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Is taxation theft?

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taxesLast week, before the most recent news about Donald Trump and the current US presidential campaign burst onto the scene, Think Christian ran a short reflection of mine on the question of taxation. As I argue, “There is no duty to pay anything other than what we owe in taxes. But whatever we do owe we must pay in good conscience and out of a spirit of justice.”

If you spend any time on the internet reading about political liberty, you are likely to come across the formula, “Taxation is theft.” The picture the Apostle Paul paints is rather different. The point of departure for my thoughts on taxation is his instruction: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes.”

So the moral status of taxation as such doesn’t seem to be problematic. But as I note in the piece, the question of implementation is different and much more complex. Just because taxation isn’t in itself theft, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t forms or levels of taxation that cannot devolve to that level.

Leo XIII, in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, considers appropriate taxation. He warns of the necessity “that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation.” He continues,

The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair. (47)

As with so many questions of political economy, the issue turns on the question, “Who decides?” What Paul and Leo make clear, however, is that there is a divine standard of justice to which those who require and those who pay taxes must both adhere.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

Comments

  • Frank Kalan

    The key word is “fair”.

  • J. C. Smith

    The Federal government has enumerated powers, and taxation to fund things beyond those enumerated powers is theft, as I see it.

    • Yeah, the theologians of the University of Salamanca, Spain determined that the role of the state was to protect citizens’ life, liberty and property. Any taxes beyond that are theft.

      • Taxation is theft because it is identical to the felony crime of extortion. It is a violation of God’s commandment, Thou shall not steal. Sometimes even theologians are wrong.

  • Michael Brennen

    Hi Jordan,

    You wrote: “But whatever we do owe we must pay … out of a spirit of justice.”

    What is your theory of justice? Retributive? Commutative? Distributive? Utility? Fairness? Defining just what you mean by “justice” and its groundings is critical.

    As I see it, Jesus cast paying taxes in terms of ownership. Caesar issued the coin with his image on it: he made it, he owns it, and he can thus claim it back. God created us in his image: he made us, he owns us, and he thus has a claim on us. In these terms, taxation would seem to require no more than justice in the sense of respecting property rights.

    Paul described the role of the State as carrying out justice, with something like the following implicit argument. The State has the position of carrying out justice; taxes are necessary to support the State; therefore, pay taxes for the sake of justice.

    Spin forward in time to the Leo XIII quote: “[T]he State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone … [and it] would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.” I also noted that in the comments in the Think Christian thread you stated that justice is “rendering to each person what is due”.

    Leo XIII could not foresee what John Rawls would do by (re)defining justice as fairness, but it seems to me that a Rawlsian could quite agree with both Leo’s and your statements, while having something very different in mind. Define justice as fairness as Rawls and his followers have done, and taxation as justice “in the interests of the public good” acquires a very different dimension. Taxes then become something I owe on the basis of someone else’s right, in the sense of a claim the State has defined those persons have against me in the pursuit of egalitarianism.

    If that position holds, essentially anything the State recasts as a fundamental right from fairness is what is due to the other and becomes my tax obligation of justice for the public good, at whatever level is required. From that view, anything less than that would be unjust.

    Throw Public Choice into the practical aspects of that theory and it becomes a veritable mess.

    Thoughts?

    • Good points! Justice is very hard to define these days. I think Catholic social teaching has made it so complex that no one can grasp it. But I think if you go back to the Torah it becomes a little simpler. The justice that the government has authority to enforce is limited to defending life, liberty and property from abuse by others. But there were no taxes in Israel under the Torah. And as the 400 year history of Israel under the judges teaches, there is no need for them. Taxes in Israel were adopted only when Israel created a state with a monarch. God allowed this as punishment for Israel’s rejection of him as king. As Samuel told Israel, God’s allowing a monarch to tax and abuse the people as they demanded was a demonstration of his wrath and judgment against them for unbelief.

      Even in Israel the courts (the only governmental institution) did not enforce all of the laws. The law had spheres of sovereignty divided among the family, the temple and the courts. The courts did not enforce laws that belonged to the other spheres. So while justice within the family might require treating all children equally well, the courts didn’t get involved. The courts left religious justice to the temple, priests and God to enforce.

