11. Old is out; new is in, 21:1-23:36

vi] The question about paying taxes


The Pharisees are seeking to entrap Jesus and so they send some of their disciples to him, along with some Herodians, to put a trick question to him concerning the payment of tribute to the Roman authorities. Jesus' answer to the question amazed the Pharisees, and has continued to amaze to this day.


The tension between the sacred and the secular remains until we cast off this mortal coil.


i] Context: See 21:1-11. Matthew now records a series of three trick questions put to Jesus by the religious authorities, v15-40, and a question in response put by Jesus, a question the authorities are unable to answer, v41-46. In Matthew's gospel these four disputes present as a single unit, with Matthew actually playing up the disputes more than Mark, revealing how the religious authorities seek to show Jesus up, even entrap him. The disputes deal with interesting issues in their own right: legal (the payment of taxes to secular authorities); theological (the resurrection); moral (the most important commandment); and scriptural authority (contradictions). Yet, it is the context of the questions that remains paramount. Matthew makes it clear that this interchange between Jesus and Israel's religious authorities, covering 22:15-46, serves only to entrap Jesus, cf., v15. The authorities are shown to be blind to Jesus' messianic credentials, ignorant and deceptive in their dealings, thus exposing their state of loss. So, they rightly stand under the judgment of God, apart from his grace and devoid of faith. Matthew would have the new Israel / Christian community learn a lesson from old Israel's disregard of God's revealed grace in Christ.


ii] Structure: The question about paying taxes:

Setting (covering v15-46), v15:

"the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him."

The question on tribute, v16-17;

Jesus' answer, v18-21:

"render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's,

and to God the thing that are God's."

Response, v22:

"they were amazed."


iii] Interpretation:

The capitation tax was due every adult in Roman occupied territories. The yearly tax amounted to a silver denarius, which coin carried the head of Caesar and the words Tiberiou Kaisaros. Of course, the tax was a symbol of foreign tyranny and the coin smacked of idolatry and so was seen by many as contrary to Mosaic law. For others, the tax provided the benefits of efficient government, of Roman rule rather than the corruption of petty princes. The question put to Jesus by the Pharisees set a cunning trap, in that Jesus' answer would prompt anger, either from the people or from the Roman authorities. Jesus goes to the heart of the issue and sets out a principle which amazes even the Pharisees. This event takes place in the temple court during the week before Jesus' arrest.


Jesus' lateral approach to what was traditionally a sensitive tax issue, not only stunned the people of his day, but has caused many to marvel at his astute answer ever since. Although a simple reading prompts us to give weight to both the "secular" and "sacred" responsibilities of life, many commentators have sought to underline the divine responsibility over the secular by arguing that Jesus is reinforcing the notion of separateness - the sacred / secular divide. We could even argue that Jesus' "give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" is little more than political correctness, a sop to the governing authorities who are well able to end his ministry then and there, leaving the real thrust of his words with "and the things of God to God."

In this age, both entities exist, although with unequal authority. Divine authority will always supplant the authority of the State when they are in conflict. The problem is that they are always in conflict. It is obvious that the Jews of the first century would be better off without the hard hand of Rome oppressing them. Is there really any worth in funding the activities of a brutal dictatorship? Yet, when we look at Jesus' life we see that he was quite willing to live within the status quo. Jesus ministered and lived ("eating and drinking") quite apart from political activism, or social concern ("you always have the poor with you"), while he proclaimed the good news of a kingdom that "is not of this world."

In the end, we are not dealing with two entities in conflict, such that we must choose one over the other, but rather, two entities in tension, such that of necessity we must choose both. Of course, this notion is not new. The Preacher (Qohelet), writing many years before, reminds us that there is nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in our toil, but also that "without God who can eat with enjoyment?"


iv] Synoptics:

Mark is usually taken as Matthew's source, although any of the three synoptic gospels could have been the prime source, even a proto-Mark, or a received oral tradition for all three.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 22:15

The question concerning taxes, v15-22: i] The Pharisees now plot against Jesus in order to entrap him, v15.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb introducing a temporal clause indicating a step in the narrative.

poreuqenteV (poreuomai) aor. part. "went out" - [the pharisees] having gone. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "take" (took counsel with = "laid plans"). "Snuck off."

elabon (lambanw) aor. "laid [plans]" - took [counsel together, plans]. "Met together and made plans."

oJpwV + subj. "to" - so that, in order that / how, in what manner. Usually serving to introduce a final clause, expressing purpose, but possibly modal, expressing manner, "how they might"; "how they could entrap him in argument", Phillips. Possibly serving to introduce a dependent statement of cause expressing the intent of their plans.

