God is an Anarchist
Render Unto Caesar
Written by Darrell Anderson.
Much like the incorrect teachings about Romans 13, the story about Jesus of Nazareth’s response about paying Caesar’s tax has caused much confusion and grief for Christians. Through those incorrect teachings, people are taught to pay all taxes, to do so without comment, and to do so with cheerfulness. People are taught that despite the absence of explicit consent that taxes are legitimate.
However, simply put, those traditional interpretations cannot be reconciled with what the Bible discloses about God and the concept of government. At no time does the Bible show God initiating a political system government where humans rule other humans. The Bible shows God teaching self-government and self-responsibility. In short, the Bible shows God encouraging anarchy and for Christians, the acts and words of Jesus affirm that philosophy.
The traditional teaching is that Jesus has encouraged everybody to pay taxes. That is not at all what Jesus taught.
Consider the story as told in the Biblical book of Mark:
And they sent unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. And when they were come, they said unto him, “Master, we know that you are true, and care for no man: for you regard not the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?”
But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, “Why do you tempt me? Bring me a denarion, that I may see it.”
And they brought it. And he said unto them, “Whose is this image and superscription?”
And they said unto him, “Caesar’s.”
And Jesus answering said unto them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
And they marveled at him.
Readers should notice that Jesus did not answer the question. Notice the questioners phrased the question, “Is it lawful . . . ?” Lawful according to whom? According to Caesar? No, such a perspective would be meaningless to the test the Pharisees and Herodians had conspired. The question was with respect to the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law prohibited worshipping false gods and idols. Paying tribute was seen as the equivalent of worshipping a false god. Indeed, history reveals that the Roman emperor considered himself a god. Thus, in proper context the question becomes, “According to the Mosaic Law, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?” Thus, to answer affirmatively would be a violation of the Mosaic Law. To answer negatively would be grounds for a Roman civil or criminal legal action against Jesus.
Jesus did not answer the question.
* * *
Notice that Jesus did not pull a coin from his own pocket or ask for a coin from his disciples’ money bag. This is important to notice because at that time, the Jewish Zealots were a political group of people who completely opposed Roman rule. So strong were their beliefs that they refused to use or even touch Roman currency. I do not know if Jesus or his disciples possessed Roman coins, but to have shown one under the circumstances of that question would have immediately alienated the Zealots and would have encouraged the Zealots to accuse Jesus of supporting the Roman political system — a violation of the Mosaic Law. Jesus seems to have avoided that situation.
The hypocrisy of the scene is that if the Pharisees and Herodians truly believed that the Mosaic Law was superior to Roman law, then they too never would have had in their possession a Roman coin. Yet, they quickly showed one upon request.
* * *
The challenge with Jesus’ answer is that both clauses of his response are truisms.
Because of the subtle power of truisms, people interpret Jesus’ answer according to their own worldview and subjective interpretations. Jesus did not answer the question. He only provided the illusion of answering the question.
Jesus did not declare that people should pay taxes. Jesus declared that if something rightfully belongs to Caesar then return the property to Caesar. When read from a property rights perspective, there is no mystery with the text. Caesar’s picture was a sign or seal that the coin might belong to Caesar.
A mistake many people make regarding this and similar Biblical passages is that people tend to interpret the meaning through the focus of statism. Yet, nowhere does the Bible reveal God initiating a human political system where humans rule other humans. The Bible reveals God to be an anarchist. According to the Biblical texts statism is illegitimate before the eyes of God and thus, any statist interpretation is flawed and incorrect. Both the Jewish and Christian Bibles must be read with the full understanding that the God of the Bible is an anarchist and that the primary law for all humans is do not trespass. The God of the Bible is a powerful respecter of property rights and free will.
If God is an anarchist, then God also is apolitical. Political systems are illegitimate and meaningless to God. Jesus had the same perspective. In other words, the question put forth to Jesus by the Pharisees and Herodians was irrelevant and immaterial. The stories of Jesus indicate he refused to be pulled into irrelevant political debates.