      God never instituted states like Rome, but allows them as punishment for rebellion against himself. Paul and Peter describe the ruling authorities as ministers of God to punish evil doers and we should pay taxes to support them. So it’s clear that justice requires that much taxation. But any time the state goes beyond its mandate to punish evildoers it exceeds its God-given authority and so any taxes beyond that is theft.

      • Good points, Roger. However, I think God’s warning delivered by Samuel indicated His disapproval of human lawmakers replacing Him, and thus He would disapprove of any and all nation states with their human lawmakers usurping His authority under any and all circumstances. The passage I cited earlier from the Gospel of Luke seems to bear out my contention:

        “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (4:5-7)

        That passage indicates the authority of men to rule other men by force and coercion is derived from Satan. What say you?

        • I agree completely! However, it’s clear from Samuel that God allowed the monarchy as punishment for Israel’s rebellion. Paul says in Romans 1 that God often lets people have what they want as punishment for their rebellion. So the state is God’s wrath, and therefore God’s will, for rebellious people.

          That should be clear from the book of Judges. When the people rebelled, God took away their freedom by having a pagan nation conquer and oppress them. They got their freedom back only when they ended their rebellion.

          The state is God’s wrath in much the same way as natural disasters and disease. Godly people suffer from them along with the rebellious. Christians must pay taxes along with rebellious unbelievers, as commanded by Paul and Peter until Christians make up a majority of any nation and can change the government.

    • Michael,

      Thanks for this very substantive comment. To answer your question, my working definition of justice in this context is simply commutative, or as Paul puts it right there, render to each one what is due. The point here is simply that taxes can be justly due to the government. That doesn’t mean they always are, or that every tax is just, or that every way of taxing is just, or that every level of taxation is just. It is just a starting point to help us think through all the kinds of complexities that get us to where we are today, which is, as you rightly note, a “veritable mess.”

      • Jordan, so long as force, violence or coercion are not involved in the collection of taxes, I suppose you could say those taxes were just, but then they wouldn’t be taxes. What one owes to other persons as their “due,” includes a lot of things (“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”), but it cannot possibly include paying taxes, because tax laws always include forcible collection clauses. Nothing can be due or owed from the standpoint of justice if they depend on forcible collection. This, by the way, explains why our rulers concocted the oxymoron, ‘voluntary compliance,” to make the violence required to collect the income tax a little less likely to be forcefully resisted. I fear from your statement you haven’t thought through all of the many negative consequences of introducing force and violence into human affairs in the form of taxes. Violence never happens in a vacuum, and the violence of taxation ripples through society just as other acts of violence do. It surely is an axiom that violence always begets more of its kind. Tax violence may be the worst form of violence because it is subtle, institutional, ubiquitous and universally lauded by its advocates, who generally are the beneficiaries of the taxes. Rulers even proclaim taxes are as inevitable as death! The euphemisms that have been employed by rulers in justification of taxes ought to warn everyone that a bull is loose and defecating all over their arguments.

    • Michael: “Caesar issued the coin with his image on it: he made it, he owns it, and
      he can thus claim it back. God created us in his image: he made us, he
      owns us, and he thus has a claim on us. In these terms, taxation would
      seem to require no more than justice in the sense of respecting property
      rights.”

      Caesar’s face and his inscription–claiming to be the son of the “divine” Augustus–by no means may be said to establish his ownership of the coin. (Furthermore, and merely as an aside, it is certain that he didn’t personally “make” the coin.) If a coin is to circulate in commerce, it can only do so if it is held by the people in commerce to be a “bearer instrument,” presumed by everyone involved in exchange transactions using the coin to belong to the person in possession of it. It only takes a bit of thought to realize the truth of this statement. Would you, for example, exchange your goat with no strings attached to someone for a coin belonging to a third party? Since archeologists have found Tiberius’ dinarius throughout what was the Roman Empire and beyond, it is certain that the coin in question circulated in commerce and was deemed by one and all to belong to its possessor. Look at your U.S. quarters. Does Washington’s puss on them mean they belong to him? The fantastic idea that coins in circulation belong to their producers is an economic theorytale. In my research I have traced the origin of this theorytale to Christian exegetes writing after the Church was subsumed by the Roman Empire under Constantine and its hierarchy began sharing in the revenues from Roman taxes. The exegetes’ monetary theorytale was a fiction they devised, which was necessary to support the otherwise untenable claim that Jesus endorsed Caesar’s “tribute” tax when he said give back to Caesar what belongs to him. Jesus knew darn well the coin didn’t belong to Caesar, nor that anyone in Judea or the Empire had anything in their possession belonging to Caesar to give him back. His instructions were therefore to pay no tribute to Caesar. Here are the definitions of tribute, not one of which would Jesus pay himself, nor urge upon his disciples.

