Summary: How to pay the IRS when U R broke.

Paying the IRS, When U R Broke

Matthew 17:24-27

I. Tax Exemption vs. 26, 27

A. Jesus was Exempt

B. Jesus made an Exception

II. Filing Jointly vs. 27

“. . . give unto them for me and thee.”

III. What to do in case of Audit, vs. 27

Records, This is the record

From Reader’s Digest:

It’s time to pay my income tax

And, brother, that’s no joke.

For after paying IRS

I find that I R broke!

—Jerry Henderson in Lubbock, Texas, Avalanche-Journal

As April 15 draweth nigh,

My spirits start to droop.

A poor, downtrodden slave am I,

In short, an income poop.

—Fred Meyers, quoted by Jack Rosenbaum in San Francisco Examiner

Income tax is almost due

And this makes me today

Another shaking member of

The I.O.U.S.A.

—Martin Buxbaum in Table Talk


Shortly after Jesus and His disciples arrived at Capernaum, Peter received a visit from the collectors of the temple tax. They asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matt. 17:24). This kind of tax was first imposed on the Israelites by Moses (Exod. 30:11-15) and was used to defray the cost of the erection of the tabernacle. It was required annually of every Israelite over twenty years of age.

The tax was like a voluntary church-rate; no one could be compelled to pay (Plummer.) Originally the Mishna laid it down that the goods of those who had not paid might be detained after the twenty-fifth of Adar; but it is scarcely credible that this obtained at the time of Christ, especially in Galilee. It had to be deposited in the (three) chests of an inner chamber of the temple in Jewish shekels, and must be changed by the money-changers in the Temple from Roman and other foreign coins into Jewish shekels, as it was, with an annual graft of over two hundred thousand dollars. The tax itself constituted a vast treasure in the Temple, a strong temptation to lawless greed and enticement to foreign rulers, and one of the chief causes of the great war that finally destroyed the city and Temple. The yearly receipts of this tax were destined to pay for the animals for the general sacrifices, pay the Rabbis, inspectors of sacrifices, copyists, bakers, women who washed the Temple linen, water and other supplies, and for repairs of the Temple.

It is possible and quite probable that the prompt appearance of the tax-collectors was due to a plan of the alert enemies, to involve Jesus and Peter in a breach of a recognized obligation, or to reveal if He were really following the idea of the Zealot, Judas of Galilee, who would not pay the Temple-tax so long as the Holy City was polluted by the Romans. The form of question they used did not call for an affirmative answer, such as they received from Peter, but rather implied doubt.

This tax was voluntary rather than obligatory. The provision in Exodus 30:11-15 seems to have applied only to the original collection to be taken while the tabernacle was under construction. After the Babylonian captivity, rabbinical tradition imposed this tax as customary for all Jews. Thus to refuse to pay this tax would not lead to an accusation of violating the law although it would be a violation of tradition. Further, as Farrar notes,

The question suggests two difficulties—viz., Why had our Lord not been asked for this contribution in previous years? And why was it now demanded in autumn, at the approach of the Feast Tabernacles, instead of in the month Adar, some six months earlier? The answers seem to be that priests and eminent rabbis were regarded as exempt from the tax; that our Lord’s frequent absence from Capernaum had caused some irregularity; and that it was permitted to pay arrears some time afterwards.

Since Christ was recognized by many as a Rabbi, it was questionable whether He would have been compelled to pay the tax. The tax was demanded of Christ, not the disciples. A possible explanation is that Capernaum was not their home town.

Because Christ always obeyed the commands of the law, Peter had no need to ask what He would do but immediately affirmed that He would pay the temple tax. Christ used this as an occasion to instruct Peter.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,” (Exo 30:11)

“When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them” (Exo 30:12).

“This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.” (Exo 30:13)

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