Category Archives: Judaism

Mis-Readings Acts: The Primacy of the Name “Christian”

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26)

In today’s media, when people speak of “Christians,” they don’t necessarily mean those who have made a deep commitment to following Jesus and living by his ways. In fact, “Christian” has become increasingly problematic in the way it can be politically loaded.

Also of interest is the way in Western Christianity, the word Christian has become the preferred moniker for those following (in a general sense) the teachings of Christ or those who claim some nominal connection to Christianity. To the contrary, the few times the label occurs in Christian Scripture, it appears to be the least preferred designation.

I have even heard apologists for the divine origin of name “Christian” cite Isa 62:2 as a prooftext:

The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.” 

However, a bit of context will clear this reading up. The Isaiah belongs to an oracle about Jerusalem (v. 1), where Jerusalem’s name will be changed from “Deserted” and “Desolate” to Hephzibah (my delight) and Beulah (married) (v. 4). In other words, Isaiah is quite clear on what the new name will be.

A more accurate assessment of Acts 11:26 is that the followers of Jesus received the appellation “Christian” by Greek speakers who made the connection between Christ and his followers, thus, Χριστιανοί (Christians). In the same way that Herod’s adherents were known as Ἡρῳδιανοί (Herodians). Later, in Acts 26:28, Agrippa asks Paul if the the apostle was seeking to persuade him to become a “Christian.” Thus, it was Agrippa’s word not Paul’s.

The only other place the word appears in the New Testament is in 1 Pet 4:16 and there it serves as an accusation made of someone such as a governmental officials: but if one suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name” (ASV). “In this name” is best seen as reflecting the root of the word: Christ. And in this case, if an accuser calls you by the name Christian…

In his new commentary on Acts, Craig Keener is correct when he writes that the early

Christians called themselves “saints,” “brothers,” “believers,” “the way,” or “disciples,” several of these being terms that outsiders would not readily concede to them. (Keener, Craig S. 3:1—14:28. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary 2. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.0. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013).

Perhaps these more generic terms might be more useful for Christian’s self-identity today. While I’m happy to be identified as a Christian-—when that word means one who is committed to Jesus and his ways—these terms that outsiders are not likely to use of us might be the more powerful designations for those of us who follow Jesus.

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Mis-Readings Acts: Did the Apostles Distribute the Holy Spirit?

I learned a way of reading Acts that went something like this: The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, who were then able to pass the Holy Spirit on to others, but these others could not pass the Spirit beyond themselves. I later learned that this understanding was a major plank in Cessationism, once common among the Churches of Christ and a number of other protestant groups. Cessationism is the belief that the spiritual gifts were limited to the first century and after the New Testament was in place, the spiritual gifts were no longer necessary.

Those who espouse this view distinguish between the empowering of the Holy Spirit (sometimes called the “miraculous measure” of the Spirit) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (or the “ordinary measure” of the Spirit), which all believers receive. Thus, in this way of thinking, the apostles received the empowering of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1–4 but believers received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38–39. What a surprise it was to find out that Luke does not seem to know these distinctions. In fact, Luke doesn’t deal much with any experience of the Spirit that might be called “indwelling,” instead he focused consistently on how the Spirit empowered the early church to do extraordinary things. The indwelling motif belongs to Paul and John but is not at home in Luke’s writings.

This article contends that only one person ever had the privilege of distributing the Holy Spirit and is so named by John the Baptist as the one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:15–17; Acts 1:5; 11:16). Certainly the apostles experienced the Holy Spirit in powerful ways, but they do not actually “give” the Holy Spirit to others.

In the cessationist model, only those whom the apostles laid hands on could work miracles but they could not pass on the Holy Spirit in the way they had received it. A much more biblical understanding is possible.

An ambiguity on this topic reaches back to the tension found in the Pentateuch regarding Moses’s laying hands on Joshua. In Numbers 27:18, the Lord commands Moses to lay hands on Joshua who already has the spirit (over-translated as “spirit of leadership” in the NIV 2011) within him. Yet in Deuteronomy 34:9, Joshua is said to have the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid hands on him:

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because (כִּי) Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.

For sure, the “spirit” texts in the Hebrew Bible can be hard to interpret since the word “spirit” does not always refer to the Holy Spirit. In the case the Deut 34:9, for example, the text could read that Joshua was filled with the “influence of wisdom,” or simply “wisdom.” Nonetheless, in this blog, I’m assuming the early church would have heard “Holy Spirit” in Deut 34:9.