      NOUN

      1.a gift, testimonial, compliment, or the like, given as due or in acknowledgment of gratitude or esteem.

      2.a stated sum or other valuable consideration paid by one
      sovereign or state to another in acknowledgment of subjugation or as the
      price of peace, security, protection, or the like.

      3.a rent, tax, or the like, as that paid by a subject to a sovereign.

      4.any exacted or enforced payment or contribution.

      5.obligation or liability to make such payment.

      When he was tempted by Satan with the glory and all the authority of all the kingdom’s of the world if Jesus would worship him, Jesus told the devil, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” In return for worshiping him, Satan had made this offer regarding all the human kingdoms: “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.” Jesus did not dispute the truth of the devil’s claim, and it wouldn’t have been a temptation if it wasn’t factual, as the Bible says it was. (Luke 4) So, my next question, Do you suppose Jesus would have his disciples support an authority devolved from Satan?

      Micheal, you are right: Fairness as a standard for anything is inane. Fairness is 100% subjective. What is fair to me may be appalling to others. The word should be banned from intelligent discourse.

      You are also right on target in saying, “Jesus cast paying taxes in terms of ownership.” Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar is the positive expression of God’s negative Commandment: enshrining and protecting ownership, “Thou shall not steal!” Taxation, btw, is indistinguishable from the felony crime of extortion, except those human laws against stealing immunize tax collectors from prosecution for their crime. It is certain Jesus would uphold his Father’s prohibition of stealing to Caesar and his tax collectors, as well as you and me.

      Finally, regarding Leo XIII quote: “[T]he State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone …” I believe “public goods” is a term as meaningless for lack of consistent agreement regarding what they are as the word fairness. Who is to decide what is a public good. In a truly free market, all goods are good for the consumers thereof.

  • The most comprehensive analysis of everything Jesus said and did relative to taxes and tax collectors is an essay on the web, JESUS ON TAXES. Find it here: http://jesus-versus-taxes.com/ In order to read the complete text enter this password: s0m3Pa$$wird, The essay also addresses Paul’s ironic comment in Romans 13:1-7

    Other shorter essays on these two biblical issues and related matters can be found here:: https://jesusontaxes.liberty.me/

  • Regarding Pual’s Romans 13:1-7: Paul, a learned Jew, was as familiar with irony and satire as was Jonathan Swift in 1729
    ”A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public…I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled …”–http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html

    GERMANS 13:1-7

    “My dear Jewish brothers and sisters, Let every person be subject to Hitler and the governing Nazi authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and the Nazi authorities that exist have been instituted by God…for Hitler is God’s servant for your good…For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the Nazis are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are do, revenue to whom revenue is due.–https://jesusontaxes.liberty.me/germany-131-7/

    Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome had to be carried from Corinth to Rome entirely within territory of the Roman Empire under the authority and control of Roman officers. His letter would have been subject to being opened, inspected, read and censored or destroyed by a Roman official. The inclusion of the 13:1-7 pericope with its fawning flatter of Roman authority, so out of character for Paul, may have been inserted by Paul to ensure his epistle reached the Church members living in Rome rather than being destroyed by Roman officialdom. .

    • Ned, I’ve read your paper on that and while very interesting I think it breaks the principles of sound interpretation, in this case, the principle that one use the natural sense of words or a passage unless there is internal evidence for not doing so. I can’t see any internal evidence that Paul or Peter, who wrote the same thing, intended to write irony or satire. The context of Romans makes irony or satire completely out of place. Paul does use humor sometimes, such as when he wished that the circumcisers would cut off everything.

