Separation of Church and State Law

Jerald Finney
Copyright © June 25, 2012
© Revised on May 28, 2014

Click here to go to “Self-exam Questions: Doth Not Your Master Pay Tribute? Matthew 17.24-27” [To be added as time permits]

Links to all chapters of “Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related verses” is at the bottom of this article.

Preface

This article is a continuation of Jerald Finney’s systematic development of the doctrines, application, history, and legalities of “separation of church and state.” See Why Understanding and Applying Church and State Law Is Important for Believers and Churches for more on this matter.

Doth not your master pay tribute? Matthew 17.24-27

5Some Christians interpret certain scriptures to mean that Christians and churches are required by God to submit to civil government in all things or to submit to civil government in all things except for the preaching of the gospel of salvation. The articles that are now being posted on this website will analyze, in this order: Romans 13; 1 Peter 2.13, Luke 20.25 (also recorded in Matthew 22.21; and Mark 12.17) in which Jesus proclaimed, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s; ”Matthew 17.24-27 which deals with the miracle of the tribute money; and I Timothy 2.1-6 in which Paul exhorts believers to pray for all men including kings and all that are in authority. What those scriptures teach concerning submission by individual Christians and churches to civil government is the subject of these studies (To totally understand the issue of God’s teachings concerning submission to civil government, one must understand other sub-issues or principles. God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application, which is available free in both PDF and online form or may be ordered by going to the Order information for books by Jerald Finney page on this website offers a more comprehensive look at all the issues involved.).

Matthew 17.24-27 is used by some to support the contention that even Jesus paid taxes or that He bowed down to civil or religious government by paying tax. Believers are not God nor are they Jesus Christ. The author pays his taxes and is not interested in becoming a tax protestor. Fighting the “tax protest fight” is a full time endeavor. Rather, the author is compelled by the Holy Spirit to fight a much more important warfare—the spiritual warfare for authentic New Testament churches. This article will show that the text does not support either the view that Jesus paid taxes or the view that he bowed down to civil or religious government.

Mt.17.24-27Christians who advocate unlimited obedience to the civil government sometimes refer to the miracle of the tribute money in Matthew 17.24-27, but that incident does not support their belief. Rather, that incident is consistent with all Scripture. The lesson to be learned from Scripture is that Jesus, who is God the Son, is the Highest Power or Government and cannot and will not be required to pay any type tribute to any other power. God has given no lower power the jurisdiction to tax the Supreme Ruler. Matthew 17.24-27 does not contradict overwhelming Scriptural teaching.

Some authorities define the tax spoken of in Matthew 17.24-27 as the voluntary atonement money of half a shekel given as an offering to God that was used for maintenance of the Jerusalem temple (See Abbott New Testament CommentaryAlbert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, and Jamieson-Fausett-Brown Commentary available on SWORDSEARCHER software. Go to http://www.swordsearcher.com for information on SWORDSEARCHER software.). However, others disagree as to whether the tribute spoken of was voluntary. One source defines the tribute spoken of in these verses as: “a tax imposed by a king on his subjects (2 S. 20:24; 1 K. 4:6; Ro. 13:6). In Mt. 17:24-27 the word denotes the temple rate (the ‘didrachma,’ the ‘half-shekel,’ as rendered by the R.V.) which was required to be paid for the support of the temple by every Jew above twenty years of age (Ex. 30:12; 2 K. 12:4; 2 Chr. 24:6,9). It was not a civil but a religious tax” (See Easton’s Bible Dictionary, definition of “Tribute,” on SWORDSEARCHER software).

