notice that the tax burden God foretold through Samuel was extremely oppressive, involving outright taking of property, and a tenth of their seed, vineyards, and flocks in addition to their sons and daughters and their own forced labor. This system of oppressive taxation was specifically imposed by God as a judgment on His people for rejecting Him. Notwithstanding the oppressive nature of the exaction’s, Israel was expected to render to the king whatever he demanded of them (see also 1 Kg. 12:4; Ez. 4:13, 20; Neh. 5:14-15; Neh. 5:4, 9:37.) By longing for the state like Israel, we too have brought on ourselves much of the oppression of which we now complain. Like it or not, the present system is oppressive, but that does not mitigate our duty to pay what we owe.

Finally, the annals of history, together with Scripture, teach us the sorry state of those who resist what they consider to be oppressive taxation. When Judea became a Roman province in A.D. 6, the legate of Syria—Quirinius—took a census to determine the new procurement that should be paid to the imperial treasury. This is the same census God used in His providence to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem (Lk. 2:1-5). This is also the same census that provoked Judas of Galilee to rise up and revolt against the tax associated with the census. For his revolt, Judas of Galilee lost his life and all of his followers were scattered (Acts 5:37). This historical fact was marshaled by Gamaliel who advocated taking a wait-and-see approach with the burgeoning Christian movement: “for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrown them” (Acts 5:38b-39a). Gamaliel’s logic is hard to miss: because the tax revolt led by Judas of Galilee was of man, it was overthrown. Tax resistance, even in the face of oppressive taxation, is not of God. It is of man. And it often ushers in devastating consequences.

“Taxes Raise Revenues for Wicked Causes”

Somewhat more sophisticated than the previous arguments against paying taxes is the argument that because taxes raise revenue which is used for wicked causes, the believer cannot, in good conscience, pay them. Once again, a knowledge of the historical context in which the New Testament was written refutes this argument. The taxes paid to the imperial treasury were not always used for laudable purposes. As just one illustration, the imperial tax “provided for the daily sacrifice for the welfare of the Roman emperor” and was thus used to maintain the empire as a religious entity (Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, p, 131). Other such examples abound. Notwithstanding this fact, Paul does not vest his Roman readers with any discretion as though they could determine for themselves which taxes they wanted to pay based on how the revenues were going to be used once they were collected. He simply commanded them to pay the taxes as debts owed to the emperor (Rom. 13:6-7).

Not long ago, the World Peace Tax Fund was seen by many Christians as an alternative to paying or resisting taxes for what some Christians perceived to be wicked causes. As envisioned by its supporters, many of whom were of pacifist or non-proliferationist bent, tax payments would be made into the fund, out of which only nonmilitary expenditures could be appropriated. According to one author, “(t)his approach enables Christians to fulfill their civil responsibility without supporting the misplaced trust of our government on military weaponry and nuclear arms (see Ps. 20:7; 44:6-7)” (Jon Anderson, “Biblical Principles Applied to Federal, State, and Local Taxation Policy,” in Richard C. Chewning, ed. Biblical Principles and Public Policy: The Practice, p. 132). Aside from the questionable political assumptions undergirding the fund, this halfway house fails to stand up to biblical scrutiny. First, it is a blatant attempt to handcuff the government with a subjective notion of how public money should be spent by those whose only obligation is to pay it. Second, this approach will result in sheer chaos, with each citizen attempting to dictate to the government how each penny he contributes is to be allocated. Third, as pointed out directly above, this approach ignores the historical fact that many of the taxes imposed on New Testament Christians were used for vile purposes, yet they were commanded to pay them anyway (e.g., Rom. 13:6-7).

Another attempt to steer clear of supporting wicked causes or resisting payment of taxes is to withhold a pro rata portion of the tax that will be allocated to the wicked cause. This approach fails for the reasons set forth directly above. But it also fails because it can be reduced to absurdity rather easily. Suppose your annual tax liability is $10,000 and that 20% of that sum is spent on causes you deem to be wicked. Suppose still further that, following the logic of this pro rata argument, you withhold 20% of your tax payment and pay only $8,000.00. What then? If 20% of general revenues is allocated to wicked causes, you would not have solved the problem since 20% of the $8,000.00 will still be allocated for the same questionable causes. And rest assured that once the government succeeds in collecting the other $2,000.00 (plus interest and penalties) you will probably end up contributing as much, if not more, to the wicked causes than you would have had you simply paid the full $10,000.00 in the first instance.

This argument and the approaches it spawns over-look a crucial fact regarding the nature of the taxes we are to render: they are debts we owe to the state. Paul himself uses the word “due” as an umbrella term under which he lists certain types of taxes (customs and tributes). Customs and tributes are dues—things that are due or owed to the state. He also tells us to render them—give them back to—the state. And immediately after commanding us to render to all what is due them (what they are owed), Paul commands us to “(o)we nothing to anyone...” (Rom. 13:8a). For Paul, a tax was a debt to the state. In his commentary on Romans, Robert Haldane argues that “a tax is a debt in the true sense of the word...[and] stand, by the law of God, on the same footing as private debts, which every man is therefore under an equal obligation to discharge” (An Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, p. 586). Haldane continues by noting that we ought to thank God that He has freed us from having to decide whether to render taxes, no matter how those taxes might be used once they have been rendered:

“Christians have much reason to be thankful that they are thus, by the authority of God, freed from all responsibility respecting the application of every tax, and that this responsibility rests entirely with the government. Were it otherwise, they would be in constant perplexity on the subject, and almost in every case unable to determine whether it was their due to pay or to withhold payment” (Ibid., pp. 586-87).