      • My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:5-7

        And the high priest asked them, saying,“Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”–Acts 5:27-32

        “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.–Luke 4:5-8

        “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered.“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him–Matthew 17:25-26

        “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” Matthew 20:15 (Jesus telling the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

        It seems to me that Romans 13:1-7 is outside the context of the NT

        Other considerations: Paul was a Roman citizen and proud of it. Acording to Acts, on two occasions he asserted his Roman citizen ship to obtain an apology from the officials who had jailed him, and on another occasion to stave off a beating at the hands of Roman soldiers, and saving himself from being killed by the Jews. Jesus, on the other hand, was murdered by Roman authorities. Jesus clearly did not share Paul’s attachment to Roman authority.

        A few Bible scholars have argued that Romans 13:1-7 is an interpolation inserted by someone other than Paul at a later date. Many others find fault with it: Look at some of these.

        https://nortonsafe.search.ask.com/web?q=romans+13+an+interpolation&o=APN11918&prt=NSBU&chn=1122&geo=US&ver=22&locale=en_US&guid=0982438B-770B-48BE-8FE0-BAA2FF3BDFF4&tpr=111&gct=sb&qsrc=2869&doi=2016-10-16

        • I don’t agree that Romans 13 is outside the context of the NT. Jesus told people to pay taxes to Caesar when he showed them the image of Caesar on a coin. He also paid the temple tax even though he stated that the children of the king, his followers, do not owe it. The parable of the workers in the vineyard has nothing to do with taxes.

          Again, I agree that God’s perfect will is for believers to have no state and no taxes. But that is only for a nation of majority believers, not for rebellious people. The question is how do believers relate to the state and taxes when they’re a minority among a rebellious majority that is under the wrath of God and subject to a tyrannical state? The believers don’t owe the taxes and such taxes are a form of theft. But for practical reasons God asks us to pay them and respect the rulers.

          • @ “Jesus told people to pay taxes to Caesar when he showed them the image of Caesar on a coin.”

            No, Roger, Jesus never told anyone to pay taxes to Caesar! Those are your words put into Jesus’ mouth. You must read the incident with the coin and Jesus’ precise words, and in the context of spies trying to fool him with an entrapping question. Ask yourself, Roger, what possible bearing can the image and inscription on a coin have on the question of whether or not one should pay Caesar’s tax? Either Jesus was stupid for asking his question about the physical characteristics of the coin, since those characteristics could not possibly have any bearing whatsoever on whether or not to pay the tax, or you are wrong. If you insist that “Jesus told people to pay taxes to Caesar,” I must insist you show me the chapter and verse in the Bible where those words are to be found. Otherwise, the words you attribute to Jesus are yours–not his.

            Do you assert the utterly preposterous “theory” that the person whose face is on money is its owner? If so, I must insist you prove that “theorytale.” No one would ever accepted a coin in payment for his goods or services if it was understood that the coin did not belong to the person offering it in payment, but rather it belonged to the person whose picture was on it who could take possession of his property whenever he saw fit.

            @” He also paid the temple tax even though he stated that the children of the king, his followers, do not owe it.”

            Roger, it is beyond question: Jesus did not pay the temple tax. You cannot produce a verse in the Bible that shows the tax was ever even paid. And if it was paid–Matthew’s account ends before that hypothetical event can transpire–Jesus most assuredly wasn’t the one who paid it. Only Peter, the one who shot his mouth off and mistakenly said Jesus would pay the tax, which Jesus would never pay; is the only person of whom it could then be said, “Peter paid the temple tax.” It would come closer to the truth to say the fish paid the tax than to say Jesus paid it. And even if Peter paid the tax with a coin Jesus conjured into a fish’s mouth, Jesus would have conjured it out of the taxpayers’ coffers after Peter was credited with paying, thus taking Pete off the hook on which he had impaled himself, while simultaneously denying the tax collectors the proceeds of their criminal activity.

            Roger, I encourage you to think in terms of tax collectors, a class of people Jesus was notorious for attracting to his company. Why were tax collectors particularly susceptible sinners to Jesus’ loving ministrations? And why did Jesus pay special heed to their plight? If one loves tax collectors as Jesus did, one would never enable their sinful practice to proceed unchallenged by docilely submitting to their extortion. Collecting taxes, like any other sinful practice that is not terminated, can rob the practitioner of any hope for the salvation of their immortal souls.

