A Biblical case for Proportional (flat) taxation

In my previous post, I suggested progressive taxation was not Biblical, and challenged readers to convince me I was wrong.  In the voluminous follow up comments, I didn’t see any Biblical arguments for progressive taxation.  However several posters suggested that there was not Biblical support for any method of taxation (regressive, proportional or progressive).  In this post I will argue instead that a proportional tax system (flat tax) aligns with Biblical principles.  Necessarily a blog post is going to be an abbreviated argument; I will provide an extended argument only in examining one scriptural argument but can address other arguments in response to your comments.  Note that this is strictly looking at the Biblical morality; as an economist I can give you many other reasons why a flat tax is the best system—but I won’t address those here.

First, let’s just agree to a few things.  1) No one argues that a regressive tax (where the poor pay a higher percentage of their income in tax than the rich) is a Biblically justified tax system.  2) No one took up the challenge that a progressive tax system is Biblically preferred (albeit several comments took up the challenge from a secular perspective).  3) Everyone agrees that taxation is necessary to fund government (at some level) and is Biblically justified (Matt 22:21, Romans 13:1-7).  4) Finally, I will agree that there is no explicit Biblical support for proportional taxation.  However, I argue that God’s word contains principles that provide implicit Biblical support.

As always when looking at Scripture, we want to understand how a particular section relates to the grand narrative of God’s plan in redemptive history.  We know that each book was written to a particular group at a particular time with its own unique context, so we first must understand what it would have meant to the original reader/listener.  But then we always ask the question:  what does it mean to us?  Are there principles that apply to today?  The principle of impartiality in social relations—especially in government relationships—seems to be an abiding principle.

In a proportional (or flat) tax system, every dollar of income earned that is taxable* is taxed at the same rate.   Thus every individual is treated identically by the tax code.  There is strong Biblical support for treating people impartially, and in an opposite way, strong condemnation for showing partiality or favoritism.  This is because we are supposed to image God, and God is impartial.  Romans 2:11 states clearly that God shows no partiality with respect to salvation, (see also Deut. 10:17, Acts 10:34, Job 34:19, and Eph. 6:9).  I agree that this is not conclusive, since it isn’t directly talking about taxation, but it does give us an idea of where God’s heart is for how we treat one another.  There is a reason why Lady Justice is blindfolded.

However, there are other passages which take us closer to the heart of the matter.  Lev 19:15 says “‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.”  In this verse, we are told that not only should we not favor the rich, but surprisingly, we should also not favor the poor (see also Ex. 23:3).  But why should we think this has applicability to taxation?  A main purpose of Leviticus is to show how the Israelites can live a holy life.  Chapter 19 is the pinnacle of how we live holy lives in relation to others, and the commands are given a solid reason—“I am the LORD”–which is repeated throughout the section.  Interestingly, Ch 19 is widely viewed as repeating the Decalogue; clearly Leviticus is summarizing the essence of what Holy Living looks like under God’s moral law.  In the middle of this section on Holy Living, comes verse 15, which describes what justice looks like.  Do we treat each other according to their just due?  Lev 19:15 helps us understand that a standard for personal holiness will be reflected in a standard for corporate holiness.  As John Hartley says in the Word Biblical Commentary, “Since God is just, his people must establish justice in their courts as the foundation of their covenant relationship with him.  The inner strength of a nation resides in the integrity of its judicial system.”  While, this is not dealing with taxation, it is dealing with justice in the social setting of the courts—it seems reasonable to conclude that if impartiality is required for the courts, it would be required of government action in general.  At least the burden of proof should be on those advocating for a system of partiality, given the extensive Biblical support of impartiality.**

For those that think this standard might only be applicable to the Old Testament, the same concept and appeal is made in James 2:8-10, where James condemns showing partiality to the rich who visit the church.  But do not think that somehow James would have been fine with partiality going in the other direction.  In his condemnation, James references Lev 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and is summarizing what the law requires:

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

Showing partiality makes you a lawbreaker; even in the New Testament, God’s standard of social relations is impartiality, carrying over the requirements of the Law to our New Covenant relations.  We often memorize James 2:10 to illustrate the necessity of salvation, since a works-based approach can never get you “clean” enough.  And that is well and good.  But let’s remember the context in James, and what it is that is offensive to God.  Even if you get everything else right—if you are showing partiality–you are against the will of God.

While this might be enough to convince many of us, others that have commented on previous posts argue that a progressive tax policy is impartial, since it treats everyone who makes a particular income level the same.  But there are two things that mitigate this view.  First, since God’s standard for impartiality has not changed, the closest thing we see to God’s “tax system” is in the tithe, and this was applied proportionally at a flat 10% rate.  To be sure, the purpose of the tithe was NOT what we have for the purpose of taxation in our modern state.  But the tithe was God’s designated mechanism to gather mandatory social contributions for “state” activities.  Lev 27 describes the 10% tithe to support the Levites, Deut. 14:22-26 describes a 2nd tithe for celebratory purposes, while vv. 27-29 describe an additional tithe to support the poor.  Similar to taxes being collected for our contribution towards public services from which we benefit, much of the tithe also supported the giver through the various celebrations that were held.  The important point for our purposes is not what it was collected for, but rather how God commanded it to be collected:   equally from all, at the same percentage.  The rich surely had the same diminishing marginal utility in income that we have today, yet God applied this “tax” equally to all.  The tithe system treated income impartially, suggesting our tax system should likewise be impartial with respect to income.***

A second consideration for supporting a proportional tax is that some tax must be levied.  Since no one advocates a pure regressive tax, only a progressive tax is an alternative.  And progressive taxes have another problem.  While it is true that everyone that actually earns a billion dollars would be subject to the same tax rate, almost no American can ever expect to find himself/herself in that situation.  Thus there is a strong motivation to push taxes towards another income class, while advocating benefits that can primarily be shared by the lower/middle class.  This leads to advocating policies that were a private individual to do, would clearly be labeled as theft.  Let’s say I like the symphony.  I can support taxation on the rich to pay for a public symphony, “for the good of the community.”  While I would be arrested if I took a gun to my rich neighbor to demand funds to pay for a symphony I’d like to hear, we console ourselves if we effectively do the same thing by using the government as our collection agent.  To salve our guilty conscious, we convince ourselves that the rich are greedy, and have gotten this way only because of some nefarious conduct.  Or we say that since there is diminishing marginal utility in income, they won’t miss it as much as the poor–even though the poor don’t pay income taxes. They are lucky we don’t come after them for more than their money; our corrective shakedown is the only thing that prevents a more violent mob from coming at them with pitchforks.  Whipping up collective envy is the specialty of some politicians.  Are all people that are in favor of progressive taxation trying to create (or falling victim to) envy?  Of course not.  But many are—this is not a small concern.  I once had a privilege of eating lunch with R.C. Sproul in the late 1990s (with a few other students), and he related that he thought the progressive tax system was the single biggest corruptor of our collective morality.  You don’t have to agree completely with him to recognize it is a problem, and a significant temptation for our populist politicians.  It is a big enough risk that I argue we should avoid it.  There is nothing biblically to commend it (compared to the proportional alternative) and much to fear.

We live in a fallen world, and as such government is a necessary evil to restrain other evils that we would do to one another.  Government truly is an agent of God’s common grace, and we must fund it with a tax system.  Only a proportional tax system seems to be consistent with God’s requirement of impartiality, while the progressive taxation alternative has much to fear in corrupting our individual and collective character.

*  In all tax systems under public discussion there is some level of income that is not taxed; tax is applied on income above certain levels, whether progressively or proportionally.  In a famous flat tax proposal in the 1990s (Hall and Rabushka), the rate was 19% across all income, while excluding $22,500 from taxation for a family of four.  As they note in the report, you can make that exclusion higher, but then to generate the same revenue you must have a higher single rate.

** This includes those that advocate for a progressive tax rate on the economic view of diminishing marginal utility of money.  I don’t disagree with that concept, and I don’t disagree that it is consistent with the worldly view of fairness (only to a degree, since the poor effectively don’t pay income taxes in the U.S. {see table 2 of preceding hyperlink}).  However, my challenge is that this view of fairness is difficult to sync with the complete Biblical record.  God promises in many places (e.g., Psalm 73, Prov 13:11) that wealth that is obtained dishonestly will not last–He will “redistribute” this wealth.  He doesn’t need our help.

