Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. The passage has been much discussed in the modern context of Christianity and politics , especially on the questions of separation of church and state and tax resistance. When Jesus later was crucified, he was in a sense rendering unto Caesar the body that belonged to Caesar's human, earthly realm, while devoting his soul to God. Augustine of Hippo suggested this interpretation in his Confessions , where he writes.
He himself, the only-begotten, was created to be wisdom and justice and holiness for us, and he was counted among us, and he paid the reckoning, the tribute to Caesar.
Jesus responds to Pontius Pilate about the nature of his kingdom: "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But now or 'as it is' my kingdom is not from the world" John ; i. This reflects a traditional division in Christian thought by which state and church have separate spheres of influence.
Tertullian , in De Idololatria , interprets Jesus as saying to render "the image of Caesar, which is on the coin, to Caesar, and the image of God, which is on man, to God; so as to render to Caesar indeed money, to God yourself. Otherwise, what will be God's, if all things are Caesar's? Clark writes, "It is a doctrine of both Mosaic and Christian law that governments are divinely ordained and derive their powers from God.
In the Old Testament it is asserted that "Power belongs unto God," Ps that God "removes kings and sets up kings," Dan and that "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He will" Dan Similarly, in the New Testament, it is stated that " Rushdoony expands, "In early America, there was no question, whatever the form of civil government, that all legitimate authority is derived from God Under a biblical doctrine of authority, because "the powers that be are ordained of God Rom , all authority, whether in the home, school, state, church, or any other sphere, is subordinate authority and is under God and subject to His word.
Although civil obedience is commanded, it is equally apparent that the prior requirement of obedience to God must prevail. Some read the phrase "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" as unambiguous at least to the extent that it commands people to respect state authority and to pay the taxes it demands of them. Paul the Apostle also states in Romans 13 that Christians are obliged to obey all earthly authorities, stating that as they were introduced by God, disobedience to them equates to disobedience to God.
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In this interpretation, Jesus asked his interrogators to produce a coin in order to demonstrate to them that by using his coinage they had already admitted the de facto rule of the emperor, and that therefore they should submit to that rule. For example, one Mennonite explained why he was not a war tax resister this way:. We are against war and do not wish to aid the war effort by conscription or by paying war taxes to the government. Doing so only helps to strengthen and perpetuate the war machine.
For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. It is the law! We should however, work and pray extremely hard to change the law. The ideal situation would be to have the law abolished. The alternative would be to have a choice of designating our portion of the war tax towards efforts of peacemaking. This route would be a more lawful, constructive, and positive effort. Some see the parable as being Jesus' message to people that if they enjoy the advantages of a state such as Caesar's, as distinct from God's authority for instance, by using its legal tender , they can't subsequently choose to ignore the laws of such a state.
Henry David Thoreau writes in Civil Disobedience :. Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition. Mennonite Dale Glass-Hess wrote:. It is inconceivable to me that Jesus would teach that some spheres of human activity lie outside the authority of God. Are we to heed Caesar when he says to go to war or support war-making when Jesus says in other places that we shall not kill?
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My perception of this incident is that Jesus does not answer the question about the morality of paying taxes to Caesar, but that he throws it back on the people to decide. When the Jews produce a denarius at Jesus' request, they demonstrate that they are already doing business with Caesar on Caesar's terms.
Then you better pay it off.
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Likewise for us: we may refuse to serve Caesar as soldiers and even try to resist paying for Caesar's army. But the fact is that by our lifestyles we've run up a debt with Caesar, who has felt constrained to defend the interests that support our lifestyles. Now he wants paid back, and it's a little late to say that we don't owe anything. We've already compromised ourselves. If we're going to play Caesar's games, then we should expect to have to pay for the pleasure of their enjoyment.
But if we are determined to avoid those games, then we should be able to avoid paying for them. Mohandas K. Gandhi shared this perspective. He wrote:. Jesus evaded the direct question put to him because it was a trap. He was in no way bound to answer it. He therefore asked to see the coin for taxes. And then said with withering scorn, "How can you who traffic in Caesar's coins and thus receive what to you are benefits of Caesar's rule refuse to pay taxes? Mennonite pastor John K. Stoner spoke for those who interpret the parable as permitting or even encouraging tax resistance : "We are war tax resisters because we have discovered some doubt as to what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, and have decided to give the benefit of the doubt to God.
As American Quaker war tax resistance developed during the 17th through 19th centuries, the resisters had to find a way to reconcile their tax resistance with the "Render unto Caesar" verse and other verses from the New Testament that encourage submission to the government. Here are a few examples:. Others would term it stubbornness in me, or contrary to the doctrine of Christ, concerning rendering to Caesar his due.
But as I endeavored to keep my mind in a state of humble quietude, I was favored to see through such groundless arguments; there being nothing on the subject of war, or favorable to it, to be found in that text. Although I have been willing to pay my money for the use of civil government, when legally called for; yet have I felt restrained by a conscientious motive, from paying towards the expense of killing men, women and children, or laying towns and countries waste.
In , Samuel Allinson circulated a letter on the subject of tax resistance, in which he insisted that what was due to Caesar was only what Caesar would not use for antichristian purposes:.
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Our first and principle obedience is due to the Almighty, even in contradiction to man, "We ought to obey God rather than men" Acts In , Joshua Maule wrote that he felt that the "Render unto Caesar" instruction was compatible with war tax resistance, as there was no reason to believe for certain that the tax referred to in that episode had any connection to war:. We know that all the precepts and commands of Christ which can be applied in reference to this subject are of one tendency, enjoining "peace on earth and good-will to men.
Christian anarchists do not interpret Matthew as advocating support for taxes but as further advice to free oneself from material attachment. Jacques Ellul believes the passage shows that Caesar may have rights over the fiat money he produces, but not things that are made by God, as he explains: . Render unto Caesar They were said in response to another matter: the payment of taxes, and the coin.
The mark on the coin is that of Caesar; it is the mark of his property. Therefore give Caesar this money; it is his. It is not a question of legitimizing taxes! It means that Caesar, having created money, is its master. That's all. Let us not forget that money, for Jesus, is the domain of Mammon , a satanic domain! Ammon Hennacy interpreted Matthew slightly differently. He was on trial for civil disobedience and was asked by the judge to reconcile his tax resistance with Jesus' instructions. In those days different districts had different money and the Jews had to change their money into that of Rome, so Jesus asked, not for a Jewish coin, but for a coin with which tribute was paid, saying "Why tempt me?
Those who tried to trick Him knew that if He said that taxes were to be paid to Caesar He would be attacked by the mobs who hated Caesar, and if He refused to pay taxes there would always be some traitor to turn Him in. His mission was not to fight Caesar as Barabbas had done, but it was to chase the moneychangers out of the Temple and to establish His own Church. Whether He winked as much as to say that any good Jew knew that Caesar did not deserve a thing as He said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's," or not, no one knows.