Tag Archives: Matthew 17.24-27

(4) Doth not your master pay tribute? Matthew 17.24-27

A Publication of Churches Under Christ Ministry

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 21, 2018

For accompanying study from Render Unto God the Things that Are His click here.

Christians who advocate unlimited obedience to the civil government sometimes refer to the miracle of the tribute money in Matthew 17.24-27, but that incident does not support their belief. Rather, that incident is consistent with all Scripture. Jesus, who is God the Son, is the Highest Power or Government and cannot and will not be required to pay any type tribute to any other power. God has given no lower power the jurisdiction to tax the Supreme Ruler.

Some authorities define the tax spoken of in Matthew 17.24-27 as the voluntary atonement money of half a shekel given as an offering to God that was used for maintenance of the Jerusalem temple.[1] However, others disagree as to whether the tribute spoken of was voluntary. One source defines the tribute spoken of in these verses as:

  • “a tax imposed by a king on his subjects (2 S. 20:24; 1 K. 4:6; 13:6). In Mt. 17:24-27 the word denotes the temple rate (the ‘didrachma,’ the ‘half-shekel,’ as rendered by the R.V.) which was required to be paid for the support of the temple by every Jew above twenty years of age (Ex. 30:12; 2 K. 12:4; 2 Chr. 24:6,9). It was not a civil but a religious tax.”[2]

Those who received the tribute money asked Peter, not Jesus, if Jesus paid the tribute. “And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?” “He saith, Yes.”[3] Certainly Peter answered the question of those who received the tribute money before he reflected. Jesus anticipated and addressed Peter’s question before he asked Him. Our Lord began by asking Peter a question. “And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented[4] him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?”[5] “Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.”[6] “That is, Jesus, as the Son of God, might justly have claimed exemption from taxes assessed for the service of his Father.”[7] Here are some expert analyses concerning this statement of Jesus in Matthew 17.26:

  • “Then are the children free – As this money is levied for the support of that temple of which I am the Lord, then I am not obliged to pay the tax; and my disciples, like the priests that minister, should be exempted from the necessity of paying.”[8]
  • “Free; not expected to pay tribute. According to that rule, Christ, the Son of God, for the support of whose worship the money was paid would be free.”[9]
  • “Peter saith unto him, Of strangers—‘of those not their children.’ Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free–By ‘the children’ our Lord cannot here mean Himself and the Twelve together, in some loose sense of their near relationship to God as their common Father. For besides that our Lord never once mixes Himself up with His disciples in speaking of their relation to God, but ever studiously keeps His relation and theirs apart (see, for example, on the last words of this chapter)–this would be to teach the right of believers to exemption from the dues required for sacred services, in the teeth of all that Paul teaches and that He Himself indicates throughout. He can refer here, then, only to Himself; using the word ‘children’ evidently in order to express the general principle observed by sovereigns, who do not draw taxes from their own children, and thus convey the truth respecting His own exemption the more strikingly:–namely, ‘If the sovereign’s own family be exempt, you know the inference in My case’; or to express it more nakedly than Jesus thought needful and fitting: ‘This is a tax for upholding My Father’s House. As His Son, then, that tax is not due by Me–I AM FREE.’”[10]
  • “Therefore the sons are free. The argument is this: If the sons of kings are free from the payment of tribute, I, the Son of God, am free from God’s tribute. The half-shekel was regarded as given to God (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews,9.1).”[11]
  • “Then are the sons free – The sense is, This is paid for the use of the house of God. But I am the Son of God. Therefore I am free from any obligation of paying this to my own Father.”[12]
  • “Every Jew throughout the world was required to pay an annual tribute or capitation-tax of half a shekel, about twenty-five cents, in acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and for the maintenance of the temple service, 30:12-15. It was with reference to this that Christ says, in effect, Mt. 17:25-26, ‘If this tribute be levied in the name of The Father, then I, The Son, am free.’ In other New Testament passages, tribute means the tax levied by the Romans. On the question of paying tribute to foreigners and idolaters, Mt. 22:16-22, Christ gave a reply which neither party could stigmatize as rebellious, or as unpatriotic and irreligious. By themselves using Caesar’s currency, both parties acknowledged the fact of his supremacy. Christ warns them to render to all men their dues; and above all to regard the claims of him whose superscription is on every thing, 1 Co. 10:31; 1 Pe. 2:9, 13.”[13]

