"Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" Matthew 22:17 ESV
"Taxation is theft!" If you have spent much time around libertarians at all (especially online) you have certainly heard this cry and in this day and age of big government running our lives it sure does sound refreshing! It's short, sweet, clear and packs a big rhetorical punch! I mean just think about it, the line of reasoning seems clear enough:
- You own money.
- The government wants at least some of that money.
- You do not consent to them having any of your money.
- The government demands you give them the money, or they will come into you house with guns and will haul you off to jail, and then take the money.
- You give them your money because you really have no other good choice.
- They call it taxation.
- It's actually legalized theft.
The Christian libertarian (which in full disclosure I count myself as one) might add these last two points in for good measure:
- Theft is a sin.
- Taxation is therefore a sin.
When laid out like this it certain does seem like a compelling argument to make. Taking money from someone without their consent absolutely IS theft in any other context, so why is it ok when it is the government doing it? Does it make it right just because they're able to dress the action up by calling it a "tax"? Those are indeed valid questions, no doubt about it.
Let's unpack all of this and establish a bit of a framework and set up some basic categories. First of all, if you are a Christian you must acknowledge that not only does the Bible allow for taxation, it commands it! The Bible commands God's people to pay taxes and if you are a CHRISTIAN before anything else (such as a libertarian) that ought to be the end of the argument for you. Just look up passages like Matthew 22:17-21, Luke 3:12-13, Romans 13:6-7 and you'll see it's clear...I'm not making this up…God commands it!
So, what should we make of this? Is God condoning legalized theft? Of course not! God commands "You shall not steal" and that goes for all people in all ages and at all times! The whole concept of stealing being sinful proves God establishes the right of individuals to own private property and that idea alone utterly destroys the basis for Marxist philosophy, economics and politics. No Christian could ever be a Marxist, the two worldviews are diametrically opposed to one another. Marxism denies the God given right to own private property, there's no more such thing as a "Christian Marxist" as there is a "Christian Atheist", you just can't be both. And yet God does command people to pay taxes to the state, how is all of this reconciled?
We must first examine what we mean by "theft". Theft is when one takes property from another without any right to it. So, for example, if I come over and take your car without your permission that would be theft, unless I had the right to take that car with or without your permission. Let's say for example I sold you that car, but instead of having the money all upfront you agreed to make payments to me until the agreed upon purchase price was met. And then let's say that you stopped paying me back. Well, that would certainly change things because I'd obviously have certain rights regarding that car. Coming for it would be within those rights even though the car is your property. That's just one example, theft is not simply taking property without consent. Theft is the unjust taking of property, it is taking property that one has no right to take without permission.
And that is the catch. According to the Bible, the government has the right to tax and therefore we owe the government a portion of our wealth in taxes. We owe it to them and it is the right of the government to claim it. Therefore, it is not theft for them to take it. Look what the Lord says (emphasis added), "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's". The Apostle Paul drills down into even greater clarity (emphasis again added), "For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."
Notice at this point we are not touching on the amount "owed". The Bible nowhere explicitly details that amount, however there are ways to reasonably deduce a basic context regarding how to think through that particular question. It certainly can be argued that taxation can become theft at a certain point. Jesus said we are to pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and no more than that. But the point of today's post is not to figure out how much actually is "Caesar's". Today's post is to detonate this idea that taxation is in and of itself theft…it's not. That's an unbiblical position to take, so don't take it. Taxes are owed to the government and the government is right to demand what is owed from its citizens.
Tomorrow we will get into how to determine what is and is not owed, and no, the government doesn't get to simply declare what is owed. There are certainly parameters, more on that tomorrow.