*** Some of the offerings did make allowance for poor people to give less, such as the Law of Guilt Offerings (Lev. 5).  That is why I think it is important to exclude the poor from the tax situation.  Many on the Christian left want to say that a reduction of taxes on the rich necessitates an increase in tax on the poor—that is patently false.  The poor pay no income taxes in the U.S., and every tax proposal has some level of income excluded from taxation to allow the necessities of life.  But once you are no longer considered poor—however we collectively define that—you contribute the same on each dollar of income.  And that is how the sacrificial and tithing system worked, and a proportional or flat tax would mirror that.

41 thoughts on “A Biblical case for Proportional (flat) taxation”

  1. I agree in principle on flat taxes but I have one question:

    What would the proper course of action be if in the case of a major general war or a significant disaster extra funds were required that were beyond the capacity of a flat tax to pay?

    If a flat tax is not supposed to infringe on the income necessary for the necessities of life but keeping the rate flat (and fair) for all levels in order to pay for an exigency would cause the lower income brackets to suffer in terms of their necessities, would it not then be the proper course to only increase the rates on the upper income tiers to provide the needed funds? With, of course, the provision that once the exigency is passed, or all necessary funds are collected, all rates return to normal levels.

    1. For truly emergency situations, why not borrow and pay off in the course of time? That’s certainly an option. I’d rather make an exception on debt in emergencies rather than back off the principle.

      1. That would be the best option but does this not assume not only a balanced budget but a budget surplus as well?

        Neither one of those two things seem likely to happen anytime soon.

      2. “Neither one of those two things seem likely to happen anytime soon.”
        Neither is a flat tax or a major war beyond the flat tax’s ability to pay!

  2. I agree that a proportional (flat) tax would be the best option. You’re Biblical observations and thorough investigation of different materials to back up your point are well illustrated in this post. I really liked the passage of Leviticus 19:15 and thought that your analysis of it was on par. If people could realize that a personal standard for Holiness translates into the corporate side, and realize the importance of coming to a grasp with that personal standard, that would help a lot with the making of a just system.

  3. I want to be as nice as possible, since you seem to be a nice guy.

    I have to admit, once again, you are not using “biblical principles” but instead are cherry picking the Bible–often taking verses completely out of context–to support YOUR OWN principles. I don’t buy for a moment that this is a truly biblical interpretation.

    So many problems, so little time.

    You quote several passage from Leviticus to support your own position. Why do you assume that those passage in Leviticus are in play today?

    Should we today follow all of that which was commanded in the book of Leviticus (note the passages that prohibit beard cutting, eating pigs, working on Saturday, and, gasp, mixing fabrics (I better take off my suit!)

    Since Leviticus calls for stoning to death those who commit blasphemy, should we therefore assume that this should be a policy of government?

    Leviticus also sets rule about slaves. Should we then assume that slavery should be legal today, since the acceptance of slavery is clearly a biblical principle?

    You see the problems that come when one turns the Bible into a vat of cherries?

    If I have time, I will dissect your argument further; but I am not sure I have anything close to the necessary amount of time.

    All the best, and in kindness, JA

    1. Jeff–
      I would encourage you to think about the underlying principles of the Old Testament, and then see how they apply today. That’s what I tried to do. All of Leviticus is teaching us specific rituals that were a response to God’s Holiness and the corresponding demands on us. None of God’s holiness has changed in the NT, and we still need to be “set apart” for God.

      Let me just pick one of your examples to illustrate. Stoning for blasphemy. Death is the appropriate penalty for blasphemy in the midst of God’s people, lest a little leaven spread to the whole group. We still have the same principle in effect today; excommunication for some sins is the representative of the eschatological judgment that will follow if the individual does not repent (1 Cor 5). And it prevents the sinful individual from corrupting the church. So we don’t need to physically kill someone to maintain the same purity within the church that God required in order to maintain purity within Israel. But the principle of God’s holiness and the requisite requirement of purity within His bride has not changed.

      1. “Let me just pick one of your examples to illustrate. Stoning for blasphemy. Death is the appropriate penalty for blasphemy in the midst of God’s people, lest a little leaven spread to the whole group. We still have the same principle in effect today; excommunication for some sins is the representative of the eschatological judgment that will follow if the individual does not repent (1 Cor 5).”

        Your explanation would be applicable ONLY if “excommunication for some sins” were the basis of a government policy.”

        Is that what you are arguing?

        Remember, in your blog post you are making the case for a GOVERNMENT POLICY based on biblical principles.

        One could easily take biblical principles and argue that government should be theocratic, or that government should legalize slavery (just two among many things).

        Indeed, the Bible specifically argues for and defends the ownership of people as property, and God’s ideal of government throughout the Old Testament was for a theocracy (i.e. a society governed by rules set forth by God).

        Bottom line, if you are going to argue that “biblical principles” suggest that government taxation should be proportional, then in order to be consistent, you would ALSO need to argue that the legalization of slavery and for the replacement of democracy with theocracy are biblically-based (and therefore should be enacted). In fact, you should argue MORE forcefully for them, because the Bible more explicitly defends them.

        IF you are not consistent, then you are guilty of what I said you were all along–of cherry-picking verses out of the Bible to support what you already believe and, therefore, of disrespecting the Bible.

      2. “Your explanation would be applicable ONLY if “excommunication for some sins” were the basis of a government policy.” Is that what you are arguing?’

        No, of course not. And what you say is of course not true. Israel was a theocracy; we are not. The Biblical principle may be applied differently in different institutional settings, even when the Biblical principle doesn’t change.

        “Bottom line, if you are going to argue that “biblical principles” suggest that government taxation should be proportional, then in order to be consistent, you would ALSO need to argue that the legalization of slavery and for the replacement of democracy with theocracy are biblically-based (and therefore should be enacted). In fact, you should argue MORE forcefully for them, because the Bible more explicitly defends them.
        I do hope for a Theocracy–in due time. But only when Jesus comes again to rule. I don’t trust myself or the rest of you to adequately fill His shoes.

  4. “I have to admit, once again, you are not using “biblical principles” but instead are cherry picking the Bible–often taking verses completely out of context–to support YOUR OWN principles. I don’t buy for a moment that this is a truly biblical interpretation”

    So says you.

    “You quote several passage from Leviticus to support your own position. Why do you assume that those passage in Leviticus are in play today?”

    I believe he did explain through several NT passages why the principles of proportionality can be carried over. I am not going to waste my time repeating them. If you failed to see them, or more likely ignored them, in the original post, nothing I say or do will make any difference.

    And the “why don’t we stone or bring back slavery” argument is sheer baloney. You know very well he didn’t mean that and no one with any common sense who read it would think so. You are once again obfuscating.

    1. Nathan

      Mr. D, I thought my point was quite clear.

      Let’s go over this again:

      1. Although there is no explicit mention of the progressive income tax, proportionate taxation, or others forms of government taxation in the Bible whatsoever (at least no one here has pointed out one single verse to the contrary), Mr. Haymond decides anyway to pick out NOT specific mandates, but rather “biblical principles” to support his view.

      2. The Bible clearly defends the owning of other human beings. Slavery is not merely a biblical principle. It is discussed and defended in both Old and New Testaments. Indeed, the Confederacy accepted slavery as a biblical principle; its slogan, if you will, was Deo Vindice (God will vindicate us).

      3. Here is what I see as intellectually inconsistent, if not hypocritical: saying that proportional taxation is a biblical principle (and therefore something to be done), despite the fact that slavery is FAR more than just a mere biblical principle (and yet something NOT to be done). This makes no sense, unless you consider inconsistency a virtue (which, you may well),

      Obviously, I am not calling for slavery (no one is here–that is not the point). BUT, frankly, if Mr. Haymond is going to conjure up evidence for things not explicitly discussed in the Bible (government taxation), while ignoring what the Bible much more clearly defends and supports (slavery), then I am going to call him on it.

      Why?

      As George Bernard Shaw put it “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what HE means.” I tire of Shaw almost always being right.

  5. Professor Haymond —

    Thank you for posting your thoughts. It seems as though your argument primarily turns on the relationship between the concepts of equality and justice, and specifically how those terms affect your definition of impartiality.

