In Matthew 17 The Temple Tax why doesn’t Jesus condemn Simon Peter of blasphemy after he lies to the tax collectors about Jesus having already paid the Temple Tax?

It’s quite obvious from the chapter that Jesus had not already paid the tax because he is one of the children of the king. Peter lied. Lying about God is blasphemy, there Peter as believing Jesus was God was lying about God which is blasphemy. Oh dear.

Also there appears to be other translations that use the word “not” as in “not pay”. Makes a huge difference in how Peter answered. The translation I used is from a NIV. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2017&version=NIV

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

  • 1
    Can you please edit this to explain which part you think is a lie, and why you think it is one?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 19 at 22:43
  • Jesus goes off on a “I’m tax exempt because I’m God stupid” like argument with Peter.
    – user66842
    Commented May 19 at 22:47
  • 1
    That doesn't mean Peter lied.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 19 at 22:47
  • 1
    Which parts of the text tell you that everyone in the conversation knows that Jesus hasn't paid the tax this year?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 19 at 23:09
  • 1
    They're not in the temple - they're not even in Jerusalem! And while the chronology of the Gospels isn't very clear, at least in Matthew's gospel this happens before Jesus' overturns the money changers' tables in chapter 21.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 20 at 2:15

6 Answers 6


Peter did not lie and that text does not suggest this. Here is my translation of the question in Matt 17:24 -

But now, they arrived at Capernaum, those collecting the didrachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the didrachma?"

This Greek construction involves the negative adverb οὐ "not" which does not translate well into English in this context and thus most versions correctly render the question, "Does your teach pay the tax?". This is because there are two such negative adverbs - this one is used when an affirmative answer is implied, and Peter gives such an answer, "yes - the teacher does pay the tax" without saying He had actually paid it.

NOTE: The tax collectors did NOT ask, "has your teacher paid the didrachma?", but, "does He pay it?" That is, is He one of the people who pay it or not. The verb τελεῖ is present indicative active (does he pay?) and not a past or perfect tense (has he paid?). There is a big difference.

Peter answered incorrectly, because he was mistaken but he did not lie.

  • The text doesn't even say enough for us to be sure that he was mistaken. Peter answered the question if Jesus habitually paid the tax, and Jesus not having done it yet this year doesn't negate that. The middle paragraph about who does the king tax might imply that he didn't habitually pay it, but equally he might have paid it every time so as to not offend, as he says in the third paragraph.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 19 at 22:41
  • It could be that Jesus had paid the tax as required before. I’m not sure but I assume it’s like an annual tax. However this year Jesus was utilizing tax deferment?
    – user66842
    Commented May 19 at 22:49
  • @MrBronx - "tax deferment" is a modern term unknown to the Roman and Jewish system.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 19 at 22:50
  • Well maybe if they were dead sure sbout the End coming soon they might’ve thought hey why not skip this year’s tax payment and spend the tax payment money fund on the poor?
    – user66842
    Commented May 20 at 1:52

Short Answer: There was no lie. Just because Jesus hadn't paid it yet, it does not follow that He wasn't planning to. It also does not follow that Jesus hadn't paid it before in years prior.

For clarity sake let's look at Matthew 17:24–27 where we encounter the story of the temple tax.

24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”

25 He said, “Yes.”

And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”

26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”

Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”

What was the temple tax?

  • The temple tax was a tax required of Jewish males over the age of 20. It's purpose was to support the upkeep and maintenance of the temple.

In Exodus 30:13–16, God instructed Moses to collect this tax during the wilderness census.

  • The tax was roughly equivalent to two days’ wages, a half-shekel offering.

The encounter.

  • The religious leaders confront Peter and ask if Jesus paid the temple tax.
  • Peter affirms that Jesus did indeed pay it.

Jesus’ response.

  • Jesus, being the Son of God, was technically exempt from the tax. After all, the temple was His Father’s house.
  • However, Jesus choses not to assert His right to this exemption. Instead, He teaches Peter a valuable lesson.
  • He askes Peter, “From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”
  • Peter replies that kings collect from strangers because their children are exempt.

The lesson.

  • What we learn is that Jesus teaches that true freedom involves serving others, even when our rights allow otherwise.

Jesus instructs Peter to cast a fishing line, and the first fish caught contains a coin. Enough for both Jesus and Peter’s temple tax.

Jesus did not want to put unnecessary stumbling blocks to prevent anyone from believing in Him, so He paid the tax, even though He had every right, as the Son of God, to be exempt from it. “Some would have said that He did not keep the law, did not perform a recognized duty of every Israelite, and so He certainly could not be the Messiah … Matthew probably recorded this incident to show his Jewish readers on the one hand that Jesus felt Himself entitled to the respect due to the Messiah, and on the other, that He was very careful to keep the law in all respects, so that no Jew had a right to stumble at Him” [Broadus, 380]. [3]

To your question.

Why is there no condemnation?

  • There was no lie.
  • Jesus showed a deeper principle: sacrificial service.
  • Jesus wanted to show the heart behind our actions.

So, Jesus used the moment, to teach 2 lessons. One about freedom and another about servitude.

