Monday, September 10, 2012

"Render ... unto Caesar..."

Here's a familiar passage (choose your translation):

"Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, [ye] hypocrites?

Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

And he saith unto them, Whose [is] this image and superscription?

They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

This little exchange has been the genesis (pun intended) of a lot of Christian statism. For no good reason.

I would say that all this means is "don't steal". Render unto "Caesar"... Let's get rid of the name Caesar. Perhaps then we can see it more clearly. Render unto "Bob" that which belongs to Bob. Don't claim Bob's stuff as your own, and if you are in possession of Bob's stuff, give it back to him. I don't think it means you have to give Bob anything of yours that he did not earn in a completely voluntary fashion.

Does your money belong to Caesar- or in current terms, The State- just because The State says it does? Ridiculous! Only those things which are the rightful property of The State need to be handed over to The State.

What does The State rightfully own? You? Your life? The fruits of your labor? NO! The State, every State, possesses nothing it did not steal or "buy" with stolen (including counterfeited) money.

Render unto Caesar, or Bob, whatever you want to, including whatever you feel you must to avoid being murdered by him, but don't ever feel guilty for keeping what is yours. And never again use this passage as justification for "taxation" or a State.



  1. This is one of the passages that makes me think that there might have been a historical "Jesus." Or several. Taken in its entirety, I find it the most inspiring biblical story that of which I'm aware when it is viewed as an historical event.

    The key phrase comes just before your passage:

    "Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in [his] talk."

    In other words, how to rid themselves of a troublesome agitator by getting him to either engage in sedition(claiming that Roman tax should not be paid) which would result in his summary execution or to betray Jewish law by acknowledging that the Roman tax was legal which would destroy his credibility.

    He found a way out of the trap that was quite clever, but certainly not magical.

    It would certainly not be the first time-or the last- a religion's leaders found those who took its teaching(or simply bridled at rampant corruption.) too seriously...inconvenient.

    That story fits in to what is known of the era perfectly-particularly when it is remembered that Judea had it's own coinage that was NOT emblazoned with Caesar's image, as well as a myriad of other coinage in circulation. This is why the money-changers were at work in the temple-Jews could only offer Judean money to the Temple, not Roman or other currency. One wonders what additional details the story might have had before the bible was "edited" to suit the new imperial church.

  2. It's a good argument for using alternative currencies, too. But, since Ben Franklin is dead, I guess he isn't claiming that any FRNs with his image on them belong to him.

  3. Isn't what is due to Caesar very clearly... a lethal collection of 23 stab wounds?

  4. Replies
    1. Sic Semper Tyrannis.
      thus always onto tyrants.

  5. Ever so often I'll ask, when paying for items at a cash register, " you take federal reserve notes here?..." Recently,(due to the Ron Paul phenomenon??)I've noticed more and more cashiers smile, knowing where I'm going with the gag. But many still will say (sternly) "No!" (Some will then smile and say, "..We take Master Card or Visa!.."

    The early conquerors, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, all of whom gave rise to current "governments", understood that whoever issues "money" rules.

    The Stockholm Syndrome ( a vicious master. It is the adhesive that binds all rulership into "countries" and "nations".


  6. The "standard" interpretation of this passage as mandating obedience/tribute to the state has always puzzled me. It takes a pretty tortured interpretation to get from what it says to what orthodox Christianity claims it means.

    Ultimately it comes down to this: Where Jesus and Paul conflict, orthodox Christianity goes with Paul and either dismisses what Jesus had to say entirely or goes into ultra-spin mode to make it means something else. Among other glaring examples are Jesus' statement that not a jot or tittle of the Law would be altered until heaven and earth passed away, versus Paul's decision to chuck the Law out the window.

  7. I think the man in the Hebrew book, Joshua (lovingly mistranslated "J-sus" by religionists), was simply saying: if you want to be free, ignore where practicable those who depend upon the cooperation of the slaves for their own slavery.


  8. "It's a good argument for using alternative currencies, too. But, since Ben Franklin is dead, I guess he isn't claiming that any FRNs with his image on them belong to him."

    Ah, but Caesar was also dead at the time of Jesus(or "Yeshua Ben Yosef" to get all Hebrew about it...)-at least the Caesar on the denari- which was still Julius(I did not check this, it's just off-hand). let's not forget that Franklin, along with the other "Founding Father's" had no trouble inflating the "Continental" to such an extent that Wiemar is but a "slave's flattery."

    And, there is no historical debate to my knowledge that the first council of Nicea in the 4th century effectively sharply edited(cast out various chapters....and possibly books)and even re-wrote the "bible" in order to serve the ends of the now politically powerful Church. The earlier religion was both less superstitious and less dogmatic. And more authoritarian.

    If anyone wants a great novelization of the early church; "The Betrayal" by Michael and Kathleen O'Neil Gear is fabulous, and while dramatized stays very close to the outer edge of scholarly. Including footnotes. :)

  9. Good exegesis by both Kent and Mike. One point though, Mike, the Gospel of Luke's report of the incident makes it clear that the spies were confident that Jesus would answer, "No, don't pay the tax." Luke states that the intent was to "trap him in speech so as to hand him over to the authority of the governor," Pilate, who was responsible for the collection of Caesar's tax in Judea and would surely execute Jesus for opposing payment of the tax. The chief priests and Pharisees who sent the spies knew a lot about Jesus, so they knew he would never endorse Caesar's tax. His answer befuddled the foolish spies, but not those who sent them.

    When Jesus said, give Caesar what belongs to him but give God what belongs to God, he obviously had in mind such passages from Jewish Scripture as Psalm 24 verse 1: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it," which leaves nothing for poor old Caesar. That is why when they learned what he had told their minions, the chief priests arrested Jesus and dragged him before Pilate, just as the spies were supposed to do, and accused him (Luke 23:1-2) of "opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar." So, Pilate crucified him--for that reason, although the Gospels fail to say so. How could they, when they were transcribed into their official form by a church that had become dependent on Caesar's tax after being subsumed by Rome.