By Rabbi Jack Zimmerman,
Staff Evangelist for Jewish Voice
Rabbi Jack, in the final portion of his six-part series about paying taxes in biblical times, questions what most of us know about the often-quoted phrase “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Truly understanding what Yeshua (Jesus) meant by this phrase when confronting the teachers of the law will help us all to know that this message wasn’t a political one, but a spiritual one.
In Luke 20:24-25, Yeshua says to the spies sent by the teachers of the law, “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
That’s not the best rendering of what Yeshua said. The Greek more accurately says this: “Then give back the things of Caesar, and the things of God give to God.”
What does this statement really mean? I can tell you it does not mean what you were taught in church all these years. You were taught wrong.
You were taught to honor Caesar and honor God. You probably haven’t given that interpretation a second thought because, let’s face it, Romans 13:1 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
That means that if the authorities that exist are appointed by God, we don’t want to honor Caesar, but God put them there. You figure, let’s honor Caesar and give him what’s his, and let’s honor God and give Him what’s His.
But that’s not right. Honor Caesar and honor God, as if both are equally deserving of our honor? I don’t think so. But the bigger issue is that while you were supposed to honor the governing authorities, there was also a biblical principle that makes it OK to disobey your government if what they are asking you to do causes you to sin.
Let me give you an example. Remember the story of the book of Esther, when Haman is trying to convince the king to kill all the Jews? Esther finds out about it, and in Esther 4:16 she says to her eunuchs and her maids, “Go tell Mordecai to gather all the Jews present in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink anything for three days and three nights. My maids and I will fast also. I will go to the king, which is against the law. If I die, I die.” If the government tells you to do something but it causes you to sin against your God, you don’t have to do it.
Caesar was forcing the Jewish People to go against Torah. They didn’t have to do it, but when Yeshua said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s,” he is dealing with an entirely different issue. It doesn’t have anything to do with church and state.
Even the church fathers were wrong on this. Martin Luther once said, “For in the New Testament, Moses matters nothing and counts for nothing. Rather, there stands our Master, Christ. He subjects us with body and property to Caesar and worldly law, which He says, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.’”
Sorry, Luther. You got that wrong. (more…)