The word “fair” seems to be used a lot these day to determine what tax and stimulus policies are appropriate. Depending on where you are coming from, you would be right and we would argue until we were blue in the face.
It led me wonder if there was a Biblical answer to this seemingly impasse that could shed some light on our current national discourse. Sure enough, there was!
The answer comes from the Old Testament when God was establishing the laws for the nation of Israel. The only form of taxation at the time was the tithe. It was 10% of what your efforts produced. So whether you were rich or poor, God asked for 10% of everything you earned. A part of the tithe was used by the priests and those who served in the temples for their livelihood.
By the end of the Old Testament, where people became selfish with their income God challenges the Israelites to bring the whole tithe, not just a part, so they could see how richly He was willing to bless them.
So God chose to apply a flax tax across the board to pay for the function of the governing bodies.
Could it be that God’s idea of fairness is different than our liberal minded friends?
But what about the temple sacrifices?
“‘If he cannot afford a lamb, he is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for his sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.”
(Leviticus 5:7 NIV)
Besides the tithe, there were also some required sacrifices that a person had to make in the form of animal sacrifices. Even in this ancient economy, God understood that a very poor person could not afford a lamb so they were allowed to bring two doves instead.
So in this case, it sounds like God is progressively taxing the people but that is not the case. God is simply recognizing that for a poor person to bring a lamb it would represent a substantially larger contribution as a percentage than a rich person. So this approach flattens the sacrificial requirements.
By the time we get to the New Testament where God is no longer focused on just the nation of Israel but in building a worldwide kingdom, God asks us to give out of our abundance, according to our means, and with cheerfulness. There is no mention of 10% – in fact, the word “tithe” does not even directly appear in the New Testament.
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
I’m not sure why the shift but it may be related to the fact that secular governments were established to provide many of the services, such as the legal system, that ancient theocracies used to provide.
In a obscure story in ancient Israel, God had the Israelites counted in a census. As a person was counted, they had to give a half of a shekel as an offering to God. They were specifically instructed that the rich and the poor had to pay the same amount because it was an offering for their life as an Israelite. The concept behind this is whether you are rich or poor, your life is worth the same to God. If you believe in progressive taxation, this would be considered regressive.
But the amount was low enough that it should not have been a burden to anyone.
Under God’s economy, if you made more, you paid more but you paid at the same rate. There is no idea in the Bible of punishing the rich or taking from them simply because they had more.
This is God’s idea of fairness and why he taxed accordingly.