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A Critique of Jordan's and North's View of the Head Tax (Part 3 of 3)

James Jordan and Christian Reconstructionist leader Gary North disagree with R. J. Rushdoony’s understanding of the head tax as a civil tax. In Part 2 of this three-part series published in the last issue of FFAOL, I laid out my initial critique of their position. I resume a Biblical assessment of their rejection of the Biblical civil tax in this final article, with a view to firmly anchoring this crucial concept against well-intended but misguided assaults so that we might finally apply the Word of God rather than continuing to neglect it to our own hurt.

  • Robert Fugate,
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In Part 1 of this 3-part series (July-August 2012 FFAOL), we learned that God has given us an infallible revelation of His will regarding civil taxation. That revelation is found only in God's written Word, the Bible, which is sufficient to instruct us how to please God in all areas of life ("thoroughly equipped for every good work," 2 Tim. 3:17).1

The only God-instituted and God-endorsed form of civil tax in Scripture is the head tax (also known as a poll tax or census tax) (Ex. 30:11-16; 38:25f.; 2 Kings 12:4-16 // 2 Chr. 24:4-14; Neh. 10:32f.; Matt. 17:24-27). The Biblical head tax is: (a) a mandatory civil tax; (b) levied upon every male (age twenty and older); (c) paid annually; (d) a fixed, flat fee (not a percentage) that is a low enough amount that every man can afford to pay it. Such limited tax revenue restricts the state to its God-ordained functions. This view of the head tax is based upon R. J. Rushdoony's teaching.2

However, James Jordan3 and Christian Reconstructionist leader Gary North4  disagree with R. J. Rushdoony's understanding of the head tax as a civil tax. In Part 2 of this three-part series published in the last issue of FFAOL, I laid out my initial critique of their position. I resume a Biblical assessment of their rejection of the Biblical civil tax in this final article, with a view to firmly anchoring this crucial concept against well-intended but misguided assaults so that we might finally apply the Word of God rather than continuing to neglect it to our own hurt.

Further Objections Made by Jordan and North

4. Jordan's fourth argument is that the temple tax mentioned in Matthew 17:24-27 was innovative, unbiblical oral tradition that was not directly founded on Exodus 30.5

Rebuttal #4

This view was refuted in our previous article where we analyzed this passage. We concluded that Matthew 17:24-27 teaches that Jesus the Messiah is immune from His Father's temple tax because He is God's unique, divine Son (Matt. 17:5). The passage must be understood messianically. In paying the tax He did not owe, Jesus perfectly confirmed and obeyed God's law on behalf of the elect. Consequently, His perfect righteousness could be credited to His people.6 In light of our previous argumentation, we believe Jordan's statement, "Jesus goes on to say that taxes are a form of tribute levied on conquered foreigners, so that citizens of the kingdom itself are not subject to them,"7 is inaccurate, and his subsequent discussion is confused.

Jordan's next sentence extends this "principle" of God not taxing His people to "the Old Covenant Tabernacle and Temple." But then, in the following sentence, Jordan backtracks from his "principle," acknowledging that "the Mosaic head tax was, however, a tax levied occasionally on God's own people." This leads Jordan to call members of the old covenant "strangers" and "afar off" from "the kingdom," presumably meaning8 that they were not citizens of God's Kingdom-a questionable description of those Israelites who were true believers.9 If these Old Covenant "strangers" were "afar off" from God's Kingdom, then they must have been "strangers" and "afar off" from the church in the Old Testament (contra orthodox Reformed theology). Is the church in the Old Testament a different church from the one in the New Testament? Since Jordan is not a dispensationalist, he surely would answer, "No."10

Furthermore, Matthew 17:25f. does not refer at all to "citizens of the kingdom" (Jordan's term), but to God's "sons" (i.e., the royal family).11 Consequently, applying Jordan's interpretation of Christ's teaching leads to the position that Old Testament believers could not be God's "sons." For simplicity and clarity, let us state this argument syllogistically:

God does not tax His sons;
God taxed all adult male Israelites
with the head tax (Ex. 30);
Therefore, no adult male Israelites were God's sons.

