Render to Caesar What is Caesar’s
“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” is a famous passage from the Bible that many people know. It is taken from an account found in Matthew and Mark where Jesus is asked about paying taxes. Some Pharisees were trying to trap Him by posing a dilemma, a scenario they thought he could not get out of. If Jesus responded one way they thought they had Him, and if He responded another way they thought they had Him. They believed their plan was full proof, but Jesus surprised them by responding a third way. He does not come right out and say one should pay taxes, nor does He say one should not pay taxes. He calls for a denarius, and asks His critics whose image is on the coin. They correctly respond by identifying Caesar as the person on the coin. Jesus then tells them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
When Jesus responds He does so by presenting a logical argument. His argument is based on the premise that whatever bears the image of someone belongs to that one. A denarius bears the image of Caesar and therefore belongs to Caesar. A person bears the image of God and therefore belongs to God. Tertullian who was born shortly after the death of the apostle John put it this way, “The image of Caesar which is on the coin is to be given to Caesar, and the image of God which is in man is to be given to God. Therefore thou must indeed give thy money to Caesar, but thyself to God, for what will remain to God if all be given to Caesar?”
What does this mean for us? We are obligated to pay taxes, but paying taxes does not mean we support or endorse the government we pay taxes to. When we pay taxes we are obeying God and nothing more. We are to give ourselves entirely to God. When we become a Christian we profess Jesus as Lord. This was just as much a political statement in the first century as it was a religious one. N.T. Wright has correctly said, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” First century Christians understood that professing Jesus as Lord could ultimately mean death because of its political implications. Becoming a Christian means that Jesus is our Lord and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We cannot serve two masters. Our sole allegiance is to God and His Kingdom.
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:13-17)