Tax Day: Giving Back to Caesar…

Happy Tax Day! If you’re in the U.S. and haven’t yet filed your taxes, you should probably get on that.

If you’re scouring your Bible this morning looking for a Biblical reason to not pay your taxes, you’re out of luck. While the Bible has much to say about stewardship, justice, and generosity, it is relatively silent on the specifics of taxation. But that didn’t stop a group of Jesus’ contemporaries from approaching him soon after his Triumphal Entry with a very loaded question: “Should we pay taxes?”

The questioners were hoping to trick Jesus into saying something treasonous. Jesus’ clever response makes this scene the most memorable money-related passage in the Bible:

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.

This story is also recounted in Matthew 22:15-22 and Luke 20:20-26.

Elsewhere we learn that Jesus paid the temple tax. And the apostle Paul speaks plainly about the duty to pay taxes in Romans 13:5-7:

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

That doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to pay a chunk of your earnings to the government. But as you mail in your tax forms today, you can take some comfort at least in knowing that believers have struggled with this duty since Jesus’ time.

Image: a Roman denarius from the reign of Maximinus I.

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Posted by Andy

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