    First, it would seem to me that you have conflated equality and justice without proper justification. Equality and justice are not coterminous. As Aristotle famously pointed out, equality may need to be unjust, given that justice is “treating equals equally, and unequals unequally.” There are many examples of this truth, but take sales tax as a specific instance. While all parties are charged the same rate per transaction (6% in MI), that rate disproportionately burdens purchasers in poverty due to their limited flexible income. Sales taxes are inherently equal, but they disadvantage the poor more than any other economic group. Take another example: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” This quote, famously from French philosopher Jacques Thibault, is precisely wrong…for while the law applies to all people equally, it disproportionately harms the disadvantaged, who often depend on the very conduct outlawed in order to survive. Lastly, your conflation here is interesting given that conservatives routinely point out this dynamic when discussing the subject of discrimination (e.g. “not all discrimination is wrongful/unjust inherently” etc).

    Second, I would encourage you to wrestle your definition in contrast to the exegetical work done by Tim Keller in Generous Justice: “The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups. Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet [widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor] is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to ‘do justice.'” How is your definition of justice (and impartiality) informed not only by the arc of scripture, but by the literal word itself?

    Third, I found your selection of passages to be flamboyantly incomplete (or even misleading at times). In my opinion, your treatment of the text strongly suggests that you have allowed a preconceived hermeneutic to read meaning into texts. For instance:
    – Certainly, God is impartial regarding the ultimate subject of sin (Romans 2), but God also chooses to reward and hold accountable as he sees fit (Matthew 20, Luke 12).
    – You allow a single verse in Leviticus to overwhelm the over-arching themes of unique generosity towards the poor by pulling that verse from its adjudicatory context (the passage is clearly arguing that the poor, if they have committed a legal wrong, deserve their legal punishment regardless of their status).
    – James 4’s condemnation regarding favoritism is entirely about impartial favoritism towards the wealthy.

    Fourth, you settle for sloppy straw men arguments when claiming to understand the intent of those supportive of progressive taxes. You smear supporters by describing them as “nefarious” and “envious” without cause, and without – importantly – wrestling with what are more likely to be the substantive, more rigorous arguments actually made by those proponents.

    This argument may be a solid starting point, but until you choose to engage directly with a thoughtful, qualified Christian who supports the concept of progressive tax, your arguments will continue to persuade primarily those with whom you already agree.

    1. “Sales taxes are inherently equal, but they disadvantage the poor more than any other economic group.”

      Not disagreeing with you (as your actual view wasn’t made clear in the post, despite your multiple points in favor of a progressive tax), but let me just ask a question – should a grocery store be required to charge people below the poverty line less than those who make $100,000+ per year? Certainly it would be noble for a store to cut a deal for the poor and needy (and it would fit very well with the Bible’s view of charity for the poor), but should it be *required*?

      If this were to happen, the poor would benefit, the rich would not be burdened any more – but the grocery store would certainly suffer. Would that be just?

      Consider this – the price of groceries, regardless of said price, will *always* disadvantage the poor relative to the wealthy, for it is not sales tax, or the proportional tax, or the progressive tax that disadvantages the poor. The poor are disadvantaged because they are, by definition, *poor,* and if they were not economically disadvantaged, they would not be poor.

      If this point is, then, true – that the poor are disadvantaged by definition – then *any* tax placed on them is not advantageous. You can tax the wealthy at 90% and give the poor a break, and as long as that tax does not place them in the position of economic disadvantage, they are not poor, and those who cannot afford groceries by themselves are still poor.

      By this reasoning, a progressive tax does nothing to benefit the poor, and only makes it more difficult for those with means to retain their means and avoid “poor” status.

      Now, an apparent hole in this claim is that a progressive tax removes the disadvantage on those who are already poor by redistributing the disadvantage onto those who can afford the burden without being dropped to the point of being “poor”. But why should we assume the burden must be placed upon the rich citizen or the poor citizen – can we not, as in the grocery store example, place the disadvantage somewhere else? The grocery store would not appreciate being required to absorb the advantage, but why not on the very people who are imposing the tax on everybody? That certainly seems fair. Why should the burden of economic disadvantage not be ingested via budget cuts in government?

      Because we all know the U.S. Government does an absolutely *incredible* job managing its budget.

      But in truth, any tax system that groups people into categories must inevitably be unfair to somebody – it must place some group at an economic disadvantage. It is certainly Biblical for a rich man to ingest the disadvantage himself for the sake of the poor, but is it certainly Biblical for a rich man to be involuntarily thrust into a system that goes out of its way to disadvantage him *specifically* because he is rich, while leaving those who are still poor no better off?

      Now I think we will both agree that it is certainly Biblical for a ruler (or group of rulers) to be benevolent to its people, and it is Biblical for that ruler (or group of rulers) to sacrifice a bit (i.e. by actually proposing a realistic budget) to ensure that he need not be an economic burden on the poor or rich. The move that would be most just is the move that would also treat all Americans equally – cut the bloat out of government spending and make do on what it can collect from a flat tax that does its best to avoid being a burden on both the poor and rich, while still providing the essential functions it was founded to do.

      In a Biblical ideal, those “disadvantaged” by this system – the definition of “poor” that I’ve been using – could then turn to God’s people and find both temporary relief and a means to escape the status of “economically disadvantaged”. Everyone is treated equally by the law, and those who require help with their economic burden are given it by mercy, not mandate. Is this not how God works throughout Scripture?

      Just to muddy the economic waters further, the definition of economic disadvantage changes based on location. For example, in my town and with my needs, I could live very comfortably on $17,000 a year (below the Federal poverty line), while a man obligated to live in the city down the highway about 20 miles from me may struggle to live on less than $100,000+. Thus, a national progressive tax system becomes an exercise in “non sequitur”, for it must be progressive based on a “national standard” of income that is standard in writing only. This makes a flat tax supplemented by generous people sound even more appealing.

      Progressive tax is not a just way to help the poor because it mandates that the rich be specially burdened without their consent. The “Biblical” arguments for progressive tax often appeal to the Biblical ideal of a rich man – benevolent at their core and being a “cheerful giver,” the kind God wants – while pointing to a method that does not care if a rich man is willing, cheerful, both, or neither, thus abandoning that Biblical ground. In the end, it is possible to be just to all and still benevolent to the poor and needy by realizing that forcing the rich to give more is not the only way to end poverty, and giving people the ability to choose where their money goes at a local level will be far more efficient than requiring the yielding of tax money in disproportionate amounts to be redistributed by a government that is too far separated from local definitions of the poverty line to make a difference.

      The argument I make, then, is not really about Biblical support for 10% tax on everyone, but Biblical stewardship of our resources. Decisions regarding the poor should not be made by a one-stop standard that pretends that poorness is the same everywhere. Decisions regarding the poor should be made by the people who know their community’s poor, know the poverty line of their community, and know people who want to help. This, I believe, is the truly Biblical way of helping the poor.

      As for your comment regarding the prohibition of thievery being a disadvantage to the poor, there are more than economic reasons why thievery is illegal. It’s also morally wrong (and Biblically forbidden). Sleeping under bridges and solicitation aren’t quite so Biblically offensive, but I do believe that both of those things are common practice (unfortunately) among the poor in America, particularly because the programs to help them are too broad and bloated to help the poor efficiently.

      Regarding “Generous Justice”, mishpat can be reached without government mandated charity. Disproportionate, mandated charity by a constitutional republican government not chartered by the people to be a charity is paramount to thievery, which as already discussed, is Biblically immoral. The rich will be judged for their lack of charity if they lack charity, but as discussed, a government of our scale cannot wisely handle either welfare or progressive taxation.

      James 4’s condemnation of favoritism to the wealthy is not equivalent to God’s mandate of favoritism to the poor, and we should certainly not equate it to a mandate for governments to show favoritism to the poor, especially with money that is not theirs. I do not think this is necessarily what you are implying, but I think it should be said, and I think Professor Haymond had some good points regarding a Biblical view of fairness.

      Sorry to write a second blog post as a comment. I suppose I could say “long time reader, first time commenter.” Let me know if I sound reasonable or if I’m way off base. I don’t have a lot of time to reply (certainly not another long one like this), but I’d appreciate (edifying) thoughts.