But if no adult male Israelites were God's sons, this implies that Old Testament believers were unregenerate-another unbiblical notion.12

Another difficulty with Jordan's line of reasoning is that Jesus is asserting His already-existing immunity from paying the temple tax during the Old Covenant era. Jordan extends this immunity to Christ's disciples and to all believers-but the new covenant had not yet been inaugurated. (It was inaugurated in Matt. 26:28.) Christ's statement cannot be viewed as merely proleptic (i.e., prophesying future New Covenant realities), since it concerned Peter paying tax at that time.

This leads us to conclude that Jordan's fourth and final line of argumentation also fails. Thus Jordan's conclusion, "The Mosaic head tax cannot be said to have had any explicitly or even implicitly civil function in the Old Covenant,"13 is manifestly false. If Jordan's analysis of the Mosaic head tax (i.e., that it is not a civil tax, and that it is irrelevant in the New Covenant age14) is mistaken, then his conclusion (i.e., "The Bible gives no explicit instruction regarding how the state is to be financed"15) is erroneous. Jordan has not cogently refuted R. J. Rushdoony's position that the Exodus 30 head tax was a civil tax.

5. Gary North adds a fifth objection: To allow temple workers to collect civil tax must result in "either an ecclesiocracy or a political tyranny," in which either church or state will rule the other.16 It could not be otherwise.

Rebuttal #5

First, if God ordained the separation of church and state in the Old Testament,17 and since God required the regular workers in the temple precincts to be priests or Levites, then following God's instructions does not necessarily result in the blending of church and state.

Second, Scripture indicates the presence of accountants who maintained a carefully-functioning accounting system in the temple.18 Separate accounts were probably maintained for church and state.19

When there was a problem with priests not following through or perhaps misallocating funds, the king took over the responsibility (2 Kings 12:4-16 // 2 Chr. 24:4-14).20 Even then "joint oversight of the funds deposited in the chest is provided by a royal and priestly official (2 Kings 12:10; 2 Chr. 24:11)."21

Third, viewing the Exodus 30 payment as an ecclesiastical atonement rather than a civil tax (North's position) does not necessarily produce a clearly-defined and harmonious working relationship between the separate jurisdictions of church and state, as 2 Kings 12:4-16 // 2 Chronicles 24:4-14 clearly demonstrates.

Additional Issues with the Jordan-North view

The Jordan-North hypothesis that the males paying the ransom in Exodus 30 are the ecclesiastical Israelite army comprised of temporary Nazirite priests is highly questionable. Consider the prima facie evidence against their hypothesis. Neither the word "priest" nor the word "Nazirite" is found in Exodus 30. The word "vow" never occurs in Exodus (which is relevant since people temporally became Nazirites through taking a vow). They cite no scholarly documentation to support their view. I have checked numerous reference sources that are the highest-rated scholarly works in their category (e.g., Bible commentaries, Bible encyclopedias/dictionaries, Old Testament theologies, etc.). None of them draws any connection between Nazirites and Exodus 30; neither do any of them refer to the army of Exodus 30 as priests. If this is so obviously the one-and-only possible interpretation of the passage, why do the best academic commentaries22 not even list it as a view to consider (or even mention it so as to refute it)? Furthermore, to call Nazirites "temporary priests"23 ignores the many differences between Nazirites and priests (i.e., the logical fallacy of hasty generalization).24 Yet, North describes their view of an army of temporary Nazirite priests as "central to Jordan's argument and mine."25 Since they base their entire position on this hypothesis, surely the burden of proof is on them to produce much more scholarly documentation before we adopt their hypothesis.26

North describes the payment in Exodus 30 as made to the priests-although the word "priest" never occurs in Exodus 30:11-16.27 Indeed, one well-known Old Testament scholar suggests that "Moses may have been the person to receive the collected payments prior to the conquest" (of the land of Canaan) (cf. Ex. 30:11, 16).28 That would be quite significant, since Moses represented God's authority exercised in the civil sphere, while Aaron represented God's authority exercised in the church.29 In any case, the payment (unlike tithes) did not support the priests; rather, it was an offering to the Lord for the tabernacle (vv. 13, 16; cf. 2 Kings 12:7-16), which (as we noted above) represents the Kingdom of God, including both its civil and ecclesiastical aspects.

