9. In love and forgiveness, 17:24-18:35

i] The temple tax


When Jesus and his fellow missioners arrive in Capernaum, Peter is approached by the collectors of the temple tax. They ask Peter whether Jesus pays the tax, and Peter replies in the affirmative. Jesus points out to Peter that his response was somewhat presumptuous, but none-the-less, Jesus pays the tax for himself and Peter through the performance of a strange little miracle.


Christian community flourishes in the application of the fruit of faith, namely, love / consideration for the needs of others.


i] Context: See 1:1-17. Having examined the gospel at work, 13:53-17:23, Matthew now broaches the subject of the Christian community / relationships in the kingdom, "life under kingdom authority", Carson. In this section Matthew examines how faith, lived in community, issues in love.

The 4th. Discourse, The Christian Community, 17:24-18:35, is introduced by a quirky miracle story which illustrates Jesus' consideration for others, 17:24-27. The discourse then proceeds to deal with the issue of brotherly love: accepting our brothers and sisters; self-denial for others; forgiveness, 18:1-35. A child serves to illustrate the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, namely, a forgiven child of God, a child of grace, v1-5; We are then reminded not to undermine their faith, or despise such a one, v6-10; The parable of the lost sheep illustrates divine concern for a "little one", that they not be lost, and invites us to show similar concern, v12-14; We are then told how to expedite forgiveness for a "little one" who has hurt a fellow believer, v15-20; Finally, we are encouraged to forgive a brother who has hurt us, although with the knowledge that perfection is only found in Christ, v21-35.

Matthew follows up with the 4th. Narrative, 19:1-20:34, shaping the narratives to further explore the subject of faith issuing in love. To a great extent these narratives will serve as a paradigm for life in the Christian community, touching on issues of acceptance, forgiveness, unity, responsibility, ...., and so will reveal the business end of compassion in community.


ii] Structure: Jesus and the temple tax:

Scene / conversation 1, v24-25a:

Peter and the temple-tax collectors.

Scene / conversation 2, v25b-27:

Peter and Jesus.


iii] Interpretation:

Jesus and his disciples have arrived in Capernaum and Peter is approached by the collectors of the double-drachma temple tax. The tax was based on a reading of Exodus 30:11-16 (an annual allocation of a half a shekel for the the tent meeting) and over the years had moved from a donation to an expected yearly tax from every adult male Jew. Members of the Qumran community argued that the tax should only be paid once in a lifetime, but the Sadducees argued for once a year. Priests and others associated with the temple cult claimed exemption. Both Jesus and Peter are officially residents of Capernaum, and given that the tax is paid locally, the local collectors of the tax want to know whether Jesus pays the tax - is he, like the Essenes, a conscientious objector? Peter tells them that Jesus does pay the tax, but Jesus later points out to Peter that "God's children are free with respect to God their Father: he does not tax them", D&A. Yet, as an act of grace Jesus pays the tax for himself and Peter, and does so by means of a little miracle.


Jesus' set-to in the temple, when he overturned the tables of the money changers, reminds us that Jesus did not support the principle of theocratic taxation; it is not proper to support the operations of the temple by taxation - "God does not tax, but provides for his children", Nolland. In particular, given Jesus' relationship with the Father, it is not proper for him to be taxed for the use of his Father's house. Yet, at the same time, Jesus is willing to set aside his personal prerogatives and share in the responsibilities born by his wider community. This is not a "when in Rome do what the Romans do", but a "she's not heavy mister, she's my sister." In this quirky little miracle story (although we never get to the miracle) Jesus performs the role of a servant who acts out of consideration for others rather than self. For Matthew, the story serves to introduce the business of living together in Christian community, of fostering the fruit of faith, namely, self-giving compassion.


iv] Synoptics:

This miracle story is found only in Matthew. Many commentators are of the view that Matthew has composed the story himself, so Gundry. Others are less critical and judge that Matthew has drawn the story from his own received tradition, most likely oral, so D&A, Schweizer, .... The story actually exhibits qualities common in oral transmission, eg., parallelism and rhythm. It is understandable that it didn't find its way into either Mark or Luke, given that it presents more like a magic trick, but it suits Matthew's thematic purpose. It's not a perfect introduction to the 4th. Discourse, but obviously it's the best that Matthew could come up with from the tradition available to him. In fact, its quirky nature supports its authenticity, given that an author like Matthew could have easily created a more impressive story to introduce an examination of how faith in community issues in self-giving compassion.