Jesus then states: “Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.”[14]

  • Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them. That is, lest they should think that we despise the temple and its service, and thus provoke needless opposition, though we are not under obligation to pay it, yet it is best to pay it to them.
  • Go thou to the sea. This was at Capernaum, on the shore of the sea of Tiberias.
  • Thou shalt find a piece of money. In the original, thou shalt find a stater, a Roman silver coin of the value of four drachms, or one shekel, and of course sufficient to pay the tribute for two, himself and Peter. In whatever way this is regarded, it is proof that Jesus was possessed of Divine attributes. If he knew that the first fish that came up would have such a coin in his mouth, it was proof of omniscience. If he created the coin for the occasion, and placed it there, then it was proof of Divine power. The former is the most probable supposition. It is by no means absurd that a fish should have swallowed a silver coin. Many of them bite eagerly at anything bright, and would not hesitate, therefore, at swallowing a piece of money. {t} ‘offend’ 14:21; 15:1-3; 2 Co. 6:3; {2} ‘stater’, ‘which was half an ounce of silver.”[15]
  • “Lest we – offend them – Be a stumbling-block to the priests, or rulers of the Jews, I will pay the tribute – go thou to the sea – cast a hook, and take the first fish – thou shalt find a piece of money, στατηρα , a stater. This piece of money was equal in value to four drachms, or two shekels, (five shillings of our money), and consequently was sufficient to pay the tribute for our Lord and Peter, which amounted to about half-a-crown each. If the stater was in the mouth or belly of the fish before, who can help admiring the wisdom of Christ, that discovered it there? If it was not before in the mouth of the fish, who can help admiring the power of Christ, that impelled the fish to go where the stater had been lost in the bottom of the sea, take it up, come towards the shore where Peter was fishing, and, with the stater in its mouth or stomach, catch hold of the hook that was to draw it out of the water? But suppose there was no stater there, which is as likely as otherwise, then Jesus created it for the purpose, and here his omnipotence was shown; for to make a thing exist that did not exist before is an act of unlimited power, however small the thing itself may be….”[16]

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary discusses Matthew 17.24-27:

  • “In 17:24-27, ‘the didrachma receivers said to Peter, Doth not your Master pay the didrachma? He saith, Yes?’ Their question implies it was the religious impost; no civil tax would have been asked in such a tone, as if its payment dare be questioned. The half-shekel or half-stater or didrachma (fifteen pence) was the universally recognized due required from every Israelite grown male in support of the sanctuary services, in the benefits of which he had a share: according to Ex. 30:11-15. (See MONEY; JESUS CHRIST; PETER.)
  • “Collected both before and after the Babylonian captivity (2 K. 12:4; 2 Chr. 24:9) from all Jews wherever sojourning (Josephus 18:9, section 1; Philo Monarch. 2:2, section 224). Hence Peter at once recognized the obligation. But Christ, while to avoid offense (wherein Paul imitated his Master in a different case, 1 Co. 9:4-19) He miraculously supplied the stater in the fish, for Himself and Peter, yet claimed freedom from the payment to the temple, seeing He was its Lord for whose service the tribute was collected. As Son of the heavenly King He was free from the legal exactions which bound all others, since the law finds its antitypical realization in Him the Son of God and ‘the end of the law’ ( 10:4).
  • “The temple offerings, for which the half shekels were collected, through Him become needless to His people also; hence they, by virtue of union with Him in justification and sanctification, are secondarily included in His pregnant saying, ‘then are the children (not merely the SON) free’ (John 8:35-36; 4:3-7; 5:1). As children with Him, they are sons of the King and share the kingdom (Ro. 8:15-17). The legal term ‘the didrachma’ Matthew uses as one so familiar to his readers as to need no explanation; he must therefore have written about the time, alleged, namely, some time before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, after which an explanatory comment would have been needed such as Josephus gives (Ant. 18:10, section 1). The undesigned omission in Matthew confirms the genuineness and truth of his Gospel.”[17]

Thus, Jesus indicated first that He could not be required to pay the tribute and then used the occasion to show that He was God. He could have paid the tribute by taking money from the money bag carried by Judas; but instead He demonstrated His deity by performing a supernatural miracle and giving the money to them in order not to offend them. Only God could have arranged such a miracle.


