The Tax Question (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26)

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2008-08-19 13:15.

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After hearing Jesus’ words, the unbelieving Pharisees departed and plotted how they could trap him in his speech. (Matthew 22:15) Although strongly disagreeing with the Herodians in their active support of the Herodian dynasty, they allied themselves with them, for they were of the same mind in opposing the Son of God. The Pharisees selected certain disciples (probably younger men whom Jesus would not have recognized) to send to him, and the Herodians must have chosen their own adherents to be included in this group. According to Luke 20:19, the chief priests were also involved in devising the scheme to ensnare Jesus, and the scribes mentioned in that text appear to have been unbelieving Pharisees. The objective was to have Jesus make statements that could be used against him, making it possible to hand him over to the Roman governor for punishment as a seditionist. Those sent pretended to be upright men and sincere questioners. In an effort to throw Jesus off guard, they resorted to flattery. After addressing him as “teacher,” they claimed to know him to be “true,” sincere, or honest, teaching the way of God in harmony with truth, and not being influenced by position or status. (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:13, 14; Luke 20:20, 21)

Then they raised the question that was designed to trap Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:22) They knew how unpopular the payment of taxes was (especially because a foreign power had imposed it), and an affirmative answer would not have gone over well with the people. While a negative answer would have appealed to the masses who hated the Roman system of taxation, it would have made Jesus guilty of promoting sedition.

Fully aware of the questioners’ sinister intent and cunning, Jesus identified them as hypocrites, men who only pretended to want an answer, and asked them, “Why do you test me?” He requested that they show him a denarius (a Roman coin with which tax would be paid and which amounted to a day’s wage for a laborer). After being approached with the coin, Jesus asked them to identify the image and the inscription. They replied, “Caesar’s.” He then told them, “Give Caesar’s things to Caesar, and God’s things to God.” This was not an answer the questioners could use against Jesus, for it required their determining what belonged to Caesar and what belonged to God and following through accordingly. The answer took them by surprise and silenced them, and they left. (Matthew 22:18-22; Mark 12:15-17; Luke 20:23-26)