Notes on Matthew 22:15-22, Paying Tribute To Caesar

Paying Tribute to Caesar 

Matthew 22:15-22 ; Mark 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26

The coin Jesus asked to seeCoin of Tiberius princeps AD 14 - AD 37


“Tiberius Caesar son of the divine Augustus”


NT Wright: JVG, p. 502

“The coin bore an image and superscription which were, from a strict Jewish point of view, blasphemous.  The image was prohibited [by Torah] (even the cynical Antipas, as we say, had stopped short of using an image of himself on his coins [out of deference to Jewish scruples, substituting instead a wheat stalk]), and the superscription proclaimed Caesar in divine terms, specifically as the son of a god.  Jesus’ questioners were thus themselves already heavily compromised by possessing such an object.” p. 503

According to Wright, Jesus is intentionally echoing the closing line of a speech by the great leader of the Maccabean hero Mattathias.  His dying words to his sons who took up his cause and won the revolt, establishing Israel’s independent state were, “Pay back the Gentile in full, and obey the commands of the law.” I Macc. 2:68


“I propose that Jesus’ cryptic saying should be understood as a coded and subversive echo of Mattathias’ last words.”  p. 504

“Jesus says, in effect, ‘Well then, you’d better pay Caesar back as he deserves!’”  p. 505

Meaning what?  Wright continues,

“Had he told them to revolt?  Had he told them to pay the tax?  He had done neither.  He had done both.  Nobody could deny that the saying was revolutionary, but nor could anyone say that Jesus had forbidden payment of the tax.” p. 505

“But in context, when Jesus is faced with a coin bearing a blasphemous inscription, [he is saying] ‘give to YHWH, and to him alone, the divine honour claimed blasphemously by Caesar.” p. 506

“If Tiberius Caesar is, according to the coin, the son of the divine Augustus, Israel is, according to scripture, the son of the creator God YHWH” [citing Exod. 4:22] p. 506

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son.”

“The real revolution would not come about through the non-payment of taxes and the resulting violent confrontation.  It would be a matter of total obedience to, and imitation of, Israel’s god; this would rule out violent revolution , as Matthew 5 makes clear.” p. 507

from Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: a Sociopolitical and Religious Reading(Orbis, 2000)

“Since Roman occupation in 63 B.C.E., Judea paid tribute (Josephus, JW 1.154; Ant 14:74).  Tribute was a means of subjugation, of establishing authority (1 Macc. 1:29)….  Judas the Galilean [a failed Jewish revolutionary] had in 6-9 C.E. exhorted the nonpayment of tribute to Rome since not Rome but “God with their Lord” [citing Josephus again], a viewpoint apparently revived by his son Mehahem in the 66-70 war [which resulted in the Roman’s destruction of the Jewish temple and state].  Josephus has Agrippa tell the people in revolt against Florus (66 C.E.) that not paying the tribute is ‘an act of war’ against Rome (JW 2.403-4).” p. 439

See also:

Jesus and the Politics of His Day

 By Ernst Bammel, C. F. D. Moule


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