      1. Hi, Elijah —

        Respectfully, I had a genuinely difficult time following the reasoning of your post. I’m not sure if you were replying to mine, or simply writing about your own ideas. That makes it difficult to reply. But I’ll see if I can!

        Sales Tax, Equality vs. Justice — As far as I can tell, you have not addressed the concern I’ve raised regarding equality and justice. It may be the case , in certain situations, that equal treatment would not be just treatment. If you were attempting to criticize my position by analogizing sales tax to grocery store purchases, I think you’ll find rather quickly that analogy is deeply flawed. Taxes are in no way equivalent to grocery purchases; they are more analagous to the use of sliding scale fees in adoptions. I would ask you to consider wrestling with the specific examples mentioned: while equal, are the sales taxes and homeless laws I cited genuinely *just*? And if so, what is the difference – to you – between equality and justice?

        Disadvantage and the Poor — Your point here may be the least persuasive, at least if I understood you correctly. Certainly, any tax is a “burden” on any person taxed. But what is your point in the affirmative? That all taxes be abolished? The fact that taxes pose a burden doesn’t affect the claim that a progressive tax system may still be beneficial *because* it distributes proportional burden tp all parties. After all, the degree to which one is “burdened” by a tax can only be defined according to the means by which the person pays for that burden. That’s why a 20% tax on someone earning 25K/year is – in *most* settings – will always be financially burdensome than the same 20% tax on someone earning $100K/year.

        Exaggerated Claims — I found your post frequently settling into extreme claims or dichotomies to make points, and I generally don’t find those claims particularly persuasive. Do you genuinely believe that a 25% rate on a married couple making $125K a year threatens to thrust them into poverty? Do you genuinely believe that rich men and women in the United States are “thrust into a system” which seeks to ruin an disadvantage them?

        Policy and the Poor — At the end of your “longer section” you argued that the true Biblical approach to serving the poor would be to localize the solutions. While I’m not one to suggest that localizing decisions is always best, I tend to agree that federal solutions to poverty have been unsuccessful. I also don’t find the current welfare/social-service programs to be genuinely helpful at all. There are a large number of more effective ways to distribute the same (or less) monetized support to poor communities – ways that can produce long term, inclusive, market-friendly outcomes — without incentivizing those individuals to stay out of the work force.

        Misphat and “Government Mandated Charity” — One of the reasons I find your post so difficult to follow is the rate at which you employ and inter-change different terms. So, when you say “government mandated charity” its unclear to me to what you’re referring. I think you have a long, long way to go to make the case that taxes (or, at least, taxes you don’t like) amount to thievery. Beyond that, you have an even longer way to go suggest taking any sort of intense action to address that thievery given the absence of any such response on the part of Christ (despite far more burdensome, onerous, theft-like taxes leveraged by the Roman empire).

        James Passage — Please read my comment more carefully. I did not suggest that the passage condoned favoritism towards any. Professor Haymond drew the conclusion from that passage that all forms of partiality are always wrong, when in fact the passage strictly condemns partiality and favoritism towards the rich. This “exegetical reach” was frequent in the Professor’s post (and in the other passages I pointed out, which you didn’t choose to address).

        Elijah, I want you to consider a very practical demonstration of the progressive tax concept. Imagine that you live in a context where resources are dangerously limited, and you must band together with 9 other neighbors to survive. Of the 10 of you, 2 have more resources the other 8 combined, while 3 of you have almost no resources of your own, and the remaining 5 have a varying degree of “disposable/discretionary” resources. Would it not be fair to ask that the 2 who own the most of the much-needed resources to bear a larger amount of the group’s total burden? Wouldn’t it likewise be unjust to ask the 3 members, who possess almost nothing, to give into the system 10% (or some other figure) of what little they own to benefit the whole? Won’t doing so decrease what little opportunity those 3 have to increase their individual earning potential?

        This is the question of progressive taxes. Now, I am not settled that progressive taxes are the best way to go. In fact, I think the real, central issue to taxes is the cumbersome, obnoxious system that’s been built by wealthy interests to create gaping loopholes – like dividend-based income tax rates – which allow them to bypass most of the entire framework. But what is clear to me is that the flat tax is not more inherently “just” – biblically or otherwise – on the basis that it is equal, and therefore just. Equality and justice are simply not the same thing in all cases.

      2. Equally respectfully, Jonathan, I had a genuinely difficult time following the reasoning of your post, as well.

        I indirectly address the idea of Sales Tax, Equality vs. Justice in my previous post. My grocery store example was not meant to be analogous to sales tax – that would obviously foolish, as you readily declared. So far you’re the only one out of three I’ve spoken to on this who has come to this conclusion, but if I should have been clearer about that, I’m sorry.

        My grocery store example, rather, was meant to prompt the idea taxes are not the sole cause of difficulty for the poor. My point is that the baseline price of groceries, even without proportional or progressive sales tax, will be more difficult for the poor to afford than the rich.

        Now, we would probably consider it unjust (and unequal!) if we forced a grocery store to sell at a loss to those who are less fortunate. On the other hand, a grocery store that volunteered to donate/sell at a loss to the needy would be praised. This was the point of the grocery store example, to point out this difference.

        As to your statement – that equal treatment is not just treatment – I find this to be fundamentally flawed. On the contrary, equal treatment is the *only* just treatment. Take, for example, what we know of God – Our Savior tells us that there is no way to the Father, but by Him. We know that the only way to be saved and restore our relationship with God is by believing in Christ.

        We also know that there are many people who do not know Christ, not because they have rejected Him, but simply because they have never heard of Him. Paul speaks of these people in his letters, and we can reasonably conclude that those who never hear the Gospel still have enough knowledge of God to condemn them. This is obviously much more dire a situation than the sales tax/proportional tax we are discussing now, but let’s look at the logical progression we see here:

        1. God is a perfectly just God.
        2. A perfectly just God will always execute perfectly just actions.
        3. God has acted such that the only way to Heaven is by believing in Jesus Christ. The standard upon which we are all judged is our faith in Jesus Christ; without this faith, we have only enough information to condemn us.
        4. Knowing this, God has also acted such that some are born into a life where they will receive knowledge of Christ. Others are born into different circumstances – into a life where not only will they fail to receive knowledge of Christ, but they *will never have had the chance*. These people are still condemned.
        5. Because we know points 1 and 2 are true by definition, points 3 and 4 must be compatible.
        This is actually an argument that Paul validates at various points throughout the book of Romans.

        With this in mind, the reasonable conclusion is that equal standard is also the just standard, or our God (Who treats us all equally and with perfect justice) would have chosen the hypothetically just standard that makes allowance for circumstantial inequality. Certainly if there should be a case where an unequal standard is more just than an equal standard, it should be in regard to our salvation!- but God does not act so.

        This a serious issue that also has implications in our discussion. If my reasoning above is correct, then the equal standard is the just standard, and the remainder of your argument in this regard is moot.

        There’s more here, but I’m writing another blog post. You claim I used exaggerated claims and dichotomies “frequently,” but the only claim of mine I found that could be perceived as such is my personal potential for comfort at $17,000/yr while another man living down the highway barely makes it at $100,000 (not a married couple at $125K, as you claim). I know this claim can be true in extreme situations, I know people who have lived it. The point was not found in the extremes, however, as I could have made the same point using $17,000/yr and $25,000/yr. The large gap only makes it more apparent.

        I don’t have time to argue the obvious disparity between the powers granted by the Constitution and the powers our government has claimed for itself, so I’ll pass over this one this time. Sorry!

        I didn’t suggest your comment regarding James implied things one way or another. I explicitly stated that.

        As for this: “I want you to consider a very practical demonstration of the progressive tax concept. Imagine that you live in a context where resources are dangerously limited, and you must band together with 9 other neighbors to survive. Of the 10 of you, 2 have more resources the other 8 combined, while 3 of you have almost no resources of your own, and the remaining 5 have a varying degree of “disposable/discretionary” resources. Would it not be fair to ask that the 2 who own the most of the much-needed resources to bear a larger amount of the group’s total burden? Wouldn’t it likewise be unjust to ask the 3 members, who possess almost nothing, to give into the system 10% (or some other figure) of what little they own to benefit the whole? Won’t doing so decrease what little opportunity those 3 have to increase their individual earning potential?

        This is the question of progressive taxes.”