Dr. North asserts that "taking the national census was strictly limited to wartime."30 This certainly was not the case throughout the ancient Near East. A census served two primary, distinct purposes: levying taxes and registering men for military service in time of war (but not necessarily both in a given instance). Sometimes it was used to conscript forced labor for various state projects.31

Dr. North lists two main "problem[s]" in Rushdoony's view of the head tax: (a) "On what basis did the State become the recipient of this atonement payment?" and (b) "When did the State become the recipient of these atonement payments?"32 However, these only become serious problems when one assumes the Jordan-North interpretation of the payment in Exodus 30 as a priestly atonement and ransom paid by a temporary, priestly, Nazirite, ecclesiastical army and that this payment was paid to priests. Furthermore, North assumes that the tabernacle and the temple always represent the church; that is, the tabernacle and the temple have no role whatsoever in state functions. (In our previous article we provided scholarly documentation demonstrating that this is totally untrue throughout the ancient Near East and in the Biblical record regarding the nation Israel.) From this position North latches on to one word in this statement by Rushdoony: "It [the head tax] was used originally for the construction of the tabernacle (Ex. 38:25-38)."33 North interprets Rushdoony to say that the head tax was "originally" church money; later it became state money. This is not what Rushdoony was saying. Rushdoony believed that: (a) the tabernacle and later the temple represented the Kingdom of God, including both church and state; and (b) the head tax was revenue for the state (which was headquartered in the tabernacle/temple). Thus the head tax was always used to fund the state; there was no change in the sense that North asserts. When Rushdoony used the term "originally" he is merely saying that the head tax (which was always a civil tax) originally helped fund the building and furnishing of the tabernacle (the state headquarters) and subsequently paid for all state expenses. Obviously, during the construction of the tabernacle, which occurred during Israel's wanderings in the wilderness, there were minimal additional state expenses.

Jordan's View of Nehemiah 10:32f.

After 50,000 exiled Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity to repatriate Israel, they rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple. Subsequently, under their Governor, Nehemiah, they instituted a head tax. This head tax was paid "yearly" (Neh. 10:32), as the Mosaic head tax of 2 Chronicles 24:5 had been.

Jordan does not believe that Nehemiah's tax could be a civil head tax based on Exodus 30:11-16. He offers three arguments for this view:

  1. The text in Nehemiah does not specifically refer to the Mosaic head tax. Jordan argues that the phrase "we made ordinances" (Neh. 10:32) is a deliberate contrast to what the Mosaic Law commanded (vv. 29, 34).
  2. The amount of the tax is different, i.e., 1/3 shekel (Neh. 10:32) rather than 1/2 shekel (Ex. 30:13).
  3. Nehemiah's head tax supported the worship of the temple rather than the civil sphere.34


1.   The entire context of verses 28-39 is renewing covenant with God "to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes" (v. 29 NKJV). "All the commandments" / "ordinances" / "statutes" would include the commands regarding the head tax in Exodus 30:11-16. Furthermore, vv. 35-39 continue the thought of "we made ordinances/we accept responsibility" (so translated in NKJV, ESV, NIV, NET, etc.), yet they certainly refer to various Mosaic laws concerning firstfruits, firstborn, tithes, offerings, etc.-even though the term "God's law" is not repeated in any of these verses (neither is "God's law" repeated in vv. 30-33). Thus "we made ordinances" is probably a stylistic variation, not an indication that this action was not based on God's law.

Indeed, verses 31-40 are written "in the first person and represents the people's point of view, as the priests and Levites are spoken of in the third person ... The plain inference [of ‘we made ordinances for ourselves' (v. 32)] is rather startling that the people themselves made ordinances to do the things prescribed in the [Mosaic] law."35 Furthermore, arguing from the absence of another reference to God's law in v. 32 may be viewed as the logical fallacy of an argument from silence. Interestingly, the term "wood offering" does not occur in the Mosaic Law or in the Pentateuch; yet, Nehemiah describes it under the rubric "as it is written in the Law" (v. 34). (It is there by implication, since wood was required for burnt offerings, Lev. 1:7f., 12, 17; 3:5; 4:12; 6:9, 12f.; Num. 19:6.)

We conclude that Jordan's assertion that "we made ordinances" (Neh. 10:32) means manmade laws that are not part of the Mosaic Law is very unlikely.

