What is the meaning of Matthew 17:24-27?

Here it is, so that you don’t have to go searching for it:

24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

Matthew 17:24-27

This passage has been used in discussions about religious exemptions to COVID vaccines, and so I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it. The idea is that Christ is teaching that his followers were exempt from the tax. That they didn’t need to feel obligated to pay, but that they could do so as a matter of tactics.

But I don’t buy it. From the footnote in my NASB, and from Calvin’s commentary on these verses, it appears that this particular tax was a temple tax. That is to say, its history can be traced back to Exodus, and it was collected for the maintenance of the temple. Calvin seems to think that foreign rulers would collect the tax themselves - which strikes me as similar to having your tithes and offerings confiscated by a foreign occupying power:

When the kings of Asia appropriated this to themselves, the Romans followed their example. Thus the Jews, as if they had disowned the government of God, paid to profane tyrants the sacred tax required by the Law.

Calvin goes on to say this:

But what is the object of his discourse? Is it to exempt himself and his followers from subjection to the laws? [emphasis added] Some explain it thus, that Christians have a right to be exempted, but that they voluntarily subject themselves to the ordinary government, because otherwise human society cannot be maintained. To me, however, the meaning appears to be more simple; for there was danger lest the disciples might think that Christ had come in vain, because, by paying tribute cut off the hope of deliverance; and therefore he simply affirms that he pays tribute, solely because he voluntarily refrains from exercising his right and power. Hence it is inferred that this takes nothing from his reign.

So far, the main thing Calvin seems to assert here is that this discourse is about Christ himself, and not about his followers. Christ is demonstrating his willing submission to the tyrants around him. Calvin continues:

But why does he not openly claim his right? It is because his kingly power was unknown to the collectors of the tribute. For, though his kingdom be spiritual, still we must maintain, that as he is the only Son of God, he is also the heir of the whole world, so that all things ought to be subject to him, and to acknowledge his authority. The meaning, therefore, is, that God has not appointed kings, and established governments over mankind, in such a manner as to place him who is the Son in the same rank indiscriminately with others, but yet that, of his own accord, he will be a servant along with others, till the glory of his kingdom be displayed.

Skipping down a little, and after a few choice words about the Pope, Calvin says this:

And therefore it is also highly foolish in the Anabaptists to torture these words for overturning political order, since it is more than certain, that Christ does not say any thing about a privilege common to believers, but only draws a comparison from the sons of kings, who, together with their domestics, are exempted.

So, again, it appears to me that this passage is about Christ teaching on His own kingly authority while, at the same time, demonstrating his willingness to voluntarily submit himself to tyrannical and unjust rulers.

What do you think?


So is this how the argument goes? Jesus and Peter are not obligated to pay a tax to the Temple since Jesus is the Son of the God who is worshiped in the Temple, and Peter is his servant. Taxing Jesus and Peter would be like a state government collecting property taxes on its own buildings or registration fees on its official vehicles. But since Jesus was not fully revealed in His Kingdom yet, He and Peter paid the tax to not provoke a conflict before its time.

Here is Matthew Henry:

We have here an account of Christ’s paying tribute.
I. Observe how it was demanded, Mat_17:24. Christ was now at Capernaum, his headquarters, where he mostly resided; he did not keep from thence, to decline being called upon for his dues, but rather came thither, to be ready to pay them.

