Acton Institute Powerblog

Tax Policy and the Bible

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TaxCollectorUntil the 2000s, the biblical view of tax policy in the both the Christian and Jewish traditions was neutral to conservative in the political sense, says historian Bruce Bartlett. Historically, the principal biblical tax concern has been is opposition to tax evasion. But in the last 10 years, says Bartlett, academic commentary on tax policy and the Bible has shifted in a more politically progressive direction:

Theologian Charles E. Curran noted that historically, the Catholic Church has said very little about taxation and that what it has said has been economically conservative. Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) warned that the government “would act unjustly if it uses confiscatory taxes to destroy property rights,” said Curran. Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) favored proportional taxes and emphasized that they “should not be so heavy as to oppress private initiative,” reported Curran. Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) also favored proportional taxation, said Curran. . . .

The Protestant Christian tradition has had even less to say about taxation. A mid-1980s review said, “Taxation policy has not been a subject of great import in Protestant ethics.” Nor is there much in the Jewish tradition on taxation beyond saying that tax evasion is contrary to Jewish law; it is essentially theft. However, some commentators have argued that Judaism supports the conservative idea of a flat tax.

In short, in terms of tax policy, the Judeo-Christian view is neutral to conservative, according to pre-2000s literature. But starting in the 2000s, theorists have supported a more progressive view of taxation based on Judeo-Christian principles.

In several papers, professor Susan Pace Hamill of the University of Alabama School of Law has argued for a more politically liberal view of biblical tax policy that emphasizes progressivity. Her analysis relies less on specific biblical statements about taxation and more on the general view that greed and excessive wealth are contrary to Judeo-Christian ethics and that public policy ought to be oriented toward redressing extremes of wealth and aiding the poor whenever possible.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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