2.   There are several plausible explanations for the apparent discrepancy between a tax amount of 1/3 shekel rather than 1/2 shekel:

  • One explanation for the discrepancy is the extreme poverty of many of the repatriating Israelites. This extreme poverty had three main physical causes: (a) famine (Neh. 5:3; Mal. 3:9-12); (b) oppressive Persian taxation (Ezra 4:13; 7:24; 6:8; Esther 10:1)-oppressive to the point of bringing them and their children into slavery (Neh. 5:1-5; 9:36f.; Ezra 9:9); and (c) nearly two months (Neh. 6:15) of continuous work rebuilding the city walls (Neh. 3-7), which provided no income to families who owned no land (5:2), and left landowners little time to cultivate their fields. One of the characteristics of the Mosaic head tax was that it was cheap enough that the poor man could afford to pay it. Perhaps the extreme conditions in Nehemiah's day necessitated a lowering of the amount of the Mosaic head tax to comply with the intent of its legislation.
  • A second plausible explanation is that the Persian Empire was providing many of the civil functions (for which it was exacting tax), so Israel reduced its own civil tax rate to avoid double taxation.36
  • A third possible explanation suggested by several scholars is that this later Babylonian-Persian shekel used to pay the head tax was based on a heavier standard (21 grams); thus 1/3 of the later shekel was equal to 1/2 of the earlier Phoenician shekel (14 grams).37
  • A fourth possibility is that the small tax reduction may have provided temporary compensation for nearly two month's free labor in rebuilding the city walls.

These plausible explanations demonstrate that this objection is not nearly as substantial as it might first seem to be.

3.   With regard to the objection that Nehemiah's head tax supported the worship of the temple rather than the civil sphere, we ask, Could the inclusion of some items used for temple worship (v. 33) be merely a temporary accommodation until the new second temple could be fully furnished and stocked with supplies and proper worship fully restored (Neh. 10; 12; Mal. 3:9-12)?38 Nehemiah's head tax was clearly instituted during an abnormal time, i.e., during the reestablishing of the rebuilt temple and its worship in Jerusalem and while the newly repatriated Israelites were paying excessive tribute to the Persian Empire (which provided some civil functions). This tribute was so oppressive and caused such enslaving poverty that Israel's Governor, Nehemiah, was sacrificially foregoing reimbursement for legitimate government expenses (Neh. 5:14, 17f.), so as not to further enslave the impoverished Israelites. Obviously, such deep poverty hindered the ongoing giving of abundant offerings for the temple and its services. To rebuild his devastated nation, Nehemiah may have prioritized the worship of God over his own salary. A second possibility is that, since the Israelites were already paying high taxes to Persia (which provided them with some civil functions), the Israelites may have diverted a portion of the head tax revenue to the expenses of temple worship. Scripture does not give us enough detail to answer all our questions in this matter. In any case, the objections to Nehemiah's head tax being the reinstitution of Moses' civil head tax are not insurmountable.

4.   Jordan's conclusion, "This [Nehemiah's tax] was not a civil tax at all. Its purpose was wholly cultic [i.e., regarding ecclesiastical worship rituals]," presupposes that the tabernacle/temple was wholly ecclesiastical, having no civil function. As we have seen in both this article and in the previous article, this was not the case.39

Furthermore, there are positive, contextual and linguistic arguments to substantiate the view that Nehemiah's tax was, in fact, a reinstitution of the Mosaic head tax (Ex. 30:11-16).

First, the institution of Nehemiah's head tax (Neh. 10:32f.) occurs in the context of the renewal of God's covenant (8:1-10:39) and obedience to God's covenant (11:1-13:31), which were recorded in "the Book of the Law of Moses" (8:1; cf. 8:3, 8, 18; 9:3; 13:1; Ezra 6:18). The entire emphasis of Ezra-Nehemiah is obeying God's covenantal law-word in its entirety, in all areas of life-which would include God's directives for the head tax in Exodus 30:1-16.

Second, regarding similarity of language, Nehemiah's phrase describing the purpose of the head tax being "for the service of the house of our God" (Neh. 10:32) is strikingly reminiscent of Moses' phrase regarding the purpose of the head tax, "for the service of the tabernacle of meeting" (Ex. 30:16).40 One commentator suggests that this similarity of wording "purposely linked" the two passages.41 Of course, both taxes were paid in shekels.

Third, Nehemiah also describes the purpose of the head tax being for "all the work of the house of our God" (Neh. 10:33), a phrase which denotes the maintenance of the temple building, rather than maintaining its sacrificial rituals.42 This second purpose of Nehemiah's head tax is identical to the purpose of the Mosaic head tax (Ex. 38:25-28; 2 Kings 12:4-16 // 2 Chr. 24:4-14).