Those who received the tribute money asked Peter, not Jesus, if Jesus paid the tribute. “And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?” “He saith, Yes” (Mt. 17.24-25). Certainly Peter answered the question of those who received the tribute money before he reflected. After this incident, Jesus anticipated and addressed Peter’s coming question before he asked Him; Our Lord began by asking Peter a question. “And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented (“Prevented” in the above verses means that Jesus anticipated Peter’s question and answered it without Peter asking. See, e.g., SWORDSEARCHER software, Abbott… and Albert Barnes’….) him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers” (Ibid.)? “Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free” (Mt. 17.26). “That is, Jesus, as the Son of God, might justly have claimed exemption from taxes assessed for the service of his Father” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Abbott….). Here are some expert analyses concerning this statement of Jesus in Matthew 17.26:

  • “Then are the children free – As this money is levied for the support of that temple of which I am the Lord, then I am not obliged to pay the tax; and my disciples, like the priests that minister, should be exempted from the necessity of paying” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible).
  • “Free; not expected to pay tribute. According to that rule, Christ, the Son of God, for the support of whose worship the money was paid would be free” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Family Bible Notes).
  • “Peter saith unto him, Of strangers—‘of those not their children.’ Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free–By ‘the children’ our Lord cannot here mean Himself and the Twelve together, in some loose sense of their near relationship to God as their common Father. For besides that our Lord never once mixes Himself up with His disciples in speaking of their relation to God, but ever studiously keeps His relation and theirs apart (see, for example, on the last words of this chapter)–this would be to teach the right of believers to exemption from the dues required for sacred services, in the teeth of all that Paul teaches and that He Himself indicates throughout. He can refer here, then, only to Himself; using the word ‘children’ evidently in order to express the general principle observed by sovereigns, who do not draw taxes from their own children, and thus convey the truth respecting His own exemption the more strikingly:–namely, ‘If the sovereign’s own family be exempt, you know the inference in My case’; or to express it more nakedly than Jesus thought needful and fitting: ‘This is a tax for upholding My Father’s House. As His Son, then, that tax is not due by Me–I AM FREE’ (SWORDSEARCHER software, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary).”
  • “Therefore the sons are free. The argument is this: If the sons of kings are free from the payment of tribute, I, the Son of God, am free from God’s tribute. The half-shekel was regarded as given to God (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 18.9.1)” (SWORDSEARCHER software, The Fourfold Gospel and Commentary on Acts).
  • “Then are the sons free – The sense is, This is paid for the use of the house of God. But I am the Son of God. Therefore I am free from any obligation of paying this to my own Father” (SWORDSEARCHER software, John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible).
  • “Every Jew throughout the world was required to pay an annual tribute or capitation-tax of half a shekel, about twenty-five cents, in acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and for the maintenance of the temple service, Ex. 30:12-15. It was with reference to this that Christ says, in effect, Mt. 17:25-26, ‘If this tribute be levied in the name of The Father, then I, The Son, am free.’ In other New Testament passages, tribute means the tax levied by the Romans. On the question of paying tribute to foreigners and idolaters, Mt. 22:16-22, Christ gave a reply which neither party could stigmatize as rebellious, or as unpatriotic and irreligious. By themselves using Caesar’s currency, both parties acknowledged the fact of his supremacy. Christ warns them to render to all men their dues; and above all to regard the claims of him whose superscription is on every thing, 1 Co. 10:31; 1 Pe. 2:9, 13” (SWORDSEARCHER software, American Tract Society Dictionary, definition of “Tribute.”).

Jesus then states: “Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Mt. 17.27):

  • Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them. That is, lest they should think that we despise the temple and its service, and thus provoke needless opposition, though we are not under obligation to pay it, yet it is best to pay it to them.
  • Go thou to the sea. This was at Capernaum, on the shore of the sea of Tiberias.
  • Thou shalt find a piece of money. In the original, thou shalt find a stater, a Roman silver coin of the value of four drachms, or one shekel, and of course sufficient to pay the tribute for two, himself and Peter. In whatever way this is regarded, it is proof that Jesus was possessed of Divine attributes. If he knew that the first fish that came up would have such a coin in his mouth, it was proof of omniscience. If he created the coin for the occasion, and placed it there, then it was proof of Divine power. The former is the most probable supposition. It is by no means absurd that a fish should have swallowed a silver coin. Many of them bite eagerly at anything bright, and would not hesitate, therefore, at swallowing a piece of money. {t} ‘offend’ Ro. 14:21; 15:1-3; 2 Co. 6:3; {2} ‘stater’, ‘which was half an ounce of silver” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Albert Barnes’….).
  • “Lest we – offend them – Be a stumbling-block to the priests, or rulers of the Jews, I will pay the tribute – go thou to the sea – cast a hook, and take the first fish – thou shalt find a piece of money, στατηρα , a stater. This piece of money was equal in value to four drachms, or two shekels, (five shillings of our money), and consequently was sufficient to pay the tribute for our Lord and Peter, which amounted to about half-a-crown each. If the stater was in the mouth or belly of the fish before, who can help admiring the wisdom of Christ, that discovered it there? If it was not before in the mouth of the fish, who can help admiring the power of Christ, that impelled the fish to go where the stater had been lost in the bottom of the sea, take it up, come towards the shore where Peter was fishing, and, with the stater in its mouth or stomach, catch hold of the hook that was to draw it out of the water? But suppose there was no stater there, which is as likely as otherwise, then Jesus created it for the purpose, and here his omnipotence was shown; for to make a thing exist that did not exist before is an act of unlimited power, however small the thing itself may be…” (SWORDSEARCHER software, Adam Clarke’s Commentary….).

