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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Render Unto Caesar?

"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."--Matthew 22:21

This statement from Jesus is one of the most grossly misinterpreted verses in the entire Bible. Commonly the statement is used to justify paying taxes to the government, no matter what.

But that interpretation fails to consider the context.

First, Jesus was answering a question from those who intended to trick him into saying something for which they could have him arrested. 'Should we pay taxes to Caesar?' If he said no, then he could be charged with treason. This was the Roman Empire, and Caesar was the Emperor. Dissent among peasants was not tolerated. If, on the other hand, he answered simply, 'yes,' then he would alienate his audience, many of whom suffered relentlessly under oppressive taxation that they could in no way afford.

Jesus opted to give a non-answer. He held up a coin with Caesar's image on it, and asked, 'Whose image is on the coin?' When they said, 'Caesar's,' he said 'render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.'

Now, note the folly and fallacy of the argument that Jesus is commanding the payment of taxes. Caesar's image was on ALL of the money, not just that which was collected for taxes. Does that mean, then, that he was advocating that citizens give up ALL of their money and give it to the Emperor? How would they live? No one in their right mind has ever suggested that this is what Jesus was saying. Yet those who claim this statement commands the payment of taxes are saying exactly that. If Caesar's image is on it, then it belongs to Caesar and must be given to him. And that means ALL of the money, not just part of it.

Thus, the statement was intended to foil his interrogators, which he did. They had no answer. But those who had followed Jesus and loved him knew that the statement contained a hidden message that only disciples could understand.

'Render unto God the things that are God's.' Jesus had already taught that ALL things belong to God and that all we have is merely borrowed for a while. Not even a coin with Caesar's image on it actually belongs to Caesar. It, too, belongs to God ultimately.

Thus, our first and ultimate responsibility is to obey God, even if that means disobeying the government. Jesus broke the law on several occasions to show the scribes and Pharisees that some laws are asinine and should not be followed.

And when government pits itself against all we know to be right, good, and honorable, Christian citizens have a responsibility to obey God and disobey the government. As the Apostle Peter stated, 'We are to obey God rather than men.'

Song: This one is a real classic from the 1950s. It talks about 3 Hebrew children who refused to obey the King and were thus thrown into a blazing furnace. This song is presented by a group that dominated Gospel music from the late 40s until the late 60s--the great Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet.  The song is entitled, 'The Fourth Man.'  

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