The Pharisees Ask Jesus A Question

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God, the things that are God's

There is a well written article Render Unto Caesar: A Most Misunderstood New Testament Passage (view it below) that discusses important historical information about coins, the Pharisees method of disputing interpretation of the Torah, and the context of this scene within the Gospels. It helps us to understand that this Tribute Episode does not give support to, provide justification for, or assert any obligation to pay taxes.

Render Unto Caesar: A Most Misunderstood New Testament Passage

by Jeffrey F. Barr

After you have read the article, please consider the following:

Note that no scripture stated that Jesus held the coin (i.e. embracing the evident declaration of the coin itself) but only that it was to be shown to him. [Matthew 22:15-23, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26]

When Jesus asks for the Pharisees to show him the coin He is using a technique of representative ownership. We use the same technique today by having our signature accepted on behalf of our direct personal assent. Jesus asks whose "image" and "inscription" was upon the coin. The Pharisees replied that to their personal knowledge it was Caesar. Thus Jesus summarized that since this coin, and by extension every coin like it, was Caesar's by 1) "image", 2) "inscription" and 3) their own verbal testimony (i.e. 3 types of witnesses) it should be returned to him again. He did not say anything directly about taxes in this scenario — Jesus simply sidestepped the issue of their desired entrapment. AND while answering this first part Jesus also expanded the ownership principle to the Pharisees by subtly reminding them that according to Genesis 1:26-27 they bore God's "image" and "inscription" and should so render themselves unto God.

Here the principle of ownership and the duty to return property to the owner was enforced. This was expounded much more in Exodus chapter 22 and in Exodus 20:16 in conjunction with Leviticus 6:1-7. Now Jesus has become indeed a Rabbi — a Teacher of the Law of Moses — for he gives a clear and direct statement, using a reference to these passages, for the Pharisees to follow to solve their possession and use of another man's property which they have held all the while knowing it belonged to another — even to Caesar himself — to which they have publicly testified. Now they have the extra duty to 1) return the property itself, 2) add one-fifth more to it when returning the coin, and 3) prepare and give a trespass offering to God for their infringement of their self-declared duty to their fellow man.

Nice reversal! Jesus took their attempt and indeed trapped them by their own confession.