Render unto Caesar…? Luke 20.25, Matthew 22.21, and Mark 12.17


A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 21, 2018


For a more thorough study on this, click here.


Another scripture relied upon to support the false teaching of unlimited submission to the civil government is Luke 20.25 (also recorded in Matthew 22.21; and Mark 12.17). The Bible teaches that God is over is over all governments including civil government.[1] Nonetheless, many Americans, in spite of the teaching of the Bible, grab the following words of Jesus and apply the incorrect Americanized interpretation: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”[2]

Obviously, Jesus is saying that both Caesar and God have jurisdictions. What are those jurisdictions? Are America and many pastors correct in teaching church members that they cannot depend totally upon God to supply their needs, that they need and can better serve the Lord with civil government contrived protection through incorporation and tax-exemption, and/or that America, not God, is to be their omniscient, omnipotent benefactor?[3]

To understand what Jesus was saying, one must understand both the immediate and the overall context of Scripture. Did Jesus say something contrary to scriptural teaching as a whole when He said these words? No, Jesus said those words with a perfect knowledge of Scripture, and in the context of Scripture. He said those words to practicing religious Jews who were well versed in Scripture and most likely understood the contextual meaning of what He said.

In the immediate context, the Pharisees were instigating an attack upon the Lord Jesus. “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.”[4] The chief priests and the scribes “sought to lay hands on [Jesus]; and they feared the people.”[5]

  • “And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?”[6]

They wanted the civil government to do the dirty work which they would not do themselves because they feared the people.

  • “If Jesus said, ‘No, you are not to pay tribute to Caesar,’ He could be accused of being a traitor to Rome which ruled over Israel at that time. If He had said, ‘Yes, you are to pay tribute to Caesar,’ He could not be the true Messiah. They thought they had our Lord on the horns of a dilemma.”[7]

The Lord, being God, knew their plan: “But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?”[8] Jesus said, “Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it?”[9]  When “[t]hey answered and said, Caesar’s,”[10] He gave His famous reply which left them amazed and unable to fulfill their plan.

In the overall context of Scripture, what was the Lord saying? The Pharisees knew the Old Testament. When Jesus asked whose image and superscription were on the coin, they most likely knew that He was saying that mankind, which included Caesar, was created by God in the image of God, and that Caesar as a ruler was given his authority with limitations by God. They knew the Scripture that said, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”[11] They knew the Scriptures that taught that God was the Supreme Ruler, that His was the Supreme Government as well as those Scriptures that taught that God ordained civil government and all other governments. They also knew that Jesus claimed to be God. For example, when Jesus asked the Jews for which of His good works they took up stones to stone Him, “The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”[12]  In one short statement, the Lord, as only He could, summarized, in the context of Scripture, God’s jurisdiction (rulership over all men and governments including civil governments) and civil government’s God-given jurisdiction (as laid out in the Bible and discussed in Section I of God Betrayed).

The result of this interchange was the opposite of what the Pharisees had hoped for. Since it was not yet His time to be crucified, God defeated their purpose by the power of His Word. “And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marveled at his answer, and held their peace[,]”[13] “and left him, and went their way.”[14]

Men today, as did these Pharisees, prefer to trust in their own doings instead of the perfect righteousness of Christ. Isaac Backus, the great eighteenth century Baptist leader, pointed out the darling of such men:


Endnotes

[1] See Section I.A. The Bible Doctrine of Government of these studies; for a more in-depth study, see God Betrayed, especially the first Section on the Bible doctrine of Government.

[2] Lu. 20.25; see also Mt. 22.21; and Mk. 12.17.

[3] Section VI of God Betrayed and Separation of Church and State deal with the incorporation and tax exemption issues.

[4] Mt. 22.15; see also, Mk. 12.13; Lu. 20.19.

[5] Lu. 20.19.

[6] Lu. 20.20-22.

[7] J. Vernon McGee, Matthew, Volume II (Pasadena, California: Thru the Bible Books, revised printing, 1980), p. 101.

[8] Mt. 22.18; see also, Mk. 12.15; Lu. 20.23.

[9] Lu. 20.24; see also, Mt. 21.19-20; Mk. 12.15-16.

[10] Lu. 20.24; see also, Mt. 22.21; Mk. 12.16.

[11] Ge. 1.27.

[12] Jn. 10.32-33.

[13] Lu. 20.26; see also, Mk. 12.17.

[14] Mt. 22.22.

[15] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 563.

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