posted on May, 7 2021 @ 05:02 PM
“And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians to entrap him in his talk” (Mark ch12 v13).
In Matthew’s version of this story, the Pharisees send their disciples “along with the Herodians”. But here in Mark the initiative is attributed
to a mysterious “they”. He could be referring to “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” who wanted to arrest Jesus in the previous
verse, having first challenged him in ch11 v27. Luke simply says that the scribes and chief priests sent “spies”.
The “Herodians” would be political supporters of the Herodian dynasty; the Romans had allowed the Herodian family to rule in Judaea before, and
might do so again. This is another case of politics making strange bedfellows, because the Herodians and the Pharisees would be poles apart in their
attitude towards the overlordship of the Romans.
The Pharisees were used to challenging Jesus on their own account. They would notice something in his teaching or in the conduct of bis disciples
which was at odds with their own views. They assumed it would be offensive to other conservative believers, so they did what they could to bring it
out into the open. I suspect that one of the Pharisees was chosen to ask the latest awkward question;
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”
Thus they were giving him another opportunity to offend the traditionalists, by contradicting their understanding of God’s law.
“Teacher, we know that you are true and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men” (v14).
In this case, “You care for no man” means “You are not afraid to stand up to people in authority.” This praise was accurate but hypocritical.
They were setting him up for the taunt of “You’re afraid of the authorities after all”, if he allowed the tax to be lawful.
But this was not the kind of issue that he would have been preaching about, normally, so his response was not quite predictable. That was why the
Herodians were there. If he chose to appease the patriots by coming down against the tax, the Herodians would be reporting him to their Roman friends
as a dangerous agitator. Nineham’s commentary takes the two parties the other way round, calling the Herodians “patriots” and assuming that the
Pharisees would be more tolerant of the tax, but I think he’s mistaken. The whole point of being a Pharisee was to aim at especial holiness, so they
were not prone to tolerate things which might be called ungodly.
“Bring me a coin… Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
“Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Once again Jesus evades the confrontation with an oblique response, which in effect requires them to find their own answer.
There is the appearance of a straight-forward argument.
1 This belongs to Caesar
2 What belongs to Caesar should be given to Caesar
3 Therefore this should be given to Caesar.
Yet the appearance is deceptive. The question and answer showed that the image belonged to Caesar- “belonged to” in the sense that it represented
him. It was “Caesar’s face”. This could be taken as demonstrating that the coin belonged to Caesar, in the sense of being Caesar’s property.
But then the logical implication would be that all coins belong to Caesar and should be paid over to him, which is an impossible and
Commentators observe that coins without Caesar’s head were in general circulation, and Caesar’s “denarius” was obligatory only in the payment
of the poll-tax. “If they use Caesar’s money, let them pay his tax”. That would be a reason for handing the coins over, once acquired, but not a
theological argument for acquiring them in the first place.
I see a less direct connection between “Caesar’s image” and “what belongs to Caesar”. The design of the coin is simply one of the symptoms
of the fact that secular administration in general is currently Caesar’s department. In other words, the wordplay around the idea of “ownership”
is pointing toward the same argument as Romans ch11. This work of administration, in which Caesar is unconsciously acting as God’s agent, carries
with it certain rights. And that includes the right to cover costs by levying taxes.
He has dealt with their question by obliging them to think it through for themselves, from first principles, which means that he can’t be blamed for
the answer. It is not surprising that they should be “amazed” by his dexterity.