“For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
Darn. I guess taxation isn’t theft. Time to go home.
But wait! We must pay careful attention!
I lumped these two verses together because I was finding it difficult to talk about the one without reference to the other. So here we go.
In these two verses, we come to the idea of taxation, and our text tells us 2 important things about taxation.
- Taxes are owed to the governing authorities just like revenue is owed to businesses.
- There is a reason taxes are owed: the governing authorities serve the people who pay the taxes by bearing the sword.
Verse 6 clearly says “because of this you pay taxes”. Because of what? “Because the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing.” What very thing? “he is God’s servant for your good… an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Why do you pay taxes? Because the governing authority has earned it.
How did he earn it? By doing the work God gave him to do: bearing the sword against those who do you harm.
So. The $64,000 question.
Is taxation theft?
There’s a trick of language going on here when we talk about taxation under the modern State. I firmly believe that what the State calls “taxes” (and what most people refer to when they use the word taxation), are not actually taxes at all!
These revenues are not earned by the performance of the role God has given to the magistrate.
Instead, they are demanded whether the service is performed or not, and they are used for other purposes God has not tasked the magistrate to do. Examples include: waging imperialistic wars, taxing from the rich to give to the poor, controlling the economy, creating and enforcing unjust laws, and violently opposing other avengers who might better serve society by actually bearing the sword the way God has tasked them to do. (We talked about the last one in verse 2).
Sure at least part of what the State does involves bearing the sword against the wrongdoer, but they do it almost accidentally. They don’t do it out of reverence for God, any sense of justice, or compassion for those who are wronged. They do it because it maintains order, which keeps them in power. And they do it with an arrogant heart and boastful eyes.
The extorted tribute payments that the State demands do not match the Biblical description of taxes. The duty we are given here is to pay taxes to those who have earned them by doing the work of the magistrate.
How can I do that under the State when the State monopolizes the sword and then uses it improperly? Who is there in society to whom I can actually fulfill this duty? I find no one who measures up.
Now it’s true that I am being a little bit idealistic in my demands here. But I think it’s important to start with the ideals and make sure we are clear on them as a baseline before we start talking about what we do with the reality that in a fallen world, nothing will ever be ideal.
I recognize, above most other concerns, that the State is the current form of governing authority that God has chosen to establish. This is completely his right, even if the governing authority is in the wrong. Because of this, I cannot completely say in absolute terms that the State’s taxes are theft. There’s at least a sense in which they are not.
Ok, let me try to be as clear as I can. Please stick with me.
Is taxation theft? As an absolute statement that would apply to any and all situations in which payments are made to the government, then the answer has to be no. There exists a definition of taxation that does not match the definition of theft.
However, very few taxation systems actually match this definition, and as I’ve already described, I believe firmly that the State, by definition, cannot measure up.
It is my view that not only does the Anarcho-Capitalist view of a free market for governing authorities harmonize with Romans 13, but that it alone of all the systems does so with no inherent, principled, definitional self-contradiction.
In a free market for governing authorities, there will be governing authorities who use their sword against wrongdoers. They will use their sword as precisely against wrongdoers as possible, not using it against good-doers, because they will need to satisfy their paying customers. Who will these paying customers be? The people who hire them to protect them from evildoers or to avenge them when they’ve been wronged. Their bottom line is at stake as well as their reputation – which affects their bottom line. There’s a natural incentive to keep them in check.
And the subscription and fee-for-service payments they receive can more rightly be called taxes than any State’s taxation system because they will have earned it by bearing the sword rightly.
I’m well aware that there are a host of practical objections to this sort of system, but I won’t try to counter any of them in detail here. I will simply make two points. The first is that while I understand why these objections are made, I don’t find any of them convincing. There are many good reasons to believe that they are nowhere near as serious as the objector insists. Take any objection you hear and simply google “Libertarian response to <objection>”. I encourage you to see what you find.
The second point is far more important which is this: those objections are all pragmatic, meaning the objector has conceded the point of principle to the Ancap view. By making these objections, the objector is tacitly admitting that the Ancap view, on principle, is better. Is it perfect? Of course not. We live in a fallen world. Show me the alternative that is better though.
Here’s one: Jesus as King!
Of course. And I can’t wait to live in that arrangement, but let’s be realistic about life now in our present age under the fall before Jesus returns. (Yes, I know. Jesus is King now. #DatAMil… but you know what I mean.)
So this is where I take back my Anarchist card. By the popular definition, I’m no anarchist. I believe strongly in the rule of law, property rights, and conservative values.
However, these things are best protected in society when there is not a single monopoly provider of law and order (the sword). Just like every other good and service in society is done better and more cost-effectively by the market than central planners, the police, the courts, the hangman, and everything else governing authorities do would be done better and more cost-effectively by the free market.
It’s this not having a single overlord like a king that puts me back within a form of anarchy. It’s just not the anarchy most people think of when they hear the term – which is why I try to avoid the term.
Back to the question of taxes. Is taxation under a State theft? Yes and No, but mostly Yes.
No. The State is the governing authority God has currently tasked with bearing the sword against wrongdoers. Support him by paying your taxes.
But Yes. The State’s taxes are theft.
It’s not even because the collection is backed up by force. Payment of your rent or mortgage is backed up by force, and that’s not theft.
It’s not because of the consent of the governed (although a better system would allow the citizens to choose which governing authority they support and select the one who does the better job). A pox on social contract theory.
It’s because the State does not earn all or even most of the money they take by doing the work God has tasked them to do. And even when they do the right thing, they do it with an arrogant heart and boastful eyes.
I’ve used that phrase twice now. It comes from Isaiah 10:12 in which God is pronouncing judgment on Assyria. God had appointed Assyria to conquer the Northern tribes of Israel. They did it, but they did it with an “arrogant heart” and “boastful eyes” (Isaiah 10:12). The following verses flesh this idea out. They did not do it to glorify God, they did it to enrich, exalt, and glorify themselves. They took credit for their success instead of returning thanks to God, and they took perverse pleasure in doing it.
When Assyria did this, their conquest was no longer merely the execution of just discipline God was sending on his people (the same way the Israelite conquest was just judgment on the wicked Caananite people). Instead, it became an evil conquest which God judged Assyria for.
I recognize that this is the case when it comes to any non-redeemed individual, group, or institution. Nothing anybody does under the sun, apart from the grace of God and without faith, rises to the standard God has for it. The world is full of people who seem to do the right thing, but they do it for the wrong reasons, with selfish motives, arrogant hearts and boastful eyes. This is true of any government, individual, charity, or private business. It would be true of governing authorities within the Ancap free market.
So on its own this does not make taxes theft. It’s really more the fact that the State misuses the sword is of much greater import. Nevertheless, their perverse motives and haughty spirits do not do them credit either.
My final analysis is this:
Taxation is not categorically theft. It does not have to be done in a way that amounts to theft, but…
When the State misuses the sword,
When the State taxes form one person to give to another,
When the State uses the sword against wrongdoers with an arrogant heart and boastful eyes (you know what I’m talking about)
Then they are no longer merely executing God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Instead, they are raging. They are plotting in vain. They are setting themselves against the Lord and his Anointed. They are storing up wrath…
And their taxes are theft……. even if we still have to pay them because they’re the only governing authority we’ve got right now. This is where God has sovereignly put us and called us to submit to.