He then reasons quite correctly that if we are not responsible for the use of a general tax, we are not liable for the use of a special tax (a tax raised to support a specific cause) for the same reason: “Because we have no control over it, and our approbation [approval] of it when we pay it is not implied” (Ibid., p. 587). He concludes by noting: “If taxes are debts, then the payment of them no more implies approbation of their object, than the payment of any other debt involves approbation of the purpose to which it is applied” (Ibid).

While we can and should vote with our consumer dollars and thus force companies promoting causes inimical to the Christian worldview to internalize the cost of doing business that way, with taxes, we have no such choice. The government forces us to pay and then decides how to spend the money we do pay. The Bible simply does not countenance tax resistance because we may disagree with how the revenues will be spent. As one commentator has observed, “Neither Christ nor the apostles, faced as they were with the exactions of Judea and Rome, both far worse than modern states in their godless policies, ever gave any ground for tax revolt against Herod, Nero, or anyone else.... The tax revolt adds anarchy to existing evils” (R. J. Rushdoony, Law and Society, p. 219).

“Taxes are Not Lawfully Imposed”

Some tax resistance advocates argue that if a given tax is not lawfully imposed, it is not rightfully due. We are only to render to Caesar what is his, they tell us, and we can only give back to Caesar that to which he is entitled in the first place. To be sure, the state often attempts to get more than its due, and this argument may be well-founded, depending upon the circumstances.

To begin with, this argument depends upon the type of government in power. While we have already noted that our obligation to obey civil rulers and pay taxes to them does not depend upon the type of government in power, the type of government in power does dictate the recourse available to the tax resister in any given circumstance. To illustrate, a believer in Imperial Rome simply did not have all of the means of recourse available to a believer in twentieth century America. Whereas a tax revolt may very well have cost you your life in Imperial Rome as it did with Judas of Galilee, it may just cost you your life savings in twentieth century America! This is simply to say that the consequences of resisting a given tax will vary depending upon the circumstances in which the believer finds himself. And let us never be so myopic as to forget that some modern believers may find themselves in countries more like Imperial Rome than modern America.

Not only must we carefully examine the type of government in power, but also the nature of the tax imposed, the legal basis for resisting it, and the where-withal of the resister. Suppose, for example, that the federal government levied a new tax on every citizen to promote Mormonism here and abroad. While some Christians presumably would pay this tax under protest because they do not have the means with which to launch a constitutional challenge, others might be perfectly willing to refuse to pay the tax and to challenge the tax on the grounds that it is a blatant violation of the separation clause of the first amendment to the federal Constitution. While not every case is so straight-forward,[1] this case aptly illustrates some of the relevant considerations believers ought to contemplate before rushing headlong into tax resistance. Suffice it to say that some have counted the costs and have decided, at great peril, to challenge what they considered to be unlawfully imposed taxation. Although biblical precedent does not preclude the believer from appealing his cause (e.g., Ex. 5:1-21; Ezek. 4:1-5:17; Dan. 1:8-16; 1 Kg. 18:3-16; Esth. 5:1-2; Acts 4:1-20; 25:1-27), he must carefully count the costs to himself, those under his care, and the cause of the gospel.

Yet, even when the law would permit the taxpayer to challenge the imposition of a particular tax, it may be more prudent under the circumstances to follow Christ’s example when He paid the temple tax even though He did not have to do so. As David Dickson reminds us, we should, like our Savior, take great pains to avoid scandalizing the gospel and even go as far as bearing burdens we are not otherwise bound to bear:

“As in matters of civil loss Christ did dispense with his own civil right, and subjected himself to pay tribute which he was not bound to do, so must His servants do: and not only must they pay tribute, which is their due by civil obligation, but rather than they mar the gospel and breed scandal they must bear burdens which civilly they are not bound to bear” (A Brief Exposition of the Evangel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew, p. 241).

Wrapping Things Up

In our two-part study, we have seen that we are commanded to honor Caesar by obeying him, except when he commands us to sin and that command to sin leaves us with no means by which to obey God. We have also seen that one of the ways we are to honor Caesar is by paying our taxes to him, which payments are not inherently sinful and are not excused even when they may be oppressive, even when they may support wicked causes, and sometimes, even when they may not have been lawfully imposed.

In short, we are to “Render to all what is due them.” To be sure, we have fallen short of this relevant biblical standard. When we do, we should be reminded to cling anew to the cross of Christ. In our sin, we were unable to render the perfect obedience God required of us. But then God, being rich in His mercy toward us, did not render to us that which was our due for our rebellion against Him, for our utter failure to render to Him His due. Instead, by His grace, He rendered to us that which was not our due—His own righteousness and obedience. Let us learn to live our lives in gratitude to Him for what He has done for us as we learn each day what it really means to render to Him the things that are His!

[1] Because an extended discussion of this topic would take us too far afield, we will not deal with the complicated arguments made by some who refuse to pay income tax because they claim that only capital gains, not wages, are subject to taxation under the Internal Revenue Code (see e.g., The Moneychanger, 10:7, July, 1991, p. 1. Readers interested in these legal arguments should write Jeff Dickstein, Esq, 8141 E. 31st St., Suite. F, Tulsa, OK 74145 and Larry Beecraft, Esq., 209 Lincoln Street, Huntsville, AL 35801).

David G. Hagopian, Esq., is an Attorney with a Los-Angeles based law firm. He has written other valuable material relating to this subject for Antithesis, 1:3, 4, but this publication is no longer available.

Part 1