More importantly for our purposes here is that “because” (כִּי) can be translated as “when” and a number of other coordinating words. In short, this word is not necessarily causal. I suggest that this ambiguity between these two texts in the Pentateuch support the understanding that Moses participated with God in the giving of the Spirit to Joshua but he was never source, cause, or conduit for the Holy Spirit. Thus, the ambiguity results from the coming of the Spirit on others at the occasion of hands being laid on an individual. 

Now let’s look at several proof texts in Acts used by cessationists to support the notion that the apostles could give pass on the Holy Spirit.

The first involves the commissioning of the seven servants to serve the Hellenistic Jewish widows in Acts 6:1–6. When these Greek-named servants were presented to the apostles, Luke tells us, the apostles prayed for them and laid their hands on them. Shortly thereafter, Stephen, one of the seven, is said to have performed great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8), language previously used of the apostles (Acts 2:43; 5:12; cf. 14:3). The assumption that Stephen is able to do miracles because the apostles laid hands on him can only be maintained if one ignores what Luke has already made clear: all seven of those chosen to serve the widows were “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3; note the echo of Deut 34:9). 

Next, let’s notice the delayed coming of the Holy Spirit on the Samaritans in Acts 8.

When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:15–17)

A couple of notes make this text clearer. First when Peter and John came to Samaria, it was because something was off with the way the earliest Christians experienced the Spirit: the Holy Spirit has not “yet” (οὐδέπω), they had simply (μόνον) been baptized. This is Luke’s contrast. From his point of view, some deficiency existed that needed a remedy. In response to this deficiency, the apostles came to pray that the Samaritans “might receive” (λάβωσιν; a subjunctive that expresses potentiality) the Holy Spirit. Therefore, even the apostles Peter and John came with the hope, but not the certainty, that the believers would receive the Holy Spirit. Finally God honoured their prayer for the believers by granting the Spirit when they laid hands on them. Luke keeps the relationship between the the Holy Spirit and the apostles’ hands loose by using “and” (καὶ) between the clauses in v. 17.

Surprisingly, it is Simon who makes the causal connection—and he was wrong:

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:18–19)

Clearly Simon wanted the ability to pass on the Holy Spirit, even offering money to gain this privilege. He, with modern cessationists, confused correlation with causation. The apostles certainly participated with God who gave the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans but Luke has already made it clear that even the apostles prayed that the believers might receive the Spirit. They are not Spirit-Pez dispensers.

The connection between hands and Spirit also occurs in the story of Saul’s call:

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 9:17)

This text is the closest we have in Acts that might point to a causal relationship between laying on of hands and the reception of the Spirit. Ananias was sent so that (ὅπως) Saul might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. For those maintaining a cessationist viewpoint, this is an unfortunate text because Ananias is not an apostle. That is, the case of Ananias is the exception that breaks the cessationist contention that the only the apostles passed on the Spirit. And since those who received the Spirit could not pass it on to a third generation of believers, Saul breaks the other side of the case. Rather Ananias was the one who laid hands on Paul; Paul, in turn, laid hands on Timothy (2 Tim 1:6; cf 1 Tim 4:14). However, as I have argued here, this whole line of reasoning is faulty.

Simply the notion of human distribution of the Holy Spirit is not consistent with the whole biblical witness. Rather, and more properly, God sometimes allows humans to participate in sharing of God’s presence but humans should never be confused for the source, cause, or conduit of the presence of the Spirit. The presence of God always transcends human capacity to handle or control God’s power.

Finally, one last account in Acts involves hands and the Spirit. Paul has a rather unexpected encounter with some followers of John the Baptist in Ephesus (Acts 19: 1–6). In vv. 5–7, the NIV translates,

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

While the occasion of receiving the Holy Spirit is when Paul laid hands on them, the text does not say that Paul is some sort of conduit for the Holy Spirit. The relationship of the grammar of this sentence is that we have a circumstantial participle (“placed”) in relationship to the finite verb (“came”). In short, on the occasion of Paul placing his hands on them, the Spirit came upon them.

