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Thread: How did Jesus escape the questioners' trap in the "Render to Caesar" incident?

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    tWebber
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    How did Jesus escape the questioners' trap in the "Render to Caesar" incident?


    Matthew 22:15-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    The Question about Paying Taxes

    15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

    See also:
    Mark 12:13-17
    and
    Luke 20:20-26

    It seems any interpretation of the passage needs to at least answer the following two questions:
    1) What was the trap set by the question? ("plotted to entrap him")
    2) How did Jesus escape/avoid the trap? ("they were amazed; and they left him and went away")


    According to a common interpretation that I've heard, the dilemma was between answering "don't pay your taxes" and being handed over to the Romans, or answering "pay your taxes" and having the populous and/or followers upset and reject Jesus. So whichever Jesus chose, they would cry, "Gotcha!" And then Jesus' answer is commonly interpreted as being equivalent to "Pay the taxes." But if Jesus just picked the latter fork of the dilemma, why didn't the questioners clap their hands and say, "Aha! Gotcha."? Why instead were they silenced in amazement and simply left? This interpretation isn't a satisfying answer to my two questions. There were other incidents in the Gospels where Jesus is asked a question where either answer is a gotcha, and Jesus cleverly avoids the trap. So what is it here?

    I have some ideas for answers to these questions, but I'd like to see what other people think first.



    Some possibly related issues:

    I find it interesting that the question is not whether paying taxes is required, but whether it is even permitted ("lawful").

    A third question that may need to be answered in conjunction with the first two:
    3) What was the questioners' hypocrisy?

    What was the purpose of the questioners' praise of Jesus before posing the question?

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    Must...have...caffeine One Bad Pig's Avatar
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    I believe it has to do with the 'graven image' of the emperor on the coin. In Pharisaic understanding, it seems to have been a violation of the Second Commandment. In order to pay the taxes, one would need to use the offending coins. In demonstrating that they also had the coins, he caught out their hypocrisy.

    The (false) praise of Jesus was IMO intended to make him feel important, so he would be more inclined to answer.
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  3. Amen KingsGambit, Darth Executor amen'd this post.
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    Troll Magnet Sparko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by One Bad Pig View Post
    I believe it has to do with the 'graven image' of the emperor on the coin. In Pharisaic understanding, it seems to have been a violation of the Second Commandment. In order to pay the taxes, one would need to use the offending coins. In demonstrating that they also had the coins, he caught out their hypocrisy.

    The (false) praise of Jesus was IMO intended to make him feel important, so he would be more inclined to answer.
    I think the trap was that they wanted Jesus to say that paying taxes was something to be avoided, that he would be giving what should be given to God to the Romans, so they could turn him over to the Romans for promoting rebellion.

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    Another important verse here that is debated is Luke 23:2. Many scholars believe this is evidence that Jesus did oppose the paying of taxes. Citing the passage discussed above, conservative scholars conclude that this must be a false accusation. However, this seems like a facile dismissal; there very likely was a kernel of basis for this accusation, even if the assembly was lying in their accusations of Jesus.
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    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by One Bad Pig View Post
    I believe it has to do with the 'graven image' of the emperor on the coin. In Pharisaic understanding, it seems to have been a violation of the Second Commandment. In order to pay the taxes, one would need to use the offending coins. In demonstrating that they also had the coins, he caught out their hypocrisy.
    I have seen that pointed out. The inscription on the denarius said that the emperor was divine. It was explicitly a graven image of a false god. While on the other hand the inscription they are supposed to carry around is from the law. The Shema (the Lord our God is one), right?

    Was it legally an option to avoid paying the tax on the grounds that you don't have any denarii? Would the Romans have said, "Oh, okay, then. Never mind."?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sparko View Post
    I think the trap was that they wanted Jesus to say that paying taxes was something to be avoided, that he would be giving what should be given to God to the Romans, so they could turn him over to the Romans for promoting rebellion.
    So one side of the trap is arresting Jesus. What was the other side of the trap? Is it that he would appear to be teaching contrary to the law by "giving what should be given to God to the Romans"? If so, and if Jesus' answer is to pay the tax, then why didn't the questioners respond, as they surely had planned to, with, "Gotcha. Look everyone, this guy is teaching contrary to the law!"? (And let's stone him as a false prophet?) Why were they instead amazed into silence?

    Quote Originally Posted by KingsGambit View Post
    Another important verse here that is debated is Luke 23:2. Many scholars believe this is evidence that Jesus did oppose the paying of taxes. Citing the passage discussed above, conservative scholars conclude that this must be a false accusation. However, this seems like a facile dismissal; there very likely was a kernel of basis for this accusation, even if the assembly was lying in their accusations of Jesus.
    Yes, I've seen it argued that from Jesus' "Render unto God" answer, the questioners believed that Jesus did oppose paying the tax. Interesting, huh?

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    Must...have...caffeine One Bad Pig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joel View Post
    I have seen that pointed out. The inscription on the denarius said that the emperor was divine. It was explicitly a graven image of a false god. While on the other hand the inscription they are supposed to carry around is from the law. The Shema (the Lord our God is one), right?
    I'm not sure they were required to carry any inscription around.
    Was it legally an option to avoid paying the tax on the grounds that you don't have any denarii? Would the Romans have said, "Oh, okay, then. Never mind."?
    Highly doubtful. Very likely the response would be "then go get some." Although given the Roman practice of hiring locals to do their tax collecting for them, I suppose the collectors might accept payment in kind.
    Last edited by One Bad Pig; 10-31-2017 at 06:42 PM.
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    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by One Bad Pig View Post
    I'm not sure they were required to carry any inscription around.
    I guess my memory mixed up some parts of Deut 6:

    4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as [b]frontals [c]on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

    I was thinking of the requirement to bind the words on their hand.

    Highly doubtful. Very likely the response would be "then go get some." Although given the Roman practice of hiring locals to do their tax collecting for them, I suppose the collectors might accept payment in kind.
    So if the tax had to be paid regardless of possession of the coin, then possession of the coin seems to be not hypocrisy about paying the tax. It could still be that the hypocrisy has something to do with bearing an image of a false god.

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    tWebber Obsidian's Avatar
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    Personally, I don't understand why there would be anything wrong with carrying around a pagan coin. So I don't think that's the solution to your question.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Obsidian View Post
    Personally, I don't understand why there would be anything wrong with carrying around a pagan coin. So I don't think that's the solution to your question.
    The issue isn't whether you would, the issue is whether the Pharisees would have had a problem with it.
    I want something good to die for to make it beautiful to live.

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    tWebber
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    Whatever is the dilemma, one possibility is that Jesus avoided the dilemma by not answering it. Jesus' answer technically doesn't answer the question, but re-frames the question in terms of asking what is Caesar's and what is God's.

    Not answering the question is consistent with Jesus' response to other traps that questioners put to him in the Gospels. E.g. the woman caught in adultery, or by what authority Jesus does these things. Instead Jesus' practice is to pose a question to the questioners that reveals their own hypocrisy.

    If Jesus' response was a challenge to the questioners, perhaps they then faced the same trap that they had intended for Jesus. Their hypocrisy may be that they were unwilling to answer the question they expected Jesus to answer. Or maybe that they had an answer but their actions were contrary to what they believed the answer to be.

  12. Amen Obsidian amen'd this post.

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