By R.J. Rushdoony
Commentaries and Bible dictionaries on the whole cite no law governing taxation. One would assume, from reading them, that no system of taxation existed in ancient Israel, and that the Mosaic Law did not speak on the subject. Galer, for example, can cite no passage from the law concerning taxation, although he lists various passages from the prophetic and historical writings which refer to confiscatory and tyrannical taxation. He does note, however, that the census was taken under the law “for tax purposes.”
This failure to discern ant tax law is due to the failure to recognize the nature of Israel’s civil order. God as king of Israel ruled from His throne room in the tabernacle, and to Him the taxes were brought. Because of the common error of viewing the tabernacle as an exclusively or essentially “religious,” i.e., ecclesiastical center, there is a failure to recognize that it was indeed a religious civil center. In terms of Biblical law, the state, home, school, and every other agency must be no less religious than the church. The sanctuary was thus the civil center of Israel and no less religious for that fact. Once this fact is grasped, much of Biblical law falls into clearer focus. There were, then, clearly defined taxes in the Mosaic Law, and these taxes were ordered by God, the omnipotent King of Israel.
There were, essentially, two kinds of taxes. First, there was the poll tax (Ex. 30:11-16). The fact that atonement is cited as one of the aspects of this tax misleads many. The meaning of atonement here is a covering or protection; by means of this tax, the people of Israel placed themselves under God as their King, paying tribute to Him, and gained in return God’s protecting care. The civil reference of this tax is recognized in part by Rylaarsdam, who cites its relation to the census, “which is a military act.” The amount of this tax was the same for all men, half a shekel of silver, and it had to be paid by all men twenty years of age and over. The shekel at the time was not a coin but a weight of silver. Later on, the shekels were coined and were 220 grains troy (like a U.S. trade dollar), and half a shekel was thus about 110 grains. This tax was the basic and annual tax in Israel. As Patrick Fairbairn noted:
“…there is the clearest proof of its having been collected both before and after the captivity; allusion is made to it in 2 Ki. Xii. 4; 2 Ch. Xxiv. 9; and both Josephus and Philo testify to its being regularly contributed by all Jews, wherever they were sojourning, and to a regular organization of persons and places for its proper collection and safe transmission to Jerusalem (Jos. Ant. xviii. 9, sec. 1; Philo, De. Monarch. Ii. T, 2, p. 234). This, then, is what the collectors came to ask of Peter; and which, as having reference to a general and indisputed custom, he at once pledged his Master’s readiness to give.
The fact that it was called the temple tax in the New Testament era misleads many; the temple was the civil as well as the ecclesiastical center. At the temple, priests officiated who had nothing to do with civil law. But at the temple, the Sanhedrin met as the civil power in Israel, directly under the Roman overlordship.
The second tax was the tithe, which was not paid in a central place but was “holy unto the Lord” (Lev. 27: 32). It went to the priests and Levites as they met the necessary ecclesiastical and social functions of society. Sometimes the Levites served in civil offices as well, as social conditions required it (I Chron. 23: 3-5). Their work in music is well known to us from the Psalms as well as all Scripture, and their teaching duties are cited often, as witness II Chronicles 17: 7-9 and 19: 8-11. The Levites and priests were scattered throughout all Israel to meet the needs of every community, and they received these tithes as the people gave them.
Both forms of taxation, the head tax and the tithe, are mandatory, but a major difference exists between them. The state has a right to collect a minimal head tax from its citizens, but, while perhaps the state can require a tithe of all men, as has often been done, it cannot stipulate where that tithe will go. The state thus controls the use of the head tax; the tither controls the use of the tithe tax. This is a point of inestimable importance. Since the major functions are, in terms of Biblical law, to be maintained by the tithe, the control of these social functions is thus reserved to the tither, not the state. The head tax supports the state and its military power plus its courts. Education, welfare, the church, and all other godly social functions are maintained by the two tithes, the first tithe and the poor tithe. A society so ordered will of necessity have a small bureaucracy and a strong people.
The head tax is thus the support of the civil order, and the tithe is the support of the social order. In Biblical law there is no land tax or property tax. Such a tax destroys the independence of every sphere of life and government – the family, school, church, vocation, and all else – and makes every sphere dependent on and subordinate to the state, or civil government.
Since Scripture declares repeatedly that “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ex. 9: 29; Deut. 10: 14; Ps. 24: 1; I Cor. 10: 26, etc.), a land tax is not lawful. A tax on the land is a tax against God and against His law-order. God Himself does not tax the land which he gives to men as a stewardship under Him; He taxes their increase, or their production, so that the only legitimate tax is an income tax, and this is precisely what the tithe is – an income tax. But it is an income tax which is set at 10% and no more. Beyond that, what a man gives is a freewill offering; the tithe is a tax, not an offering.
The subject of taxation belongs properly to both the sixth and eighth commandments. Ungodly taxation is theft. But, the modern power to tax is used as the power to injure and to destroy, and it is thus basically connected with the sixth commandment. A Biblically grounded tax structure will protect and prosper a social order and its citizenry, whereas a (Biblically) lawless tax structure spells death to men and society.
Increasingly, the function of taxation has become to re-order society. By means of property, inheritance, income, and other taxes, wealth is confiscated and redistributed. Thus, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has declared, through its Secretary-General, that the number of people working in farming must be decreased, and, at the same time, “The average size of farm enterprises has to be increased.” Thus, two methods became open to the various states as disguised means of confiscating land and reshaping farmers and farming.
First, price supports favor, as Thorkil Kristensen (“Agricultural Policies Reconsidered”) pointed out, the big farmers rather than the small farmer.
Second, taxation can be used to wipe out the small farmer and make room for large farm operations alone. Both methods are being extensively used, and both are forms of theft and means of murder, means of destroying men and societies.
The power to tax in the modern world is being used as the power to destroy. It is no longer the support of law and order. The more taxes increase in societies the less law and order people have, because ungodly taxation serves the purpose of promoting social revolution. As such, modern taxation has become eminently successful.
Excerpt taken from the “Institutes of Biblical Law” by Rousas John Rushdoony.
See also Chalcedon.edu.