And God Said, ‘Let There Be Tax’

Having rested on the seventh day, though God saw that all He had created was good, lo, someone had to pay for this mammoth public works project. So on the eighth day, God said, “Let there be tax.” And there was tax.

This is not as tongue in cheek as it seems. Surprisingly, the Bible contains numerous references to taxation. Indeed, a number of tax concepts we consider bedrock principles today seemingly germinated from sacred scripture.

To start, our system of taxation is based on the idea of voluntarily paying your tax bill to Uncle Sam every year. This is clearly sanctioned in the Bible. Remember “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”? Jesus’ aphorism referred to paying taxes to the government (Caesar).

Saint Paul addresses this concept eloquently in Romans 13:6-7, “This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due.” Indeed, the idea of taxes as a citizen’s obligation predates Jesus and Paul’s time. Exodus 38:25-26 decrees that all who have reached the age of 20 are required to pay one-fifth of an ounce of silver.

A natural follow-up is the idea that taxation cannot be punitive. In Judges 3:15-18, the Israelites rebel against unjust rule when King Eglon of Moab is taxing them to distraction. As a matter of fact, a precursor to supply-side tax theory can be found in 1 Kings 12:4. “Your father put a heavy yoke on us. If you now lighten the harsh servitude and the heavy yoke your father imposed on us, we will be your servants.” The principle was so strong that it was repeated virtually word for word in 2 Chronicles 10:4. And similar language can be found in Nehemiah 5:4.

This idea of unjust taxation, with or without representation, is one of the most constant refrains in scripture, sprouting up at least a dozen times. How many times does Jesus equate tax collectors with sinners? (Spoiler alert: There are seven such instances.) Note that Jesus’ injunction is for unfair collection practices, not to every IRS employee.

A third principle is that the tax burden should be borne proportionately based on population/census (Numbers 26:53).

Fourth is the provision for exemptions to bolster public policy goals. The precursor to section 501(c)(3), exempt organization status, is seen in Ezra 7:24, wherein priests and temple workers are excluded from taxation. Tax exemptions were authorized to justify even short-term policy objectives. Thus, when Goliath was menacing the countryside, 1 Samuel 17:25 proclaims, “‘Do you see this man coming up? He comes up to insult Israel. The king will make whoever kills him a very wealthy man. He will give his daughter to him and declare his father’s family exempt from taxes in Israel.’ (Emphasis added.)

Do you frown upon the plethora of taxes today? Income tax is levied in Ezekiel 45:13, estate taxes in multiple places, notably Deuteronomy 21:15-17, property taxes (1 Samuel 8:15), even an organization fee, akin to what modern corporations pay to retain their state certificates of authority. See Exodus 30:11-15, hearkening back to the requirement for all over 20 years of age to pay one-fifth of an ounce of silver. It should be noted that by the time of Nehemiah 10:33, the temple tax was down to an eighth of an ounce of silver, so even in ancient times, the government provided tax relief.

That same provision in Nehemiah illustrates another principle, namely that taxes be used to pay for social programs and public works. This is repeated in Ezra 6:8, “Let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay from the royal revenue, deriving from the taxes of West-of-Euphrates, so that the work not be interrupted.

Admittedly, while there was much enrichment in reading the Bible cover-to-cover, the plethora of tax cites was discomfiting. This leaves me little alternative but to read the scripture yet again, this time with an eye on the loopholes.