Below is a rough translation of and some initial comments for Matthew 22:15-22, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for Sunday, October 19. Your comments are always welcomed.
15 Τότε πορευθέντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι συμβούλιον ἔλαβον ὅπως αὐτὸν παγιδεύσωσιν ἐν λόγῳ.
Then having gone the Pharisees took counsel how they might entrap him in a word.
πορευθέντες: APPart npm, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on one's journey
ἔλαβον: AAI 3p, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing in order to use it
παγιδεύσωσιν: AASubj 3p, παγιδεύω, 1) to ensnare, entrap 1a) of birds
1. The context of this pericope is that Jesus has entered Jerusalem with great fanfare (21:1-11) and having cleansed the temple (21:12-17) he is back now teaching in the temple. The chief priests and elders question his authority, which evokes two parables, at the end of which Matthew says “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet” (21:25-26). Again Jesus gives a parable that is aimed at the leadership, the parable of the wedding banquet and the addendum of the wrongly-dressed guest (22:1-14). Today’s pericope is the first of three attempts by various groups allied in leadership to entrap Jesus. Following that, Jesus goes on the offensive in challenging them (22:41-46).
2. The word ‘entrap’ (παγιδεύω) is used here for the only time in the NT. As the definition suggests, it is a hunting term. I am not clear on whether their hope is to trick Jesus into saying something actionable, in order to arrest him, or to make him say something that will turn the tide of his popularity against him.
16 καὶ ἀποστέλλουσιν αὐτῷ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτῶν μετὰ τῶν Ἡρῳδιανῶν
λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀληθὴς εἶ καὶ τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν
ἀληθείᾳ διδάσκεις, καὶ οὐ μέλει σοι περὶ οὐδενός, οὐ γὰρ βλέπεις εἰς
And they send to him their disciples with the Herodians saying, “Teacher, we have known that you are true and you teach the way of God in truth, and you do not care about no one, for you do not look into a face of humans.
ἀποστέλλουσιν: PAI 3p, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed
λέγοντες: PAPart apm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
οἴδαμεν: PerfAI 1p, εἴδω, ἴδω, to see, the other to know.
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
διδάσκεις: PAI 2s, διδάσκω, 1) to teach
μέλει: PAI 3s, μέλω; it is a care: τινί, to one;
βλέπεις: PAI 2s, βλέπω, 1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye
1. The fact that the Pharisees are in a position to send, not only some of their disciples but some of the “Herodians” as well, indicates that they are in consort with the Herodians. Mark also mentions the Herodians – twice (3:6 and 12:13), both times as co-conspirators with the Pharisees. The term does not arise anywhere else in the NT. Beyond the self-evident name, it does not appear that there is a lot of information about this group.
2. The effusive praise that they offer has already been described by Matthew as the bait in a snare.
17 εἰπὲ οὖν ἡμῖν τί σοι δοκεῖ: ἔξεστιν δοῦναι κῆνσον Καίσαρι ἢ οὔ;
Therefore, say to us what you opine: Is it lawful to give the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
εἰπὲ: AAImpv 2s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δοκεῖ: PAI 3s, δοκέω, 1) to be of opinion, think, suppose 2) to seem, to be accounted, reputed 3) it seems to me
ἔξεστιν: PAI 3s, ἔξεστι, 1) it is lawful
δοῦναι: AAInf, δίδωμι, 1) to give 2) to give something to someone
1. The word “lawful” (ἔξεστι) appears 9x in Matthew, as well as in the other gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It does not refer strictly to religious laws, like the law of Moses. In Acts 22, for example, Paul asks a Centurion whether it is lawful for him to flog an un-condemned Roman citizen – obviously a reference to Roman laws and not the law of Moses.
2. The ambiguity of the word “lawful” may be part of the trap. Hebrew law may suggest one thing; Imperial law may suggest another. How Jesus hears and responds to the word “lawful” itself may be an indicator of this religious blasphemy or his political sedition – the twin jaws of this trap.
3. I have translated as “imperial tax” following the ESV because the root of the word κῆνσον is the word for “census,” which would be taken of conquered areas and on which the tax/tribute would be levied.
4. While the practical aspect of the imperial tax would be that conscripting armies is a costly affair (and many would-be emperors were done in by debt as much as military strategy), the symbolic effect is that one acknowledges the emperor’s lordship. This question, then, is not unrelated to questions regarding King David and the expectation of a messiah from David’s lineage – the topic of Jesus’ question to the religious leaders at the end of this chapter.
