The devil and Jerry Brown quote tax scriptures for own purposes

Aug. 3, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

On August 2, California Gov. Jerry Brown erroneously invoked the following passage from the Christian New Testament in support of his proposed package of tax increases under Proposition 30 on the November ballot:

“For those whom much is given, much will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

This is a reference to Brown’s proposed tax on the :rich” earning $250,000 or more.

However, Brown apparently isn’t much of a New Testament scholar. That New Testament scripture doesn’t directly refer to taxation, but to answering the question of who is a faithful servant.  Jesus was accused of subverting tax collectors to be unfaithful servants by abandoning their tax collecting duties:

“As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow Me!’  And he got up and followed Him.’” (Matthew 9:9).

Jesus Had a Tax Trial

Brown might have studied his Bible better before invoking Jesus’ name as a proponent of taxes. The all-important reference to Jesus and taxation in the Christian New Testament is Jesus’ tax trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Curator of Jerusalem.  Tax trial?  Yes, tax trial.  It is recorded in Luke 23:2:

“Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our state.  He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.’”  

By teaching people to shun paying taxes, Jesus was accused of “subverting the nation.”  In other words, he was accused of being unpatriotic by interfering with the payment of taxes.

In fact, Jesus went even further and said that if someone sins against you, and refuses to listen to your charges, you “should treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15).

According to Jesus, tax collectors should be avoided, like pagans.  Of course if people are taught to avoid and reject tax collectors, tax collections will suffer.

Jesus Was Leading Religious Movement Against Oppressive Taxes

According to Jean-Pierre Isbouts’ book “Young Jesus: Restoring the Lost Years of a Social Activist and Religious Dissident, Jesus was a member of a peasant resistance movement against oppressive taxes. Professor Isbouts is a liberal historian, filmmaker, archaeologist, and professor at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara.

According to Isbouts, families like Jesus’ were thrown into abject poverty by the taxes levied by King Herod and various Roman overlords such as Pontius Pilate. The result of government tax oppression was that greedy lenders foreclosed on farmlands and turned former landowners into indentured servants. Jesus doesn’t mention those greedy lenders who loaned money to landowners to buy seed and farm equipment.  Jesus lays the blame on the government and those religious authorities that sanctioned such oppression. Isbouts claims that tax injustices were the reason that Jesus was entering Jerusalem during the Jewish Passover claiming to be a religious messiah.

You don’t believe that Roman soldiers went around crucifying every person claiming to be a religious messiah in the First Century?  There were plenty of religious lunatics claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.  What led to Jesus’ crucifixion was his promoting a religious gospel that said that oppressive taxes were politically illegitimate. Reportedly, Jesus was eventually executed by hanging on a cross for the double charges of opposing taxes and claiming to be a religious messiah.

The closest modern day American analogy would be Jesus having been accused of being opposed to paying taxes to Obama and being a member of the Tea Party. What other interpretation could there be?  Certainly the Occupy Movement wouldn’t be opposed to taxes.

Quoting Scripture for One’s Own Purposes

In The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare wrote: “The devil can quote scripture for his own purpose.  An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek.”  In the Christian Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 4, Jesus is reported to have encountered the devil that quoted scripture.

Brown is cherry picking religious scripture out of context to support his tax increase.


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  1. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 3 August, 2012, 09:14

    Does this quote apply to government workers too?

    Poodle and Burrow discuss….RAGWUS rant GED cops etc…

    Reply this comment
  2. David in Irvine
    David in Irvine 3 August, 2012, 09:32

    Income is earned, not “given”; if Prop. 30 passes, rest assured that the target groups will not be “asked” for more, they will be forced!

    Reply this comment
  3. Ted Steele, Janitor
    Ted Steele, Janitor 3 August, 2012, 09:42

    I like the Gov.s bible quote.

    Jesus would support the affordable health care act.

    Reply this comment
  4. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 3 August, 2012, 09:56

    “The devil can quote scripture for his own purpose”
    Our devilish Governor is a sly old dog and a desperate one these days. He’s going into overdrive to get his precious taxes passed so that he can keep the gravy train going for the usual suspects – Big Labor, The Environmental Industrial Complex, The Ambulance Chasers Union, Illegal Immigrant Activists and The Hollyweird Pop Culture Vultures.

