Sure. Let’s Call It a Contribution.

So I have distinguished the payment of taxes that are owed, and the payment of taxes that is rendered out of a principled prudence. In the former instance, paying taxes is a matter of conscience and in the latter it is a matter of intelligence. When I give my wallet to the mugger, I am not granting him authority over my wallet, and still less am I giving him authority over any future wallets that I might come to possess. I am simply doing a cost benefit analysis, and his gun trumps my five dollars.

Now some want to argue that all taxes whatever are illegitimate. While this makes life simple on the conscience front, making every decision of whether to pay taxes or not a prudential one, the simplicity is, ironically, too easy. A good example of such an approach to the argument can be found here. While Joel and I would agree on a great deal on this general subject, we do differ at this particular point. It is an important point, so let me deal with it briefly.

In my argument for this position, I cited Romans 13, which tells us to pay taxes to those to whom taxes are due, and Joel reads this as simply as entirely circumstantial and prudential, telling us to pay taxes to whom taxes are — and please note the scare quotes — “due.” Since the one levying taxes always has the power to coerce, this reading is always possible and sometimes likely. He has the gun, so not only do I give him the five dollars, I also go along with calling it “my contribution.”

So the real test would be those instances when a godly ruler requires taxes (or the equivalent) be paid. Remember that I have no problem granting that the power to tax is routinely abused. All we are looking for are cases where it is not abused, establishing that as a possibility.

Take Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 47:13-26). He was a godly ruler who saved the lives of the people, but at the same time he was not exactly an instrument who introduced a libertarian paradise. To head off commenters, I am aware that Joseph presents a problem to my ten percent rule outlined earlier, which I hope to get to. The issue here is whether there were any level of legitimate taxation occurring. I am not here talking about Joseph selling the grain to the Egyptians in exchange for their land, but rather to the collection of a fifth of the harvest in the plentiful years (Gen. 41:34).

Here is another example.

“And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Matt. 17:24–27).

Now Jesus is making an implicit distinction here between tribute money illegitimately collected (where most of our discussion centers), but He is also assuming that the collection of tribute from strangers is legitimate. He has Peter pay the tribute for prudential reasons (so as to not give offense, distracting them from their main mission), even though the tribute is not owed by them because they are “children.” But what happens to the Lord’s argument if tribute were illegitimate when collected from strangers also? His argument would simply collapse. This means there is a type of taxation that would be legitimate to levy, and therefore which would create a moral obligation to pay.

If there is such a thing as lawful taxation (as I believe) and if there is something which goes by the name of taxation which is rank theft (as I also believe), we have to do the hard work of determining where the line between the two categories might be. We also have to determine who makes the call, and what standard they must appeal to.

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Matt Petersen
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Matt Petersen

If there is such a thing as lawful taxation (as I believe) and if there is something which goes by the name of taxation which is rank theft (as I also believe), we have to do the hard work of determining where the line between the two categories might be. We also have to determine who makes the call, and what standard they must appeal to. Well, we agree here. Though, I suppose the difference is that I think commands in the second person singular “thou shalt” are really commands to persons–to “I’s” or “we’s”–not metaphysical claims about the nature… Read more »

Matt Petersen
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Matt Petersen

I wasn’t intending to comment further, but this article may be obliquely relevant, particularly for people asking what other understanding of private property there may be than the Jeffersonian one. The following quote from Chrysostome is money: Therefore … those who have something more than necessity demands and spend it on themselves instead of distributing it to their needy fellows and servants, they will be meted out terrible punishments. For what they possess is not personal property; it belongs to their fellow servants. yes, I know Pr. Wilson would say that they ought to give their property to the poor;… Read more »

Matt Petersen
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Matt Petersen

And, because of the cross post: I’ll look forward to it.

Andrew Lohr
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Christians can ask the Bible what kind of government God prefers (answer: much smaller than any modern government–I Sam 8, Rom 13, I Tim 2). And can then try to get it implemented. I read that Pitcairn Island is run by 7th-day Adventists. Some might try a local implementation, like Geneva. Evangelize, argue for what God wants, argue for the good sense of it (restaurants keep improving: free market competition, serve one another in love. Post Office keeps getting worse: crony capitalism. Make it compete with FedEx and UPS.) Since Paul and Peter said to pay taxes to Nero who… Read more »

Ben
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Ben

“….He is also assuming that the collection of tribute from strangers is legitimate.”

I just don’t see how this is so. Jesus talks about not offending the rulers. How is it that him trying to avoid offending the rulers equates to morally legitimizing them? Isn’t it possible that he’s only saying that you should pay the mugger who has a gun to your head, since offending him would be very unwise and unhelpful toward the spreading of the Kingdom of Heaven?

mekt75
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Aw just for the fun of it, let’s throw out another question.what do you do when a country declares war against you? How does that affect lawful taxation?

Barnabas
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Barnabas

Unfortunately your hypothetical 9% taxing state is likely to be overthrown by the state next door that maximizes taxation to the Laffer curve. Of course, the state that eats its seed corn through taxing beyond the Laffer curve and taking future tax revenue now through debt will also fall to the state with optimal taxation in the long run.

Jane
Member

Barnabas, if Pr. Wilson is correct that anything beyond 9% would be a violation of God’s order, then it might just be that 9% — or something below it — is the Laffer Curve maximization.

At least, one might not want to automatically assume it would be some number than higher that.

timothy
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timothy

Aw just for the fun of it, let’s throw out another question.what do you do when a country declares war against you? How does that affect lawful taxation? As it happens, the Laffer curve is a perfect model to use here as it introduces the juxtaposition of public policy and Christian principles. Here is a chart* for reference http://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/laffercurve.asp According to Jude Wanniski in his book The Way The World Works Point T on the curve given in the investopedia link is politically determined. Wanniski gave war as one example where the people would choose higher tax rates and the… Read more »

Em
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Em

In comparing your view on taxation with McDurmon’s, I am reminded of this quote:
“Some people do not want to be free. Some people just want to be ruled justly.”
McDurmon spent the last 1/4 of his article re-envisioning a truly free society. Since I am postmill and I love God’s law, I love my freedom and will stick with McDurmon’s view, rather than looking for ways to keep any form of taxation on the horizon, simply because the Bible talks about it.

timothy
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timothy

I neglected to close the italics on my comment. I meant to embolden and italicize “politically determined” only.

cheers.

t

timothy
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timothy

matt Peterson.

Thank you for the links.

timothy
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timothy

@Em,

Do you have links? sounds interesting.

thx.

t

RFB
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RFB

“…those who have something more than necessity…” Please provide an authoritative definition of “necessity”, as well as a reason why that particular author is authoritative regarding this subject matter, as opposed to Someone like: Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in his commands. Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in their houses,… Also, what if someone with said wealth and riches distributes it to the point that he makes others rich, does that then condemn then as well? Quite a vicious… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

@RFB

Please join me in thanking Matt for building laying down some premises and building a coherent case.

Many of us (well, I, certainly ) have taken him to task for his past rambling responses to Pastor Wilson that tended to derail the comment thread. Here, he has corrected that and I commend him for that.

I hope others will as well and encourage him to continue.

Cheers.

t.

Em
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Em

t,
I’m referencing Joel McDurmon’s article, which is linked in Wilson’s post here. (paragraph 2)

timothy
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timothy

Thank you Em. I missed the link.