[1] See Abbott New Testament Commentary, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, and Jamieson-Fausett-Brown Commentary available on SWORDSEARCHER software. Go to http://www.swordsearcher.com for information on SWORDSEARCHER software.

[2] See Easton’s Bible Dictionary, definition of “Tribute,” on SWORDSEARCHER software.

[3] Mt. 17.24-25.

[4] “Prevented” in the above verses means that Jesus anticipated Peter’s question and answered it without Peter asking. See, e.g., SWORDSEARCHER software, Abbott… and Albert Barnes’….

[5] Ibid.

[6] Mt. 17.26.

[7] SWORDSEARCHER software, Abbott….

[8] SWORDSEARCHER software, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.

[9] SWORDSEARCHER software, Family Bible Notes.

[10] SWORDSEARCHER software, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary.

[11] SWORDSEARCHER software, The Fourfold Gospel and Commentary on Acts.

[12] SWORDSEARCHER software, John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible.

[13] SWORDSEARCHER software, American Tract Society Dictionary, definition of “Tribute.”

[14] Mt. 17.27.

[15] SWORDSEARCHER software, Albert Barnes’….

[16] SWORDSEARCHER software, Adam Clarke’s Commentary….

[17] SWORDSEARCHER software, Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, definition of “Tribute.”

Introduction to “Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses”

Jerald Finney
Copyright © June 2, 2012

Left click for links to all chapters on this subject:
Render unto God the Things that Are His
Links to all chapters of “Render Unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related verses” is at the bottom of this article.

Pastor Jason Cooley, “Romans 13 in Context,” July 13, 2012
Pastor Jason Cooley, “1 Peter 2.13: Proper Submission to Government,” August, 2012

Jerald Finney’s audio teaching on Romans 13
To download right click link to audio and left click “Save link as…”


This article is a continuation of Jerald Finney’s systematic development of the doctrines, application, history, and legalities of “separation of church and state.” See Why Understanding and Applying Church and State Law Is Important for Believers and Churches for more on this matter. This article is the first in a series of articles which have been adopted from the Book Render unto God the Things that Are His: A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses. That book is a more complete study than the study presented in Section III, Chapters 5 and 6 of the book God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application (Link to preview of God Betrayed). (Link to Contents of “Separation of Church and State Law” Blog which has links so that the new follower can start his study at the beginning. “Line upon line, precept upon precept.”). See Endnote for information on books by Jerald Finney which thoroughly examine “separation of church and state law.” 

Introduction to “Render Unto God the Things that Are His:
A Systematic Study of Romans 13 and Related Verses”

Setting the right goal is very important for success. Men, both lost and saved, who do not understand God’s principles rely upon their reasoning to conceive of a goal and a way to achieve that goal. Reason tells mankind that the goal of man is happiness, and conceives of various ways to achieve that goal. On the other hand, the Bible reveals that the God-given goal of man is the glory of God and tells man how to achieve that goal (See Jerald Finney, God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application (Xulon Press, 2008; Austin TX: Kerygma Publishing Company, 2008), Section I, Chapter 2). God Betrayed presents a comprehensive study of the issue of “separation of church and state.” That study is also being presented on this website.). Of course, those who follow biblical teaching will be as happy as others on earth. However, happiness on earth is fleeting, at best. The lost person and the carnal saved person will not be happy when his physical and/or material well being is threatened or lost. The Christian will not be happy when his or another’s spiritual state is not as it should be. Christians will have eternal happiness, but that is not their God-given goal.