pagideuswsin (pagideuw) aor. sub. "trap [him]" - they might set a trap, ensnare, entangle [for him]. They wanted to trip him up on his teachings; "planned how they could trick Jesus into saying something wrong", CEV.

en + dat. "in [his word, statement]" - Instrumental, expressing means, "with words"; "in argument", Berkeley.


ii] The question on tribute, v16-17. In 6AD Judas the Galilean led a revolt against Rome over a tax census. True Israelites hated the tax because it admitted slavery to Rome and therefore, dishonored God. The Pharisees obviously thought that they would have Jesus trapped with their question. If he supported the tax, he would alienate the common people. If he rejected the tax, he would be committing treason against Rome. The Pharisees opposed the tax, while the Herodians, supporters of Herod and thus Roman sympathizers, supported the tax. Thus, they teamed up to trap Jesus. They open with an extended piece of flattery aimed to put Jesus in a position where he had to answer their question. As a man of "integrity" and not easily "swayed by men", he would have to answer their trick question. The question was, on the surface at least, a theological one. "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?", in the sense of, is it a godly thing to do? Caesar here means Tiberius. "Caesar" was by this time the common title for the Roman emperor.

apostellousin (apostellw) pres. "they sent" - [and] they are sending. The historic / narrative present serves to increase the impact of the moment.

autw/ dat. pro. "to him" - Dative of indirect object.

meta + gen. "with" - [the disciples of them] with. Expressing association / accompaniment.

Hrw/dianwn gen. "the Herodians" - The only reference to this party is found in the New Testament. Obviously they were supporters of Herod and therefore supporters of the Roman occupation.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Taking the participle as nominative we may classify it as attendant circumstance expressing action accompanying the verb "to send"; "they sent their disciples ......... and said through them, 'Teacher, ....'". If we follow the variant accusative then we may treat it as adjectival, attributive, limiting "disciples"; "they sent their disciples ...... who said to Jesus ..."

didaskale (oV) voc. "teacher" - rabbi. A title of respect so, "master", JB, etc.

oJti "[we know] that" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they know.

alhqhV adj. "a man of integrity" - [you are] good, true, honest, genuine. Predicate adjective. The intended substantive from of this adjective is unclear: "you are an honest man", JB; "you speak the truth", Barclay; "you are a sincere man", REB......

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[you teach the way] of God" - The genitive is probably verbal, subjective; "the way of life willed by God", Zerwick.

en alhqeia/ "in accordance with the truth" - [you teach] in truth, faithfulness. The preposition en, "in", is functioning adverbially, forming a modal adverbial phrase expressing manner, "you teach the way of God honestly", Berkeley. It is doubtful that they actually believe that Jesus teaches divine truth, but they may believe he is sincere about what he teaches, "you teach in all sincerity the way of life that God requires", REB. It does seem, on the surface at least, that this is but faint praise.

soi dat. pro. "you [aren't swayed]" - [and] to you [it is not a concern]. Olmstead suggests a dative of reference / respect; "as far as you are concerned, what others think of you matters little." Decker suggests a dative of direct object after the verb "to be concerned about"; "it is not a concern to you how others think about you."

peri + gen. "by others" - about [anybody]. Expressing reference / respect; "concerning"; "about anybody's opinion", Zerwick. Probably best viewed as another condescending comment, or at least faint praise.

anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "[because you pay no attention to who they are]" - [you do not look into face] of men. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "a man's face" = "you are not swayed by a person's outward show" = "you don't pander to people." Jesus is not impartial, he is "no respecter of persons", Morris.


hJmin dat. pro. "[tell] us" - [say] to us. Dative of indirect object.

oun "then" - therefore. Here inferential, drawing a logical conclusion; "given all this ...... therefore tell us ..."

soi dat. pro. "[what is] your [opinion]" - [what seems right] to you? Dative of indirect object / interest, advantage / possession / reference, respect ("what, with respect to you, seems right"); "What do you believe / choose as proper, right, true, superior, permitted." Possibly "lawful" AV, in the sense of according to God's law, cf., TEV, but "proper", in the general sense of what is appropriate in the circumstances, even to the very general, "what do you think?", CEV. What is clear is that the question attempts to put Jesus in the pro, or anti, Roman camp and so open him up to the hostility of either his fellow Jews or the Roman authorities.

dounai (didwmi) aor. inf. "to pay" - [is it permissible] to give. The infinitive forms a infinitival clause subject of the verb exestin, "is right / permissible"; "to pay taxes to Caesar is right or not?" "Is it right for us to pay the poll-tax to Caesar?" Barclay.

khnson (oV) "taxes / the imperial tax" - The tax here is not the regular duties levied on goods etc. but the poll tax, a direct administrative tax levied by the Roman government on the Jewish populous. It was hated by the Jews.