Because of statist upbringing and brainwashing, today many people read Jesus’ answer and they tend to read the words as a declaration that people owe taxes. They interpret the answer in that manner because that is the subjective foundation from which they choose to inspect the words. They hear only what they want to hear.
Notice the amazing power of a truism. Nobody could accuse Jesus of treason with respect to Caesar’s false claim to rule. Considering the intent of the Pharisees and Herodians, likely some Romans were handily standing nearby and heard Jesus utter his answer. Those Romans probably chuckled and said, “Now, there is a Jew who knows his place with Caesar!” Yet, those same Romans heard the same words as everybody else and interpreted them according to their own philosophical worldview. That is the amazing power of truisms.
With that understanding, Jesus’ answer takes on new meaning, a meaning that is consistent with both the Jewish and Christian Bibles, and is consistent with both the Mosaic Law and the Golden Rule (love God and love your neighbor).
* * *
Jesus offered a subtle declaration with his truism. Caesar represented statism. Nowhere in history has a statist organization of people — whether an emperor, a dictator, a king, an oligarchy, constitutional republic, or a democracy — ever obtained title to property without violating the fundamental rule of do not trespass. All statists steal. Thus, Jesus, by uttering a truism, allowed people to believe whatever they wanted to believe. Yet, Jesus had covertly declared (to those who would listen) that Caesar had no legitimacy, that Caesar never had obtained property in a lawful manner. All that Caesar claimed to own was actually the rightful property stolen from other people.
Thus, to declare that people should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s was another way of declaring that Caesar lawfully owned nothing, thus nothing was due to Caesar. At best, that Caesar’s picture was on the coin only meant that Caesar could claim ownership of the coin and that is all. Caesar otherwise had no standing to claim any other property.
Jesus did not declare that people should pay taxes. Jesus declared the opposite. He declared that Caesar had no legitimate standing and nobody owed Caesar anything.
* * *
Although Jesus declared that people should render to Caesar anything belonging to Caesar, notice that Jesus changed the emphasis of the answer by adding a second clause to the sentence. Jesus declared that people should render unto God all that belongs to God. God is apolitical, an anarchist. So was Jesus. Jesus’ focus was always on the Kingdom of God. Thus, a natural answer from Jesus was to ignore the political angle and to focus on a spiritual angle.
The second clause of Jesus’ answer is revealing. Because Jesus was an anarchist and apolitical, he never would waste time trying defend or argue against an illegitimate rule. The stories about Jesus tend to show that Jesus rejected false claims of rulership.
Consider Jesus’ silence before the Sanhedrin. Consider Jesus’ answer that Pilate had no (political) power except that which was given from above — from Caesar. In other words, if Caesar’s political power was illegitimate then so was Pilate’s. That is, like Caesar, Pilate lived only under an illusion of rulership. Likewise, with respect to the Mosaic Law, the Sanhedrin had no legitimate standing either.
But perhaps more amazing about Jesus’ response is the affirmation of Solomon’s conclusion in the book of Ecclesiastes. After realizing that all statism and power are vain, Solomon declared every human’s sole responsibility:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
The stories about Jesus indicate he accepted the Jewish texts as authority. Therefore, the second clause of Jesus’ answer affirmed the final observation made by Solomon. Honor God — by not trespassing against other people. Follow that simple principle and you keep all the Mosaic commandments. To render unto God that which is God’s is to obey those commandments.
Because statists steal, they trespass. Statists always violate that principle and therefore, violate the Mosaic commandments. These simple understandings and observations teach that Jesus did not advocate paying taxes. Jesus likely never would answer such a question, but if he did, he likely would answer that taxes are owed only if entered into voluntarily. Otherwise such payments are extortion and theft.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Caesar might find some legal standing about the coin because of his picture, so return the coin to him. Caesar originally issued the coin anyway. However, bear in mind that in all actuality Caesar lawfully owns nothing. Caesar has no standing to rule you.
Render to God the things that are God’s. Caesar’s standing is limited, but so is yours. Do not trespass and by definition you give to God all that he asks.
Next: Romans 13