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The Tribute Money

By Richard Gunther


Mat. 17:24-27

This was a levy, demanded by the Law (Ex. 3 0:11 - 16) for maintenance of the tabernacle, or, in this case, the Temple. It was one half shekel per man per man over 20 (which shows that Jesus and Peter were both over 20).

v.24 The literal Greek reads: "And they having come to Capernaum, those who received the DIDRACHMAS came to Peter and said : Your teacher does he not pay the DIDRACHMAS?".

Jesus told Peter to go fishing. Peter caught a fish and did as he was instructed. (This would have taken quite a bit of obedience, for an experienced fisherman to go to the sea to catch ONE fish, at the instruction of a "carpenter".) Jesus told Peter to open the mouth of the fish - not cut it open : ". . .and having opened its mouth you shall find a STATER”.

take it and pay the tax for Me and for you."

The collectors of the money asked if Jesus did not pay the Temple tax? It seems the Jewish leaders were seeking yet another angle of criticism, trying to find fault with Jesus. They had no quarrel with Peter.

Why, we might ask, did Jesus need to pay a tax to maintain His Father's house? He, Jesus, was already the owner of the Temple, and of the City it stood in, and the land of Palestine, and the world, the solar system, the universe. What an absurdity, that the Creator should pay sinful men a tax for a building! nevertheless, as an act of humility and obedience, Jesus kept the Law, and more besides, paying for himself and Peter as well. The Son lived out what he taught - Mat.5:38 - 42.

Ungers Bible Dictionary says "The STATER here must mean a silver TETRADRACHM, and the only tetradrachms then current in Palestine were the same weight as the Hebrew shekel." This shows the minute accuracy of Matthew, the writer of the account, who wrote from an eye-witness point of view.

At the period in which this miracle happened, the silver currency in Palestine consisted of Greek imperial tetradrachms, or staters, and Roman denarii which were a quarter of their value, didrachms having fallen into disuse. So the tribute collectors used the common name for the Temple tax, the "DIDRACHM" and Jesus used the common name for it, the "STATER". The wonderful thing is, the STATER which Peter pulled from the mouth of the fish was exactly the value of 2 half-shekels, which was precisely the right amount to pay the tax for two men.

v.25  Peter assumed that Jesus did pay the tribute, but he was wrong. Jesus asked him a question. Who should pay the tax - the children of the king, or the strangers? The strangers of course. What kind of king would he be who charged his own children a tax for the use of what he owned? That would not be right, or fair. Should Jesus pay a tax for a building which his Father owned? No. The children should be free.

"Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them ..." Jesus is prepared to go along with the system, despite the injustice of it. I think here we have an insight into what Jesus thought of the Jewish leaders. They were like a foreign king, charging tax from his own children.- - and in this case actually demanding a tax from the very Son of the King.

The Law demanded the levy (tax) as "an atonement". It was an "offering for their souls" from every Israelite over 20 years, all of Israel's men, without exception, rich and poor. Jesus, of course, didn't need to offer any atonement money for himself, just as he also didn't need to be baptised. He also didn't need to celebrate the Passover, since he was the Lamb of God, and he didn't need to die on the cross, because he was innocent. But he kept the ordinances, and then fulfilled and finished them for ever.

Peter, however, needed to pay the Temple tax, because he was a sinner, and in need of atonement.

The miracle of the fish with the coin:

1. Peter obeyed, and took "a hook", and went fishing. He may not have even baited it. He left his nets behind. As an experienced fisherman, he might have considered the chances of catching just one fish, which would have a coin, in its mouth - not its stomach. The coin had to be the correct amount too.

2. In Peter's day there were other coins circulating : Drams, Farthings, Mites, Denarions, Staters, Shekels and other currencies, made of different metals and having many different values. The odds of catching anything with a coin in its mouth were astronomical. (How often have you heard of a fish, or even any animal, being caught with a coin in its mouth? Out of all the billions of fish dragged on to ships, has there ever been a single case of one being found with a coin in its mouth?)

3. The miracle shows us that God is able to supply all our needs. He can use any channel, or method he likes. He is not interested in our views on the subject. He may in fact tell us to do something which may challenge our self-esteem. He may ask us to go fishing. 

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