“Render unto Caesar” is a phrase taken from the synoptic gospels. Is has been used as Jesus’ opponents concerning payment of taxes. This phrase has been used as support for blind obedience to government edicts. It has more recently been used to justify laws advocated by gays and their supporters. The latter actually is merely an application of blind obedience or acceptance of government edicts. This particular application is may be classified as special interest law under the rubric of civil rights and equality under law.
Those who used this phrase to justify law including tax laws abuse the text for their personal interests and goals. For Jesus neither supported or opposed taxes or Caesar in this passage. He addressed his opponents in a way that forced them to confront where their allegiance was centered.
The immediate context of this phrase informs us that Jesus’ opponents–Pharisees and Herodians–came looking for some statement that they could use against him. Their goal was to find a legitimate accusation of anti-Roman radicalism in order to bring against his movement Caesar’s wrath. Israel’s leaders had seen–maybe even assisted–Caesar to exterminate would-be freedom movements and their hatred of Rome’s oppressive regime. Fortunately, Jewish delegate didn’t find such an accusation against Jesus.
Instead, Jesus asked his opponents to show him a coin that was used to pay taxes. Once produced, Jesus asked them whose likeness and inscription was on the coin. To which they responded: Caesar. Then, Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25)
The point Jesus was making was this: Caesar made the coin. Give him his coins. God made you. Give God what belongs to him. Here, Jesus alludes to the familiar passage in Genesis 1:26-30, which states that God made man in his image and likeness, both male and female, with authority over all living creatures and plant life. They were to care for those lesser souls and consume the fruit of plant and trees. It is here that our natural law freedom and rights begin, according to John Locke’s Treatise on Government.
A lot more could be made of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians. For example, because God made the heavens and the earth, the metal used by Caesar to make coins belong to God as well. What right did Caesar have to make them, use for trade instead of barter, and to demand some of them back called taxes? Here is a clue to another statement made by Jesus concerning paying taxes. Matthew includes an earlier encounter of the disciples with Caesarean tax collectors. The tax collectors wanted to know if Jesus paid the temple tax. Peter said, yes. However, when they met up with Jesus, he asked Peter this question:
What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll tax, from their sons or from strangers?
Peter gave the obvious answer, “from strangers.” To this Jesus replied, Then, the son are exempt. Jesus continued by instructing the disciples to go to the sea and take the shekel they would find in the first fish they caught and give it to the tax collectors for both himself and them. If he and they were exempt, then why did he have them pay the tax? “So as not to offend the temple tax collectors.
In essence, Jesus was telling his disciples that he and they were sons of God, the true king. Being members of His kingdom, they owed no one but God.
But wait, the issue was whether Jesus paid the Temple tax, not Caesar’s tax. This fact suggests one of at least three possible meanings: (1) Jesus regarded the Temple tax as illegal, which would coincide with how many viewed the Temple authorities as well as their corruption of the Temple service. 2) Jesus viewed the Temple-tax as an indirect form of taxation of Rome, or (3) possibly both.
However it was actually regarded, the fundamental aspect of Jesus statement was a reaffirmation of God’s original covenanted authority over Israel. That God is the only true king of Israel (and humanity) is evident in the Exodus account and more specifically in God’s statement about the Israelites’ demand for a king. They wanted a king like other neighboring nations. To the prophet Samuel, God said, “Listen to the voice of the people … for they have not rejected you, but they rejected Me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-6,7, 8)
This may also be applied to America. With regards to the founding of America, some colonialists considered God as their king. The national seal proposed and explained by Thomas Jefferson and others contained allusions to God as king. Written in the Declaration of Independence is not only a covenant with God along with the social contract but also the implications of God as king being the source, witness and defending judge of America’s national freedom and statehood.
All of which, past and present liberals have rejected and have largely replaced with anti-religious secularism and socialism.
Does it then follow that we who acknowledge God as such are not obligated to pay taxes to government?
No; we are obligated by our voted agreement to pay taxes in exchange for the beneficial services rendered by government created first by our social contract, then by consent to the forms of government and their functions created by our Constitutions, and since then by our consent to taxes for additional services by majority vote.
Today, some relevant questions requiring an honest answers include whether particular taxes and their correlated services were voted in by common majority consent; whether they are beneficial rather than harmful to our rights and forms of government; whether Americans should continue tolerating the negative consequences of the liberal rejection of God’s rightful place in America’s public life; and what exactly is God’s kingship supposed to look like?