    His powers of deception will reach a crescendo right around November. Jerry has always been a duplicitous, conniving, Machiavellian rascal. That’s why he is such a successful politician. With his Jesuit trained mind he can easily outwit millions of lunk headed voters in this state just by spouting scripture. But it does seem cheesy and desperate.

    Interesting article Wayne, I had no idea Jesus was a tax protestor.

    Reply this comment
  5. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 3 August, 2012, 10:00

    Ted Steele, God’s Official Spokesman said

    “Jesus would support the affordable health care act.”

    Sure Ted, anything you say.

    Reply this comment
  6. OddThat
    OddThat 3 August, 2012, 10:16

    @ Ted Steele, I doubt that Jesus would have supported the Affordable Healthcare Act, after all, the Supreme Court has ruled it a TAX.

    Reply this comment
  7. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 3 August, 2012, 10:16

    Don’t fall for it Dys, Teddy lies thru his vampire teeth!

    Reply this comment
  8. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 3 August, 2012, 11:18

    I’m not too worried about Obamacare – the so-called affordable health care act. There is no money for it.
    Stay healthy – eat green leafy vegetables every day and watch your metabolism – don’t let your blood sugar drop during the day — eat by grazing all day long.

    Reply this comment
  9. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 3 August, 2012, 11:42

    I bet even your conservative Christian minister never pointed out what is written in plain sight in the Christian Gospels about Jesus and taxes. From what we know, Jesus opposed oppressive taxes from a religious value system, not as some ancient equivalent of a modern protestor.

    Reply this comment
  10. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 3 August, 2012, 11:50

    Rex, were you just being rhetorical there or did you miss the sarcasm. Do I seem like the type who would “fall for it”?

    Reply this comment
  11. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 3 August, 2012, 12:38

    Teddy is a weazel!

    Reply this comment
  12. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 3 August, 2012, 12:48

    More than anything else, this piece reinforces the need to keep religious nuts completely out of our government.

    Reply this comment
  13. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 4 August, 2012, 01:09

    @ Skippy,

    If you peruse the history of the 20th Century you will quickly find that the secular/anti-religious nuts are just as deadly as the religious ones. It’s a very distressing truth about humanity that our penchant for loopy belief systems is widespread and often fatal.

    Reply this comment
  14. Doug
    Doug 4 August, 2012, 05:27

    17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

    18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

    19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

    20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

    21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

    22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

    Reply this comment
  15. stephen
    stephen 4 August, 2012, 08:00

    This is silly.

    The governor took the verse out of context, but the author of this article took most of the verses out of context too… and omitted some pretty major ones.

    Regarding the Luke 23 passage: the next verse says that Pilate found no guilt in Jesus. Besides, using accusations by the people who wanted Jesus dead is not the best basis for an argument.

    Regarding the Matthew 18 passage: tax collectors weren’t ostracized because they collected taxes. They were hated because they were Jews who worked with the occupying Romans (collaborators) and didn’t just collect the taxes but collected the taxes plus some extra, which they kept for themselves. Jesus was regularly questioned by the scribes and pharisees for eating with tax collectors and sinners (remember that little guy in the tree?) So, I don’t think that verse means what the author thinks it means.

    What about Matthew 17.24-27? The Temple Tax (which was established by God in Exodus 30 and 38) is being collected. Jesus says it’s not longer necessary, but still pays it!

    And how about Matthew 22? Render unto Caesar… Jesus says pay taxes. Not just the ones you like, but the ones that are levied.

    And take a look at what Paul says in Romans 13… obey the government. Pay taxes (what is owed, not what you want to pay). Pay respect. Paul writes that all government is ordained by God. Sometimes that’s going to be bad rulers for whatever reason… but it’s all from God.

    The anti-government, uber-capitalist mentality of the “Republican/Conservative-Christian” isn’t Biblical. Neither is the social-gospel-only-Democrat wing. Because no political party really represents Christianity as a whole because no party is rooted in the Gospel, but in men and political ideas.

    Reply this comment
  16. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 4 August, 2012, 08:38

    There are disturbing posts on this site not so much ideology…more so the posters with animal names should be wearing little white coats!

    Reply this comment
  17. The Rt Rev Ted Steele
    The Rt Rev Ted Steele 4 August, 2012, 09:19

    Tea baggers might contemplate what Paul said about gluttony in his letter to the Ephesians.