I believed that Luke picked up the ambiguity one finds in the Pentateuch between the Spirit and the laying of hands and he feels no need to alleviated that tension for us. Furthermore, this ambiguity plays into Luke’s understanding of the sovereignty of God and human participation in the presence of God. As far as spiritual gifts are concerned, Paul and Luke agree. Luke in Acts 2:4 wrote, All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability; Paul said in 1 Cor 12:11, ” the same Spirit… allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

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Mis-Readings Acts: What Shall We Do?

“What shall we do?” When I hear this question, it always reminds me of Acts 2:38. After all it sets up Acts 2:38:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (τί ποιήσωμεν;) Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:37–38)

So what we generally hear as the answer to this question is that people need to be baptized. However, if Luke is consistent, he is much more interested in the repenting side of the equation. And he has some outcomes we tend to minimize or not mention at all as we prepare people for baptism. Allow me to demonstrate.

Surprisingly the question occurs more than once in Luke-Acts. And it appears to be thematic for Luke.

The question first appears in Luke 3 as a response to John the Baptist’s preaching. John preached, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. The crowd responded, “What should we do then?” John’s answer undoubtedly caught his listeners off guard

Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.

Again, in the very same context (3:12), tax collectors who came for baptism and asked, “Teacher, “what should we do?”

Don’t collect any more than you are required to.

Yet, again and still the same context (3:14), soldiers coming for baptism also asked, “What shall we do?

Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.

In each case, people are called on to repent relative to how they handle their stuff and the way they take stuff from others.

The questions at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel appears to parallel the same question at the beginning of Acts. John preached at the beginning of the Gospel; Peter at the beginning of Acts. They both called on people to repent. They both prepared people for baptism.

Perhaps, given Luke‘s interest to show how repenting has an impact on how we handle our stuff, Luke might have the same interest in Acts. In Acts, the people show that they repented by being baptism—the relationship between repenting and baptism is a topic for a later discussion—and by taking on other behaviours such as sharing their resources in common, including selling property to meet the needs of others (2:44–45; 4:32, 34–35). So as in Luke so also in Acts, repenting involves our stuff and how we might get our stuff.

So what should we do? Repent—and share your stuff and not take more than you need! Perhaps this teaching should be restored to what we tell people preparing to be baptized.

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Mis-Readings Acts: God Gives the Holy to Those Who Obey Him.

We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32).

The text above has been read to say that God gives the Holy Spirit only to those who obey him or even God gives the Holy Spirit because people have obeyed him. However, neither of these readings quite get what Luke is actually saying.

Context. The context of this text is Peter and the other apostles explaining to the Jewish Sanhedrin why they must continue to speak in the name of Jesus despite the Sanhedrin’s prohibition. Peter explained,

We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him (Acts 5:29–32).

The point Peter makes here is that the apostles are witnesses of the life and work of Jesus to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. The Holy Spirit is also a witness and that Holy Spirit has been given to the apostles and not the Sanhedrin. [See on this point, Keener, Craig S. 3:1—14:28. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary 2. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.0. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013].

Grammar. Sometime English just won’t do. This text is more nuanced than “so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” would reveal. The phrase “to those who obey him” (τοῖς πειθαρχοῦσιν αὐτῷ) contains a present participle that might be rendered better as “to those who are obeying him.” The Sanhedrin is not obeying at present; the apostles are. (Note also that “we must obey” [πειθαρχεῖν] begins Peter’s response in v. 29).

Implication. Frederick D. Bruner (A Theology of the Holy Spirit [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997], 172) is correct when he notes that here obedience is the result of the prior presence of the Spirit in the lives of the apostolic witnesses (172). Thus consistent with Luke, the Holy Spirit empowers the believers to obey God.

Thus, God has given the Spirit to those who are currently obeying him! Does your obeying reflect the presence of the Spirit?

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Mis-Readings Acts: Promised Only to the Apostles?

A narrow reading of John’s prediction that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit, as repeated in Acts 1:4–5, is that John’s prediction was specifically about the apostles. However, Luke’s presentation of John’s prediction is much broader, in fact, much broader. For example, Luke records,

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit… (Luke 3:15–16 NIV).

