Should We Pay Taxes?

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Does the Bible teach that Christians should pay taxes? Did Jesus ever owe them? Is it a sin to support pagan governments? What did the Apostle Paul teach about taxes?

The Temple Tax Man

In the city of Capernaum (Matthew 17:24) a man approaches Peter regarding Jesus' taxes he owes to the temple. Paid in support of Jerusalem's house of worship, this annual amount (based on Exodus 30:13) of a half-shekel was required of all Jewish males over the age of twenty. Peter hastily confirms that his master does pay such taxes then journeys to Christ's house.

Before Peter can report what happened, however, Jesus gives him an analogy that technically he (and his disciples like Peter) were not obliged to remit taxes to the temple. Nevertheless, he acquiesces to the requirement and performs a miracle whereby both his and Peter's fee is paid.

And when he (Peter) came into the house, Jesus, anticipating his question, said, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive custom or tribute? From their own children, or from strangers?"

Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the children are indeed free. Nevertheless, so that we may not offend them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you have opened its mouth, you shall find a coin. Take that, and give it to them for Me and you."

Jesus using tribute money to teach
Jesus using tribute money to teach about taxes
Jacob Adriaensz Backer, c. 1633


The Pharisees, only a few days before the crucifixion, carry out an ingenious plan to ensnare Jesus in his own words while he is in Jerusalem (Mark 12:13 - 17, Matthew 22:15 - 22, Luke 20:20 - 26). They first gather several students as well as those who support the ruling dynasty of Herod (the Herodians). They then send them to question him regarding the Roman taxes everyone hates to pay. The question they are to pose is designed so that any answer (they thought) would offer grounds to accuse him.

". . . Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (Matthew 22:17, NIV).

If Jesus answered "yes" to the question regarding Roman taxes the Pharisees' disciples would be there to hear it as witnesses. The answer would be used to accuse him of being a traitor to the Jews and refute the idea he was their true King (Matthew 21:5, 27:11, John 18:37, etc.). If he answered "no" the Herodians would be witnesses to accuse him of treason against the Emperor. Christ, however, knowing their hearts, uses a simple coin to justify paying taxes without incriminating himself.

They brought him a denarius (a common Roman coin), and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's (e.g. taxes), and to God what is God's (Matthew 22:19 - 21, NIV).

Jesus' answer asserts that the Romans, though a hated foreign power occupying the country, had a right to collect taxes to pay for their governance. Note also that in his answer his mentions owing Caesar before God. This was likely a reference to the reality that human governments make sure they are the first to extract what is owed them before a person can give to God.

What Did Paul Teach?

What did the Apostle Paul teach about taxes? Writing during the reign of Emperor Nero (under whom he would ultimately be put to death), he informs Christians in Rome that it is God's will that they pay what is owed and submit to those who govern.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities (the Roman Empire at the time), for there is no authority except that which God has established . . . Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is why you PAY TAXES. . . (Romans 13:1, 5 - 6, NIV).

God has and will continue to allow humans to rule over other humans. Paul clearly teaches that Christians, who are separate spiritually from the world (see John 15:19, 17:14 - 16), nevertheless live in it and benefit from its governments. It is therefore reasonable that they (and anyone else) should remit taxes to support the institutions that provide services they use.


Christians are not bound by God to obey any government demand or law that requires them to sin against him (e.g. like Nebuchadnezzar demanding Daniel's friends commit idolatry - Daniel 3). Taxes, however, though disliked and sometimes used dishonestly, are not contrary to God's current will and should be paid.

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