Did Jesus give in to political pressure by paying the temple tax as recorded in Matthew 17?

But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours. Matthew 17:27 (NIV)

  • @BenchNoviaBensing This is a good question; on the 'surface' it appears He's condescending, but when you 'dig' beneath the surface, you find His response is absolutely proper, as Jesus was 'under the Law' and guiltless according to it.
    – Tau
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 5:57
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    @Tau - You have essentially shed a light on a crucial issue which is Jesus being under the Law - so He can fullfill the requirements of the Law. Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 8:29
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    @Jas3.1 - I'm a Christian living in Libya and I need to understand the meaning of a Scripture/text in relation to my own daily walk in faith. Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 8:42
  • Ah, excellent line of inquiry in that case. I edited the title to try and fix the negative ring I felt it had, and focus it more on the issue you're trying to get at. Feel free to reverse the edit or notify me if you're not happy with the edit.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 16:08
  • Jesus submitted to civil law. I don't see political pressure as a motive. Later there was tremendous pressure to cave in to Pilate or the High Priests yet he doesn't appear to crack. Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 3:19

2 Answers 2


No, Jesus did not subject Himself to the law of the land by paying the temple tax.

For one thing, the temple tax (see Exodus 30:12 ff.) was not a law of the land, but it was a law of Moses imposed on the "sons of Israel" both as a ransom for them and for the maintenance of the "tent of meeting" (i.e., the tabernacle).

By paying the temple tax Jesus was avoiding unnecessary controversy and at the same time not offending the collectors of the tax, who were within their rights to do so (again, see Exodus 30:12 ff.).

We do well, however, to follow Jesus' line of reasoning for doing so, and the logic he used with impetuous Peter who took it upon himself to speak for Jesus when asked if his teacher (i.e., Jesus) paid the two-drachma tax. Here is what Constable says about this passage:

"Jesus turned this inquiry from the tax collector into a teaching situation for Peter and presumably the other disciples. Jesus changed the tax from a religious one to a civil one to make His point clearer. The principle is the same in both cases, but it was easier to illustrate in the civil arena of life.

Jesus’ point was that [just] as the sons of kings are exempt from the taxes their fathers impose, . . . He [too] was exempt from the taxes His Father imposed. He meant the temple tax. The temple really belonged to God (Mal. 3:1). Jesus was teaching Peter the implications of His deity. He was not teaching Peter to fulfill his civic responsibility [my italics].

"Even though He was exempt, Jesus would pay the tax because He did not want to offend anyone needlessly (cf. 5:29). Failure to pay the tax would create unnecessary problems. Because Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples and one of God’s children through faith in Jesus, he also had no obligation to pay the temple tax (cf. 12:1-8) . . .. Since the sons of God are exempt from maintaining the temple and its service, the end of this system of worship appeared to be approaching, as it was. Here is another indication that Jesus ended the Mosaic Law (15:11).

Jesus' paying of the temple tax for both himself and Peter was not an instance of Jesus subjecting himself to any law, whether imposed by the state or by God through Moses for Israel. Rather, paying the tax was a teaching opportunity through which he taught his disciples about his deity and specifically about his relationship to the Law and to the Law Giver.

In conclusion, it is said that no one is above the law. No one, that is, except the Law Giver. Some of Jesus' most memorable words began with the phrase,

"You have heard that it was said, . . .. But I say unto you . . .." (see Matthew 5:21 ff.),

and yet, the same Jesus also said,

"Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17 NASB Updated).

Christians thank God that though Jesus was above the Law, he also came to fulfill it perfectly for those of us who could not.

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    an excellent analysis with a powerful argument right there. But how can I reconcile the fact that "Christ is the end of the Law" or the fullfillment of the Law (Romans 10:4) if He will not subject Himself to the Law? Is it not remarkable how can He "redeem those under the Law" (Gal. 4:5) if He will not be subjected under it? I am making these follow up questions because in Hebrews 2:17, in order for Christ to be able to offer the perfect propitiation for the sins of the people, it is a requirement that He be "made like His brothers in all things". Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 6:34
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    @BenchNoviaBensing: Christ did, in a sense, subject himself to God's Law by being made in the likeness of men. He was, in a sense, obligated to obey every jot and tittle of the Law so that he could be the perfect propitiation for our sins, the spotless Lamb of God bearing away the sins of the world. The perfection of Christ's life was mirrored in the way he obeyed both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law simultaneously. Whereas the first Adam (and each person of each subsequent generation) failed to keep the law, Jesus succeeded, and in so doing become the perfect sin-bearer. Don Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 20:25

Did Jesus give in to political pressure by paying the temple tax as recorded in Matthew 17?

Jesus gave an explanation in his answer;

Matthew 17:27a Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them...

This principle we can see also given by Paul;

Romans 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

The instruction Jesus gave Peter shows that he knows the tax is wrong, however, rather than try to teach the un-teachable (tax collectors) which would result in unprofitable discord, he suggests making the payment.

This principle of being willing to suffer injustice is also shown by Paul;

1 Corinthians 6:7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?

"Giving in to political pressure" might have been the case if the reason for paying was fear of consequences. The motivation rather seems to be the sad recognition that those who administer the temple do not really understand or even care.

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