        It would not be fair to ask that the 2 who own the much-needed resources to bear a larger amount of the group’s total burden. Quite frankly, fairness doesn’t play a factor here. Voluntary charity in this situation, not fairness, is the decent, Biblically required thing to do.

        Secondly, in a wilderness situation as described, there is no government doing the redistributing. The situation simply does not apply to progressive taxation. If the rich men steal from the poor men, they are thieves. If the poor steal from the rich, they are thieves. If they band together and share voluntarily like they should, well, then they are smart and righteous people in that respect.

      3. “But in truth, any tax system that groups people into categories must inevitably be unfair to somebody – it must place some group at an economic disadvantage.”

        Is it unfair the churches have a special exemption from income taxes? Doesn’t that put other groups at some economic disadvantage?

        May I point out that this tax loophole has attracted innumerable con artists to the church, in seek of a tax-free business that makes them money? Need I point out the deleterious effects of this incentive to the efficacy of the gospel?

        Start with Robert Tilton, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart (most are still around) and go up to the present, with Steven Furtick and Joel Osteen.

        Wouldn’t taxing churches make it easier to keep the moneychangers out of the church?

      4. As the average church’s income is (generally) entirely donated and they are not-for-profit, I see absolutely no reason to tax their income, even in our current system. The congregation’s gross pay was taxed once singularly; do you really think it’s fair to tax them again just because they want to pool their resources? Doesn’t that put them at an economic disadvantage?

        If the church is selling material goods for profit, though, then certainly that portion of their income can and should be taxed under our system.

        This question is really quite lost on me, though, because I’m against income taxes altogether. We *all* should be exempt from the government taking money out of our paychecks just because we’re citizens. But obviously, the United States has disagreed since they levied the first tax during Civil War time, and finally made direct federal income tax constitutional years later, in 1913.

        What was wrong with tariffs and excise taxes? Absolutely nothing, unless you need a lot of money really quick to fund a war against your own country. And hey, who paid the most taxes under the excise-and-tariff system?

        Rich trade companies.

        What can’t you do if you want to dodge taxes in a excise-and-tariff system? Export jobs and goods overseas to insulate them.

        What system doesn’t have any tax loopholes for rich producers? Per-unit import/export tariffs and excise taxes.

        Just an idea.

    2. “It seems as though your argument primarily turns on the relationship between the concepts of equality and justice, and specifically how those terms affect your definition of impartiality.”

      Absolutely not. Notice I never used the word equality–you brought that into the picture. I think equality has nothing to do with justice; impartiality has everything to do with justice. Equality is an outcome, impartiality is a process. I’m happy with many equal outcomes, and likewise happy with many unequal outcomes. But I’m unhappy with social processes that are partial towards some at the expense of others. If equality were necessary for justice, then God would be unjust since he is the giver of all gifts (to include our natural endowments such as intelligence, health, etc.) and not all gifts are equally valuable in this fallen world. My reading of scripture and observation of life lead me to believe God had a much more beautiful picture in mind than equality. He had in mind unity in diversity, a diversity that necessarily leads to inequalities. And these very inequalities and differences are precisely what drives social cooperation in a fallen world. I think this answers your first point. I would encourage you if you want to make an argument that I should be more concerned about equality, that you do so with Biblical logic, not secular sources. After all, this blog post is specifically trying to sort thru the Biblical case–I’ve made one, if you don’t like, come up with your alternative. For a great summary of Biblical justice, I would refer you and other readers to Cal Beisner’s paper on Social Justice:
      “http://www.ecalvinbeisner.com/freearticles/bibjusvssocjus.pdf
      To your point #2 (Keller’s Generous Justice), I’ve sent a separate email. But this gets back to my point in several of the preceding tax and inequality posts. You are following others to insist that income taxation is about how we think about the poor. I reject that; the poor pay no income tax. What you need to justify is why a young DINK couple making $120k AGI per year total, should have a lower marginal tax rate than someone making $300k or $3M. That is the issue, despite all this talk about the poor. If you think that we as a society ought to support the poor much better through the government, and that it requires more taxes, fine (I disagree, but not for the purposes of this argument on tax). But if this is a social, collective decision, why does the tax system not treat people impartially? Why aren’t we “all in this together” once we have rightly excused the poor? Shouldn’t all the non-poor pull the same oars in the boat? Can we really think there is a lot of moral merit in most of our middle class lifestyles saying “yeah, we need to tax millionaires more, but not me.” Let’s remember that old adage from Sen Russell Long that really describes our human nature: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax the fellow behind the tree”

      “Third, I found your selection of passages to be flamboyantly incomplete (or even misleading at times). In my opinion, your treatment of the text strongly suggests that you have allowed a preconceived hermeneutic to read meaning into texts.”
      Jonathan, I’m sorry as this will be harsh–not my intent. I agree there may be a preconceived hermeneutic, but are you sure its not yours? Have you gone into commentaries to find the error in my reading of Leviticus? If so, show me.
      “For instance:
      – Certainly, God is impartial regarding the ultimate subject of sin (Romans 2), but God also chooses to reward and hold accountable as he sees fit (Matthew 20, Luke 12).”
      I totally agree with this. But He is God!! He makes the rules. And his rule for us is impartiality. When a God who is omniscient chooses to reward and hold accountable as he sees fit, there will be no injustice. But if we try in our hubris and limited knowledge to play God and equalize the playing field–something He has NEVER told us to do–we are going to act unjustly.
      “– You allow a single verse in Leviticus to overwhelm the over-arching themes of unique generosity towards the poor by pulling that verse from its adjudicatory context (the passage is clearly arguing that the poor, if they have committed a legal wrong, deserve their legal punishment regardless of their status).”
      I do no such thing. Only way you say that is if you think that the only way we are to be generous to the poor is through progressive taxation. I am with you and others on the Christian left that God has a special concern for the vulnerable (to include the poor). I’m just not with you that government and the tax system is how we meet that biblical theme.
      “– James 4’s condemnation regarding favoritism is entirely about impartial favoritism towards the wealthy.”
      I already made the point (which is highlighted by the commentaries I reviewed) that James is referring back to Lev 19. Do you think it plausible that he would reference the Levitical standard of Holiness (which specifically in v15 says you should not be partial to the poor), and now say that James’ only concern is impartiality toward the rich? Undoubtedly that was what was going on to the people James was writing to. But if there was impartiality going the other way, are you suggesting he would be ok with that? My conclusion is that James was endorsing the entire Lev corpus on what corporate holiness looks like, and the specific application to his readers was to stop the impartiality that favored the rich.

      “Fourth, you settle for sloppy straw men arguments when claiming to understand the intent of those supportive of progressive taxes. You smear supporters by describing them as “nefarious” and “envious” without cause, and without – importantly – wrestling with what are more likely to be the substantive, more rigorous arguments actually made by those proponents.”

      Actually the “nefarious” description went to the rich. And yes I did label some supporters of steeply progressive taxation as “envious.” Do you deny that at least a portion of those advocating that position are coming at if from a class envy perspective? I doubt you are approaching this from envy, but I think a non-trivial number do. And not just envy, but a kind of whipped up frenzy of hatred and anger toward those making more. And they do this all in a sense of self-righteousness–they are the moral ones. My claim to these people is that no, you are not moral–your attitude which is created by envy is in fact immoral.

      As far as wrestling with the more substantive arguments, I’m still waiting for a Biblical case for progressive taxation. You give me the substantive argument, and I’ll give it a reasoned response. We had 62 total comments in the last go round, with no serious Biblical arguments. I’ve seen lots of Biblical arguments that muddy the waters by continually bringing in the poor, when the poor pay no income taxes. I’ve never seen a good biblical argument on why I (an upper middle class person) shouldn’t pay the same marginal tax rate as the millionaire. So make one!

    3. Jonathan–
      I didn’t hit your point on sales taxes being harmful to the poor. I don’t disagree that it can be more harmful to the poor if not done properly. My post of course was on income taxes (since that is the national debate) and not state sales taxes. But there are ways to fix any inequalities, such as if we had a national sales tax to replace the income tax. First, the tax system in no way has to change the welfare system. We can give more aid to those who qualify as poor to offset any regressivity in the sales tax. Second, we could apply the sales tax differentially, not taxing necessities, so that the poor are not affected. Some states don’t tax food, for example. Don’t need to tax second-hand clothes. There are ways to make even a sales tax not harmful to the poor.

