Peter said to him, Of strangers. Jesus said to him, Then are the children free.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Of strangers.—The answer must be looked at from the Eastern rather than the European theory of taxation. To the Jews, as to other Eastern nations, direct taxation was hateful as a sign of subjugation. It had roused them to revolt under Rehoboam (1Kings 12:4), and they had stoned the officer who was over the tribute. They had groaned under it when imposed by the Syrian kings (1 Maccabees 10:29-30; 1 Maccabees 11:35). It was one of their grievances under Herod and his sons (Jos. Ant. xvii. 8, § 4). Judas of Galilee and his followers had headed an insurrection against it as imposed by the Romans (Acts 5:37). It was still (as we see in Matthew 22:17) a moot point between the Pharisees and Herodians whether any Jew might lawfully pay it. Peter naturally answered our Lord’s question at once from the popular Galilean view.
Then are the children free.—The words are commonly interpreted as simply reminding Peter of his confession, and pressing home its logical consequence that He, the Christ, as the Son of God. was not liable to the “tribute” which was the acknowledgment of His Father’s sovereignty. This was doubtless prominent in the answer, but its range is, it is believed, wider. (1.) If this is the only meaning, then the Israelites who paid the rate are spoken of as “aliens,” or “foreigners,” in direct opposition to the uniform language of Scripture as to their filial relation to Jehovah. (2.) The plural used not only in this verse but in that which follows, the “lest we should offend them,” the payment for Peter as well as for Himself, all indicate that we are dealing with a general truth of wide application. Some light is thrown upon the matter by a fact of contemporary history. The very point which our Lord decides had been debated between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Temple-rate question was to them what the Church-rate question has been in modern politics. After a struggle of seven days in the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees carried their point, made it (what it had not been before) a compulsory payment, and kept an annual festival in commemoration of their victory. Our Lord, placing the question on its true ground, pronounces judgment against the Pharisees on this as on other points. They were placing the Israelite on the level of a “stranger,” not of a “son.” The true law for “the children of the kingdom” was that which St. Paul afterwards proclaimed: “not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2Corinthians 9:7).
Prevent - To go before, or precede. It did not mean, as it now does with us, to hinder or obstruct. See the same use of the word in Psalm 59:10; Psalm 79:8; Psalm 88:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; Psalm 119:148.
Of whom do the kings of the earth ... - That is, earthly kings.
Their own children - Their sons; the members of their own family.
Or of strangers? - The word "strangers" does not mean foreigners, but those that were not their own sons or members of their family. Peter replied that tribute was collected of those out of their own family. Jesus answered, Then are the children, or sons of the kings, free; that is, taxes are not required of them. The meaning of this may be thus expressed: "Kings do not tax their own sons. This tribute-money is taken up for the temple service; that is, the service of my Father. I, therefore, being the Son of God, for whom this is taken up, cannot be lawfully required to pay this tribute." This argument is based on the supposition that this was a religious, and not a civil tax. If it had been the latter, the illustration would not have been pertinent.
Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free—By "the children" our Lord cannot here mean Himself and the Twelve together, in some loose sense of their near relationship to God as their common Father. For besides that our Lord never once mixes Himself up with His disciples in speaking of their relation to God, but ever studiously keeps His relation and theirs apart (see, for example, on the last words of this chapter)—this would be to teach the right of believers to exemption from the dues required for sacred services, in the teeth of all that Paul teaches and that He Himself indicates throughout. He can refer here, then, only to Himself; using the word "children" evidently in order to express the general principle observed by sovereigns, who do not draw taxes from their own children, and thus convey the truth respecting His own exemption the more strikingly:—namely, "If the sovereign's own family be exempt, you know the inference in My case"; or to express it more nakedly than Jesus thought needful and fitting: "This is a tax for upholding My Father's House. As His Son, then, that tax is not due by Me—I AM FREE."See Poole on "Matthew 17:27".
