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Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jesus' reply to the question about paying taxes to Caesar is that Jesus disarms his opponents and at the same time places a total demand on them.

Revised: 24-Oct-2013
מְתֻרְגְּמָן Meturgeman is Hebrew for translator. The articles in this series illustrate how a knowledge of the Gospels’ Semitic background can provide a deeper understanding of Jesus’ words and influence the translation process.

Sometimes a translation can be dramatically changed when the translator learns more about the culture in which the original events took place. Luke 20:25 is one such instance.

During the final week of Jesus’ ministry, a crisis developed with the religious authorities. First, Jesus tried to stop the money lenders and the merchants from operating in the Temple. The religious authorities demanded an explanation of his actions, and he responded with a parable about wicked tenants who beat and killed their landlord’s son. The authorities knew the parable was spoken against them, and they sent agents to try to catch Jesus in a word against the Roman government so that they could have him arrested and condemned.

Loaded Question

Gold denarius bearing the portrait of Tiberius, who was Roman emperor when Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." The Latin inscription reads: "TI CAESAR DIVI AVG[usti] F[ilius] AVGVSTVS" (Tiberius Caesar, son of the deified Augustus, Augustus). (Courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

Gold denarius bearing the portrait of Tiberius, who was Roman emperor when Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The Latin inscription reads: “TI CAESAR DIVI AVG[usti] F[ilius] AVGVSTVS” (Tiberius Caesar, son of the deified Augustus, Augustus).
(Courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” The question was loaded. The pious people saw the Roman government and army as a denial of God’s promises to Israel, pagans who defiled the country by their presence. Many longed for the freedom they enjoyed in the days of the Maccabees, and the faithful believers expected God to send his Messiah to liberate them. No self-respecting prophet would tell the pious people that God was happy with Roman rule and that they should be content with the taxes and idolatrous practices of the Roman officials. But if Jesus said anything about a coming day when they would not pay taxes to Rome, the agents of the religious authorities would be able to testify that Jesus advocated the overthrow of Roman rule.

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  • Randall Buth

    Randall Buth

    Randall Buth is director of the Biblical Language Center and a lecturer at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Home for Bible Translators. He is a member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. Buth received his doctorate in…
    [Read more about author]

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