Jesus, Taxes and Proof-Texting

Here’s the problem with liberals like Erika Christakis: they misuse Christian Scripture for their own political purposes, which is exactly what Jesus was against. She recently argued in TIME magazine that Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan is “un-Christian” because of his budget proposal. Her complete distortion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 not only creates a gross misrepresentation of Jesus’ teaching but it exemplifies the contempt of the Left for the Judeo-Christian ethic when a Christian is running for office.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was not making a statement about civil government or the burden of taxation upon the people of Israel. He was speaking to his disciples and encouraging them to go the extra mile in Christian sacrificial love, which is certainly not the basis of governmental taxation.

Let me set the record straight: The only thing Jesus said about taxation was to “render unto Cesar that which was Cesar’s” (Mark 12:17). He was not even remotely suggesting a 50 percent tax rate.

Furthermore, her statement is so egregiously inaccurate it is hard to believe that her editors even published it.

Let’s consider the biblical context of tithing and taxation. As a Jew, Jesus would have known what the Jewish custom was toward tithing to the religious leaders, the Temple and the poor, which was separate from paying a civil tax.

From reading the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy of the Old Testament of the Bible, many Old Testament scholars conclude that there were three religious tithes. There was a 10 percent tithe to support the Levitical priesthood. Then, an additional 10 percent of the remaining 90 percent was given to support the Temple during the annual festivals. Additionally, every three years 10 percent was collected to provide for the poor from the remaining balance of the 81 percent. (That’s slightly over 21 percent to the Temple, the priesthood and the poor.)

When the Israelites asked for a king, Israel’s last judge Samuel warned that the Israelites would pay a tax to the government to support the king and his army. He warned, the king will take and take and take. And he was right. In the Old Testament book of the Bible, 1 Samuel, the Israelites were taxed 10 percent for the first time by their civil government.

Again, Christakis is ignoring the context and misusing the text to make it say what she wants it to say. This is called “proof-texting.” And unfortunately, people do this far too often. They use a biblical text to prove their bias, which in fact has absolutely nothing to do with what the text says.

But context is everything when understanding Scripture. It’s important to note that the Jews gave to the Temple to provide for the poor — not the government. And if Christians were tithing to their respective churches and involved in ministries to the poor to the extent that they ought, there would not be the overarching need for the federal, state, and local governments to provide the social services that they do.

As a conservative evangelical political commentator I am often asked, “What would Jesus do?” about a particular social topic. Would he be involved in politics? Would he support a particular piece of legislation?

I find that this is particularly the case in the 2012 presidential election because faith played such a large role in the Republican primaries and because we have a Mormon and a Catholic on the Republican ticket — and evangelical support for them, which scares the Left.

Paul Ryan, a faithful Catholic, is being criticized for his political and religious worldview not because there is any merit to the criticism but because he is a Christian. If he were an Agnostic or Atheist would Jesus’ perspective of the budget even be an issue? Obviously the Left is threatened by Ryan’s upstanding character and will go to any length to tear him down— including his Christian faith. But misusing the Bible to tear him down is outrageous. This is just one more example of how people want to make the Bible say what they want it to say instead of citing what it actually says. And it’s flat out wrong.

September 7, 2012

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