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Meditation 1261
That "Biblical" Tax Plan

by: John Tyrrell

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Everybody should pay the same proportion of what they make. You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one. -- Ben Carson

I got that idea quite frankly from the Bible. -- Ben Carson

US presidential candidate, Ben Carson, has been promoting his 10% flat tax rate for several years, attributing the idea to the Bible. Recently, he's been forced by studies of the implications of the potential tax shortfall to deny he ever said 10% (in spite of being on the record with numerous times).

I didn't say that the rate would be 10%; I used the tithing analogy. The rate is going to be much closer to 15%. -- Ben Carson

Now everyone knows that biblical tithing is set at 10% of income - and I suggest that it is from this everyone knows factoid, and not the Bible, that Carson got his original 10% proposal. Because, regardless of Carson's claim he got the idea of a flat income tax of 10% from the description of tithing in the Bible, the Bible does not support such a view of tithes. Not a flat tax rate of just 10%, and not a tax on income.

Oh, of course there are various tithes of 10% in the Bible, but there is not just a single tithe levied on Israelite taxpayers. There are multiple tithes with various purposes - for the priestly caste or Levites, for the poor, for the temple, for feasts and celebrations, etc. Adding them up, it seems those who payed the tithes were subject to something like a 22% - 25%* levy.

Then there's the requirement to render unto the Lord every firstborn from livestock. The text is not clear whether we are talking firstborn of the male or of the female animal. And there is an additional 20% on the basic tithe if you are raising unclean animals. These two rules mean that the effective rate is not the same for everyone.

So much for a simple 10% flat tax. It's not simple, it's not 10%, it's not "flat."

But that's not all. The Bible is not describing an income tax, nor a capital gains tax. It's pretty clear that it is more like a tax on assets. If you have 200 cattle, each 10% tithe is 20 cattle. And it's 20 cattle whether you started the year with 100, 200, or 300. Regardless of profit or loss, regardless of expenses needed to maintain your cattle, each tithe is 10% of your livestock assets. Income is irrelevant. Biblical tithing is not an income tax.

Of course other things are tithed too - grain, wine, honey etc. The same 10% rate applies on each tithe - but again it is the amount of product in the taxpayers hands that is applicable. The cost of producing the product is ignored. The need to replace seed stock is ignored. Again income is irrelevant. The tithe is 10% of assets even if there is no net income - or even if there is a loss.

So much for suggesting tithing is equivalent to an income tax. It is not. Nor is it a capital gains tax. It is much more like a tax on capital - an idea which would sent the fat cat donors to the Republican party into fits of apoplexy.

Interestingly, if the taxpayer lives too far from the temple to reasonably transport the livestock or farm produce to the temple, the procedure is laid out to sell the tithe, got to the neighborhood of the temple, then buy replacement goods to present as a tithe.

The point I take from that is that tithes relate specifically to agricultural assets. They don't seem to apply to those who don't own such assets. Such tithes are not universal. I suggest that it is only the relatively well-off who pay tithes. The common laborer without cattle and without land to raise food seems to be tithe-free.

Biblical tithing** is in no way similar a simple universal flat income tax applying to everyone equally.

Such a tax concept as described by Carson is nowhere in the Bible.

And like so many vocal Christians who want to impose their supposedly biblical ideas on everyone, Ben Carson is clueless as to what the bible actually says.***


* I found several different numbers from different scholars in researching this. It is not clear which is correct. It is unclear whether initial tithes serve as a deductible on subsequent levels of tithes. or not. It's not a clear tax code. Or tithe code.

** Various tithes can be found in Leviticus 27; Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 14; 2 Chronicles 31. Genesis 14 also mentions what some claim is an early tithe - 10% of the spoils of war. (Again, this is assets, not income.) But it was apparently voluntary - not a as a result biblical ordinance.

*** I'd suggest his tax plan indicates he's also clueless about economics - but that's not the focus of this article.

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