One thing is for sure, according to reality as judged by the Word of God: mankind, except for a remnant of faithful believers, always rejects God’s wisdom and guidelines and seeks happiness for themselves rather than seeking to glorify God. Men, in resorting to their own reasoning instead of getting saved and studying and applying truth and principles from the Word of God as led by the Spirit of God, have sought their goal of happiness in various ways. This is true of philosophies concerning civil government.

Mankind began to reason, instead of following God’s principles concerning civil government, immediately after the flood. God, after the flood, ordained civil government and divided the world into Gentile nations (Ge. 10.5; De. 32.8; see God Betrayed, Section I and also the “civil government” category on this website for the biblical principles and history concerning governments.). He did this because, given the nature of man, concentration of the world into one civil government would mean unlimited potential for evil and tyranny (Ge. 11.6. God had already pointed out that the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Ge. 8.21), and that, without the control of civil government operating under God, mankind quickly becomes totally corrupt (Ge. 6.12-13). Before the flood, God had forbidden civil government (See Ge. 4) to show man what happens without some direct and immediate controls over his actions.). Mankind rebelled against God’s directions and came together at the tower of Babel (Ge. 11.1-4). God confused the tongues—that is, He made men to speak different languages—and they were forced to comply with God’s direction to form nations (Ge. 11.5-9).

At first, all nations were Gentile (See Ge. 10.5. The Bible calls all nations, except the nation of Israel, Gentile.). Israel was the only theocracy ever ordained by God, the only nation that God desired to combine religion and state. After Israel rejected the theocracy, religion and state were separated in Israel. For example, God rejected King Saul for intruding into the priest’s office (See I S. 13.8-14).

Many still believe, as always, that man will be able to solve all problems and bring peace through unified world government. Since God divided mankind into nations, one goal of many has been global governance. Of course, God’s Word and history show the folly of this idea. Nonetheless, God will allow man to achieve his goal. The one world government prophesied in the Bible appears to be forthcoming.

Fascism and communism, in seeking unity, embrace the idea that the general will of the people is well-intentioned; and, as Rousseau put it:

  • “[T]he general will is always on the side which is most favorable to the public interest, that is to say, the most equitable; so that it is needful only to act justly to be certain of following the general will” (See Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 39.).
  • “The idea of the general will created a true secular religion out of the mystic chords of nationalism, a religion in which ‘the people’ in effect worshipped themselves. Just as individuals couldn’t be ‘free’ except as part of the group, their existence lacked meaning and purpose except in relation to the collective.
  • “It followed, moreover, that if the people were the new God, there was no room for God Himself. In The Social Contract, Rousseau tells us that because of Christianity’s distinction between God and Caesar, ‘men have never known whether they ought to obey the civil ruler or the priest.’ What Rousseau proposed instead was a society in which religion and politics were perfectly combined. Loyalty to the state and loyalty to the divine must be seen as the same thing.…
  • “Rousseau’s community is bound together by the general will as expressed in the dogmas of what he called a ‘civil religion’ and enforced by the all-powerful God-state. Those who defy the collective spirit of the community live outside the state and have no claim on its protections. Indeed, not only is the state not required to defend antisocial individuals or subcommunities, it is compelled to do away with them” (Ibid., pp. 39-40).

Rousseau’s idea of community began at the Tower of Babel where mankind aimed for unity of religion and state. Powerful men have always had this goal. The attempt to force unity continued after the marriage of church and state in the early fourth century and resulted in the adoption of the pagan philosophy which combined religion and state.

Early Christianity was a threat to union of religion and state. Because persecution had resulted in tremendous church growth, church and state combined under Constantine and the established “church” adopted many pagan practices to provide unity (See Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of a Hybrid (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976); see also, God Betrayed and the articles on this website.). Those who resisted unity were labeled as heretics, imprisoned, persecuted, tortured, and murdered (Ibid.). Oneness cannot exist when some are allowed to disagree with a principle of the controlling state/religion.

The United States of America became the second civil government in history, after the colony of Rhode Island, to reject unity of religion and state and implemented the biblical principle of soul liberty which is also called religious liberty or separation of church and state (See God Betrayed, Section IV, for a historyof separation of church and state and the First Amendment religion clause in America.. See also, the upcoming articles on this website which deal with that history and also the already published article An Abridged History of the First Amendment.). America came closer than any nation to following God’s principles for church and state, and she included many of the principles of the Word of God in her founding documents.