Text - 17:24

The temple tax, v24-27.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional; indicating a step in the narrative.

elqontwn (ercomai) gen. aor. part. "After Jesus and his disciples" - [they] having coming [into capernaum]. Genitive absolute participle, temporal; "when they came to Capernaum", ESV.

oiJ .... lambanonteV (lambanw) pres. part. "the collectors" - the ones receiving, taking [the two-drachma coin]. The participle serves as a substantive.

tw/ Petrw/ (oV) dat. "[came to] Peter" - Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to come to."

ou "-" - [and they said does] not [the teacher make happen the two-drachma coin?]. This negation is used in a question expecting the answer "yes"; "your master pays the temple tax doesn't he?, Yes, he does." Of course, if Jesus does pay the tax, what is the point of Jesus explaining why neither he, nor any of the faith, need to pay a temple tax, and then, out of consideration for others, miraculously pays it. For this reason some commentators think that the "Yes, he does" answers a negation, so "'Does your master not pay the half-shekel (temple-tax)?' 'It is true that he does not', replied Peter", Cassirer.


Jesus' question to Peter is more a parable than an illustration. Most commentators are inclined to treat it as an allergy. If the king is God, who are the "children"? They may be humanity in general (the point being that God gives rather than taxes). They may be the children of Israel, so Luz, or more particularly, believing Israel / disciples of Jesus. They may be the true remnant of Israel, namely, Jesus and those united to him, or just Jesus himself, the true son / child of God. The consensus seems to be that Jesus has in mind himself and his brethren (believers), but one wonders whether he just has himself in mind, so Carson. Anyway, the point is simple enough, "the children" are morally free of taxation with respect to their father's house.

elqonta (ercomai) aor. part. "when Peter came [into the house]" - [he says yes, and] having come [into the house]. At first glance the participle looks to be adverbial, temporal, as NIV, but as Olmstead notes, technically it is accusative in agreement with auton, "he" = "Peter", so "he who entered into the house." This is all rather awkward and so it is usually treated as temporal.

legwn (legw) pres. part. "he asked" - [jesus came before him] saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to come before."

soi dat. pro. "[what do] you [think]" - [what suppose = appears, seems to be] to you [simon]. Dative of interest, advantage, "for you", or reference / respect; "Tell me your opinion Simon." The question is an "invitation to ponder", Nolland.

thV ghV (h) "[the kings] of the earth]" - The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / subordination; "the kings over the earth / the kings who rule over the earth."

apo + gen. "from" - from [whom do they receive tribute / dues and taxes], from [the sons of them or] from [strangers]? Expressing source / origin; "whom do they collect customs and taxes from?", Cassirer.

tinwn gen. pro. "whom" - Interrogative pronoun.


eipontoV (legw) gen. aor. part. "Peter answered" - [but/and] having answered [from others]. Genitive absolute participle, best treated as temporal; "And when he said 'from others', Jesus said to him, 'then the sons are free'", ESV.

ara "therefore" - therefore [jesus said to him the sons are free = exempt]. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

autw/ dat. pro. "[Jesus said] to him" - Dative of indirect object.


de "but" - but/and. Often treated here as adversative, as NIV, but it is primarily indicating a step in the dialogue.

iJna + subj. "that" - Serving to introduce a final clause expressing purpose; "in order that ...."

mh skandaliswmen (skandalizw) aor. subj. "we may not cause offense" - we may not offend / cause to stumble, sin, [them]. Usually taken here to express offense, but possibly extending to the sense of tripping up, causing to stumble, and thus to sin. Translations like "cause trouble", CEV, "to keep from creating a problem for ourselves", Junkins, seem a little like anything for peace. Jesus is concerned for "them", the tax collectors, so possibly "upset them", Peterson, but better, "we will not hurt their consciences", Knox. The tax is all about corporate worship and to not pay it denigrates the business of community participation in temple worship. So, to not pay the tax causes more than just offense, it can harm a person's religious convictions.

poreuqeiV (poreuomai) aor. pas. part. "go [to the lake]" - having gone [to lake throw a hook]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the imperative verb "to throw"; "go .... and throw / cast."

ton anabanta (anabainw) aor. part. "you catch" - [take up the first fish] having come up. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "fish"; "the first fish which comes up." "Pull out the first fish you hook", CEV.

anoixaV (anoigw) aor. part. "open [it's mouth]" - having opened [the mouth of it you will find a stater (a coin worth four drachma). The participle is adverbial, best taken as temporal; "and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel", ESV.

labwn (lambanw) aor. part. "take [it and give it]" - having taken [that coin give]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the imperative verb "to give"; "take ..... and give."

autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - Dative of indirect object.

anti + gen. "for" - for [me and you]. The sense "for", meaning "on behalf of", is often taken as a special sense for this preposition, ie., expressing representation / advantage. Turner gives weight to the original intent of the tax as a redemption tax, buying the subject from hypothetical servitude, so he rules out "on behalf of" as a possible sense for this preposition. It is "for" in the sense of "instead of", ie., expressing substitution; See Wallace p365.


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