            The parable of the workers in the vineyard has everything to do with taxes. Taxes and tax collectors inform you that you do not have the right to do what you want with your own money, rather your money belongs to the state to take as it pleases, contrary to what Jesus’ words imply is righteous.

          • Well I feel constrained by the principles of hermeneutics. Without them, it’s possible to make the Bible say whatever you want. Hermeneutics forces people to try to determine what the author intended instead of reading into a passage what we want to see. Those principles have force theologians for millenia to conclude that Jesus told the Jews listening to him to pay the Roman taxes.

            Yes, technically Peter paid the tax, or even more accurately, the fish paid the tax. But neither could have done so without Jesus’ miracle, the point of which was to demonstrate that he is God. The fish paid the tax on behalf of Jesus and Peter.

            Jesus only embraced tax collectors who had repented and followed him.

            No, the parable has nothing to do with tax collection. It has nothing to do with anything but Jesus’ teaching about grace and God’s sovereignty.

            I would love to agree with you because I’m a confirmed libertarian. But I have to follow principles of hermeneutics and not my imagination.

          • Roger, one of the arguments tax consumers consistently use against so-called tax protesters is that the leading tax protesters have usually spent time in prison when they tried their arguments for not paying in federal courts. But that argument is a non sequitur.because all of those tax protester who went to prison were convicted in proceedings before judges who by law should have disqualified themselves. [http://www.uscourts.gov/judges-judgeships/code-conduct-united-states-judges –see Canon (c)(1)(c)]. The Code, which is law, clearly states that if a judge “has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding,” the judge must disqualify himself. In the situation of a federal judge presiding in a tax protester’s case, the judge is guilty on both counts. Nevertheless, such prosecutions, guilty verdicts and long sentences happen with great regularity–and it seems nobody but us “illegal-tax protesters” take notice.

            The same principle of disqualification for bias in the case of all federal judges to hear tax protester cases disqualifies all of those theologians you mention from honestly interpreting Jesus’ regard for taxes, because ever since the Christian Church was subsumed by the Roman Empire, the Church’s theologians have had a vested, personal interest. directly or indirectly, in the proceeds from the Empire’s–now nation-state’s–taxes. Thus, the theologians’ misinterpretation of Jesus’ words to say he endorsed the taxes that enrich them is clearly a biased interpretation, principles of hermeneutics to the contrary not withstanding The only theologian I know of who said Jesus said pay your taxes who wasn’t himself benefiting from taxation was Justin Martyr in his First Apology when he made the same misinterpretation in a fawning attempt to induce the Emperor to stop persecuting Christians because they are good little taxpayers who gladly render to Caesar whatever taxes Caesar wants.Justin’s interpretation is similarly tainted on those grounds, and probably led many of later.theologian to grasp the same straws to defend their beloved taxes.

            By the same principle of disqualification for bias imposed by law on federal judges, those theologians who interpreted the render-unto-Caesar pericope to mean Jesus said to pay your taxes, or worse yet, tell people Jesus actually said you should pay your taxes, are similarly unqualified to decode what Jesus said about paying taxes. I suspect that only someone intimately familiar with the vagaries of taxation would be aware of its influence on theologians, such as, perhaps, those who champion separating church and state.

            Hermeneutics has nothing to do with the question of the ownership of the coin. It seems to me that is a matter on which only history and economics are qualified to speak. It was the theologians’ ignorance of economics that allowed some of them to posit the absurd proposition that at the time of the incident all of the Tiberius denarii with his image on them were his property, and everyone knew they were his and knew that he could recall them at will.

          • “the Church’s theologians have had a vested, personal interest. directly or indirectly, in the proceeds from the Empire’s–now nation-state’s–taxes.”

            That was not true for the first 300 years of Christianity nor was it true for Protestants after the Reformation.

            “Hermeneutics has nothing to do with the question of the ownership of the coin.”

            It has everything to do with it. Historical context is a vital principle. It’s not likely that Jesus meant literally that the coins were the emperor’s personal property. For that to be Jesus’ intention he would have to think that the emperor had some how lost them and the people found them.