America is no longer a nation under God and is experiencing the consequences of failing to operate under God and abide by His principles (See God Betrayed, Section V for an analysis of how the United States Supreme Court has systematically removed/ God from practically all civil government affairs and the upcoming articles on this website on that subject.). This inevitable turnabout was caused, to a large degree, by the union of church and state. Although the First Amendment guaranteed freedom from civil government, many churches chose to become state churches through incorporation shortly after the ratification of the Constitution (See God Betrayed, Section VI, Chapter 3 and the upcoming relevant articles on this website). The First Amendment originally applied only to the federal government (The United States Supreme Court extended First Amendment protection to all levels of civil government in the twentieth century. See God Betrayed, Section V.). States were free to and did offer to incorporate churches; and many churches, against the warnings of leaders like Isaac Backus, ran to incorporate (See Ibid., Section VI, Chapter 3 and for more details incorporation of churches in the colonies and in the states of the new nation.).

Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) (“501(c)(3)”), passed in the twentieth century, invites churches, in exchange for “tax exemption,” to come under federal government control to some extent (See Ibid., Section VI, Chapters 4 and 5 for more information on the 501(c)(3) exemption control scheme. New Testament churches which are not connected to civil government are non-taxable under the First Amendment and under God.). The great majority of churches have, against the will of God, accepted the invitation by civil government to incorporate and get 501(c)(3) status.

Unconstitutional actions by the President of the United States have further invited churches to unite with and place themselves under federal government control. For example, President George Bush showed his misunderstanding of the First Amendment and God’s principles by implementing a “Faith Based Initiative” under which religious organizations may apply for federal government money to finance certain ministries. The Bush administration also invited churches to address national disasters under civil government direction. During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, many “Christians” and pastors, guided by a false interpretation of Romans 13, heeded the call and assisted, under civil government, in disaster relief to the victims. Churches, Christians, and pastors should be the first to help others; but they should operate only under God and His principles, never with or under the control of civil government.

Doing one thing that subjects a church to the state creates a legal entity. “Legal entity” means:

“Legal existence. An entity, other than a natural person, who has sufficient existence in legal contemplation that it can function legally, be sued or sue and make decisions through agents as in the case of corporations” (BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 893-894 (6th ed. 1990), definition of “legal entity.” Note. Every citizen on the United States is also a legal entity.

Examples of legal entities in the United states are corporations, unincorporated associations, corporations sole, charitable trusts, and Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) (“501(c)(3)”) tax exempt organizations.

Because of the First Amendment which recognizes and implements the biblical principle of separation of church and state, churches can still choose to be spiritual entities and no church is required by any civil law to become a legal entity (Jerald Finney, Separation of Church and State/God’s Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities (Austin TX: Kerygma Publishing Co.; also published by Xulon Press, 2009) explains the distinctions between legal and spiritual entities, and the various ways churches can become legal entities. See also, God Betrayed.). Nonetheless, many “Christians” incorrectly assume or believe that church and state should be united in America; that civil law requires such a union; and/or that churches should become legal entities because Romans 13 and other Bible verses are taken out of context and perverted to mean what they do not mean.

Some Christians interpret certain scriptures to mean that Christians and churches are required by God to submit to civil government in all things or to submit to civil government in all things except for the preaching of the gospel of salvation. The articles that will follow on this website will analyze Matthew 17.24-27 which deals with the miracle of the tribute money; Luke 20.25 (also recorded in Matthew 22.21; and Mark 12.17) in which Jesus proclaimed, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s;” Romans 13, I Peter 2.13, and I Timothy 2.1-6. What those scriptures teach concerning submission by individual Christians and churches to civil government is the subject of these studies (To totally understand the issue of God’s teachings concerning submission to civil government, one must understand other sub-issues or principles. God Betrayed offers a more comprehensive look at all the issues involved.).


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When Did the Church Become a Business?” a song by Jason Bellard