Luke is clear that John’s audience were people in general. John claimed that he could only baptize the people in water but the Messiah will baptize “you” (his audience) with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 13:24; 19:2–4). These words are then picked up in Acts to refer to what the apostles would soon experience on Pentecost (Acts 1:4–5). Later when Luke narrates how the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and his household, he recalled John’s words:

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”(Acts 11:16–17)

The “us” of this text is Peter’s Jewish Christian audience (“us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ”) and the “same gift” (ἴσην δωρεὰν) is the Holy Spirit which parallels what Peter promised to all believer in Acts 2:38 (δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος). Luke does not see the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to be fundamentally different from other “comings” of the Spirit on people throughout Acts. This topic will be treated more fully in a later blog, but for now the word “promise” through Acts 1 and 2 is my focus.

  1. The early disciples are commanded to go to Jerusalem and “wait for what the Father has promised which you have heard about from me” (1:4; cf. Luke 24:49). He then links this promise to be what John had said (1:5).
  2. In Acts 2:33, Peter, in his first sermon, explained that the exalted Jesus “has received the promised Holy Spirit and now pours out what you see and hear.”
  3. In Acts 2:38, Peter’s well-known invitation to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin is followed by “and you will receive (future tense–think about it!) the Holy Spirit.” Baptism and repentance, then, prepares the way for the Holy Spirit to come. For Luke, this is not so odd as Jesus received the Spirit following his baptism, as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22).
  4. Luke is not done yet. After noting that people who come to Jesus will “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he continued, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39 NIV). This is Luke’s way to say that the Messiah will continue to pour out his Spirit on his people. Luke gives us no reason to think that he is now talking of a different experience when it comes to receiving the Spirit of God.

This is consistent in Paul’s writings, too. In 1 Cor 12:13, Paul writes, “For we were all baptized by [in, with] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Paul see all Christians as those who have been baptized “in” one Spirit.

And then in Titus 3:4–6, Paul rejoiced that “…when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Here Paul used the language of Pentecost to speak of all those who have been saved.

Finally, from Luke’s perspective, the Holy Spirit is the certain sign that God has kept his promise.

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Mis-Readings Acts: The Case of the Missing Pronoun

In this second installment of “Mis-Reading Acts,” I focus on whether the empowering of the Holy Spirit came on just the twelve apostles or the whole community of believers numbered by Luke at “about one hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15). Scholars from the Restoration Movement have commonly argued that the Holy Spirit came only upon the Twelve on Pentecost. One can trace this from McGarvey’s original commentary on Acts (1872), through his revised edition (1892), and then to modern restorationists, such as Gaertner (College Press NIV Commentary, 1993) and Moore (College Press NIV Commentary, 2011).

Other commentators could certainly be added, but I’m most interested in the perpetuation of the pronoun-antecedent argument within this interpretive tradition that argues that if one follows the pronouns from Acts 1 to the “they” in Acts 2, the text is clear that the Holy Spirit only filled the apostles. Since McGarvey’s argument is typical, I quote him from his revised 1892 commentary (p. 21):

The persons thus assembled together and filled with the Holy Spirit were not, as many have supposed, the one hundred and twenty disciples mentioned in a parenthesis in the previous chapter, but the twelve apostles. This is made certain by the grammatical connection between the first verse of this chapter [2] and the last of the preceding [1]. Taken together they read as follows: “And they gave lots for them and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place.”

McGarvey attached a footnote to this paragraph that amplified his understanding of Acts 1 and 2:

The supposition first advanced by Chrysostom, and adopted very generally by the more recent commentators, that all the one hundred and twenty were included, and the view advanced in modern time (see Alford in loco), that all the disciples of Jesus who had come to the feast were included are entirely without support in the context; and the only plausible reason given for either is the universal language employed in the quotation made below from Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,” etc. But it is obvious at a glance that these words were not all fulfilled on that occasion. Nobody then present was seeing visions, or dreaming dreams. There was here only the beginning of a fulfillment which afterward was extended until all was done which Joel predicted.

First, McGarvey is wrong. Acts 2:1 in Greek does not have the pronoun “they.” The text instead reads, “all were together in the same place.” The phrase ἦσαν πάντες (“all were”) is the “to be” verb followed by its subject. And verse 4 reads, ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου, all were filled of the Holy Spirit. The subject in each case is “all.” In English translation “they” is for the sake of English sense. Furthermore, the relationship between pronouns and their antecedents in Greek differs from English.

So the pronoun-antecedent relationship upon which McGarvey—and all later interpreters—built his case does not exist in the original language of Acts.