We thus concur with Old Testament scholar and commentator Carl F. Keil: "This appointed payment is evidently only a revival of the Mosaic precept, Ex. 30:13."43 If Nehemiah's head tax is a reinstitution of the Mosaic head tax-and we believe that it is-then the book of Nehemiah confirms that the head tax was again in force over one thousand years after Moses had instituted it.44 We argued in the previous article that the Mosaic head tax was still present in New Testament times (Matt. 17:24-27).


The arguments marshaled by Jordan and North against Rushdoony's view of the head tax (i.e., that it is the only God-authorized civil tax) are unconvincing and at times are not cogent. We concur with Rushdoony's assessment:

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 ... A land tax is not lawful ... Ungodly taxation is theft ... A lawless tax structure [i.e., one rejecting God's sovereign law] spells death to men and society ... The power to tax is in the modern world the power to destroy. It is no longer the support of law and order.45

Although we have disagreed with Dr. Gary North's view of the head tax,46 we heartily agree with much of his plan for reconstructing civil government spending and taxation:

We call for a vast purging of present-day national power, both political and economic. We call for the dismantling of the welfare-warfare State, most notably every aspect of taxpayer-financing for education (except for the national military academies ... maybe). I have called for a reduction of aggregate taxes to the level required by 1 Samuel 8: where all levels of civil government combined are allowed to collect less than 10 percent of people's annual income.47 I support the abolition of the local property tax, as well as all state and national direct taxation of individuals and corporations, which includes the graduated income tax, the Social Security tax, the corporate income tax, the capital gains tax, and all sales taxes. I recommend the abolition of all direct taxation by any agency of civil government above the local township or county; every other level of civil government would be forced to seek its revenues by taxing the level of civil government immediately below it. Civil governments above the most local would have to live off the revenues collected from other civil governments. This would decentralize power with a vengeance. The Reconstructionists' version of theocracy is a decentralized system of multiple competing governments in which the modern messianic State and its economic subsidies would be dismantled.48

In closing, let us remember that both Drs. North and Rushdoony believe/d in the absolute truthfulness, authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of God's written Word. Both are/were committed to applying God's law to all of society. Thus their debate over the exact nature of the head tax was an in-house debate among Christian brothers committed to Christian Reconstruction. Our biggest need of the hour is for more Christians to truly be committed to God's infallible and sufficient Word (including His law) and to apply it to our own lives, our families, our churches, and the state-in the power of the Holy Spirit. May Dr. North's and Dr. Rushdoony's spiritual and biological descendants maintain an attitude of brotherly love toward one another. We are on the same team. May we follow the Apostle Paul's admonition to Timothy: "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Tim. 2:7 NJKV). As we study God's Word, may the Holy Spirit give us the illumination to correctly understand it and the wisdom to apply it in our culture-to the glory of the triune God. Amen.

Dr. Robert Fugate (Ph.D., M.Div.) is the pastor of Word and Spirit Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska. In addition to his job as pastor, Dr. Fugate mentors young adults, missionary candidates, and other pastors in Biblical worldview, presuppositional apologetics, and theology.

1. For an explanation and a Biblical defense of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture see Robert E. Fugate, The Bible: God's Words to You (Omaha, NE: Lord of the Nations, LLC, 2012), 341-352.

2. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Exodus (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2004), 443-446. Idem., The Institutes of Biblical Law, vol. 1. (n.p.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1973), 50, 277, 281-283, 492, 510, 719. Idem., The Institutes of Biblical Law, vol. 3 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1999), 23f., Idem., Law and Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), 696f.

Rushdoony summarized his understanding of the head/poll tax as follows: "The basic tax was the poll or head tax (Ex. 30:11-16), which had to be the same for all men. It was paid by men only, all men of age twenty and over. This tax was collected by the civil authority for the maintenance of the civil order, to provide all men with a covering or atonement of civil justice" (The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:492).

3. James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 225-239. When Jordan wrote this book he held to theonomy, a school of thought he has since rejected. The questions Jordan raises are legitimate and deserve an answer. (My rebuttal of Jordan's view of the head tax in no way demeans the many insights contained in The Law of the Covenant.)

4. Gary North, Tools of Dominion (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), 903-912. (My disagreement with Dr. North's view of the head tax in no way detracts from my appreciation for his voluminous writings or for his funding the publication of many important books.)