            The question Jesus answered was “should we pay Roman taxes?” He answered that there are two spheres of authority, God’s and the state’s. We should give each what is due them. As I mentioned before, God allows the state as punishment for rebellious people but God doesn’t exempt Christians from that judgment unless they become numerous enough to form their own government. I would guess that God does that 1) to protect Christians from the wrath of the state and 2) because the issue of paying taxes is not nearly as important as the spiritual part, rendering unto God what belongs to God.

            Principles of hermeneutics are nothing but common sense about how to be honest when interpreting literature. Violating those principles is dishonest.

          • @ ‘”That was not true for the first 300 years of Christianity…”

            Roger, that is what I said. My exact words: “…because ever since the Christian Church was subsumed by the Roman Empire, the Church’s theologians have had a vested, personal interest. directly or indirectly, in the proceeds from the Empire’s–now nation-state’s–taxes”:

            @ “…nor was it true for Protestants after the Reformation.”

            It may not be true of a few Protestant theologians after the Reformation, particularly Anabaptists and their offshoots, but for most it remained true as the major Protestant sects quickly affiliated with governments of the states wherein they flourished, obtaining benefits provided by taxes. Virtually every prominent Protestant theologian in America since the enactment of income-tax legislation during the Civil War, the indirect benefits of the religious organizations paying their salaries have had tax-exempt status. Thus those theologians were/are indirectly benefiting from taxation because their religious organizations’ donors may deduct their contributions from their income taxes. Churches that obtain 501c status are corporations, not Churches, for the two are incompatible entities.

            @ “It has everything to do with it. Historical context is a vital principle. It’s not likely that Jesus meant literally that the coins were the emperor’s personal property. For that to be Jesus’ intention he would have to think that the emperor had some how lost them and the people found them.”

            Christian theologians have posited that the coin belonged to Caesar because at the time Roman all coins were “legally?” deemed to be the property of Caesar, without offering any historical evidence to back them up. Nor is there any historical context for the argument that Jesus said “pay your taxes” or anything like that.

            “He answered that there are two spheres of authority,”

            No, Roger, he was not talking spheres of authority, he was talking ownership of private property (the coin), and how to treat the private property of others. (“Render…give back”) We can be sure both Jesus and the chief priests knew where Sacred Jewish Scripture, which Jesus consistently referenced to justify his words and actions, stands on who owned what between God and Caesar respectively. The Hebrew Bible is unambiguous, for it states at least six times as in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…,” which leaves nothing for Caesar. In saying this, Jesus was thereby reasserting his instructions to give Caesar nothing in payment of a tribute tax, pointing out that Scripture denied Caesar owning anything. Jesus may also have been alluding to the fact that taxes violate God’s command, “Thou shall not steal.”

            @ “Principles of hermeneutics are nothing but common sense about how to be
            honest when interpreting literature. Violating those principles is
            dishonest.”

            Roger, Nothing I have said in this discussion violates any principle of hermeneutics as you accuse me of doing. If you mean to suggest I’ve been dishonest, which I cannot help but think you do, I forgive you, because rendering to God what belongs to God requires loving, forgiving and not adversely judging any of his children, as per the words of His son, Jesus.

            I’m feel this discussion has gone on long enough. You are welcome to respond to this post, and I will read what you say without offering a rejoinder. Thanks for engaging. It’s been fun..

          • “Thus those theologians were/are indirectly benefiting from taxation because their religious organizations’ donors may deduct their contributions from their income taxes.”

            Well that disqualifies you, too, since you benefit to some degree from taxation through public schools, police, defense, etc. Besides, that’s an ad hominem attack and therefore not valid.

            “Christian theologians have posited that the coin belonged to Caesar because at the time Roman all coins were “legally?” deemed to be the property of Caesar, ”

            It doesn’t appear that Jesus was saying that the coin he was holding belonged to Caesar. That would make Jesus’ words silly. The coin belonged to the person who received it in a transaction. So It’s pretty obvious that Jesus was referring to paying taxes, not to the legal ownership of that particular coin.

            “Nor is there any historical context for the argument that Jesus said “pay your taxes” or anything like that.”

            Yes, the immediate context was about paying taxes. It’s absurd to think that Jesus was asked about taxes and answered about something else. The more distant historical background is the judgment of God against rebellious Israel by allowing them to have a king who would tax them for his benefit.