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary discusses Matthew 17.24-27:

  • RomanCoin: didrachma

    RomanCoin: didrachma

    “In Mt. 17:24-27, ‘the didrachma receivers said to Peter, Doth not your Master pay the didrachma? He saith, Yes?’ Their question implies it was the religious impost; no civil tax would have been asked in such a tone, as if its payment dare be questioned. The half-shekel or half-stater or didrachma (fifteen pence) was the universally recognized due required from every Israelite grown male in support of the sanctuary services, in the benefits of which he had a share: according to Ex. 30:11-15. (See MONEY; JESUS CHRIST; PETER.)

  • “Collected both before and after the Babylonian captivity (2 K. 12:4; 2 Chr. 24:9) from all Jews wherever sojourning (Josephus 18:9, section 1; Philo Monarch. 2:2, section 224). Hence Peter at once recognized the obligation. But Christ, while to avoid offense (wherein Paul imitated his Master in a different case, 1 Co. 9:4-19) He miraculously supplied the stater in the fish, for Himself and Peter, yet claimed freedom from the payment to the temple, seeing He was its Lord for whose service the tribute was collected. As Son of the heavenly King He was free from the legal exactions which bound all others, since the law finds its antitypical realization in Him the Son of God and ‘the end of the law’ (Ro. 10:4).
  • Mt.17.24-27_2“The temple offerings, for which the half shekels were collected, through Him become needless to His people also; hence they, by virtue of union with Him in justification and sanctification, are secondarily included in His pregnant saying, ‘then are the children (not merely the SON) free’ (John 8:35-36; Ga. 4:3-7; 5:1). As children with Him, they are sons of the King and share the kingdom (Ro. 8:15-17). The legal term ‘the didrachma’ Matthew uses as one so familiar to his readers as to need no explanation; he must therefore have written about the time, alleged, namely, some time before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, after which an explanatory comment would have been needed such as Josephus gives (Ant. 18:10, section 1). The undesigned omission in Matthew confirms the genuineness and truth of his Gospel” (SWORDSEARCHER software,Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, definition of “Tribute.”).

Thus, Jesus indicated first that He could not be required to pay the tribute and then used the occasion to show that He was God. He could have paid the tribute by taking money from the money bag carried by Judas; but instead He demonstrated His deity by performing a supernatural miracle and giving the money to them in order not to offend them. Only God could have arranged such a miracle.

Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses:

  1. Introduction to “Render unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses” (Chapter 1 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses. This material was also covered in less detail in God Betrayed, Section III, Chapters 5, 6.)
  2. Doth not your Master pay tribute? Matthew 17.24-27 (Chapter 2 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  3. Render unto Caesar…? Luke 20.25, Matthey 22.21, Mark 22.17 (Chapter 3 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  4. Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers? Romans 13 (Chapter 4 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  5. Submit to every ordinance of man? 1 Peter 2.13 (Chapter 5 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  6. Pray for all rulers? 1 Timothy 2.1-6 (Chapter 6 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)
  7. Conclusion to “Render unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses” (Chapter 7 of Render Unto God the Things that Are His)


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