  1. The tribute demanded was not any civil payment to the Roman powers, that was strictly exacted by the publicans, but the church-duties, the half shekel, about fifteen pence, which were required from every person or the service of the temple, and the defraying of the expenses of the worship there; it is called a ransom for the soul, Exo_30:12, etc. This was not so strictly exacted now as sometimes it had been, especially not in Galilee.
  2. The demand was very modest; the collectors stood in such awe of Christ, because of his mighty works, that they durst not speak to him about it, but applied themselves to Peter, whose house was in Capernaum, and probably in his house Christ lodged; he therefore was fittest to be spoken to as the housekeeper, and they presumed he knew his Master’s mind. Their question is, Doth not your master pay tribute? Some think that they sought an occasion against him, designing, if he refused, to represent him as disaffected to the temple-service, and his followers as lawless people, that would pay neither toll, tribute, nor custom, Ezr_4:13. It should rather seem, they asked this with respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this payment, they would not insist upon it.
    Peter presently his word for his Master; “Yes, certainly; my Master pays tribute; it is his principle and practice; you need not fear moving it to him.” (1.) He was made under the law (Gal_4:4); therefore under this law he was paid for at forty days old (Luk_2:22), and now he paid for himself, as one who, in his state of humiliation, had taken upon him the form of a servant, Php_2:7, Php_2:8. (2.) He was made sin for us, and was sent forth in the likeness of sinful flesh, Rom_8:3. Now this tax paid to the temple is called an atonement for the soul, Exo_30:15. Christ, that in every thing he might appear in the likeness of sinners, paid it though he had no sin to atone for. (3.) Thus it became him to fulfil all righteousness, Mat_3:15. He did this to set an example, [1.] Of rendering to all their due, tribute to whom tribute is due, Rom_13:7. The kingdom of Christ not being of this world, the favourites and officers of it are so far from having a power granted them, as such, to tax other people’s purses, that theirs are made liable to the powers that are. [2.] Of contributing to the support of the public worship of God in the places where we are. If we reap spiritual things, it is fit that we should return carnal things. The temple was now made a den of thieves, and the temple-worship a pretence for the opposition which the chief priests gave to Christ and his doctrine; and yet Christ paid this tribute. Note, Church-duties, legally imposed, are to be paid, notwithstanding church-corruptions. We must take care not to use our liberty as a cloak of covetousness or maliciousness, 1Pe_2:16. If Christ pay tribute, who can pretend an exemption?
    II. How it was disputed (Mat_17:25), not with the collectors themselves, lest they should be irritated, but with Peter, that he might be satisfied in the reason why Christ paid tribute, and might not mistake about it. He brought the collectors into the house; but Christ anticipated him, to give him a proof of his omniscience, and that no thought can be withholden from him. The disciples of Christ are never attacked without his knowledge.
    Now, 1. He appeals to the way of the kings of the earth, which is, to take tribute of strangers, of the subjects of their kingdom, or foreigners that deal with them, but not of their own children that are of their families; there is such a community of goods between parents and children, and a joint-interest in what they have, that it would be absurd for the parents to levy taxes upon the children, or demand any thing from them; it is like one hand taxing the other.
  3. He applies this to himself; Then are the children free. Christ is the Son of God, and Heir of all things; the temple is his temple (Mal_3:1), his Father’s house (Joh_2:16), in it he is faithful as a Son in his own house (Heb_3:6), and therefore not obliged to pay this tax for the service of the temple. Thus Christ asserts his right, lest his paying this tribute should be misimproved to the weakening of his title as the Son of God, and the King of Israel, and should have looked like a disowning of it himself. These immunities of the children are to be extended no further than our Lord Jesus himself. God’s children are freed by grace and adoption from the slavery of sin and Satan, but not from their subjection to civil magistrates in civil things; here the law of Christ is express; Let every soul (sanctified souls not excepted) be subject to the higher powers. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
    III. How it was paid, notwithstanding, Mat_17:27.