  6. You have said that there is no biblical argument for progressive taxation. Your previous post was dedicated to discussion on the arguments that were constructed when you asked for biblical justification of government policy. Yet now you argue for Theonomy, but, puzzlingly, only as regards taxes… and this is built off of an argument from Old Testament tithing.

    I personally find this to be a double standard, as if the Bible has something to say about the way we run our tax system but not about the operation of government in other senses, but I will set this aside for now. Few advocate for Theonomy, so I won’t assume that’s what you’re doing. First, I will try to supply some biblical arguments for different means of taxation, within a few clear restraints:

    Just like your argument, I will not be assuming that what the Bible literally is advocating is the basis of my argument. Rather, I will be trying to exposit principles that can be reasonably gleaned from the text. This argument does not need to be air-tight. Just like yours, there will certainly be places where I am making a generalization for the sake of streamlining a biblical approach.

    So, here we go. First, I want to set up some ground-rules principles. So we look to the New Testament. The Bible clearly and consistently argues that unequal treatment, in a purely human sense, is acceptable, as is illustrated in Matt. 20, the well-known parable of the vineyard workers. For some reason I have heard this argument read as a reason that we should not be jealous of the rich, but I would like to reexamine this passage: What actually happens in this story is that the landowner (God) gives a bunch of people who were obviously productive to different capacities exactly equal wages. This is, as the characters in the story observe, apparently unfair, but it is not out place to question whether a particular distribution is unfair… even when that distribution happens to be one of absolute income equality.

    Further, Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes 9 that wealth and poverty are not given out to those who deserve it. They happen randomly, by chance, and in the face of such inscrutible motions of fate, the logical thing to do with your life is to enjoy it humbly, accepting good and bad as it comes. This, coupled with the repeated admonitions in he New Testament, specifically in Matthew and Romans, that we obey, comply, and cooperate with our government and its taxes, make the Christian’s approach to taxes, at least as far as compliance is concerned, quite clear: We are to gracefully accept our portion, and not demand that more be given to us because this would ‘be fair.’

    You said:

    “Only a proportional tax system seems to be consistent with God’s requirement of impartiality, while the progressive taxation alternative has much to fear in corrupting our individual and collective character.”

    I disagree. I can find several different biblical systems, though all of them, including the one you advocate, are probably so historically tied to their origins that it would be almost impossible to translate them into a modern system. But let’s attempt.

    First, I would point out the economic arrangment set up by Joseph in Genesis 47: 13-26. At best, this is advocating feudalism, but feudalism is, we can all agree, outdated. So instead, it appears that the godly example to the Israelite tribes who were given these scriptures instituted a system of total government ownership, in which a flat tax of 20% was set on all of the people every year in exchange for using government-owned land. Aside from the priesthood, this feudal/communist system stood for everyone who lived in Egypt. It is important to note that this passage exists, not simply as a footnote or as a historical explanation of events, but as a way of highlighting that, not only was Joseph incredibly intelligent, but that he had the Lord’s blessing in his work. Joseph’s successes are meant to be seen as an indication of God’s approval, and apparently, in this case, God approves of… Leninist Communism.

    Second, is the system set up by Solomon. It is important to note, here, that the system was set up before he strayed, and, much like the passages about Joseph, are meant to show us the enlightened and wise rule of a godly man. There is something interesting to note in his system: In 1 Kings 4, we see the administrative setup of Solomon’s Israelite kingdom. Verses 7-19 explain how Israel was divided into districts, and who was in charge of ‘providing supplies’ for the king (otherwise known as taxes). When you read how the land was distributed, however, huge swathes of Judah are excluded. The tribal lands that the monarch originated in had to pay no taxes, or at least not any that went directly to the King’s upkeep. Given our principle before, I suppose we ought not question this, although it certainly would seem unfair to an observer. It is also interesting to note that, in most of the discussion of the kings of Israel and Judah, taxes were at best an oblique thought: Their gathering was hard to do, and when David attempted a census (which would allow him to tax everyone individually, as the Romans would later try as well), everyone regretted it. How taxes were gathered was an afterthought to the continuance and well-being of the community.

    So we have blatant favoritism and total government ownership as systems that are apparently the creation of godly, wise men. What else do we have? Well, it’s probably worth noting the sort of system that Jesus commanded Israel obey in the New Testament. The Romans were not the most level-handed of rulers. Tax-gathering was a privilege that you bought, a contract you earned and subsequently used to earn back your investment. Additionally, taxes were leveled on communities rather than on individuals, as much as possible. This is because it was tremendously easier to pull off: You could tell the town of Nazareth that it was required to pay 3% of its net value in taxes to Rome. You could not track down every person who lived there, who may more may not have an actual residence, who may or may not want you to know that they live there, for taxing purposes. So instead, the system tended to lean on the wealthy, as they were relatively constant, stable, and easy to find. Of course, everyone else was under threat of having their money or goods confiscated if there was doubt as to whether they had paid already, but that was just the nature of the beast. So, while this system is far from what we would consider ‘ideal’ it is one that is apparently tolerable.

    Finally, there is the Old-Testament system that you raise, only in part, in your argument. And yes, the tithe was an even, flat tax, with exceptions for the poor and those unable to otherwise meet their obligations. But you leave out huge portions of the Old Testament Law and its commands for what people do with their possessions. Since the tithe, which you reference, was not contributed to any sort of government entity, I do not think that I need to make the argument for the provisions I am about to suggest. Rather, like the tithe, these are commands for how people were to hold, use, and contribute their things, which, like the tithe, should be directed towards meeting God’s requirements.

    This forces us to grapple with the incredible amount of law dealing with the poor, the widow, the stranger, and so on. In Deuteronomy 16: 16-17, God commands the Israelites, just like his command for tithe, that they are to collect up a gift and bring it to God, for His use. 17 explicitly commands that they all bring a gift that corresponds to how blessed they have been, 3 times a year. In the Old Testament system, all of these gifts would go to the priests, who of course owned no land and did no economically productive job. It was essentially a subsidy for a public service, so I suppose the ‘tax’ label is fitting.

    There was tremendous room for public services, in fact, in this system: Deutoronomy 23:24 allowed public access to private lands to satisfy hunger: You were allowed to essentially graze off of another person’s field, as long as you were not clearly trying to confiscate all of their yield. We are all familiar with the provisions that allowed the poor to glean from the wealthy. The Sabbatical Year (Deuteronomy 15) released the poor from their debts. In fact, even in the tithes (Deuteronomy 14: 28-29), these were sometimes to be given directly to the Levite, the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner, as a way of providing for them.

    I think it is clear that, so long as we are looking at the Old Testament Law for an example, it is clear that the government has a role in redistributing wealth, in making sure that the poor are cared for, and in keeping inequality from spiraling out of control. Tithe as a flat portion of your earnings is just one of many commands that God gave his people as to how they should use their wealth in their society. I do not understand why we are to take just one principle from the Pentateuch and say that it is THE principle that governs our view of taxation. This, coupled with the verses that emphasize God’s heart for the poor, (Psalm 140:12, 12:5, 35:10, 109:30-31, 72:12-14, 9:18, 113:5-8, Proverbs 29:7, 22:9, 28:27, 14:31, 14:21, 22:22, 19:17, 31:8, Deuteronomy 15:11, James 2:5, Luke 6:20-21, 1 Samuel 2:8, Isaiah 58:6-11, 10:1-3, 25:4, etc.) I think it is fair to say that a system that considers the benefit of the poor is probably biblical, even one that requires the wealth of those with more to see this done.

    I have a few problems with other things you have said, and I will try to make them clear as well. For example:

    “While it is true that everyone that actually earns a billion dollars would be subject to the same tax rate, almost no American can ever expect to find himself/herself in that situation.”

    The fact that this tremendous good fortune happens to a few does not actually count against the claim that a progressive tax is equitable. In fact, at no point do you dispute that claim. You say that presumption goes to the impartial system, yet I have yet to be shown that progressive taxes are in fact partial. They are not targeted at black people, or at old people, or at any specific group. Everyone works under the same presumption. I fail to see how this is partial…

    “This leads to advocating policies that were a private individual to do, would clearly be labeled as theft.”

