By Michael V. Wilson
One of the most famous stories in the Bible is the one about the Pharisees sending men to Jesus to try to trap Him with His words, and asking Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Everyone has heard this story in one form or another, besides which, it's repeated in all three of the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
It's in Matthew 22:15-22.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. “Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.
It's in Mark 12:13-17.
Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.
And it's in Luke 20:21-26.
Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Notice how Matthew says Jesus perceived their wickedness, Mark says He knew their hypocrisy, and Luke writes that Jesus perceived their craftiness. They weren't asking a real question, they were just setting a trap, trying to catch Him in his words, much like the media today try to trap people into saying the wrong thing then use it to destroy them.
So Jesus, knowing their wickedness, hypocrisy, and craftiness, didn't bother answering their question. They were (supposedly) asking about paying taxes but He started talking about rendering, which is completely different. In Greek, rendering is apodidōmi, which means to give away, deliver, perform, sell, or yield. Therefore, rendering to Caesar doesn't mean pay taxes, and doesn't even address the subject.
Yes, yes, I know, He asked to see a denarius, but He was simply answering them according to their own foolishness (Proverbs 26:5). His answer had nothing to do with taxes.
What Jesus was really saying was; give away, deliver, yield to Caesar those things that belong to Caesar and give away, deliver, yield to God those things that belong to God. It reads a little differently that way, doesn't it?
But that naturally begs the question: what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?
Luckily the Bible provides an answer in Deuteronomy 10:14.
Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.
If the heavens belong to God, and the earth along with all that's in it belongs to God, then what belongs to Caesar? Well, everything that's left over, i.e.; nothing. Nothing belongs to Caesar or to anyone else, because everything belongs to God. So Jesus' answer to the Pharisees wasn't really an answer at all, except in the context of Proverbs 26:5.
I'm not saying we shouldn't pay taxes. The Apostle Paul told us to pay taxes in Romans 13. But what Paul said was different, under different circumstances, and came with some built-in, self-limiting conditions, such as: the government has to be good. The Founding Fathers of America obviously believed in 1776 that the then-government of England wasn't good so they were Biblically justified in their rebellion against it.
The bottom line (to use the common vernacular) is that nothing belongs to government. We may have to pay some taxes for common things such as roads and the military and such, but none, none of our money belongs to them.
This is something to keep in mind when you hear politicians talking about taxes; in any way, shape, or form. They're talking about things that don't belong to them.