5. Jordan suggests that the temple tax in Matthew 17 was an oral tradition based on a synthesis of "the Mosaic head tax and on the self-imposed levy of Nehemiah 10:32-33, which was designed to pay for the sacrifices" (James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 233).

6. Cf. the Westminster Confession of Faith, 8:4-5; 11:3.

7. James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 234.

8. Ibid. I find Jordan's wording to be confusing: "The members of the Old Testament were still ‘strangers' to the kingdom; they were ‘afar off' and had not yet been ‘brought nigh' in the full New Covenant sense." (Jordan then cites several New Testament verses teaching the inadequacies of the Old Testament ceremonial law.) First, Reformed covenant theology certainly teaches that Old Testament believers were part of the same covenant of grace as New Testament believers: there is one "everlasting covenant" of grace (Heb. 13:20). Second, what does Jordan mean by the term, "the kingdom?" It is most natural to understand "the kingdom" to mean the Kingdom of God. In this case we ask, "were Old Testament believers members of God's Kingdom or were they not members of God's Kingdom?" Most scholars would agree that the Kingdom of God certainly was present in the Old Testament. Could Jordan's term, "the kingdom," mean the messianic or mediatorial Kingdom of Christ, which had not yet been inaugurated prior to the first coming of Christ? Obviously, Old Testament believers could not be part of the not-yet-come messianic kingdom. However, two paragraphs later Jordan describes "true sons of the kingdom" as those redeemed by the blood of Christ. That description must include all Old and New Testament believers. Thus I understand Jordan's term, "the kingdom," to denote the Kingdom of God.

9. Paul applies the terms "strangers" and "afar off" to Gentiles, not to Old Testament saints (Eph. 2:11-13, 17, 19; cf. Acts 2:38).

10. God is not a polygamist. He has only one wife/church throughout both Old and New Testaments (Rom. 11:16-24, 26, 28; cp. 1 John 2:28-32 with Acts 2:17-21; cp. Amos 9:11f. with Acts 15:16f.; cp. Jer. 31:31-34 with Heb. 8:8-10).

11. W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 2:744.

12. Old Testament believers were regenerated; this is depicted as: circumcision of the heart (Dt. 30:6; 10:16; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:25f.; cf. Rom. 2:28f); having a new heart (Ezk. 18:31; 36:26; cf. Jer. 32:39f; 24:7); a heart of flesh (instead of a heart of stone) (Ezk. 11:19f.; 36:26); a new spirit within (Ezk. 11:19f.; 36:26; 18:31); God writing His law on the heart (Jer. 31:33f.); and being changed into another man (1 Sam. 10:6, 9). That is why Jesus expected Rabbi Nicodemus to understand the new birth (John 3:10).

13. James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 232.

14. "In conclusion, the Mosaic head tax was never a civil tax. It was a religious tax and has been fulfilled definitively in Christ" (James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 234). Juxtaposing "civil" vs. "religious" is quite misleading. There is no religious neutrality; everything is religious. The correct terminology for Jordan's view is that the Mosaic head tax was not a civil tax; rather, it was an ecclesiastical or church tax. Both a civil tax and an ecclesiastical tax are religious. Cf. Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:281f.; 3:23.

Interestingly, Jordan adds, "This is not to say that a Christian state may not levy a head tax for civil purposes. It is just to say that a church may not levy a head tax."

15. James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 238. North concurs with Jordan: "The Old Testament never specifically says anything about what is proper for civil taxation except Samuel's warning" (1 Sam. 8) (Gary North, Tools of Dominion, 908). Does this comport with the Biblical doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture?

16. Gary North, Tools of Dominion, 908-910.

In light of the eleven different kinds of taxes in the Old Testament (excluding tithes and sacrifices), it is a mystery to me how Dr. North can write, "Apart from Samuel's critique of the king's collecting a tithe, the only references to compulsory payments in ancient Israel are the various tithes and sacrifices-clearly ecclesiastical-and the census atonement money of Exodus 30" (908f.). See Robert E. Fugate, Toward a Theology of Taxation, 1-9.

17. I demonstrate the Old Testament separation of church and state in my book, Key Principles of Biblical Civil Government, 110; cf. 22-26, 33.