    The entire concept of government is based on the idea that an entity that is not a person can act in a way that a person cannot. Governments do everything that they do in a way that an ordinary person cannot. A draft would be labeled slavery. Any tax would be labeled theft, as would eminent domain. Censorship would be labeled oppression. And so on. When you advocate a government policy, you are advocating something that you, as a citizen, have no right to carry out as an individual.

    I think your entire partiality argument is confusing. I thought that the verses directed at partiality were always in reference to law: You should not let yourself be bribed, you should not prefer one sort of person because of their money, or lack thereof, but always in a legal context. Taxation is completely different, and nowhere does the Bible try to extend this standard to our public life in this way.

    As a way of concluding, I would like to say that I am not convinced that we can apply the Bible to our tax policy explicitly. Doing so seems to require twisting the scriptures out of their original use and meaning in order to proof-text a view, which I do not think is productive. I think there is a lot of room for discussion as to how we can set up a system that ethically deals with everyone in our society, but I am reluctant to base that argument off of explicit scriptural commands.

    1. This was an excellent and well thought out response. I am excited to see how Dr. Haymond will respond. The use of theonomy to derive a system of taxes seems a vacuous and hopeless endeavor. One would have to establish some form of economic theology, which simply doesn’t appear to exist for policy questions like taxes. I believe some other standard for economic justice would be in order.

    2. Thanks for your lengthy response. Just the keystrokes alone suggest either you want to have a good conversation or you have a really low value on your time (or you are an incredibly fast typer/thinker)! :-)
      But a few comments back.
      “Yet now you argue for Theonomy, but,…..Few advocate for Theonomy, so I won’t assume that’s what you’re doing.”

      Hmmm. So which is it? Am I a theonomist or not? Answer: No. A theonomist would want to apply all of the OT biblical case law to our current legal system.* I am not advocating that. However, what I am advocating is that the biblical principles that undergird that system are still generally applicable today and should be the moral basis of our laws. Every law has a moral foundation–somebodies morals are encoded by law–I say it should be with a biblical morality.

      “The Bible clearly and consistently argues that unequal treatment, in a purely human sense, is acceptable, as is illustrated in Matt. 20, the well-known parable of the vineyard workers. For some reason I have heard this argument read as a reason that we should not be jealous of the rich, but I would like to reexamine this passage: What actually happens in this story is that the landowner (God) gives a bunch of people who were obviously productive to different capacities exactly equal wages. This is, as the characters in the story observe, apparently unfair, but it is not out place to question whether a particular distribution is unfair… even when that distribution happens to be one of absolute income equality.”
      First I hope we can agree that this parable is about salvation and how the jews were now going to be joined by the gentiles. But let’s take your point–and this is key: We can always be partial when an act is an act of mercy. But we must be impartial when an act is one of justice. It was mercy that paid the last workers the same amount, it was justice that paid the first workers the denarius. It is mercy and grace that God allows any of us into Heaven; it is not justice.

      “It is important to note that this passage exists, not simply as a footnote or as a historical explanation of events, but as a way of highlighting that, not only was Joseph incredibly intelligent, but that he had the Lord’s blessing in his work. Joseph’s successes are meant to be seen as an indication of God’s approval, and apparently, in this case, God approves of… Leninist Communism.”
      I don’t think so. I think what it says is that God does not promise the Egyptians (the unbeliever) all of his blessings. I don’t think what God allowed to be done to Egyptians should be considered the same way as He prescribed to be done to His people. The first is descriptive, the 2nd is prescriptive.

      “Second, is the system set up by Solomon. It is important to note, here, that the system was set up before he strayed, and, much like the passages about Joseph, are meant to show us the enlightened and wise rule of a godly man. …..So we have blatant favoritism and total government ownership as systems that are apparently the creation of godly, wise men. ” I’m not sure about this; at least in the sense of we should then follow that as an example. Kings is a historical narrative, not necessarily prescriptive. And there is a sense in which this section already should hint that Solomon is not on the path of doing everything right. God commanded the Israelite kings to not gather too many horses (Deut 17:16) and what do we see in v26? 40000 stalls! I don’t have access to a commentary today on this, but my study Bible suggests “The new administrative districts overseen by these governors are not exactly the same as the old Israelite tribal areas, possibly because the tribes varied greatly in population and land holdings, and Solomon desired a steady monthly income for his government.” Can you provide scholarly support that agrees with your argument?

      Finally, while raising so many points that I would disagree with, you didn’t address the one point I am arguing, other than to say you don’t find my answer Biblically compelling. None of your Biblical examples endorse the alternative off progressive taxation. All the talk about the poor, the scale and scope of government, etc., are important issues–but not logically related to the question of how we tax.

      I think your conclusion says it best; “I think there is a lot of room for discussion as to how we can set up a system that ethically deals with everyone in our society, but I am reluctant to base that argument off of explicit scriptural commands.” I’m afraid that you’ve just made it jump ball–any system of ethics that we can get a majority opinion on will do. I think we can do better. Scripture has every principle we need for a wise and just government.

      * RC Sproul has a great point on Theonomy, “… all of us ought in some sense to be theonomists. My theonomic friends want to drive us to one of two choices, “Autonomy or theonomy!” And of course they are precisely right. We will either have man’s law, or God’s law and only a fool would choose man over God. The question then rightly understood isn’t whether we ought to have law as God would have us have it. The question instead is what law would God wish us to have. Did God give the civil law (that is, the law as it relates to government) to Israel as an exact paradigm of the ideal law for any state, or not?
      http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-reconstructionism-what-theonomy/

      1. Sorry my reply was so long in coming. It’s been a busy week. I will try to answer your points.

        “… what I am advocating is that the biblical principles that undergird that system are still generally applicable today and should be the moral basis of our laws. Every law has a moral foundation–somebodies morals are encoded by law–I say it should be with a biblical morality.”

        Fair. Absolutely fair. However, my argument is, in a very long and probably unhelpful way, built to suggest that the principles of scripture are not as straightforward as you cast them, and certainly not clearly backing your argument for a flat tax system. My biggest point in this regard was where I unpacked the rest of the Old Testament Law as it concerns your use of possessions: I can accept that the principles embodied in the tithe need to be continued today, perhaps, but I would also have to accept the other provisions made in this part of the Bible if that were the case. The Pentateuch, like the entire Bible really, is filled with God’s love for the poor and the responsibility that a society bears towards their upkeep. That is my argument. You cannot simply take the tithe and say that this embodies God’s view of how we use our possessions as a society.

        I accept your comments on my use of the parable. It is admittedly a stretch, but I brought it up because I have heard numerous people use it as a defense of economic arguments and thought that it was not as straightforward as they implied. However, you did say something interesting:

        “We can always be partial when an act is an act of mercy. But we must be impartial when an act is one of justice. It was mercy that paid the last workers the same amount, it was justice that paid the first workers the denarius. It is mercy and grace that God allows any of us into Heaven; it is not justice.”

        All very true and fair. But I have a few questions, then. For one, can we not consider a progressive tax an act of mercy on the poor? Perhaps mercy is not the place of government, but I would argue that the system we see in the Old Testament was continuously and radically merciful to the poor. This does not necessarily mean that we need to tax the rich more, sure, but it probably does warrant consideration when we design a tax system… and unless it is progressive in some sense, it would appear to be what most of us consider ‘unmerciful.’

        I respectfully disagree with how you interpret Joseph’s story. While what happens to Egypt is different from what happens to Israel, Joseph’s management of Egypt is clearly presented as a blessing to them, a good management by a divinely-blessed manager.

        As for Solomon, I can accept the horses accusation. Nonetheless, my argument for how the regions were divided in fact came from an article written by Dr. Robert Oden on taxation in Israel (http://www.michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/Taxation%20in%20biblical%20Israel.pdf). So, yes, I believe I am correct in asserting this, though Oden acknowledges that there may be room for disagreement.

        “Finally, while raising so many points that I would disagree with, you didn’t address the one point I am arguing, other than to say you don’t find my answer Biblically compelling. None of your Biblical examples endorse the alternative off progressive taxation. All the talk about the poor, the scale and scope of government, etc., are important issues–but not logically related to the question of how we tax.”

        But that’s my point. I believe my arguments relate to the way we tax at least as legitimately as your tithing argument does, since it is also not a tax. If we’re discussing impositions on people’s property, there is a lot more entailed than simply the tithe, and I believe I have shown this.

