The temple tax

Or William Barclay Describes Two Citizenships

In the Daily Study Bible Series commentary on Matthew, the late Scottish theologian William Barclay has this:

This question of tax-paying was not of merely historical interest.  Matthew was writing between AD 80 and 90.  The temple had been destroyed in AD 70.  So long as it stood, every Jew had been bound to pay the half-shekel Temple tax.  After the destruction of the Temple, the Roman government demanded that that tax should be paid to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome.  It is obvious how bitter a regulation that was for a Jew to stomach.  The matter of taxes was a real problem in the actual ministry of Jesus; and it was still a real problem in the days of the early church.

But Jesus was wise. . . .  The answer was that Caesar’s head was on [the coin].  “Well then,” said Jesus, “give it back to Caesar; it is his.  Give to Caesar what belongs to him; and give to God what belongs to him.”

With his unique wisdom Jesus never laid down rules and regulations; that is why his teaching is timeless and never goes out of date.  He always lays down principles.  Here he lays down a very great and very important one.  

Every Christian man has a double citizenship.  He is a citizen of the country in which he happens to live.  To it he owes many things. . . .

But the Christian is also a citizen of Heaven.  There are matters of religion and of principle in which the responsibility of the Christian is to God. . . .

– William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, Rev. Ed., The Daily Study Bible Series (The Westminster Press, 1957-1975), 273-4.

I believe Barclay makes a bit too much of the citizenship of this Earth in the remainder of the second-to-last paragraph (that I opted to omit here).  Whether he had an agenda in mind, I cannot know, but I know I have one:  to hone in on, and encourage allegiance to, the primary, eternal Kingdom of God.  I am not sure Matthew’s emphasis was quite as stark as Barclay’s on the universal principle of dual citizenship, but I do take it that a timeless truth is nestled here.  Matthew 22:15-22 does embody a “duality” principle.  I am a citizen of two kingdoms.  Accordingly, I will pay my taxes, I will be a law-abiding person, and I will try to be be respectable in my earthly scenario.  I will also trust that my abiding citizenship is in the eternal Kingdom.  The loyalty is not split evenly—every two dollars allocated to one kingdom or the other.  No, the transcending loyalty is to God’s rule (and that allegiance will positively affect the lesser citizenship).


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