of strangers: meaning not foreigners, or such who formerly belonged to other nations, but were now taken captive, and brought into subjection; but their own native subjects, so called, in distinction from their domestics, their children, and those of their own family:
Jesus saith unto him, then are the children free; from paying custom, tribute, and taxes, and leaves Peter to make the application; and which he suggested might be made, either thus: supposing it was a civil tax, that since he was the son of David, king of Israel, was of his house and family, and heir apparent to his throne and kingdom; according to this rule, he must be exempt from such tribute: or, thus; taking it to have respect to the half shekel, paid on a religious account, for the service of the temple worship; that since he was the Son of the King of kings, for the support of whose worship and service that money was collected; and was also the Lord and proprietor of the temple, and greater than that, he might well be excused the payment of it.Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 17:26. Ἄραγε … υἱοί] Application: Therefore I, as the Son of God, am exempt from the tax which is payable to Jehovah, i.e. to His temple. The inference in this argument, which is of the nature of a dilemma, and which proceeds on the self-consciousness of Jesus regarding His supernatural sonship (comp. note on Matthew 22:45), is an inference a minori ad majus, as is indicated by οἱ βας. τῆς γῆς. If, indeed, in the case of earthly kings their sons are exempted from the taxes they impose, it follows that the Son of the heavenly King, the Son of God, can be under no obligation to pay the taxes which He imposes (for the temple). The plural οἱ υἱοί is justifiable in the general proposition as a generic (comp. note on Matthew 2:20) indefinite plural, but the application must be made to Jesus only, not to Peter as well (Paulus, Olshausen, Ewald, Lange, Hofmann, Schriffbew. II. 1, p. 131, Gess, Keim), inasmuch as the predicate, in the sense corresponding to the argument, was applicable to Jesus alone, while υἱοί, taken in the wider spiritual sense, would embrace not merely Peter and the apostles, but those believers in general whose connection with the Jewish temple was not broken off (John 4:21) till a somewhat later period.
The principle laid down by Jesus, that He is under no obligation to pay temple-tax on the ground of His being the Son of God, is, in thesi, to be simply recognised, and requires no justification (in answer to de Wette); but, in praxi, He waives His claim to exemption, and that from a regard to the offence which He would otherwise have given, inasmuch as the fact of His divine sonship, and the μεῖζον εἶναι τοῦ ἱεροῦ (Matthew 12:6) which it involved, were not recognised beyond the circle of believers, and He would therefore have been looked upon exclusively as an Israelite, as which He was, of course, subject to the law (Galatians 4:4). If on some other occasion we find Him asserting His Messianic right to subordinate certain legal enactments to His own will (see Matthew 12:8; John 7:21 ff.), it must be borne in mind that in such cases He had to do with enemies, in answer to whose accusation He had to appeal to the authority implied in His being commissioned to bring about the Messianic fulfilment of the law (Matthew 5:17). This commission did not supersede His personal obligation, imposed upon Him in His birth and circumcision, to comply with the law, but only gave to His obedience the higher ideal and perfect character which distinguished it.
ἐλεύθεροι] put well forward for sake of emphasis.
The idea that the δίδραχμον is given to God, is found likewise in Joseph. Antt. xviii. 4. 1.Matthew 17:26. ἄραγε on the force of this particle vide at Matthew 7:20. The γε lends emphasis to the exemption of the υἱοί. It virtually replies to Peter’s ναί = then you must admit, what your answer to the collectors seemed to deny, that the children are free. The reply is a jeu d’esprit. Christ’s purpose is not seriously to argue for exemption, but to prepare the way for a moral lesson.26. then are the children free] “the sons are exempt from tribute.” The deduction is, “Shall He whom thou hast rightly named the Son of God pay tribute to the Temple of his Father?” The Romans called their sons free (liberi), as opposed to slaves.Matthew 17:26. Ἐλεύθεροι, free) The argument is as follows: Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 17:5), and the heir of all things; but the Temple, for the sake of which the didrachms are paid, is the house of God: it behoved Jesus, on paying the didrachm, to do so under protest. They who received the tribute were not capable of comprehending (non capiebant) the protest, therefore it is addressed to Peter. They who pertain to Jesus, possess also the right of Jesus.Verse 26. - Of strangers. Peter is brought to the desired point. He answers, as any one would, that in earthly kingdoms the children of the ruling monarch are exempt from taxes, which are exacted from all other subjects. Then are the children free. The comparison required the use of the plural, though the reference is properly confined to himself. The deduction leads naturally to the lesson of Christ's immunity, he virtually implies (though the inference is not developed in words), "I am the Son of God, as you, Peter, have acknowledged; this tax is levied for the house and service of God, whose Son I am; therefore I am free from the obligation of paying it; it cannot be required that I should pay tribute to my Father." Looked at in its original nature, the impost could not with propriety be demanded from him. It was an offering of atonement, a ransom of souls. How could he give money in expiation of himself - he who had come to give his life a ransom for others? Why should he ransom himself from sin and death, who had come to take away sin and destroy death and open everlasting life to all men? There was need to make the point clear now that Christ had openly asserted his Messiahship and his Divine nature. To pay the demamt without explanation, after the statement of his Divinity, might occasion serious misapprehension in the minds of his followers. So he gently but convincingly shows that his claim of Sonship exempted him from all liability of the impost.
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