Taxes, conscience and wrath

There is an amusing passage of scripture in which we see that Jesus’ understanding of paying taxes wasn’t as simplistic as the general Christian understanding is (and mine was till very recently). In Matthew 17:24-27 we read of Peter being challenged by the temple tax collectors: “Does your Teacher not pay the (temple) tax?”. And he answers quickly, simply and surely “Yes”. He then goes back to the house (innocently) and Jesus takes issue with the “Yes”. It says Jesus “anticipated him”, or jumped him on that point. The true answer was not a simple “Yes”. He asks Peter from whom the kings of earth levy customs or taxes, “from sons or from strangers”? And Peter gets that answer right “from strangers”. And Jesus then says “Then the sons are free” (v26). That is the sons of Kings don’t have to pay taxes or customs. So we don’t have to pay this temple tax, it is not required of us by God that we pay this tax. We could not pay this tax, not pay legitimately with a clear conscience before God. So Peter is taught not to say yes so quickly to the question of taxation.

Jesus then goes on (surprisingly perhaps) to pay the tax! Well it is not that surprising, Peter’s quick “Yes” must have had some history behind it — Jesus always paid the tax, they all paid all their taxes all the time. Jesus had no history of tax rebellion or tax withholding in Peter’s mind. So in that sense Peter was perfectly correct in saying “Yes”, but now we come to the reason for that scrupulous paying of tax and it turns out it is not scruples. It is rather not to offend or stumble “them” that is the authorities. They should not be stumbled into the sin of using their rule (legal force) to compel compliance with an illegitimate tax law, which would amount to a sin on their part — a stepping outside of their God-given mandate to persecute and pursue innocents. Which leads us to the conclusion that not all taxes are legitimate, but this does not necessarily imply that we need to rebel against them, we should perhaps pay them. Of course, Jesus was aiming at a much greater goal than mere tax reform, he was about to redeem the world and conquer death, but he still takes the time to make this point to Peter so that he is aware of the distinctions.

The next important point is that the payment of this illegitimate tax was not a sin — Peter and Jesus were not complicit in the sins of the temple by paying this tax. Which also has implications for us — we are not made party to, nor do we carry the guilt of our government merely by paying the taxes they demand. Jesus had prophesied the destruction of this wicked generation (all the blood of all the prophets from Abel to Zechariah… ) and the Temple, they were corrupt and had become an abomination, but nevertheless it was not inherently sinful to pay taxes to them, taxes which would be used to support their agendas. So those who claim that it is morally wrong for Christians to pay taxes because taxes support ungodly actions are therefore mistaken. It is not morally wrong to pay, it might not be morally wrong to withhold payment, but it is not a sin to pay it. More on tax resistance later…

References: Matthew 17:24-27, Matthew 22:15-22, Romans 13:1-10

About Anthony Caetano

Christian husband & father. Also an IT person but that doesn't come into this site much at all. Not on facebook or twitter, probably never will be. You can email me at my firstname at this domain.
This entry was posted in Rightly Dividing The Word and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <img alt="" align="" border="" class="" height="" hspace="" longdesc="" vspace="" src="" style="" width="" title="" usemap="">