"Business: The Biblical Case for Civil Taxation, Part 2"
by Dr. Patti Amsden
The tithe can legitimately be considered God’s covenant tax and, as such, provide keen insight into the biblical perspective of taxation. When the civil realm levies a tax upon its citizens, it is doing so as a covenantal exchange. The civil realm promises to provide the shield or the protection of the people from enemies outside of the nation and from criminals within the society. Inherent in the civil realm’s role is also the great reward portion; because the wealth, natural resources, and other social benefits of the nation are enjoyed by all the citizenry. For this shield and great reward, which the civil realm brings to the covenant table, the recipients or covenant partners pay a tax.
Taxation is, therefore, covenantal in nature. It implies a sovereign power, who offers, and a benefactor, who receives. Biblically speaking, all earthly sovereigns derive their power from God and answer to him in their administration of that power. Any sovereign who claims autonomous power or who exercises power beyond the limits that God has ordained is subject to God’s chastisement or removal from office. Earthly sovereigns who seek to extract a covenantal tax that exceeds 10% on the increase has both claimed sovereign powers greater than God’s and has exercised power beyond biblical parameters.
Within pages of scripture, several examples of the taxing power of the state provide a backdrop for our narrative. One of the first accounts found in Genesis 47:13-26 occurs at a time when great famine covered the land of Egypt. As citizens ran out of their supplies, they came to Pharaoh and his administrator, Joseph, to buy grain that Joseph had been stockpiling during the previous seven years of bumper crops. When their money supply ran out, the citizens sold their cattle for supplies. When the cattle were gone, they sold their lands. Eventually there were no assets with which to buy food, so Joseph provided seed to sow in the fields with the agreement that 20% of all increase would be paid into Pharaoh’s coffers. Although a case could be made that the payment was as much interest on a loan rather than singularly a levied tax, the amount was high and indicative of a tyrannical nation. The practices of Egypt and Pharaoh were consistently outside of the limits that God places upon a sovereign. Eventually Israel cried out to God because of the hardship of their taskmasters (Ex. 3:7-10), and God sent Moses to deliver his people from tyranny.
Later in the history of Israel after the delivered nation had possessed their own promised land, the people asked God to give them a king. The judge and leader at that time, a man named Samuel, tried to dissuade the nation by telling them about the price they would be forced to pay and the taxes that a king would command (I Sam. 8:11-18). Samuel warned that not only would the king require the citizens to serve as his national and household servants, he would also tax them 10% on all the produce of their fields and on their livestock. In the context of Samuel’s warning, a tax as high as God’s tithe was considered to be a negative consequence and an overreach of the civil realm into the private assets of the citizens.
After the monarchy was fully established, the grandson of King David, Rehoboam, inherited the throne (I Kings 12). He determined to increase the burden of taxation upon the people much heavier that had his predecessor, his father Solomon. The people revolted. They replied, “What portion have we in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse?” They were unwilling to continue any covenantal connection with this king whose tax structure robbed the individual’s inheritance in order to add to the treasury of the state. Rehoboam sent Adoram to collect the tribute but all Israel stoned him until he was dead. Ten tribes rallied around a man named Jeroboam and named him their king. Two tribes continued to acknowledge David’s linage as their king. Two distinct nations emerged, Judah and Israel, from a people that had been a single nation. The trigger for the national covenantal departure was the issue of a departure from a covenantal tax.
The New Testament admonishes that we pay our taxes (Rom 13:6), and Jesus confirmed the paying of taxes when He stated, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22:21). Although Jesus’ comments may have affirmed the power to tax and the payment of the tax, he set the giving of the tax into the context of rendering to God what God is due. God is the supreme Sovereign, and all subservient sovereigns must render to God the acknowledgement that they derive their power from Him and are accountable to exercise their administration under the jurisdiction of His providence. To tax higher than God’s covenant tax, which is 10%, is a direct affront to the throne and God’s claimant role as Sovereign Lord.
Because the state is granted the power to use the sword, the state wields a coercive power to force compliance. For the civil realm to seize excessive power and privilege for itself at the expense of its citizens is tyranny, and it results in the people becoming slaves of the state. The biblical role between the civil and it citizens is to be reflective of the covenantal role between God and his representatives. The civil should provide the shield of protection and the shared rewards of that nation’s fiscal and social status. The people provide the covenant tax, which should be placed upon the increase of assets and should not exceed God’s covenant tax of 10%.