Apr 15, 2009 David Lang

Render Unto Caesar

Today in the United States is Tax Day, the day when income taxes are due to be paid to the government. No, it's not exactly the happiest day of the calendar year, but on the bright side, our experience of paying taxes connects us with the Biblical world in ways few other experiences can. I mean, when we approach the Bible, we enter a world which is very different from our own. So many Biblical practices seem foreign to us and require some research into the historical context. But taxation . . . now there's a practice we can immediately relate to!

Perhaps the best known New Testament passage on taxation is Matthew 22:15-21 and its parallels. In this passage, Jesus is asked by a mixed group of Pharisees and Herodians whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. The passage makes it clear that this question is meant to be a trap, but why is it a trap?

If you're viewing this passage in a Search window, try opening a parallel pane containing your favorite commentary, and see if it explains the nature of the trap. If you've got the IVP Essential Reference Library, try the IVP New Testament Bible Background Commentary (IVP-NT Commentary). It gives a very helpful explanation of the contrasting interests of the Herodians, the Pharisees, and many in the crowds who were following Jesus.

Jesus responds to the question by asking to see the coin used to pay the tax. So they bring him a denarius. What's a denarius? To find out, select the word and look it up in any resource you like. Hoping to find a picture of a denarius, I selected The Biblical Archaeology Society's Biblical World in Pictures (BAS Pictures) from the General Tools section of the Resource palette. This gave me a nice clear image of a denarius imprinted with the face of Tiberias Caesar, the emperor at the time of this episode in Jesus' life.


If you don't have a specific tool you want to search, try clicking and holding on the Search button of the Resource palette until a pop-up menu appears. You can then choose [All Tools] to search every Accordance tool you own for the word "denarius." Doing this, I found a mention of denarius in the Captions field of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, which is included in every level of the Library Collection. That also took me to an image of a denarius:


If you really want to dig into the ancient practice of taxation, you could search all your tools for tax* to find every mention of taxes, taxation, and tax collectors.

Of course, you may just want to forget the subject altogether, and who could blame you? Just be sure you don't completely forget the subject, or you may find Caesar to be rather unforgiving!

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