Is It Biblical to Receive Unemployment Benefits?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Is it right for a Christian to receive unemployment benefits?  What are biblical principles for believers to believe that it is okay to receive help from the state after a layoff?  What would Jesus say about this?

Rendering Unto Caesar

Jesus was once tempted by the religious leaders who set a trap for Him.  They asked whether it was lawful for them to pay tribute to Caesar or not.  If Jesus refused to pay taxes to the Roman authorities, then they could accuse him of revolting against the rulers and if He chose to pay taxes, they could say that He was complicit with Roman rule; something that the Jews bristled at. In Mark 12:13-17 it says that “some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”

Should Christians Receive Unemployment Benefits

The unemployed worker then has every reason to collect unemployment benefits. There is nothing ethically wrong with this.

Clearly Jesus said that whoever the rulers were at that time, they were due their lawful tribute (taxes).  In Matthew 17:24-27, it reads, “After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him.  “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”   This obviously proves that Jesus and His disciples paid their due taxes.

Private companies pay into a tax that covers the funds for unemployment benefits.  These taxes generally go into state coffers and are the source by which the unemployed are paid, so a laid off worker has every right to collect unemployment benefits because companies are required to pay a tax for just this cause.   Each state pays those who are unemployed in their state from a pool of unemployment taxes that it collects based upon the number of employees in a company.  What this means is that the money is not really the companies but the states.  The states intentionally set up a portion of state taxes to use for those who will be laid off.  The unemployed worker then has every reason to collect unemployment benefits.  There is nothing ethically wrong with this.  The unemployed worker is not receiving direct support from the company or welfare but from the state.  To collect benefits is in following those who are in positions of authority and the Bible clearly tells believers that they are to submit to those who are in governmental authority.

Submission to Governing Authorities

In Romans 13:1 it states that “everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  We are actually submitting to government when we collect unemployment benefits not that it would be sin if we decide not too.   In no way does this conflict with Romans 13:4 which says that, “the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.”  Clearly, receiving unemployment benefits is “for your good” because a worker who has been laid off has every right to collect these funds because they are legally procured from states for this very purpose.  Besides, the unemployed worker must support his or her family and they need funds with which to survive on.  These funds are not the company’s funds but the states due to legal tax laws.

Romans 13:6-7 tells us that, “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” These governments (state and federal) are actually servants of God, regardless of whether they know it or not – God says that they are and so that makes it a fact.  In verse 7 it says “if you owe taxes, pay taxes” and this is talking about everyone -including companies – and not just individuals. You are entitled to these funds if you have been laid off.

James 4:2b says that “You do not have, because you do not ask God” so you must ask because they most certainly will not seek you out to make sure you get your benefits.  Helping the poor is something that God highly esteems as He says in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.”  Certainly the poor includes those without a job.  The portion of the law that says “if anyone is poor” is not just talking about individuals having to follow, but most certainly merchants, farmers, or farm workers who hired people.  Since Jesus has all authority, then all governmental authorities are actually His servants (Matt 28:18).

Earnestly Seeking Work- Important Bible Verses

We can see that there are no ethical reasons for not apply for and receiving unemployment benefits.  There is a problem when a Christian receives unemployment benefits and falsifies weekly job-search reports or if they fail to look for work.  The Bible is clear that we are commanded to work:

1 Timothy 5:8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

2 Thessalonians 3:10bIf a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Exodus 23:12Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.

Proverbs 10:4Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.”

Proverbs 21:5The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.”

Proverbs 21:25The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.”

Proverbs 24:33-34A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief  and scarcity like an armed man.”


We summarize by saying that it is actually biblical to apply for and collect unemployment benefits because the companies are required to pay into a state fund designed specifically for this purpose.  The laid off worker has every right to receive these benefits because companies are obliged to follow state laws in supporting out of work people.  It is “rendering unto Caesar“, it is why taxes are being paid, it is lawfully collecting what is rightfully yours under the governmental authorities whom God has established – and these authorities are God’s servants.  Finally, God commands us to work because just like Adam was told to tend and keep the garden, we are meant to work as part of our God-given directive.  And when you do work, do as Solomon instructed in Ecclesiastes 9:10a, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” and Paul commands, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col 3:23).


New International Version, The Holy Bible
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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