  4. For what reason Christ waived his privilege, and paid this tribute, though he was entitled to an exemption - Lest we should offend them. Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God; and it would have been a diminution to the honour of that great truth, which was yet a secret, to advance it now, to serve such a purpose as this. Therefore Christ drops that argument, and considers, that if he should refuse this payment, it would increase people’s prejudice against him and his doctrine, and alienate their affections from him, and therefore he resolves to pay it. Note, Christian prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather than give offence by insisting upon it. We must never decline our duty for fear of giving offence (Christ’s preaching and miracles offended them, yet he went on with him, Mat_15:12, Mat_15:13, better offend men than God); but we must sometimes deny ourselves in that which is our secular interest, rather than give offence; as Paul, 1Co_8:13; Rom_14:13.
  5. What course he took for the payment of this tax; he furnished himself with money for it out of the mouth of a fish (Mat_17:27), wherein appears,
    (1.) The poverty of Christ; he had not fifteen pence at command to pay his tax with, though he cured so many that were diseased; it seems, he did all gratis; for our sakes he became poor, 2Co_8:9. In his ordinary expenses, he lived upon alms (Luk_8:3), and in extraordinary ones, he lived upon miracles. He did not order Judas to pay this out of the bag which he carried; that was for subsistence, and he would not order that for his particular use, which was intended for the benefit of the community.
    (2.) The power of Christ, in fetching money out of a fish’s mouth for this purpose. Whether his omnipotence put it there, or his omniscience knew that it was there, it comes all to one; it was an evidence of his divinity, and that he is Lord of hosts. Those creatures that are most remote from man are at the command of Christ, even the fishes of the sea are under his feet (Psa_8:5); and to evidence his dominion in this lower world, and to accommodate himself to his present state of humiliation, he chose to take it out of a fish’s mouth, when he could have taken it out of an angel’s hand. Now observe,
    [1.] Peter must catch the fish by angling. Even in miracles he would use means to encourage industry and endeavour. Peter has something to do, and it is in the way of his own calling too; to teach us diligence in the employment we are called to, and called in. Do we expect that Christ should give to us? Let us be ready to work for him.
    [2.] The fish came up, with money in the mouth of it, which represents to us the reward of obedience in obedience. What work we do at Christ’s command brings its own pay along with it: In keeping God’s commands, as well as after keeping them, there is great reward, Psa_19:11. Peter was made a fisher of men, and those that he caught thus, came up; where the heart is opened to entertain Christ’s word, the hand is open to encourage his ministers.
    [3.] The piece of money was just enough to pay the tax for Christ and Peter. Thou shalt find a stater, the value of a Jewish shekel, which would pay the poll-tax for two, for it was half a shekel, Exo_30:13. Christ could as easily have commanded a bag of money as a piece of money; but he would teach us not to covet superfluities, but, having enough for our present occasions, therewith to be content, and not to distrust God, though we live but from hand to mouth. Christ made the fish his cash-keeper; and why may not we make God’s providence our storehouse and treasury? If we have a competency for today, let tomorrow take thought for the things of itself. Christ paid for himself and Peter, because it is probable that here he only was assessed, and of him it was at this time demanded; perhaps the rest had paid already, or were to pay elsewhere. The papists make a great mystery of Christ’s paying for Peter, as if this made him the head and representative of the whole church; whereas the payment of tribute for him was rather a sign of subjection than of superiority. His pretended successors pay no tribute, but exact it. Peter fished for this money, and therefore part of it went for his use. Those that are workers together with Christ in winning souls shall shine with him. Give it for thee and me. What Christ paid for himself was looked upon as a debt; what he paid for Peter was a courtesy to him. Note, it is a desirable thing, if God so please, to have wherewithal of this world’s goods, not only to be just, but to be kind; not only to be charitable to the poor, but obliging to our friends. What is a great estate good for, but that it enables a man to do so much the more good?
    Lastly, Observe, The evangelist records here the orders Christ gave to Peter, the warrant; the effect is not particularly mentioned, but taken for granted, and justly; for, with Christ, saying and doing are the same thing.