    Reply this comment
  18. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 4 August, 2012, 13:29

    Thanks for your comments.
    What those scriptures are about is “oppressive” taxes as I thought my article made perfectly clear. The article isn’t anti-government but anti-oppressive taxes.
    The author worked in government for 30 years, was a member of a public employees union, was a social worker, affordable and low income housing analyst for a public housing authority, coordinator of a solar hot water heating project, and also worked in a large water agency. I am far from being anti-tax. You are reading something into the article that isn’t there.
    Your comments could also be construed or misconstrued as anti-Jewish.
    It was the Romans who were threatened by religious prophets who were opposed to taxes wasn’t it?
    Oppressive taxes would likely have been those additional taxes imposed by Roman occupation.

    Reply this comment
  19. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 4 August, 2012, 13:43

    If you search the archive on this website you will find that I am an opponent of state spending on “luxury public goods” (e.g., oppressive taxes). I am the only writer in California that I know of that has opposed government funding of luxuries such as affordable housing (how about affordable cars, mink coats, etc??). Mind you, I worked as an affordable housing development analyst for a public housing authority. The Federal and state’s policies for affordable housing are what largely contributed to the Mortgage Meltdown and Bank Panic of 2008 which harmed low income families more than the wealthy. Did you speak up with any moral or religious opposition to this at the time? If not why? Think about it.

    Here is one link:

    Best regards,

    Reply this comment
  20. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 4 August, 2012, 14:05

    Mind you, I worked as an affordable housing development analyst for a public housing authority.

    Back when I was involved in investment real estate in the last recession of 1989-1995, apartment units were selling in the $5K-$15K range, with rehab costs of $5K-$10K per unit, in the lower/moderate income areas, the gov was building “low cost” housing for $150K+ per unit………

    Reply this comment
  21. The Rt Rev Ted Steele
    The Rt Rev Ted Steele 4 August, 2012, 14:20

    Wayner-you must have gotten out of those trough feeding pensions before they started to pay big? No?


    Reply this comment
  22. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 4 August, 2012, 16:46

    An analyst in government is squishee cubicle welfare/workfare. A pity taxpayers have to endure such waste!

    Reply this comment
  23. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 4 August, 2012, 18:21

    I had to take an early retirement to take care of my girlfriend who had terminal cancer. She died 3 years later. I ended up also taking care of her stepdad for 2 years and her mother for another 2 years at a sacrifice. I walked away with about half of what I normally would have had for a retirement. It amounts to about a third of my full peak salary. I only had twenty years in grade total. The health benefits carried over for 5 years and expired. That is full disclosure.

    Reply this comment
  24. the Rt Rev Ted Steele
    the Rt Rev Ted Steele 4 August, 2012, 18:39

    Sorry to hear about your friend—truly.

    I have a small pension too— not as big as yours. Do you feel like you are feeding at a trough in some inappropriate way or do you think you earned the nice pension?

    Reply this comment
  25. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 4 August, 2012, 18:52

    Let’s put it this way – I have an investment plan that if it comes to fruition I won’t need to rely on a pension or government health care. If this comes about I plan to turn over my pension to charity. So I plan to be free of any government program if possible including health care.

    Reply this comment
  26. the Rt Rev Ted Steele
    the Rt Rev Ted Steele 4 August, 2012, 19:35

    Wow Wayne– I hope that all works out for you. If it does not, would you feel guilty spending your pension? I mean, alot of the folks out here consider that feeding at the gov trough. I mean, do you feel like you’ve earned that pension?


    Reply this comment
  27. the Rt Rev Ted Steele
    the Rt Rev Ted Steele 4 August, 2012, 20:06

    Now Wayne, Ya know, if you feel that you have not truly earned that pension, you can and should follow through with the power of your convictions, right?

    I mean, there is no shame at all just admitting that you should have NEVER tried for that fat gov pension and just repudiating it right now. There ARE ways to turn the funds over to charity right now! Or at last making an irrevocable instrument to do same.

    In this way Wayne you’d be putting your money were your mouth is. Ya know? I mean you write a whole lot all around the edges of the impropriety of taking any of this PENSION money at all.

    Think about it Wayne— your stories would have a lot of power behind them to all of us knowing you gave the money back.

    Maybe John Moorlock would read a story and do the right thing by turning in his fat pension and obscene car allowance??

    I would be sooooooo impressed.



