A Question about Paying Taxes


Reading the Word

Matthew 22:15–22 (ESV)

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Parallel Texts: Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26

Understanding and Applying the Word

The religious leaders wanted to trap Jesus into saying or doing something that would get him into trouble, so the Pharisees hatched a plan. They, and a group of Herodians, approached Jesus to ask him about whether or not Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees and many others thought paying such taxes was wrong because the Romans were the oppressors of the Jewish people and thought of as the enemies of God. On the other hand, the Herodians supported Herod, who was closely connected to the Roman government and they thought such taxes should be paid. By asking Jesus this question, the hope was to put him between a rock and a hard place. He would either anger the Jewish people or the Romans.

Jesus’ answer surprised everyone and put the religious leaders in their proper place. Jesus asked whose image was on the coins they used to pay taxes. Of course, the answer was Caesar’s. Jesus instructed them that it was proper for them to pay taxes to the governing authorities, but that they should also be sure to give to God what belonged to God. We see this teaching elsewhere in Scripture where we find that Christians should submit to the authorities over them, pray for their political leaders, and only refuse submission when pressed to disobey the laws of God (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Acts 5:27-29).

Christians understand that all power and authority belong to God. He establishes nations and brings them to an end. He sets leaders in place and removes them. All of these things are in God’s timing and for his purposes. As we seek to live in this world and honor our Lord, we do so by submitting to those in authority because doing so is acknowledging God’s sovereignty. The only time it is right for a Christian to refuse to obey the governing authorities is when obedience to our human rulers would equate to disobedience to God. In such a case, we must obey God, not man. In everything we do, we seek to bring glory to the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

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