John Chyrostom says this:

And what He says is like this, “I am indeed free from paying tribute. For if the kings of the earth take it not of their sons, but of their subjects; much more ought I to be freed from this demand, I who am Son, not of an earthly king, but of the King of Heaven, and myself a King.” Do you see how He has distinguished the sons from them that are not sons? And if He were not a Son, to no purpose has He brought in the example also of the kings. “Yea,” one may say, “He is a Son, but not [truly] begotten.” Then is He not a Son; and if not a Son, nor [truly]begotten, neither does He belong to God, but to some other. But if He belong to another, then neither has the comparison its proper force. For He is discoursing not of the sons generally, but of the genuine sons, men’s very own; of them that share the kingdom with their parents.

Wherefore also in contradistinction He has mentioned the “strangers;” meaning by “strangers,” such as are not born of them, but by “their own,” those whom they have begotten of themselves.

And I would have you mark this also; how the high doctrine, revealed to Peter, He does hereby again confirm. And neither at this did He stop, but by His very condescension declares this self-same truth; an instance of exceeding wisdom.

For after thus speaking, He says, But lest we should offend them, go thou and cast an hook into the sea, and take up the fish that first comes up, and you shall find therein a piece of money; that take, and give unto them for me and you.

See how He neither declines the tribute, nor simply commands to pay it, but having first [proved] Himself not liable to it, then He gives it: the one to save the people, the other, those around Him, from offense. For He gives it not at all as a debt, but as doing the best for their weakness. Elsewhere, however, He despises the offense, when He was discoursing of meats at what seasons we ought to consider them that are offended, and at what to disregard them.


Is it by three witnesses that a thing is confirmed?

Calvin, Chrysostom, and Henry are all in agreement that this is speaking of Christ and His Sonship and authority over authorities. Even John Gill, the baptist, says the same “Though Christ could have maintained his right of exemption from payment, by such strong and clear reasons and arguments; yet he chose to forego it, lest any should be offended with him, and look upon him as a transgressor of the law; one that had no regard to the temple, and slighted the worship and service of it, and so be prejudiced against him, and his doctrines: which, by the way, may teach us to be careful to give no offence, to Jew or Gentile, or the church of God; though it may be to our own disadvantage, when the honour and interest of religion lie at stake.”


Joel, I think you’ve accurately summarized the argument. There are other aspects that could be brought into the discussion, but I believe that’s the gist.

And for the sake of anyone coming across this later, John Piper uses this passage to say basically the same thing as Toby Sumpter… but in support of vaccines and not in opposition to them: John Piper on Vaccines


Ok, but what do you think about the assertion that it proves that Christ’s disciples, and us, by extension, are “free?” “Tearfully, cheerfully free?”


Dear Lucas,

The point of the passage is that Christ is the Son of God and He was exempt from paying the temple tax. He pays it anyways to keep from being an offense and in this way still fulfills the Law.

I don’t agree that this is an example of submitting to tyranny or a reason that we would be exempt from lawful commands from church or civil authorities.

The temple tax was a lawful tax. Christ was exempt because He is the Son of the one who established it. That is the point of the passage confirmed by Calvin, Henry, Chrysostom, and Gill.

I think it is a misuse of the passage to do what Piper does but also would be a misuse to say this is a defense of tyranny.

I would point out that you must remember that in Calvin’s day the civil government would collect a tax for the Church. This was common in Henry’s day and even in early American history. If the Romans were collecting it (which neither Henry or Chrysostom suggested), it was still being used for the temple and therefore not a confiscation of the tax. It’s an interesting question though on whether civil government can or should collect a tax to support the Church.


What we don’t realize is that our government collects a tax for our churches, too. Tons of tax money is used to fund churches. Some churches aren’t large enough or chose not to participate, but there’s boatloads of tax money going to First Methodist and First Presbyterian and First Baptist. Love,

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I think we are missing the most obvious point of that passage…which in my view is what Jesus didn’t do, which was dig into his own pocket to scrounge up the change, and it wasn’t like he didn’t have anything. What else didn’t he do, he didn’t put in an expense request with his trusty treasurer, Judas, to pay it. I mean it’s hilarious. Rather than the most obvious direct illustration he could have provided to say, go ahead and pay the tyrant, he performs a miracle that pretty much mocks the entire system. Not far short of saying, oh you want you want money do you, I’ll give you double, spit out from the mouth of a fish, like Jonah.


I’ve always understood the ‘double’ to be paying for both Peter’s and Jesus’ tax.

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Yeah, he says as much.

Why didn’t he pay for the other 11? Or why did the tax collectors even ask “does your teacher pay the tax?” Were there teachers that didn’t pay the tax?

And when he does pay, he gives his reason, and it’s got nothing to do with their authority, it’s so not to hurt their feelings.

As I’ve said in other threads, I believe his compliance with what was obviously a wicked system was more about his timely glorification than about his obedience to the fifth commandment.

That is not to say that he broke the fifth commandment (he even explains why it wouldn’t break the 5th commandment if he didn’t pay), but rather to say that he didn’t need to revolt, he was going to bring down the temple and the Roman Empire anyways, in his time.

Conversely, when Judas brought to mob to arrest Jesus and Peter defends his teacher, it’s already established by that point that this was his time, and it was not that Peter was sinning by defending him, but rather by being an impediment to the timing which he ordained.

Again I’m not an libertarian, and certainly not an anarchist, but I don’t believe it is post-mil for Christians in a Christian nation to expect their government to abide God’s law. See Samuel 8:4-18.

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