            “No, Roger, he was not talking spheres of authority, he was talking ownership of private property (the coin), and how to treat the private property of others. ”

            If that’s the case, then Jesus either didn’t understand the question or didn’t care to answer it. Why would Jesus talk about the ownership of a particular coin when no one asked, and no one asked because there was no confusion about it?

            “”The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…,” which leaves nothing for Caesar.”

            It leaves nothing for anyone. BTW, socialists misuse that same passage for their case against private property. Of course everything belongs to God, but between humans we have property. No one has property with respect to God, only between humans.

            “Nothing I have said in this discussion violates any principle of hermeneutics as you accuse me of doing.”

            Yes, you are violating those principles. Have you bothered to read a book of hermeneutics? One of the main principles is to take the natural meaning of the language, in context, the immediate context and the context of the whole Bible teaching on the topic. The context is the discussion of paying Roman taxes. Jesus responded to the question about paying Roman taxes by saying give to Rome what belongs to Rome, using the metaphor of the image of Caesar on the coin. Jesus had no problem with paying taxes because God had allowed it as part of his judgment against a rebellious Israel. And adding the context of Peter and Paul’s section on taxes, which could not disagree with Jesus’, it’s clear Jesus told them to pay their taxes.

            I’m not accusing you of being deliberately dishonest. But you have fallen for the misguided idea that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say if you are clever enough. The principles of hermeneutics are just the application of the principles of logic. And both are merely guides to being honest and seeking the truth.

            In hermeneutics one has to ask who is the author writing to, why, when, what did he say using the natural, common meanings of words at the time. Is he using literary devices such as hyperbole or simile or parables or poetry, all of which require special treatment.

            In this case, and since Jesus had to be answering the question about taxes, Jesus used the coin to represent the Roman empire and its power to tax. He wasn’t talking about that particular coin. That would be just plain silly.

          • Roger, I was hoping I wouldn’t feel compelled to respond in order to draw this to a close, but…

            Roger, you have the audacity to say this: “Yes, you are violating those principles. Have you bothered to read a book of hermeneutics? One of the main principles is to take the natural meaning of the language, in context, the immediate context and the context of the whole Bible teaching on the topic. The context is the discussion of paying Roman taxes.”

            Quite obviously, you are the one violating the principles of hermeneutics by completely, and I must add conveniently, ignoring the context. Not once have you mentioned or eluded to the fact plainly stated in all three Gospel’s accounts of the incident that the purpose of asking Jesus, “Should we pay [Caesar’s tax] or shouldn’t we?” was in order to “trap” him, and as Luke adds, “so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.”

            The question was a trap, (Get it???) From the point of view of his antagonists as reported by Matthew, Mark and especially Luke, his questioners were not in the least bit interested in learning from Jesus what their duty was in regard to Caesar’s tax. If you don’t get that, I am afraid I can’t help you. And if you don’t get that Jesus avoided being made a fool by the chief priests by the simple device of responding to a question with a non-germane question of his own, which opened the way for his adversaries to be confounded essentially by their own palpable dishonesty, I suspect you may underestimate the wit and wisdom of Jesus.

            @ “I’m not accusing you of being deliberately dishonest. But you have fallen for the misguided idea that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say if you are clever enough. The principles of hermeneutics are just the application of the principles of logic. And both are merely guides to being honest and seeking the truth.”

            Roger, don’t be a sophist in your use of ad hominem. You are the only one in this formerly polite discussion who has been reduced to attacking your opponent as being intentionally or misguidedly dishonest. I am not particularly bothered by your attack because I have sufficient self-knowledge to know I haven’t been in any way dishonest in this discussion. Your resort to ad hominem is unbecoming and signals tacit surrender of the logical high ground of your argument’s position. Evidently you are more interested in defending taxation than in considering the possibility that Jesus was not similarly devoted to taxation nor dependent on Caesar’s taxes.

            I would also entreat you to abandon your reliance on the principles of hermeneutics as your guide to being honest and seeking the truth, and try the principles Jesus proclaimed, which are eminently more reliable.

          • LOL! You’re trapped!

            “And if you don’t get that Jesus avoided being made a fool by the chief priests by the simple device of responding to a question with a non-germane question of his own…”

            I do get that they were trying to trap him. The passages state that. But it’s a leap in logic, a non sequitur, to say that as a result Jesus dodged the question.

