Does Render onto Caesar Support Taxation?
James Scott Trimm
One of the most taken out of context passages of Scripture is Matthew 22:12-22:
17 Tell us therefore, how seems it to you? Is it right to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
18 But Yeshua knew the evil in their hearts, and said to them: You hypocrites! Why
tempt you Me?
19 Show Me a coin of the tribute: and they brought to him a coin.
20 And He said to them: Whose is the likeness and this inscription?
21 And they answered Him and said, Caesar's. Then said He to them: Give therefore to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to Elohim the things that are Elohim's.
22 And when they heard it, they were amazed, and left Him, and withdrew.
(Matthew 22:12-22 HRV)
These verses are often quoted to support taxation. But in fact these verses were never about supporting the brutality of the Roman Empire thru taxes at all!
The key word here is “likeness” or “image”. To the Torah observant Jew this term immediately evokes Ex. 20:4 & Deut. 4:16-17 which forbids graven images.
4 You shall not make unto you a graven image, nor any manner of likeness: of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
(Ex. 20:4 HRV)
16 Lest you deal corruptly, and make you a graven image--even the form of any figure-- the likeness of male or female:
17 The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that
flies in the heaven,
(Deut. 4:16-17 HRV)
By using this specific word Yeshua was plainly stating to any Torah Observant Jew that the coins in question were idols of Caesar and therefore forbidden by Torah.
“Caesar” refers to “Augustus Caesar” (see 2:1). His real name was Gaius Octavius and he was the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. Since Julius Caesar had legally adopted Octavius as his son, Octavius took the name "Caesar" from Julius. In later years “Caesar” became a name almost equivalent to "emperor." "Augustus" is a Latin term that means "worthy of reverence." Certainly an “image” of Augustus “worthy of reverence” Caesar was nothing short of an idol.
No Torah Observant Jew would even want to be in possession of such an item. Yeshua was effectively saying “you’re the ones who own these idols and your asking me if it is permitted for you to give them back to Caesar?” Of course you should, what are you doing carrying these idols around in the first place? However Yeshua had carefully chosen this word so that the challengers could not accuse him of sedition without placing the Torah itself at odds with Roman Law (something they would certainly not be willing to do).
Yeshua was saying that we should not render unto Caesar the things that Elohim's (worship).
These verses had nothing to do with supporting the brutality of the Roman Empire through taxation and had everything to do with abstaining from idolatry. Had Yeshua been handed a kosher coin and asked the same question, he might have given a very different answer. He might even have said "taxation is theft."
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