Give to Ceasar’s What is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s

I’ve been doing some research lately on Christian Anarchy, a way of looking at Christianity and politics that I’m finding quite interesting.

This study was sparked off by a number of events in my own life that generally resolve around money. Because economics and government have an obvious link, my studies have led to me to Christian anarchy.

I’ve discovered a few sites in the process but wanted to quickly quote this interesting insight I discovered in an article by Greg Boyd.

It revolves around the popular scripture about giving to Ceasar’s what is Ceasar’s. Here’s the scripture:

Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial taxa to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”

Here’s some of what Greg Boyd says about the scripture:

Christians often cite this episode to argue that Christians have a duty to the state (”give to Caesar what belongs to him”). The passage actually implies nothing of the sort.

To grasp the ironic brilliance of Jesus’ response, we need to realize that the Jews of this time were deeply offended by currency that bore the image of the emperor. They saw it not only as egotistical on the part of the emperor but as a direct violation of the commandment against making images (Ex. 20:4; Lev. 26:1). Only God can make an image of himself, and he did so when he made humans (Gen. 1:26-27).

Jesus ingeniously linked the issue of pagan egotism and idolatry with the issue of paying taxes. With a tinge of sarcasm, Jesus was in essence saying, “You of course believe this coin is an egotistical and idolatrous offense to God. So why should we who are God’s people fight with each other over how much of this we should keep or give back to the egotistical, idol-making offenders? If it bears his image, give it all back to him for all I care.”

The thing people should rather be concerned with, Jesus is saying, is whether or not they are giving to God what bears his image and what therefore belongs wholly to him – namely, their very lives. Indeed, Jesus was ironically suggesting that an inappropriate preoccupation with what we should do with Ceasar’s image may reflect a heart that is insufficiently preoccupied with what should be done with God’s image. Even if someone comes up with the “correct” position on paying taxes (is there one?), what good does it do her if she loses her soul (Mk 8:36)?

So why is this interesting? Well, for one thing, this scripture is often not only used for teaching on taxes but also used for teaching on tithing. Effectively, some teach that Jesus was saying, “Pay your tax to Ceasar and pay your tithe to God.” When, in fact, he may have been talking about something entirely different! (As Greg Boyd mentions above.) The scripture may rather be talking about whether or not we are giving ourselves to God. Very interesting!

3 thoughts on “Give to Ceasar’s What is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s”

  1. Michael Eaton calls this statement of Jesus’ “the most revolutionary statement of all time,” because it marked the end of the ‘religious state’.
    Not even the Greeks with all their political brilliance and philosophy had imagined a nation governed without a state religion. Jesus’ never intended His church to be a national religion, which is why it took the church, in the form of the reformation to break apart the false church state of the middle ages. It was not the French who first articulated the desire for an end to state religious control… it was Jesus.

    Daniel predicted the formation of a fake “Christian” state religion after the New Covenant, in the King’s dream of a statue (Dan 2). It’s feet were of iron (state) mixed with clay (church). Doomed to failure despite Constantine’s political prudence.

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