GotQuestions.org. (2022, January 4). GotQuestions.org. https://www.gotquestions.org/temple-tax.html|
Scripture Studies - Matthew 17. (n.d.). http://www.scripturestudies.com/Vol11/K4/nt.html|
Also See
The Temple Tax (Matthew 17:24-27) - Werner Bible Commentary. (n.d.). http://www.wernerbiblecommentary.org/?q=node/380|
  • But Jesus apparently paid the Temple tax only after and because of this situation. Therefore Peter lied or was lied to that Jesus had paid it (possibly lied to by Judas because he was the group treasurer)
    – user66842
    Commented May 19 at 21:50
  • A simple Yes does not imply any tax exemption status that Jesus has
    – user66842
    Commented May 19 at 21:51
  • Problem! My NIV translation differs from yours. I have: After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”…..the difference is “not”
    – user66842
    Commented May 19 at 22:00
  • If the correct translation is “not pay” then Peter did not lie.
    – user66842
    Commented May 19 at 22:01
  • 1
    So this Temple Tax story has a textual variant I wasn’t aware of. Interesting
    – user66842
    Commented May 19 at 22:29

One of the reasons why rulers took census was to assess the number of citizens who would fall in the tax net. Jesus was thus registered even before birth, as a prospective tax payer of the Roman Empire ! The name of his father, as per civilian records would be Joseph. Now, Jesus gives a convincing reply to the Pharisees who test him on the issue of paying tax to Ceasar. He does not claim exemption there. As for the Temple Tax, it was originally intended to be collected only at the time of Census, from the Jewish adult over 20 years of age ( Ex 30) How that came to be a recurring tax is best known to the Jewish hierarchy. Jesus may not have been happy about it. Hence his rather humorous discussion with Peter. It is another matter as to how Jesus would claim exemption, he being ' son of the carpenter' before the public, and most probably on tax payers' rolls. Now, to answer the question, Jesus was inside the building when the Tax Collectors met Peter. Perhaps they wanted to impress Jesus by taking only the mandated amount, and not in excess as many collectors had been doing. If Peter had lied,he would have definitely got a dressing down from the Lord !

< PS:In erstwhile British colonies like India, the administrative head of a district is still called Collector eventhough he/she has a plethora of duties other than tax collection !

  • Wasn’t Jesus just telling Peter to go catch some fish to sell so they had money to pay he tax? Nobody had jobs anymore.
    – user66842
    Commented May 20 at 14:35
  • Mr.Bronx, Jesus and friends got donations from wellwishers and Judas Iscariot was their accountant. The fish Peter caught is believed to have been tilapia which has habit of swallowing anything it felt detrimental to the fingerings. Half shekel coin which was otherwise meant to be offered as temple tax, was thought dangerous by the fish, on account of which it simply swallowed it. There is more to the incident than meets the eye ! Commented May 21 at 0:43
  • Yes that makes sense. I also work in the fish industry, but not there.
    – user66842
    Commented May 21 at 1:01
  • Thanks Mr Bronx for the appreciation. Tilapia also keeps its fingerlings in the mouth in order to protect them from predators, and releases them when the air, sorry --water, is clear. Commented May 21 at 1:09
  • ...And, there is a traditional belief that the stripes on tilapia fish's body originated with the grip of St Peter ! Commented May 21 at 1:13


Jesus didn’t condemn Simon Peter because Simon didn’t lie but said only the truth.


The grammar rule of Tense prescribes that the present indefinite (simple present) is used mainly to denote “habitual” actions, to state scientific facts and universal truths.

For a completed action, we use either present perfect (without time reference) or past indefinite (simple past) with time reference.

Example 1:-

A student didn’t go to school one day.

In the evening, someone asks him, “Did you go to school today?”

If he said “yes” that will be a lie.

Example 2:-

A student didn’t go to school one day.

In the evening someone asks him, “Do you go to school?” OR “Don’t you go to school?”

If he said “yes” that will not be a lie. He is telling the truth.


Because “do you or don’t you go to school” means “Are you a student who goes to school regularly (habitually)”. So even when he didn’t go to school that particular day, he can say that he is a student who goes to school “regularly” (habitually). This is what he will mean by a “yes”.

OP Question

So when the Temple tax collectors asked Peter, “doesn’t your teacher pay the tax?”, it meant, is your teacher a regular tax payer.

It does not mean, ‘did your teacher pay the tax this time.


So when Peter said “yes”, he simply meant, “my teacher is a regular tax payer”.

Peter didn’t lie. He didn’t blaspheme.

