24th July 2023

Taxation is a touchy subject, and with a general election in the offing next year the debates have already started. Should inheritance tax (an ‘assault on the right to private property’, say some) be scrapped? Or, shouldn’t those who earn more pay more as ‘a matter of natural justice’? For some, taxation is at best a necessary evil: the fetters of the state should be relaxed as much as possible so that enterprise is encouraged and wealth can grow. For others, taxation is the only way wealth can be harnessed for public welfare and the common good.

Tax-collectors get a bad press in the gospels (they were seen as agents of the foreign occupying power, and suspected of defrauding those from whom they collected); but both Jesus and Paul enjoin the paying of taxes to the governing authority, God’s servant for the social good. Quoting their sayings, however, is unlikely to end the arguments or provide a simple ‘Christian answer’ to just how much tax we should pay or how precisely the public purse should be spent. Rather, the Bible offers a basic view which questions fundamental assumptions about what is ‘ours’ when it comes to wealth and property. ‘Private’ is not a biblical word. God is the owner of all that is. If we have any of it, it’s only on loan to us from God and in accountability to him. In the words of S. C. Lowry’s fine hymn (BPW 639): Yours the gold and yours the silver, all the wealth of sea and land; we but stewards of your riches, held in trust at your command.

Keith Clements