Kaisari dat. "to Caesar" - to caesar [or not]? Dative of indirect object. "Emperor", CEV; "the Roman government."


iii] Jesus responds to the approach of the Pharisees, v18-21. The tax would normally be paid in Roman coinage. With the inscription "Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus" on one side, and "high priest", pontifex maximus, on the other, religious Jews tried to use the coinage for tax purposes only. As was the practice of religious Jews, Jesus wouldn't carry this coinage around with him, but a Herodian would happily carry it. First, Jesus questions their motives and then, using the image on a coin, establishes a principle concerning the mutual responsibilities that God's people owe both God and the secular state. Jesus takes the issue no further, but of course, "where Caesar claims what is God's, the claims of God have priority", Carson. The incursion of the state into what is God's domain is certainly not new, cf., Elijah's opposition to the religious policy of Ahab and Jezebel, or Daniel's refusal to submit to the edict of Darius. Note also Acts 4:5-20, 5:27-29.

de "but" - but/and. Usually treated as adversative, as NIV, although primarily serving to indicate a step in the dialogue.

gnouV (ginwskw) aor. part. "knowing" - [jesus] having known. The participle is adverbial, best treated as causal, "because he was aware of their malicious motives."

thn ponhrian (a) "evil intent" - the wickedness, evil [of them said]. Accusative direct object of the participle "having known." "Jesus was aware of their malicious intention", REB.

uJpokritai (hV ou) voc. "hypocrites" - [why do you test me] hypocrites. Vocative. Their flattery shows that they are not genuine seekers after the truth.

ti "why" - Interrogative; often formed as dia ti, "because why?"

peirazete "trap" - snare. The word can mean "test" in the sense of putting someone to a test with the intention of faulting them. This leads to the meaning "tempt" as in AV. "You are not out for information, you are out to make trouble in your two-faced maliciousness", Barclay.


moi dat. pro. "[show] me" - [show] to me. Dative of indirect object.

tou khnsou (oV) gen. "[the coin] used for paying the tax" - [the coin] of the poll tax. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, "the poll tax coin", or idiomatic, as NIV, "the coin which is used to pay the poll tax."

dhnarion (on) "a denarius" - [and they brought to him] a denarius. Accusative direct object of the verb "to bring to." A silver Roman coin valued at a day's wage. It carried the emperor's visage, and since it often carried a religious inscription (eg. Tiberious, "God and High Priest") it was highly offensive to a pious Jew. It was not something you would want to carry into the Temple, but the poll tax had to be paid with this coinage.


legei (legw) pres. "he asked" - he says. Historical / narrative present tense for dramatic effect. Also found in v21a, 21b.

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

hJ eikwn (h) "portrait" - [whose] image [is this]. "Whose head is this?", NRSV; "likeness", Weymouth.

hJ epigrafh (h) "[and whose] inscription" - [and] the superscription. "Whose picture and name are on it", CEV.


tote adv. "then" - [they say to him, caesar's] then, therefore [he says to them]. Temporal adverb, next in sequence.

apodote (apodidwmi) aor. imp. "give" - render, pay back, give back, return. The word carries the sense of returning something that rightly belongs to another. No matter how the Jews may despise the Romans, they are obliged to contribute to the cost of government, given that they share in its benefits. Similarly, as citizens of heaven, there are other obligations that cannot be neglected. "Pay what is owing", Morris.

oun "-" - therefore. Inferential; "Well then, ...."

kaisari dat. "[give back] to Caesar" - [give the things of caesar] to caesar [and the things of god to god]. Dative of indirect object / interest.

ta kaisaroV "what is Caesar's" - the things of caesar. As with "of God", the genitive "of Caesar" is adjectival, possessive; "what belongs to Caesar" / "what belongs to God." The neuter accusative article ta, as in ta tou qeou, serves as a nominalizer.


iv] The delegation is amazed at Jesus' answer and so withdraws, v22.

akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "when they heard this" - having heard. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV, but possibly causal.

eqaumasan (qaumazw) aor. "they were amazed" - This response is used to describe a pre-faith response to Jesus; something more than acknowledgment, but less than saving faith.

afenteV (afihmi) aor. part. "so they left [him]" - [and] having left [him they went away]. The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal, "then they left him and went away", Moffatt, but more likely consecutive, as NIV, or even just attendant circumstance, "they went away and left him", Barclay.


Matthew Introduction



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