Second, Luke’s intent is for his readers to understand that the Holy Spirit came upon all of the believers present at Pentecost. Allow me to share several lines of reasoning.

  1. The trajectory of the Old Testament is that God wants to give his Spirit to his people. In Num 11:29–30, in response to the Spirit coming upon two elders who had failed to show up at their consecration, Joshua begged Moses to put a stop to the prophesying elders. Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’S people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
  2. The testimony of the prophets is the same as this but no clearer than in Joel 2, the text cited by Peter. On this matter, McGarvey misreads Acts by not including the testimony of Luke’s Gospel. Against McGarvey’s contention these words were not all fulfilled that day, I would agree. Some of them were already being fulfilled in the earliest chapters of the Gospel of Luke where one finds dreams, visions, and prophesy. And, of course, these phenomena continued to happen throughout the narrative of Acts.

Other points to be made include

  1. Peter says that the prophecy from Joel is that which was taking place before the eyes of his hearers: “This is what is spoken…” (Acts 2:16). This being the case, then, the Holy Spirit coming upon just the Twelve would hardly satisfy the intent of Joel’s text that the Holy Spirit was to come upon all people. Luke has conveniently informed his readers that women were among the earliest gathering of Jesus’ followers.
  2. Next John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize more than a few in the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke 3:15–17 reads, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ The “you” here has “people” as it antecedent-–if one might be looking for an antecedent argument.
  3. One last piece of evidence for the Holy Spirit coming on more than the Apostles on Pentecost is a careful reading of Acts 2:38–39. Since this text will be examined in a future blog, suffice it here to say that the gift of the Holy Spirit is best read as the Holy Spirit as the gift. And there is no compelling reason in Luke-Acts to read the Holy Spirit here as a “different” gift than the Holy Spirit is throughout the book of Acts.

I conclude this piece with a minority voice among Restorationists Barton W. Johnson who in his People’s New Testament commented on Acts 2:1:

They were all… in one place. Not only the apostles, but the hundred and twenty disciples. They probably had an intimation that the promised day had come.

And again on v. 4:

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. All the disciples present. To be filled implies that the human spirit within was overwhelmed by, or immersed in, the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit was not a sprinkling, but an outpouring that overwhelmed the human spirit.

(See https://www.ccel.org/ccel/johnson_bw/pnt.pnt05.pnt0502.html)

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Give God what is God’s

 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s

and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

Mark 12.17

This is the answer Jesus gave the religious leaders and politicians who attempted to trap him into admitting that Jews should pay tribute to Caesar. Believers today tend to understand Jesus’ answers to be, “Of course, good Christians pay their taxes.” However, that understanding does not arise from a historical and contextual reading of this text.

First, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously—that Jews should pay taxes to Caesar—then his adversaries could have revealed Jesus as the false Messiah they believed him to be.  Since no true King of Israel would concede that tribute should be paid a pagan overlord like Caesar.

Secondly, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously that Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, then his adversaries could have handed him over to Rome as a subversive and be done with him.

So what did Jesus’ response mean?  How did Jesus avoid both of these trap doors?

By reviewing the image on the coinage, Jesus underscored the religious leaders and politicians’ hypocrisy in using “Caesar’s” money in the first place. Though the Jews strongly detested images of any kind as in keeping with the first of the Ten Commandments (not to make graven images), they had, in this case, capitulated. Now they had to admit how dependent they really were on Rome; and consequently—if they thought more deeply about it, how little they actually trusted God. “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19.15) was truer than any of them would have admitted.

What amazed the people is not that Jesus said believers should pay their taxes without actually saying believers should pay their taxes; but that Jesus had been able to bypassed totally the either/or mentality of his opponents (as well as most Christian interpreters today).

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s || and to God what is God’s.”

Using the common poetic device of parallelism Jesus crafted a conundrum (a riddle or parable designed to tease and puzzle one into a deeper levels of understanding).  Thus when we read this saying along the lines of “Pay your taxes and don’t forget your tithes” we greatly miss the point; most of us give Caesar more money than we do the church anyway.

The wonder of the statement is that once we give God his due, what is left for Caesar?  Nothing!  This was the beauty of the statement!  It rested in the eye of the beholder!  One inclined to trust Caesar would hear it one way; while those inclined to trust God would hear it another.

He who has an ear to hear…

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