18 γνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πονηρίαν αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Τί με πειράζετε, ὑποκριταί;
Yet Jesus, having known their evil, said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites!
γνοὺς: AAPart nsm, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
εἶπεν: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πειράζετε: PAI 2p, πειράζω, 1) to try whether a thing can be done 1a) to attempt, endeavour 2) to try, make trial of, test:
1. I think the key word here is “hypocrites!” Jesus does not just summons a clever answer, his answer exposes the hypocrisy behind the trap.
2. The verb “test” (πειράζω) is used of the religious leadership here and elsewhere, and of the devil in c.4.
19 ἐπιδείξατέ μοι τὸ νόμισμα τοῦ κήνσου. οἱ δὲ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δηνάριον.
Show me the coin of the imperial tax.” And they brought to him a denarius.
ἐπιδείξατέ : AAImpv 2p, ἐπιδείκνυμι, 1) to exhibit, show 1a) to bring forth to view, to show 1a1) furnish to be looked at, produce what may looked at
προσήνεγκαν: προσφέρω, 1) to bring to, lead to
1. As many have pointed out, this conversation seems to be taking place in the temple (21:23), where this coin would be unwelcomed because it bears the image of a living thing. Temple coinage – which one would obtain via a money-changer – was imprinted with numbers, letters, or even depictions of harvested wheat, but not a living thing, in deference to the commandment in Exodus 20:4.
20 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τίνος ἡ εἰκὼν αὕτη καὶ ἡ ἐπιγραφή;
And he says to them, “Who [is] this icon and the inscription?”
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. The word εἰκὼν is not the word in the LXX of Exodus 20:4 (εἴδωλον), but is the word in the creation story of Genesis 1:27, where God creates humanity in God’s image (εἰκόνα).
21 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Καίσαρος. τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος
Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ.
They say to him, “Caesar.” Then he says to them, “Therefore, give the things of Caesar to Caesar and the things of God to God.”
λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἀπόδοτε: AAImpv 2p, ἀποδίδωμι, 1) to deliver, to give away for one's own profit what is one's own, to sell 2) to pay off, discharge what is due
1. As far as I can tell, this is the only time Jesus mentions Caesar by name. Part of interpreting the Scriptures is to raise the question of whether Jesus is actually referencing Caesar or his underlings throughout his parables and teachings.
22 καὶ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν, καὶ ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθαν.
And having heard, they marveled, and having left him they went away.
ἀκούσαντες: AAPart npm, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing,
ἐθαύμασαν: AAI 3p, θαυμάζω, 1) to wonder, wonder at, marvel
ἀφέντες: AAPart npm, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away … 3b) to depart from anyone
ἀπῆλθαν: AAI 3p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart
1. The Herodians and disciples of the Pharisees have struck out. On deck are the Sadducees and in the hole are some more Pharisees. Jesus will pitch a one-two-three inning. This comment has been brought to you by the ongoing playoffs of Major League Baseball.
Many scribes near and far have pondered the implications of this conclusion to Jesus’ query. I’m not sure if there is content here, as much as form. The structure of the whole encounter has been between two options – acquiescence to the emperor or resistance to the emperor in the name of fidelity to God. The structure is introduced by the persons involved – Herodians and Pharisees, who are strange bedfellows, since their commitments should have put them on opposite sides of this matter. But, again, it is not a genuine question; it is a trap. The structure lies in the ironic praise that the Herodians and Pharisees offer to Jesus, as one who teaches the way of God in truth and does not give attention to the face of humans. The structure is also in the question that the Herodians and Pharisees ask, “Yes or no to the imperial tax?” Likewise, I suggest that the structure is implied in the word “lawful,” which can refer to the imperial “law of the land” or the religious “law of God.” Jesus’ answer follows that structure and makes it complete. Only now the questioners are put into the position of having to interpret the content. To give the things of Caesar to Caesar means … what? From the empire’s point of view, it is whatever Caesar requires or demands from a vassal state. To give the things of God to God means … what? From a religious point of view, the earth is the lord’s and everything in it. Jesus’ answer – it seems to me – does not solve or provide content for the questions we might ask of this text regarding taxation and the interplay between church and state. It merely provides the structure, a framework of a way of broaching the questions we ask.