Render to Caesar

This verses seems to be quoted almost as often as John 3:16:

"render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s" (Mat 22:21 NAU)

What does it mean or, more importantly, what did Jesus mean by this?

First, the question, “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" (Mat 22:17 NAU) was asked of Jesus by students of the Pharisees to trap him. If Jesus was to tell them not to pay that tax then they could report Him to the Romans as an insurrectionist. If He said they were to pay the tax He would be seen as one collaborating with the Romans and therefore an enemy of the people.

To better understand Jesus’ reply we need to look back to Matthew 17 where the issue the poll-tax was first raised to trap him.

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" He said, "Yes." (Mat 17:24-25 NAU)

Does your teacher not pay the poll-tax? The question must have been asked for a reason. Did Jesus just walk past the collection booth without paying? Something drew their attention to Jesus and the tax. The drachma was a Roman coin having the image of Caesar imprinted on it—a "graven image” and repulsive to any devout Jew.

"You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything…" (Exo 20:4 CJB)

Peter, known to be impulsive answered “Yes.” Jesus later confronted Peter:

"What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from [others]?" When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. However… (Mat 17:25-27 NAU)

Jesus raised the issue of obligation. Who are obligated to pay this tax and who are exempt?

First, Jesus’ question/answer establishes the fact that not everyone is obligated to pay this tax. Second, Jesus’ answer implies, by the “however” or “Nevertheless” that He and they are exempt.

"However, so that we do not offend them…" (Mat 17:27 NAU)

This does not do justice to the Greek Text:

ἵνα δὲ μὴ σκανδαλίσωμεν hina de mh skandalizo (Mat 17:27 BGT) Greek text and transliterated Greek.

More literally it reads, “But not to get ensnared” or “But to avoid getting ensnared”

"But to avoid getting ensnared, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me." 

Peter’s impulsive “Yes” had obligated them to pay a tax for which they were not naturally obligated. I suspect this was an early attempt to ensnare Jesus which later became a more direct attempt in chapter 22. Jesus here avoided getting hooked by sending Peter to retrieve a coin—this time a shekel—to pay the tax for the two of them. The shekel did not have the graven image of the Caesar on it…

Now coming back to the text, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” has some context from which we can understand it.

Those who are Caesar’s subjects are obligated to pay Caesar’s tax those who are not, or are God’s subjects, are not obligated to Caesar’s tax.

Put into today’s framework, those who are government’s subjects are obligated to pay the government’s taxes. It becomes essential that we are clear in our understanding of our relationship to government—otherwise we may find ourselves serving the wrong master.

The government’s subjects are those positions or entities created by government. It is by deceit and our ignorance that most of as are are under the impression that we are subjects of the government when in truth secular government is our creation and our servants.

Please read Decieved By Legal Jargon.

©2015, steven, a man.

All publishing rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint this article for personal use; however, no commercial re-publishing of the material in this article is permitted without prior written consent.

Steven is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.

Without Prejudice. © 2012, Steven., house of bij de Leij., a man.