The Temple Tax And The Age Of The Disciples

A Question For Peter

Jesus and the disciples have just retuned home Capernaum and shortly after Peter encounters those who collect the half-shekel temple tax. The collectors ask Peter if Jesus pays the tax, and Peter answers “Of course he does”.

Taxes and Fish

Upon returning home, Jesus speaks first. He says “Simon, what’s your opinion? The kings of earth — from whom do they collect duties and taxes? From their own sons or from others?” Peter replies “From others”, as He remembers what had happened earlier. Jesus continues, “Than, the sons are exempt. But to avoid offending them — go to the lake, throw out a line, and take the first fish you catch. Open its mouth and you will find a shekel. Take it out and give it to them for me and for you.”

The Unwritten Story

I’m not sure exactly what Peter is thinking, but at this point he knows to just do what Jesus says without asking why or how. Matthew doesn’t record Peter’s fishing expedition nor his reaction to catching a fish with a shekel in it. Did he catch it right away, or did it take a while, giving him plenty of time to think about answering for Jesus before asking him how he should respond? But this story does raise some questions other than how the coin got in the fish. 

More Questions Than Answers

Questions about why they were collecting the half- shekel temple tax. And as we dig, we find that this tax was commanded back in Exodus 30:11-16. It was a tax to support the priests and the work of the tabernacle/temple.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.” NIV

And Jesus says that He is not required to pay this tax, but does so in order not to offend those collecting the tax, and because Peter has already said he would.

This passage also raises another question. Where is the tax for the other 11 disciples? This was a tax that was required of all males 20 years old and older. Could it be that the other disciples were all younger than 20? That would fit with the cultural model of education and discipleship (another post for another day).

Something To Think About

Two thoughts from this passage for you to ponder.

First – Have you ever considered that the disciples may have been teenagers? What does that do to change your perspective?

Second – How often do we answer other’s questions about what God would do in certain situations without taking the time to ask him first?

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