The two most frequently cited, if not the only two passages cited, by Christians in response to many a claim of the Christian Anarchist would be those of Matthew 22 and Romans 13. The popular understanding of the church has been and continues to be that because of these two passages, taxation is not theft (Matthew 22) and that all government, or at least the particular government of the nation the Christian happens to live in, is setup and ordained by God. It is the intent of this post to provide a more Biblical, and a more rational interpretation of these two passages. I’d like to deal with the scriptures first, and then move on to some more philosophical considerations.
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.”
Let me begin by stating an obvious, yet frequently overlooked nuance to this passage. The answer given by Christ here is in response to the malice of the Pharisees and their attempt to trap Him. The answer given is not in the context of the questioner approaching the Lord and humbly asking what is the right path to take. The context of the question is full of evil intent, and it was the will of the religious leaders of His day that Christ would be arrested, because He challenged their authority. Yes, the teachings of and the life lived by Christ was inherently subversive to authority.
The words of Christ to “render to Caesar” are of no value in answering the question of whether or not taxation, under our current political system, is theft. For one, I am not a resident of 1st century Palestine living under Roman occupation with a Caesar ruling over me. So the question of whether or not I should pay a poll-tax to Caesar just does not apply. What you would need to do is to remove this question from the literal and specific context in which it was asked, and attempt to generalize “render to Caesar” as being binding for all taxation by all government throughout all time. This just does not make sense. In 1 Samuel 8, one of the warnings against Israel rejecting Yahweh as their King and seeking for a man to rule over them is that “he will claim as his right a tenth of grain, a tenth of seed, a tenth of the fruit of the the vineyards, a tenth of the flocks.” In the original design of the government of God’s people, taxation was non-existent. So, taxation was not a part of Yahweh’s original plan for His people, and only began when a king was raised up as a result of His people rejecting Him.
An even greater disparity is revealed when one understands how currency was created by the Roman empire, and how it is created today. In the time of Christ, the Caesar literally owned the denarius. The denarius was not the only currency used within the Roman empire at the time, but it was the only currency minted by Caesar himself. His own mint created the currency and spread it around the empire as a way to remind those under Roman rule exactly who was in charge of their lives. Paying the poll-tax was literally giving Caesar back his own property, and the currency itself, along with the requirement of the denarius to pay the tax were both measures of enslavement. Imagine for a moment if our own government printed worthless currency and then required us to pay them a tax in only the currency they printed. How would one acquire said currency? You would have to purchase it with something of value. Gold, or maybe silver. This is not too far from where we find ourselves today, the difference being that our worthless currency is not printed by the government that we pay tax to and this is another point of difference between the monetary system of the Roman empire and the one we find ourselves living in today. The United States government does not own the currency of the United States, it does not print it, and it does not distribute it. The Federal Reserve is a privately owned central bank that finances the United States government through loans, given out at interest. For a better understanding of how money is made click here. If your argument is that “Caesar” represents “all government everywhere” and that “render to Caesar what is Caesars” means that “government owns the currency” your argument has no place in our current monetary system. Government does not own our currency and we don’t pay taxes to the Federal Reserve. Furthermore, the government does not own my body or my time. Anything I gain through the legal exchange of the two is by rights, mine.
There is also something to be said about how Christ places “render to Caesar” in contrast with “give to God”. As was His way, He takes an event and uses it to focus the discussion on what is more important; that we give to Yahweh that which is His. We as His image bearers are placed in opposition to a coin that bears the image of Caesar. Christ is in essence saying “You worry about paying Yahweh His due.” This is precisely where our focus and attention ought to be and we should not be using this passage to place Yahweh’s stamp of approval on theft, as long as government is the agency committing the theft.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
Here we have the very heart of the Christian argument against the tenants of Anarcho-capitalism. Albeit, an inconsistent argument at best. Let’s deal with the text itself first.
The word translated as “established” in our English bibles is the Greek “τεταγμέναι” which does not have the common conception of “established” in the sense of “all that government does is ordained by Yahweh”. Instead, this word is more properly understood to mean: “arranged” “determined” “assigned”. From ‘HELPS word-studies’:
5021 tássō – properly, arrange (put in order); to place in a particular order, appoint; (figuratively) ordain, set in place; “station” (J. Thayer) (“place in position, post”) was commonly used in ancient military language for “designating” (“appointing, commissioning”) a specific status, i.e. arranging (placing) in a deliberate, fixed order.
Paul is not saying in Romans 13, through the use of the word “tetagmenai” that all that government does is the will of Yahweh, in context, Paul is saying: “All authority belongs to Yahweh. Yahweh has delegated some of His authority to government in that they are to punish evil and reward good.
The presupposition of most modern Evangelicals is that God’s will is always being done, and therefore all actions of government must be ordained by Yahweh and are being executed according to His will. This is simply not the case. Take the words of Paul in verses 3 and 4:
“For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”
Are we to assume from these words that all actions committed by all government throughout all time was that government “bearing the sword against those that practice evil” and being “a minister of God to you for good”? This is ludicrous. The persecution of Christians by the Roman government was certainly not an example of the Romans bearing the sword against evil. Quite the opposite. It was an example of government having a specific authority delegated to it, and using that authority illegitimately to persecute the church. Was Paul condoning the actions of the Roman empire and the persecution of the church as being “ordained by God”? I think not. The simple fact is that, like every other power or authority delegated to man by Yahweh, government, in the role of bearing the sword against evil and rewarding those that do good has failed. Romans 13 is not a blank check for government to do as they see fit because all that they do is ordained and approved by Yahweh. It is Paul telling the Christians in Rome that government has been given a specific authority, and if you do that which is good and Lawful according to God’s Law you will have nothing to worry about. Paul was correct insofar that the actions of Christians in accordance with the commands of God and the teachings of Christ would not give cause for any government to justly punish them. When, however, followers of Christ are persecuted by the same institution charged with ministering good to them, we can see how the argument that “all government does is according to God’s will” breaks down. One need not look past our own time to see examples of government rewarding evil and persecuting good. Abusing the authority delegated to it by performing the exact opposite of what it was delegated authority to do!
The rest of the passage reads as follows:
“ Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
Continuing on in the context of the passage, Paul is saying that the rulers are servants of God insofar as they are executing their delegated authority correctly and for this reason tax ought to be paid to them. If government used the money they take from us via taxation to execute it’s God ordained authority in punishing evil and rewarding good, that our money is taken from us to do so might be an easier pill to swallow. Meaning, I would not object to taxation so much if it were only used by government to fulfill the role of government as ordained by Yahweh. This is simply not the world we live in. Speaking only to the actions of the United States government, our tax money is used to pay for; abortion, the bombing of other nations, the murder of innocent people, the imprisonment of innocent people, the legislation of unjust laws, and all manner of unknown evil. Admittedly, government does what is morally right at times, but in an ANCAP society you would still have all the benefit of the good being done without the evil and it would not require taxation to accomplish this good.
It is the opinion of this writer, and of many others, that the Church has a responsibility to let go of the false understanding that all that government does is good and ordained by Yahweh and that we face the reality of the world we live in.