Matthew 22:17
Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
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(17) Is it lawful to give tribute . . .?—The question was obviously framed as a dilemma. If answered in the affirmative, the Pharisees would be able to denounce Him to the people as a traitor to His country, courting the favour of their heathen oppressors. If in the negative, the Herodians (on the assumption which seems the more probable) could accuse Him, as He was eventually accused, of “perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar” (Luke 23:2).

Tribute.—The original gives the Latin “census,” i.e., the poll-tax of a denarius per head, assessed on the whole population, the publicans being bound to transmit the sum so collected to the Roman treasury. As being a direct personal tax it was looked on by the more zealous Jews as carrying with it a greater humiliation than export or import duties, and was consequently resisted (as by Judas of Galilee and his followers) by many who acquiesced more or less readily in the payment of the customs (Acts 5:37).

22:15-22 The Pharisees sent their disciples with the Herodians, a party among the Jews, who were for full subjection to the Roman emperor. Though opposed to each other, they joined against Christ. What they said of Christ was right; whether they knew it or not, blessed be God we know it. Jesus Christ was a faithful Teacher, and a bold reprover. Christ saw their wickedness. Whatever mask the hypocrite puts on, our Lord Jesus sees through it. Christ did not interpose as a judge in matters of this nature, for his kingdom is not of this world, but he enjoins peaceable subjection to the powers that be. His adversaries were reproved, and his disciples were taught that the Christian religion is no enemy to civil government. Christ is, and will be, the wonder, not only of his friends, but of his enemies. They admire his wisdom, but will not be guided by it; his power, but will not submit to it.Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar? - Tribute was the tax paid to the Roman government.

Caesar - The Roman emperor.

The name Caesar, after the time of Julius Caesar, became common to all the emperors, as Pharaoh was the common name of all the kings of Egypt. The "Caesar" who reigned at this time was Tiberius - a man distinguished for the grossest vices and most disgusting and debasing sensuality.

Mt 22:15-40. Entangling Questions about Tribute, the Resurrection, and the Great Commandment, with the Replies. ( = Mr 12:13-34; Lu 20:20-40).

For the exposition, see on [1343]Mr 12:13-34.

Ver. 16,17. Mark hath the same, Mark 12:14. So hath Luke, Luke 20:21. There is a great variety of opinions, who these

Herodions were; we read of them in an early consultation against Christ with the Pharisees, Mark 3:6. Some think, they were foreigners of other nations, whom Herod, being tetrarch of Galilee, had brought in from contiguous pagan nations; but this is not probable, for then the Pharisees would have had nothing to do with them. Others think that they were some of Herod’s guard, or soldiers; but neither is this probable, considering the issue of their counsels, to send some who in Christ should not know, nor be frightened with. Others (which is more probable) think they were some of those Jews who favoured Herod’s side, and had forgotten the liberty of their country, joining with the conqueror, and taking his part. Others think they were Sadducees. Others say, that they were persons that were of a mongrel religion, made up of Judaism and Gentilism. Our Saviour bids them beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of Herod, Mark 8:15; which maketh it probable, that the Herodions were not only courtiers, and for the Roman interest, but that they had embraced some particular doctrines, much differing from the Pharisees; it is likely they were leavened with some of the doctrine of the Sadducees, denying angels and spirits, and the resurrection. It is plain that they were some of Herod’s faction; what their principles were as to religion is not so plain, nor of much concern to us to know. They begin their discourse to our Saviour with a great compliment,

Master, a name the Jews did usually give to those whom they owned for teachers.

We know that thou art true, one that will tell us the truth, and speak as thou thinkest to be true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men: thou wilt speak nothing out of fear, nor for any favour or affection; but plainly tell us what is truth, and what God would have us do in the cases we offer to thee. In these words they give us the true character of a good teacher; he must be a good man, true, one that will truly teach men the way of God, and, in the faithful discharge of their duty, not be afraid of the face of men. But herein they condemned themselves, for if our Saviour was so, why did they not believe in him, and obey what he taught them?

Tell its therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But how came this to be a case of conscience? What doubt could there be, whether men from their peace might not lawfully part from their own, especially such a little part of it? Some think that they spake with relation to that particular tribute which was demanded, which they think was that half shekel, Exodus 30:12,15, paid by the Jews every year, which was to go for the service of the tabernacle: they say that the Romans had ordered this payment to go to the emperor, and this bred the question, Whether they might lawfully pay that which was appointed as a testimony of their homage to God, and for the service of the temple, to a profane use. I must confess I cannot so freely agree to this, wanting any good proof that the Romans exacted that payment to the emperor, and thinking it a very probable argument to the contrary, that the tables of the money changers, who changed the people’s money into half shekels fit for that payment, was now continued. And if that payment had been now altered, and turned to the use of the civil government, our Saviour’s overturning those tables, and driving the money changers out, had offered them a fair opportunity to have charged him with sedition, which they did not do upon that account. I rather therefore think the question propounded concerning the lawfulness of making any payments to the emperor, looking upon him as a usurper of authority over a free people. That the Jews were very tenacious of their liberty appears from John 8:33; and, without doubt, the most of them paid such taxes as the Roman emperor laid upon them with no very good will. Now those hypocrites turn it into a case of conscience, God having made the Jews a free people, Whether they should not sin against God in paying these civil taxes to a pagan conqueror. There was one Theudas, and Judas, mentioned Acts 5:36,37, who made an insurrection upon it. This was a question captious enough. For if he had said it was lawful, he had probably incurred the odium of the people, which was what they desired, for they had apprehended him before this time but for fear of them. If he had said it was not lawful, they had what they sought for, a fair opportunity for accusing him, and delivering him up to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor at this time amongst them.

