What Does the Bible Say About Paying Taxes?

Did Jesus Pay Taxes?

Taxes in the Bible
Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians to 'render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's' (Mark 12). Getty Images

Did Jesus pay taxes? What did Christ teach his disciples about paying taxes in the Bible? We will see that Scripture is very clear on this issue.

First, let's answer this question: Did Jesus pay taxes in the Bible?

In Matthew 17:24-27, we learn that Jesus did indeed pay taxes:

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?"

"Yes, he does," he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?"

"From others," Peter answered.

"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours." (NIV)

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell of another account, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in his words, and find a reason to accuse him. In Matthew 22:15-22, we read:

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 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, and to God what is God's."

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (NIV)

This same incident is also recorded in Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26.

Submit to Governing Authorities

The Gospels leave no doubt that Jesus taught his followers not only in words, but by example, to give to the government any taxes that are owed.

In Romans 13:1, Paul brings further clarification to this concept, along with an even broader responsibility to Christians:

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (NIV)

We can conclude from this verse, if we don't pay taxes we are rebelling against the authorities established by God.

Romans 13:2 gives this warning:

"Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." (NIV)

Regarding the paying of taxes, Paul couldn't make it any clearer in Romans 13:5-7:

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (NIV)

Peter also taught that believers should submit to governing authorities:

For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. (1 Peter 2:13-16, NLT)

When Is It Okay Not to Submit to the Government?

The Bible teaches believers to obey the government, but also reveals a higher law—the law of God. In Acts 5:29, Peter and the apostles told the Jewish authorities, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." (NLT)

When the laws established by human authorities conflict with God's law, believers find themselves in a difficult position. Daniel deliberately broke the law of the land when he knelt down facing Jerusalem and prayed to God. During World War II, Christians like Corrie Ten Boom broke the law in Germany when they hid innocent Jews from the murdering Nazis.

Yes, at times believers must take a courageous stand to obey God by violating the law of the land. But, it is my opinion that paying taxes is not one of these times.

To this point, many readers have written to me over the years about the misuse of government spending and corruption in our tax system.

I agree that government abuses are valid concerns within our current tax system. But that does not excuse us as Christians from submitting to the government as the Bible commands.

As citizens, we can and should work within the law to change unbiblical elements of our current tax system. We can take advantage of every legal deduction and honest means to pay the minimum amount of taxes. But, it is my belief that we cannot ignore God's Word, which clearly instructs us to be subject to the governing authorities in the matter of paying taxes.