    Reply this comment
  28. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 4 August, 2012, 20:54

    Moorlach never missed a government cafeteria bell or a pension increase!

    Reply this comment
  29. stephen
    stephen 5 August, 2012, 12:03


    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment.

    To be fair, I must admit this is the first time I’ve ready anything you’ve written, so I don’t have all of the proper context. I just stumbled across the article through

    I agree that oppressive taxes are not a good thing. But isn’t oppressive tax a bit of a subjective term? Some people will argue that any tax is inherently oppressive while others will argue that paying 90% of one’s income is not oppressive. So, who makes the distinction? In our society, it’s the voters. So, I don’t want to discourage anyone from voting their conscience and I hope that Christians are voting in accordance to their scriptural understandings.

    So, to say that Jesus was against oppressive taxes may be true, most people are in opposed to oppressions overall. But there doesn’t seem to be anything in the gospels that paint Jesus as anti-tax of any kind, oppressive or otherwise. The epistles don’t either. Everything in the New Testament points to rejoicing in oppression of all kind and obeying the government unconditionally, unless it tells you to sin. Certainly there is room for argument in there as far as what constitutes making a person sin (does taxes paying for abortion mean the taxpayer is paying for murder? I don’t know.)

    So, should we allow the government to oppress people? Well, that’s a tough question because we live under a very different government style than the first century Roman Empire. We have the chance to have a say in how our government runs. So, certainly we should engage in that and try to make laws that fit our understanding of morality. But what I see as more important is to accept the outcome, whatever that may be, and obey the government that God has put into place. Our government allows us to criticize our leaders, but to adhere to Biblical mandate, we must do that respectfully.

    “It was the Romans who were threatened by religious prophets who were opposed to taxes wasn’t it?”

    The Romans weren’t threatened by religious prophets per se, but they were threatened by anyone who questioned their governmental authority. But it was the religious leaders who wanted Jesus dead. They were threatened by his religious authority. That’s written throughout the gospels. The Roman government allowed their occupied subjects to maintain their own legal systems, but they didn’t allow them to execute anyone. Only the Romans could execute people. So, to have Jesus executed, the Jewish religious leaders had to find a reason to make the Romans want to execute him. So, they painted him as opposing Roman authority.

    Perhaps that sounds anti-Jewish, but it’s based on what’s written throughout the New Testament, which was mostly written by Jews.

    “Did you speak up with any moral or religious opposition to this at the time? If not why?”

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this. I wasn’t a big fan of the government stepping in to secure the failing banks, but it was for economic reasons. If banks make bad loans, let them fail. If the banks had failed, all of the people they’d made bad loans to would be free-and-clear on their houses, as I understand it. But there was a lot of blame on the lenders and the borrowers, so I don’t really feel comfortable making blanket moral statements about the whole thing.


    Reply this comment
  30. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 5 August, 2012, 15:26

    Once a year I find someone decent enough to have a real dialogue with. I guess you are it for this year.

    I believe it was the sociologist Max Weber who accurately described government as coercion. Coercion, if one means the public defense, prosecution of force and fraud against others, is typically considered legitimate. The whole question of taxation, and government in general, is what is a legitimate tax?

    In my experience in the military and working for many levels of local government in various capacities, I have found that California has evolved into the business of taxation for luxury public goods. I do not believe this to be a necessary and legitimate function of government. Therefore I define it oppressive.

    Where I live in a city of 150,000 in California, the city had two thirds of a billion in reserves in 2008 and wanted a new 8% Utility User’s Tax on telephone usage. I signed the ballot argument and opposed the tax — but lost. What did the city do with those taxes? They went out and used eminent domain to buy a former YWCA building for historic preservation, bought 30 acres of open space to enhance the views and values of nearby hillside homes, and built an urgent care center to augment the hospital emergency room.

    The former YWCA building is now going to be developed in a redevelopment project. Now that California has killed redevelopment agencies the proposed re-development of the YWCA will not take property taxes from the public schools. Redevelopment was a luxury public good that just deprived schools of funding. Can I use the word “oppressive?” You be the judge.