But Jesus perceived their wickedness,.... Luke says, "their craftiness"; and Mark says, "knowing their hypocrisy"; for there was, a mixture of malice, hypocrisy, and artfulness, in the scheme they had formed; but Christ being the omniscient God, saw the wickedness of their hearts, knew their hypocritical designs, and was well acquainted with all their artifice: he judged not according to the outward appearance of their affection for him, and opinion of him, of religion, righteousness, and holiness in themselves, and of a sincere desire to have their conscience satisfied about this matter; the snare they laid was visible to him, the mask they put on could not screen them from him, nor impose upon him:

and said, why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? as he might well call them, who feigned themselves just persons, pretended a great deal of respect for him, call him master, compliment him with the characters of a faithful, sincere, and disinterested preacher; yet by putting the above question, designed no other than to ensnare him, and bring him into disgrace or trouble.

{5} Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give {k} tribute unto Caesar, or not?

(5) The Christians must obey their magistrates, even though they are wicked and extortioners, but only in as much as is in agreement with the commandments of God, and only in as much as his honour is not diminished.

(k) The word that is used here signifies a valuing and rating of men's substance, according to the proportion of which they payed tribute in those provinces which were subject to tribute, and it is here taken for the tribute itself.

Matthew 22:17. Ἔξεστι] problem founded on theocratic one-sidedness, as though the Jews were still the independent people of God, according to their divine title to recognise no king but God Himself. Comp. Michaelis, Mos. R. III. p. 154. It was also on this ground that Judas the Gaulonite appears to have refused to pay the tribute. See Joseph. Antt. xviii. 1. 1. As to κῆνσος, not merely poll-tax, but land-tax as well, see on Matthew 17:25.

Καίσαρι] without the article, being used as a proper name.

ἢ οὒ] “flagitant responsum rotundum,” Bengel.

Matthew 22:17. εἰπὸν οὖν, etc.: the snare, a question as to the lawfulness in a religious point of view (ἔξεστιfas est, Grotius) of paying tribute to Caesar. The question implies a possible antagonism between such payment and duty to God as theocratic Head of the nation. Vide Deuteronomy 17:15.—ἢ οὔ: yes or no? they expect or desire a negative answer, and they demand a plain one—responsum rotundum, Bengel; for an obvious reason indicated by Lk. (Luke 20:20). They demanded more than they were ready to give, whatever their secret leanings; no fear of them playing a heroic part.

17. Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar, or not?] The injunction, “thou mayest not set a stranger over thee” (Deuteronomy 17:15), was interpreted to mean that the Jews should pay tribute to no foreign power. But their history exhibits them as tributary in turn to Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and Persia.

The question was an attempt to see whether Jesus would adopt the watchword of the Zealots. This special tribute, the poll-tax levied on each individual, was particularly offensive to the patriotic party among the Jews.

Matthew 22:17. Ἕξεστι, is it lawful?) They do not merely say, is it incumbent? but, is it lawful? [not must we? but may we?] i.e. on account of what was due to God.—ἣ οὔ, or not) They demand a categorical answer.

Verse 17. - Tell us therefore. Because you are so truthful and impartial, give us your unprejudiced opinion about the following much-disputed question. These people assume to be simple-minded inquirers, who came to Jesus to have a perplexity resolved. St. Luke gives their real character, "They sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words." Is it lawful (ἔξεστι) to give tribute (κῆνσον, censure) unto Caesar, or not? The tribute is the poll tax levied by the Romans. Caesar at this time was Tiberius; the title was now applied to the emperors, though its subsequent use was different. By asking concerning the lawfulness of the payment, they do not inquire whether it was expedient or advisable to make it, but whether it was morally and religiously right, consistent with their obligation as subjects of the theocratic kingdom. Some, as Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18:1: 1, 6), had resorted to violence in their opposition to the tax; and indeed, the question here put was much debated between opposite parties. The Pharisees were strongly opposed to foreign domination, and thought it derogatory and sacrilegious for the people of Jehovah to pay impost to a foreign and heathen authority. The Herodians, on the other hand, submitted without reserve to the supremacy of Rome, and, for political reasons, silenced all nationalist and ultra-patriotic feeling. By putting this question, the disputants thought to force Christ into a dilemma, where he must answer directly "Yes" or "No," and where, whichever reply he made, he would equally offend one or other of the parties into which the state was divided. If he affirmed the lawfulness of the tax, he would lose his popularity with the mass of the people, as one who disowned the sovereignty of Jehovah, and would give the death blow to his own claims as Messiah-King. If he garb a negative reply, he would be deemed an enemy of Rome and a promoter of seditious views, and be liable to be handed over to the civil power for the punishment of disaffection and treason (see Luke 20:20). They falsely brought this charge against him before Pilate (Luke 23:2). Matthew 22:17
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