18. The temple "gatekeeper" (Hebrew shoer) was actually a temple gate clerk or accountant, responsible for safeguarding the contents of the baskets placed at the thresholds, and perhaps assaying the items deposited, assigning value, and crediting the account of the depositor. The temple "scribe" (sopher) was the storehouse accountant, functioning as counter, recorder, ledger-keeper, and enumerator for the temple storehouses. See Marty E. Stevens, Temples, Tithes, and Taxes, 172, 71-77.

19. Consider 2 Kings 12:16: "The money from the trespass offerings and the money from the sin offerings was not brought into the house of the LORD. It belonged to the priests." If that money belonged to the priests, but the census money was not allowed to be used by the priests (see the following endnote), there had to be separate accounting.

20. "Jehoash takes charge much like Solomon to see that the work of temple repair is properly financed and accomplished ... By taking the funds out of the hands of the priests, Jehoash reasserts royal Davidic control over the sanctuary" (Marvin A. Sweeney, 1 & 2 Kings, 351f.). "Joash simply decides to introduce a different method of collection and he himself implements it" (Sara Japhet, 1 & 2 Chronicles, 845). "The notice that funds were not employed to manufacture the vessels used in the temple ritual-basins, snuffers, bowls, trumpets, and so on (cf. 1 Kings 7:38-40, 45-47)-indicates that the funds were used only for [temple] repairs" (Marvin A. Sweeney, 353). Sweeney suggests that "the priest had not properly allocated the funds in the past." In Joash's new arrangement the priests "will be absolved of responsibility to repair the temple, but they will no longer be in charge of the offerings brought to the temple" (August H. Konkel, 1 & 2 Kings [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006], 513; cf. T. R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, 153).

21. Andrew E. Hill, 1 & 2 Chronicles (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 540.

22. Exodus commentators include: Propp, Stuart, Hamilton, Durham, Enns, Sarna, Cassuto, Childs, Jacob, Fretheim, Motyer, Kaiser, Bruckner, Murphy, Bush, Driver, Hyatt, Noth, Keil.

23. "During the holy war, the men became temporary priests by taking the Nazirite vow" (James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 231).

24. Jordan lists Num. 6; 2 Sam. 11:11 + Ex. 19:15; Dt. 23:9-14; Jdg. 5:2, ‘That long locks of hair hung loose in Israel ... ') as his proof that the army of Ex. 30 were temporary Nazirite priests (The Law of the Covenant, 231). But a couple of similarities between Nazirites and priests do not prove identity. For example, Israelites and Philistines both fought with swords and spears, but they are not identical people groups. There are at least eight significant differences between Nazirites and priests that must not be ignored.

25. Gary North, Tools of Dominion, 911.

26. It is the case that a few older liberal scholars (e.g., Walther Eichrodt and Roland de Vaux)-who were committed to some form of the evolutionary Documentary Hypothesis, in which Mosaic authorship is rejected for most of the Pentateuch (contrary to the teaching of both the Old Testament and to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles), and the so-called priestly portions of the Pentateuch (such as Num. 6) are dated after the Babylonian exile-hypothesize two radically different types of Nazirites. In their view the earlier type of Nazirite was a sacred, charismatic, lone-wolf warrior, who was subject to ecstatic-behavior. Yet, neither Eichrodt nor de Vaux includes Exodus 30 in their discussion of Nazirites.

27. North is so committed to Jordan's and his interpretation of the army being a "temporary priesthood" (Tools of Dominion, 911) and the ransom being "paid to God through the priesthood" (906) that he uses some form of the word "priest" twenty-two times in his ten-page article. However, as the old adage goes, "saying it's so doesn't make it so."

28. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, NAC, 639. "You" in Ex. 30:16 refers back to Moses (v. 11) (Benno Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus [Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1992], 831).

29. Robert E. Fugate, Key Principles of Biblical Civil Government, 110.               

30. Gary North, Tools of Dominion, 905. North's citation of Luke 14:31f. is hardly applicable to Yahweh's wars, since God repeatedly emphasized that He would fight Israel's enemies, enabling them to defeat enemies who were far more powerful than they (Dt. 4:38; 7:1; 9:1, 14; 11:23).

31. See sources cited in Robert E. Fugate, Toward a Theology of Taxation, 23-25.

32. Gary North, Tools of Dominion, 907.

33. Ibid.; citing Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:50.

34. James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 237f.

35. L.W. Batton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, ICC [New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913], 376f.

36. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:591.

