If we are subject to tyrannical taxation are we free to become “tax patriots,” refusing to pay any tax exceeding ten percent? After all, aren’t we supposed to obey God rather than men? Well, yes we are obligated to obey God before men but the Bible doesn’t actually command us to refrain from paying oppressive taxes. Instead, the Scripture requires us to “give to all their dues; to the one due tax, the tax; tribute to whom tribute is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7).
Clearly Paul is not limiting our tax liability to ten percent. Indeed, during the first century, subjects of the Roman empire were taxed to a painful degree. Taxes were levied on almost everything. The types of taxes grew in such numbers that rich and poor alike felt the heavy burden. There were land taxes, poll taxes, export and import taxes, crop taxes of ten percent, wine, fruit and oil taxes of twenty percent; income taxes, taxes to use roads and to enter certain towns, annual taxes on animals and vehicles, salt taxes, sales taxes, slave taxes and even a regular “emergency tax.” Clearly the ancients knew all about taxes. “The abuse and indignities heaped upon people, especially conquered nations, is incredible.”1
And it wasn’t just the tax that hurt; the publicans made their income by extracting money over and above the required tax. Their “fees” often added an additional five to ten percent to the total tax bill.
Thus Paul is not commenting on the morality of the Roman tax code; he is simply telling us that when it comes to taxes, individual, private citizen, Christians are duty bound to obey the civil authorities. Moreover, he does not address the issue of tax revenues being used to support anti-Christian activities. This in spite of the fact that first century taxes were used to fund a wide variety of undertakings contrary to the Faith. Indeed, tax money was even used to finance the persecution of Christians in the first few centuries after Christ.
So, it seems Christian citizens are obligated to submit to tyrannical taxation. The Bible does not support the idea of a tax rebellion – an anarchic uprising against the civil authority. At the same time, Christians are not prevented from attempting to change unjust tax laws. The key is how we go about it: the biblical model is one of righteous – and properly constituted – rulers apposing corrupt rulers.2
In the USA we are privileged to live under a constitution which allows for the peaceable removal of autocrats. At every election we have the opportunity to vote against civil rulers who support the maintenance of a god state. Unfortunately we presently suffer from a pronounced paucity of political personalities who are in favor of reducing the tax burden to nine percent or less. Hence if we hope to see taxes brought to their proper level we must begin by educating ourselves and others concerning the issue. Next we back a candidate who has been so educated – not in a run for federal office but at the city, county or state level; first efforts toward a proper tax code must begin close to home. Furthermore it is from a position of local or state leadership that magistrates may begin to push back against federal absolutism. Once our candidate has learned the ropes, he may then decide to run for federal elective office. There he can labor as an insider to right wrongs.
Obviously if this effort is to succeed it must be repeated thousands of times in thousands of cities across this land. It amounts to a second American Revolution. Who will be willing to take the first step?
1. Merril C. Tenny ed. et all, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 5:605.
2. Junius Brutus, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, (1698, Edmonton AB.: Still Waters Revival Books, 1989).