        “I’m afraid that you’ve just made it jump ball–any system of ethics that we can get a majority opinion on will do. I think we can do better. Scripture has every principle we need for a wise and just government.”

        Fair. And I agree, though I think we would disagree when I say that there can be multiple wise and just systems. Thank you for the answer, and I hope mine has been adequate, since I am in a bit of a rush.

      2. Theophilus,
        You say, “But I have a few questions, then. For one, can we not consider a progressive tax an act of mercy on the poor? Perhaps mercy is not the place of government, but I would argue that the system we see in the Old Testament was continuously and radically merciful to the poor. This does not necessarily mean that we need to tax the rich more, sure, but it probably does warrant consideration when we design a tax system… and unless it is progressive in some sense, it would appear to be what most of us consider ‘unmerciful.’”

        In short, NO we may not consider the progressive tax an act of mercy on the poor. That might only be the case if the poor were actually paying tax. But since I’ve posted repeatedly in this series–the poor pay nothing in income taxes. So for income tax rates, the question is why I (who am upper middle class) should not pay the same marginal tax rate as a billionaire. This issue of progressive/proportional tax rate has nothing to do with the poor. So there are lots of ways we might show collective mercy to the poor, perhaps even via government action. But I don’t see the connection in the tax system.

  7. Really good argument and I appreciate the level of Biblical integration. If you went back and took a look at my comment on your progressive taxation post (which I posted not too long ago) you may notice quite a similarity in our thinking. I didn’t go nearly in depth or use the amount of references, but I had some of the exact same arguments, so I thought that was cool. I will mention what Mr. Adams was concerned about, although I do not fully agree with him. We have to be careful about taking passages from the Old Testament and using them out of context, like you stated early in our argument. I will say I was a little concerned when you first started mentioning passages from Leviticus, for the same reasons as Mr. Adams. There seems to be many rules written within that book that applied to God’s people in that time period.
    However, many of the principles still apply to us, so I get where you’re coming from. I also appreciated you use of New Testament passages. You did not rely solely on Old Testament doctrine to make your argument (maybe Mr. Adams missed this fact?).
    Everything considered, I do believe that a flat tax is Biblically sound and a proportional tax system is Biblically wrong. So my question is, if the United States were to transition into a flat tax system, what would be the steps taken, and how long would it take? This seems like quite the undertaking, so how would it actually play out?

  8. I liked how many scripture references you used to prove your point. And even though you are getting much critique on using a passage from Leviticus, I commend you and say that I do not think everything from Leviticus is null and void in today’s world. Everything written in scripture is there for a reason. I also agree with Kevin Brittan that flat tax rate is Biblical but Proportional tax is not.

  9. If we did get rid of taxes on the poor, would be still be giving them welfare checks? I think that the poor should be given a break, but at what point does it become unfair to others to have to keep taking money out of their pay checks.

    1. McKenna–
      A proportional tax or progressive tax is irrelevant to the poor; the poor pay no income taxes in the U.S. You do raise an interesting question, but not really for the subject of this discussion.

      1. What about state taxes? Or is this blog post just merely an attack on the federal government.

        State taxes are almost always regressive. As as the GOP has taken control of state legislatures in the South, sales taxes have sharply increased (on food, even). In one state they even tax charity bake sales and high school basketball games. Meanwhile, income taxes (which DO hurt the wealthy more) are dropped.

        Why do so many conservatives say NOTHING bad about taxation that proportionally hurts the poor and yet spend so much of their time complaining about taxation that generally hurts only the super rich (as if the super rich know anything about real pain)?

        Do conservatives not know or care about the effects of poverty on children and the elderly? So many claim they are pro-life (I don’t believe them, but that is beside the point). Do they not know that abortions sometimes are done because those in poverty cannot afford to have another child (or because the father has run off, leaving the mother to fight alone)?

  10. I believe that a flat (proportional) tax is the best plan as well. I also think your biblical observations and thorough research of numerous materials as you discussed in class really show in this post. I also really like your interpretation of the Leviticus passage. I this that impartiality is best when it comes to taxes.

  11. Good arguments on both sides. Jesus Christ, the one we follow had little to say about taxes. He apparently had a bigger more important agenda.

    With all that said, I would predict that if our next president were able to impose a flat tax he would be voted out of office in 4 years and we would have the likes of a Berny Sanders next election. So be careful what you wish for.

  12. I greatly enjoyed your use of scripture in this post. I felt it gave legitimate backing for your arguments and viewpoints. While Leviticus can come under fire, I still think your points are valid. I’ve really enjoyed seeing your views on taxation via these last few posts.

  13. The part about this post that made me think the most was Leviticus 19:15, and your comment that we should not favor the rich (nothing new) but that we also should not favor the poor (something that I never thought of/might have leaned towards favoring the poor). This applies not just to the topic of this post, but it also shows how God feels about favoritism.

    Thank you for your insight and for all the time you put into this post. It was quite insightful

      1. True. God clearly favored the Jews. God commanded that they take the private property of the Canaanites, which suggests that God does not consider property rights as important as many of us would today.

        Fairness and equality are not biblical principles. In addition, the Bible has no problem with slavery, misogyny, abortion, infanticide, the treatment of disabled people as lessers, and with other behaviors we would associate with psychopathic, cruel behavior.

        Fairness, equality, democracy, and the notion of rights are human creations. We made them up. The fact that the Bible does not clearly call for them does not them wrong (the Bible is silent about youtube and about NY style cheese pizza, but I would miss both of them if they were removed).

        We should be happy that we live in a time when women enjoy rights they previously did not enjoy, when abortion has dropped precipitously, when the disabled get an appropriate and free public education. Yes, those are not biblically based, but so what?

  14. I agree with the arguments you have presented and I appreciate how many times you gave biblical evidence to support your ideas. I specifically liked the example that you gave regarding the symphony. Our culture believes that everyone has to agree with the ideas we hold and be passionate about the things we are passionate about. Since obviously this is not the case, we like to use the government to force everyone to contribute toward the things we are passionate about since they wouldn’t willingly do it on their own. Whether this is evident with giving to the symphony or “free” college for students, it is a very similar concept, and it is not a biblical one.

  15. I think its interesting that almost all of your arguments for a proportional tax system are based off of passages is scripture that have to do with what is fair or just. The problem is that your definition of what is fair and just for government taxation is subjective. Your building your position off of a presupposition that you can’t prove for sure because the Bible never clearly states which tax method is most fair and just, so you have to guess. Now, I’m not saying that your guess is wrong, but rather it is impossible to prove with certainty. If I were to point out that a progressive tax may be more fair and just because it leaves people with similar amounts of disposable income (in excess to costs for necessities), then you couldn’t prove me wrong scripturally, because the Bible never clearly states its position on this. I think this is why a lot of people say that you are “cherry-picking”. It’s not because you are taking the verses out of context, but because these verses only seem to apply to your argument because you believe they do, not because they do in and of themselves.

  16. Jeff Adams:

    I think we are pretty much on the same wave length. I believe God gave us the two great commandments with some but out all the details on purpose. He wants to see how much we really love and are willing to to give for the advancement of his kingdom.

  17. Great analysis of Scripture supporting proportional taxation. Context is accounted for and both the Old and New Testament is brought up. Awesome.
    I like how you brought up the free rider motivation which is at the root of many lower/middle class citizens. Progressive taxation hardly affects them, but they can support it and hopefully reap some benefits! Incentives matter.

  18. I really like what you had to say here and also how you protected the rich to a certain point. Too often the rich are basically a scale goat for politicians to blame things on. Not all rich people are greedy, many are extremely driven. I think a portional tax rate makes sense from a Biblical standpoint because we would all, with the exception of the poor, be paying the same tax rate. It could also help eliminate corruption in government.

  19. This is one of those occasional posts on this website where I get just as much information from reading the comments section as I do from the original post. Its great to see different opinions being offered. I tend to be of the opinion that the Bible doesn’t specifically address which taxation system would be best for our current situation, and that some verses can provide support for various taxation methods. As a result, I tend to lean towards the taxation method which I think is most economically adventurous, which is a progressive system, although I think our current system could have many modifications to make it more efficient.

Comments are closed.