37. For discussion of the third view see: R. A. Bowman, "The Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah," in The Interpreter's Bible, ed. G. A. Buttrick, 12 vols. (New York, NY: Abingdon, 1954), 3:764; R. B. Y. Scott, "Weights, Measures, Money and Time," in Peake's Commentary on the Bible, eds. Matthew Black and H. H. Rowley (Hong Kong: Thomas Nelson, 1962), 38 § 35a; D. J. A. Clines, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, NCB (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 207; Jacob M. Myers, Ezra, Nehemiah, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965), 178f.; F. Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 240; Leslie C. Allen and Timothy S. Laniak, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, NIBC (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 143; cf. Edwin Yamauchi, "Ezra, Nehemiah," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (EBC), ed. F. E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 4:742.

38. This argument is somewhat similar to Jordan's reasoning, "People were not in a position to reinstitute the entire Levitical order overnight, so again Nehemiah's provision was a needed accommodation to the situation" (James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 237).

39. Jordan himself admitted, "The Tabernacle was the ultimate political as well as ecclesiastical center of Israel" (The Law of the Covenant, 231).

40. There are other language similarities, such as both passages mentioning shekel and atonement.

41. H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, WBC (Waco, TX: Word, 1985), 335. L. W. Batton (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, ICC,  377) and Joseph Blenkinsopp (Ezra-Nehemiah: A Commentary, OTL [Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1988], 316) believe that Nehemiah's tax is the same tax as that found in 2 Chronicles 24:4, 9. If we reject their critical reconstruction of the Pentateuch (based on the Documentary Hypothesis), then this is the same tax as the Mosaic head tax (Ex. 30:11-16).

42. F. Charles Fensham asserts that the phrase "all the work of the house of our God" (Neh. 10:33) "refers to the maintenance of the building of the temple" (The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, NICOT, 240; cf. H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, WBC, 336). With reference to the phrase "all the work of the house of our God" (Neh. 10:33), L. W. Batten observed that in Ezra and Nehemiah the term "work" (mela'kah) "usually refers to the building" itself, not to rituals conducted in the temple (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, ICC, 377).

In Ex. 30:16 "The service [`abodah] of the tent of meeting" does not refer to the sacrificial service, but to its construction (Ex. 38:25-28; 39:32), which was to be more of a permanent "memorial" (Ex. 30:16) (Umberto Cassuto Commentary on the Book of Exodus, 394f.). "‘Work' must connote not worship ... but construction ... The silver does not purchase offerings; it is built directly into the Tabernacle (38:27f.)" (William H. C. Propp, Exodus 19-40, AB, 479; cf. Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, 196).

43. Carl F. Keil, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 3:253.

44. James Ussher dates Nehemiah's work at 454 B.C. (The Annals of the World, § 1243).

45. Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:283f. North's observation, that this Rushdoony quote does not distinguish covenantal, God-ordained institutions (i.e., family, church, and state) from non-covenantal (i.e., school, vocation, and all else), has merit (Tools of Dominion, 909).

46. North describes the payment in Exodus 30 as "a blood covering for warriors-become-Nazarite [KJV spelling] priests who were about to go into battle" (Tools of Dominion, 912). Of course, this definition completely ignores the other occurrences of the head tax in Scripture.

47. "The combined tax burden of all levels of civil government should not equal the tithe of 10 percent of net income. The largest share must be taken by local civil government. Taxes by higher levels should be imposed on the lower governments, but not on citizens directly. By violating this principle of local sovereignty, civil government is centralized, as it was in Samuel's day (1 Sam. 8). He described this process as a curse, but the Israelites did not believe him. Neither does modern man" (Gary North, Healer of the Nations: Biblical Blueprint for International Relations [Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987], 61).

48. Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 584f; cf. 294. Dr. North does not believe that an income tax less than 10% is explicitly approved by God in Scripture; he infers it from 1 Samuel 8. He does not elaborate on the steps involved in making this logical inference.

Any income tax inherently causes government intrusion into one's privacy. I critique many different kinds of taxes (including income taxes) in my monograph, Toward a Theology of Taxation, available at

  • Robert Fugate

Dr. Robert Fugate (Ph.D., M.Div.) is the pastor of Word and Spirit Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska. In addition to his job as pastor, Dr. Fugate mentors young adults, missionary candidates, and other pastors in Biblical worldview, presuppositional apologetics, and theology.

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