What did Jesus mean when He said "Render on to Caesar..."?
||If, in party-line Christian circles, you bring up the idea that the
current American system of taxation is corrupt and that a Christian should
not participate, you are bound to get a room full of people saying that
"Jesus told us to Render on to Caesar." Did He? I am not denying
that those words came out of His mouth. But we should study to see
really meant when He said that we should render unto Caesar. Let's look at the Word
So what He said was "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." Let's look further into the passage.
First, we need to put the encounter into perspective. We need to keep in mind that the men asking the question meant to "entangle" Jesus. Read verse 16 again. You can almost hear the treachery as they try to flatter Jesus into making a mistake. You see, it was against Jewish law to pay tribute to Caesar. But it was against Caesars law to not pay the tribute. In verse 18 we see that "Jesus perceived their wickedness." If Jesus answered that they should not pay the tribute, they would have called the Roman authorities and had Him arrested for crimes against Caesar. If He answered that they should pay the tribute they would be able to speak against Him to the Jews. Jesus didn't give them the satisfaction. That leaves us to determine what Jesus meant.
Next, we must understand how Jesus responded. He asked to be shown the money that was used to pay tribute to Caesar. An understanding of the money is very important to an understanding of Jesus' remarks. Verse 19 says that they brought Jesus a penny. This would most likely have been a denarius. There were many varieties of this coin. Every Caesar minted a variety of coins to promote himself and his political ambitions. One of the denarius minted by Tiberius was inscribed "Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus." Tiberius considered himself the son of divinity. On a coin minted by Augustus, he declared himself "Son of God." The Caesars generally considered themselves deity. The Romans didn't care about your religious beliefs, as long as once a year you would take a pinch of salt and say Caesar is Lord. Many first century believers died because they refused to take that pinch of salt.
Lastly, we must remember that the men that asked the question "marveled" at His answer. Why did they marvel? As the verse is taught in the party-line church, there is really nothing to marvel at. According to them, Jesus said to pay the tribute. Again I'll ask, did He?
Now let's look at some other scripture. In particular, I want to point out scripture that explains what is Caesar's and what is God's, because Jesus didn't say render to Caesar, but rather render to Caesar what is Caesars.
When Jesus said "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" He was saying, decide who is your god. Is it the prince of this world or the God of Abraham? That's why the men that posed the question marveled at the answer. Jesus didn't tell you to serve any other master. The Jews would have looked at the image and inscription and would have known that Jesus was not saying to pay the tax. Would Jesus have acknowledged that Caesar was god? Yet without saying that, Jesus conveyed His message loud and clear to the wicked Jewish leaders.
The PLC (party-line church) tells us to obey all government (al la Romans 13 and 1st Peter 2:13, etc.) forgetting that the same Paul that wrote Romans also wrote to the Ephesians (6:12) "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." The same Peter that wrote the epistle died at the hands of the government.
My point is not that of a tax protestor. I could make the same argument about other things of which Christians allow themselves to be involved. But if you are involved in the current United States income tax system you are serving another master. The funny thing is that you have volunteered into the system. I won't recite all the truths that support the fact that the US Income tax system is voluntary. I'll let you do your own research (if you have a love for the truth). I will get you started by sending you to the We The People web site. They don't take this from a biblical standpoint, but they do present the truth about how your government has lied to you.
Ask yourself why you participate, or perhaps a better question is "What happens if I don't render unto Caesar?". You can't use "Jesus said to render unto Caesar" as an excuse to follow a lie or to obey evil! The bottom line is that if a Christian is going to challenge the government by not participating in the lie, he or she stands to lose their stuff (things of this world). They might lose their house, or their job, or their car. And of course, the PLC will chastise them and say Jesus told you to render unto Caesar. And by this action they show who their father is (hint - Jesus told a group claiming they were of their father Abraham who their father really was).
The Bible is replete with scripture that tells you that you can't be on both sides of the fence. You can't serve God and mammon. Much of the confusion is actually propagated by the teachings of the PLC. They have to twist scripture in order to maintain much of their doctrinal posturing. And by this they become liars. And if you follow them, you will be a liar also.
Some facts about Roman Coins
Roman silver denarius bearing image of Tiberius. The Latin inscription reads (clockwise from left of emperor's ear): Augustus Ti(berius) Caesar Divi Aug(usti) F(ilius) ["Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus"]. According to the synoptic gospels, it was a coin like this that prompted Jesus to say: "Caesar's things give back to Caesar and God's things to God" [Mark 12:15-17 & parallels]. This denarius' inscription identifying Tiberius Caesar as son of the divine Augustus magnifies the rhetorical irony of that saying.
Actually, the image and the inscription that is referred to is the image and
inscription on the coin designated by the Romans as the one in which the tax (the
KHNSOS) had to be paid. This was either the denarius of Augustus or (in Jesus' time)
that of Tiberius.
The denarius of Augustus was a coin which bore on its obverse a laureated head or bust
of the emperor along with the inscription CAESAR AVGVSTVS DIVI F PATER PATRIAE (=
Caesar Augustus, Divi Filius, Pater Patriae, `Caesar Augustus, Son of God, Father of
His Country'), and on the reverse a depiction of the imperial princes, Gaius and
Lucius, each with a spear in his hand, which was set on a background of crossed
spears, with a star representing heavenly sanction, an image of the stipulum, the
ladle employed by Roman priests in their libations, and the litius of the augurate
together with the inscription PRINCIPES IUVENTUTIS (`Leaders of Youth') also adorning
the depiction. The denarius of Tiberius was a coin which on its obverse bore both the
legend TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS (= Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus,
`Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus!') as well as an image of
Tiberius laureate, and on its reverse side a depiction of a seated lady (perhaps
Livia) as Pax with a palm(?) branch in her left hand and an inverted spear in her
right, and the inscription PONTIF MAXIM (= Pontifex Maximus, `High Priest' i.e., of
the Roman State) referring to Tiberius.
So -- assuming I've understood your question correctly -- the inscription referred to
in the Markan passage is the inscription on the coin of payment. It has nothing to do
with inscriptions mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Incidently, given what the inscription claimed about Caesar, not to mention the very
fact that the coin itself bore an idolatros image, one can easily surmise why the
issue of the payment of the KHNSOS was such a hot topic in Jesus' day.
Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon.)
1500 W. Pratt Blvd.
Chicago, Illinois 60626