  • What is truth? Peter walked in the room and said “we’re going to need a miracle to get out of this one. The tax collectors are out there.”
    – user66842
    Commented May 20 at 16:41
  • May be. But Peter didn't lie here. Commented May 20 at 16:48
  • Had they not yet invented tax records or receipts ?
    – user66842
    Commented May 21 at 14:28
  • If I understand correctly you are in the understanding that Jesus had been paying the tax previously but had not yet again? Otherwise the tax collector should’ve asked “Will your teacher pay the tax?” This would imply that although the tax is not required by Roman law it is however expected that everybody still obey the Jewish law traditions
    – user66842
    Commented May 21 at 14:39

The collectors of the temple tax asked Peter,

  • "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" NIV
  • "Does your teacher not pay the tax?" ESV
  • "Doth not your master pay tribute?" KJV

The implication in the negative inquiry suggests that the collectors were aware that Jesus had never paid the temple tax, a fact confirmed by the subsequent conversation between Peter and Jesus in Matthew 17:25-26. Given Jesus' divine status as the Son of God, there was no obligation for Him to pay tribute to God. This incident occurred after the Transfiguration, marking the third year of Jesus' ministry, a detail that Peter, being close to Jesus for almost three years, should have recalled. Thus, the perplexing question is: why did Peter affirmatively responded to the collectors despite this understanding?

The institution of temple tax has its roots to Moses, as outlined in Exodus 30:11-16. However, under the Roman rule in Jesus' time, while the tax was permitted by the Romans, it wasn't legally compulsory. It becomes a voluntary contribution, with the expectation that every righteous Jews would willingly fulfill this obligation.

The negative undertone of the collectors' inquiry suggests that they were not coming in a friendly manner. Aware of this hostility, Peter simply replied with a "Yes" to avoid potential confrontation. While Peter may aware that Jesus typically didn't pay the temple tax, he likely didn't grasp the deeper rationale behind it. Before he could offer an explanation to Jesus, Jesus preemptively addressed the matter (Matthew 17:25).

In the NIV translation, Peter's response to the collectors is rendered as "Yes, he does", rather than "Yes, he did", implying a commitment to pay the tax rather than falsely claiming it had already been paid. Therefore Peter's response was not a lie.

However, Peter did make an error infringing Jesus' sovereignty, prompting Jesus to speak preemptively , as noted in Matthew 17:26. Despite Jesus not afraid of the Jewish authorities, He respected Peter's word to prevent him breaking his commitment. The miraculous discovery of a coin from the fish's mouth resolved the situation, ensuring that the Son did not need to pay tribute to the Father.

  • Vincent Wong, the coin taken from the mouth of the fish was of double drakma, enough to pay tax for two. Jesus in deed asks Peter to pay the tax for both of them. If Jesus did not want Peter to be exempt, he would not claim exemption for himself either. I think Jesus was alluding to the Roman Tax levied by ' rulers of the earth ' whereas Temple Tax had been ordained by God himself. – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Commented May 21 at 6:33
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan - Base on the principle the Son has no obligation to pay the tax, Jesus should never have paid it. The miraculous retrieval of the coin from the fish's mouth thwarted the collectors malicous intentions, without compromising Jesus' principle. Jesus might not forbid His disciples from paying the tax, in time all His believers will be released from this duty, as Paul asserts in Gal 3:26: "in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith". This incident validates Peter is a son of God, in Matt 16:16, he proclaims "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Commented May 21 at 12:55
  • Thanks, Vincent Wong. I stand corrected. Commented May 21 at 13:27
  • There’s no scriptures that say whether or not Peter went about catching the fish to pay the tax.
    – user66842
    Commented May 21 at 14:12
  • My understanding of English suggests an accurate response from Peter should be “Yes he will.”
    – user66842
    Commented May 21 at 14:26

It would be interesting to reason out why the question was put to Peter.Going by Exodus, only those of20 Years of age and above, AND had been counted in the Census, were treated as Temple Tax payers. Suppose Jewish Census ( not the Roman one) took place when Jesus was say 19 years and suppose the Census was long overdue even when he turned thirty, he would not be in the tax net. And the Tax Collectors were least likely to know his age ( Of course, to some Pharisees he looked like near fifty !) . In sum, there was no transparency in collection of the tax. Tax collectors were given the social status akin to public sinners, simply because most of them extracted more tax than what was mandated. Remember Saccaevus promising Jesus that he would return double of the tax he had collected in excess. Thus, the Temple Tax Collectors were extremely careful. First they had to check if Jesus was in the tax net. If he was, they should collect exactly what was required, with dues duly written off. Moreover, they knew Matthew the former taxman was now in Jesus' team. In those days, it was not practical to carry the ledger containing the details of the tax payers and the tax paid and due. ( Even in the age of computerised taxation, tax payers get gentle reminders for dues, even after they have updated the payment !) .Things could only have been worse in the times of Jesus. So, it would definitely help if the Tax Collectors simply enquired if one is in the tax net and has cleared the dues. It is the trial and error method of tax collection that gives positive results.

  • I’m assuming the tax collector asked Peter and not Jesus directly because Peter was the bodyguard and wasn’t letting anybody in the room.
    – user66842
    Commented May 22 at 2:46
  • I think these kind of situations was all that going on between Jesus, the Apostles, and everyone who worked at the Tenple. A big game of law. Jesus and the Apostles wanted to be the next Sanhedrin, so they were constantly criticizing everyone at the Temple. Like a presidential election here in the USA
    – user66842
    Commented May 22 at 2:55
  • Mr Bronx. You may consider framing separate questions on distinct issues .PAX till then . Commented May 22 at 3:21

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