            “Your resort to ad hominem is unbecoming…”

            Technically, that was not ad hominem. It was just plain insulting. The situation is similar to if you told someone that something they said is untrue and they responded with “Are you calling me a liar?” What I wanted to do was emphasize the importance of hermeneutics. Just as the rules of logic are for preventing people from being irrational, the principles of hermeneutics are intended to discover the truth. People can be wrong and not be dishonest. That requires some intention.

            The principles of hermeneutics are nothing but the rules of logic applied to interpreting communications. Giving them up would the same as giving up on logic.

            I hadn’t had time to research the historical context of the passage until this weekend. Alfred Edersheim in his “Life and Times of Jesus Messiah” quoted Josephus saying that at least from the time of the Maccabees (200 years before Jesus) the Jewish authorities had considered the right to mint coins included the right to tax. That’s probably the best background for that passage.

            BTW, Edersheim wrote that coins with images of Caesar were rare because the Romans respected the Jewish fear of idolatry and for coins minted in Israel they used palm trees and/or inscriptions. Someone probably searched for a foreign coin minted in Rome and brought to Israel in trade in order to be extra offensive.

          • Insults diminish both parties.

          • Well I didn’t intend it as an insult. That would require judging your intent. You took it that way. Still, the principles of hermeneutics guide one in being accurate about the meaning of what other people have communicated. If one is not familiar with those principles then one is mistaken. If one knows the principles and violates them then one is dishonest.

          • @”But it’s a leap in logic, a non sequitur, to say that as a result Jesus dodged the question.”

            Did I say that? Where? You put words in my mouth that I never uttered. Nothing I have said could possibly be construed or misconstrued to suggest I said “Jesus dodged the question.” My position, which I have made clear, is that Jesus did answer the question of whether or not to pay Caesar’s tax, to wit:”Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” (NIV) To say as you have said “Jesus told people to pay taxes to Caesar,” is not true. It amounts to putting your words into his mouth, words Jesus never uttered.

            According to Jesus’ very clear response to their question, he told his inquisitors and all who heard him that if they had anything belonging to Caesar they should give it back to him. That, of course, is a statement of the truth regarding how one should treat the property of another in accordance with the Decalogue. What you have belonging to another you must give back. “Thou shall not steal.” And according to all that is logical, those hearing Jesus who had nothing belonging to Caesar were excused from giving Caesar anything.

            Did Jesus’ clear response mean those who had coins with Caesar’s face and inscription on the coins, which lawfully belonged to those who lawfully possessed such coins should give those coins to Caesar in payment of Caesar’s tax? Even that preposterous interpretation of the meaning of what Jesus said cannot be construed or misconstrued to mean he was saying “pay Caesar’s tax.” If that is what Jesus meant, those who wanted to follow his preposterous instruction could avoid ever paying Caesar’s tax by avoiding using coins with Caesar’s face and inscription. As you point out, such coins were rare, so few people would be paying Caesar’s tax..

  • Anon.

    Taxation is not theft if you give your consent. Which you do every time you sign a government form (contract). It involves a legal tactic the tech sector has made great use of, “default opt-in”. That’s not it’s legal name, but it conveys the idea. Legally their just contracts, think “terms and conditions”. But, just like with “shrink wrap contracts” and “click wrap contracts” in the tech world where presumptions are made under the law, presumptions are also made about your citizenship. Most people are completely unaware that there is both federal citizenship and state citizenship.

    “There is a distinction between citizenship of the United States and citizenship of a particular state, and a person may be the former without being the latter.” [Alla v. Kornfeld, 84 F.Supp. 823] [(1949)]

    And as some are aware congress has unlimited authority to legislate within Federal jurisdiction, but must abide by the Constitution in the 50 states.

    Explore here for more info: (pdf) http://sedm.org/Forms/10-Emancipation/CitizenshipDiagrams.pdf

    • That’s one way of looking at it. Another is that the state has a legit role in collecting taxes for its sole duty – protecting the life, liberty and property of citizens. Anything above that is theft, according to the theologians at the University of Salamanca, Spain in the 17th century. Also, most of us would consider the “default opt-in” to be immoral and should be illegal.