    The purchase of open space was only the use of government powers to prevent new housing stock from being built to assist the NIMBY’s – “Not In My Back Yarders.” I’m a trained real estate appraiser. The way the market works to make housing affordable is people with existing housing move up into better and/or larger housing and buy new dwellings. First time buyers come along and buy the houses those people moved out of. It is called neighborhood filtration. It is new housing at the top of the market that makes affordable housing at the bottom of the market. So taking land that could have been developed for new housing deprives first time buyers of affordable housing stock. Affordable housing is older, obsolescent in older neighborhoods. Should government coercion be used to intimidate landowners to sell their land for open space at a fraction of its developed value? In my mind buying open space to enhance nearby home values is oppressive and furthers no public good. And it breeds a society that is antithetic to religious values – the same sort of political collusion that was perhaps going on in a rural society in the First Century that oppressed farmers and led to the foreclosure of their land.

    The building of an urgent care center seems on the surface to further a better public good. But within eyesight of the urgent care center is a brand new medical office park with vacant buildings. Why not let the private market build an urgent care center? And if there is no market for a private urgent care center why is government doing it?

    So above I have given you three real world examples of what I am talking about – not anti-government or anti-tax ideology. I could provide many other examples.

    The reason that California has an unemployment problem is not so much state policies but local ones. Taking land for open space deprives construction workers of jobs. Historical preservation just keeps a higher and better market use of the land from being realized and shorts the government of taxes while begging for subsidies to make such projects economically feasible. An urgent care center for which there may not be a private market once gain just takes funding away from more necessary functions of government — schools, public roads, the justice system, and the so-called “first responders.” These are all luxury public goods. But they deprive the local economy of private jobs and a tax base. Even the State impartial Legislative Analyst in California has concluded that redevelopment is unnecessary and results in no added value over private development.

    If in a capitalistic society jobs are a moral imperative then depriving the private sector of jobs and the local community of a larger tax base is questionable if also oppressive. But government has evolved into selling itself as a Good Samaritan. Those with religious values should have some social tension with government and “be not conformed to this world.” They should respect government at least as a necessary evil but put checks on it as the American form of government intended. Here in California the single solution sought to cure all ills is just to abandon any limits on taxation or government coercion and fully fund government. But history doesn’t prove that a fully funded government solves anything – think of all the examples in WWII era. The trains ran on time in Mussolini’s Italy. But was that a moral society? Rapid and revolutionary change should be avoided wherever possible is history is any guide.

    I hope this answers some of your questions.

    Reply this comment
  31. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 5 August, 2012, 19:37

    Where I live in a city of 150,000 in California, the city had two thirds of a billion in reserves in 2008 and wanted a new 8% Utility User’s Tax on telephone usage
    Wayne, I am calling you on this one, NO CITY in CA has $650 MILLION in reserves, not even $65 million, possibly 1% of that $650 million, $6.5 million. Please name the city.

    Reply this comment
  32. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 6 August, 2012, 10:20

    Mr. Rex
    In 2008 the city of pasadena’s Certified Annual Financial Report showed about $650 million in cash, investments, and reserves.

    In 2011, is was about $450 million.


    Reply this comment
  33. BobA
    BobA 7 August, 2012, 09:22

    To Wayne Lusvardi:

    Do you honestly believe what you’re saying? Before I believe any city’s annual financial report I want to know what firm they hired to generated the report, what are their political connections, who did they give political donations too and how much, who’s sleeping with who, who’s related to who, what political favors were promised and what did the report cost the tax payers.

    Reply this comment
  34. Marc Herlands
    Marc Herlands 28 October, 2012, 10:20

    Like all theological arguments, context and not quotations are everything. You can prove anything you want to by picking out a passage in some part of the Bible to justify your point of view. And you did it in this one! No, it wasn’t a tax trial that got him crucified: it was advocating treason. Advocating not to pay taxes was equivalent to advocating treason against the Emperor. I think we can figure that out from Pilate’s reluctance to condemn him based on the flimsiest of evidence. Second, I think you have to look at the broader message: We are our brother’s keepers. We will be judged by our actions and thoughts about how we relate to the poor, sick, widowed, downtrodden. If you think that we as a society should not take care of them, it is not in step with Jesus’ general point of view about greed and love of money and how it fits into the ultimate goal, which is getting into heaven. I think you have to know his general meaning before you pick out certain phrases. And yes, Jesus would be in favor of increasing taxes to pay for medical care for the poor and no he would not be in favor of increasing taxes for warfare and military spending. But, then again, He came to proclaim that the goal of life on earth was to attain life in heaven, and to do otherwise is foolhardy.

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