Reparations and Ezra 6

Should Christians support reparations for American slavery? Some evangelicals believe so. Some have even attempted to make a biblical argument for reparations.

This article does not intend to address the specific issue of reparations in detail. I will, however, speak to a specific biblical argument for reparations that some have made from Ezra 6.[1]

The biblical argument for reparations from Ezra 6 is both dangerous and theologically untenable. In Ezra 6, Ezra details at least a partial fulfillment of God’s restoration promises to Israel, promises foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. God fulfills these promises through pagan kings. King Darius commands the Jews to rebuild their temple. In verse 8, Darius decrees,

Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. (ESV)

Those who use this passage to support reparations focus on the “tribute” from the “royal revenue” that Darius commanded “the province from Beyond the River” give to the Jewish people for rebuilding the temple. In this account, Darius demands that those in the “Beyond the River” province financially compensate the Jewish people for what has been taken from them. As one advocate of reparations stated regarding Ezra 6, “In other words, Darius, as head of state, compels his citizens through taxes to pay a reparation to Israel even though those citizens did not commit the offense and those Israelites did not directly suffer the offense.”

Proponents of reparations press a further point. Darius’s decree, they argue, is God’s justice. In the interest of clarity, hear again the words of those arguing for reparations from Ezra 6:

If God, who is just and only does justice, has acted in this way then it cannot be unjust for nation-states to voluntarily repay its own citizens for crimes suffered at its hands–no matter when the crimes occurred.[2]