Every Jew throughout the world was required to pay an annual tribute or capitation-tax of half a shekel, about twenty-five cents, in acknowledgment of God's sovereignty and for the maintenance of the temple service, Ex 30:12-15. It was with reference to this that Christ says, in effect, Mt 17:25-26, "If this tribute be levied in the name of The Father, then I, The Son, am free." In other New Testament passages, tribute means the tax levied by the Romans. On the question of paying tribute to foreigners and idolaters, Mt 22:16-22, Christ gave a reply which neither party could stigmatize as rebellious, or as unpatriotic and irreligious. By themselves using Caesar's currency, both parties acknowledged the fact of his supremacy. Christ warns them to render to all men their dues; and above all to regard the claims of him whose superscription is on every thing, 1Co 10:31; 1Pe 2:9,13.
a tax imposed by a king on his subjects (2Sa 20:24; 1Ki 4:6; Ro 13:6). In Mt 17:24-27 the word denotes the temple rate (the "didrachma," the "half-shekel," as rendered by the R.V.) which was required to be paid for the support of the temple by every Jew above twenty years of age (Ex 30:12; 2Ki 12:4; 2Ch 24:6,9). It was not a civil but a religious tax.
In Mt 22:17; Mr 12:14; Lu 20:22, the word may be interpreted as denoting the capitation tax which the Romans imposed on the Jewish people. It may, however, be legitimately regarded as denoting any tax whatever imposed by a foreign power on the people of Israel. The "tribute money" shown to our Lord (Mt 22:19) was the denarius, bearing Caesar's superscription. It was the tax paid by every Jew to the Romans. (See Penny.)
(See TAX.) The use of the word in the Old Testament is in reference to the almost universal custom whereby the conquering nation (whether Egyptian, Assyrian, or Roman) levied large and in many cases recurring sums of money from the nations subjugated by them; and the monuments erected by the conquerors naturally present this subject very frequently. In Mt 17:24-27, "the didrachma receivers said to Peter, Doth not your Master pay the didrachma? He saith, Yes?" Their question implies it was the religious impost; no civil tax would have been asked in such a tone, as if its payment dare be questioned. The half-shekel or half-stater or didrachma (fifteen pence) was the universally recognized due required from every Israelite grown male in support of the sanctuary services, in the benefits of which he had a share: according to Ex 30:11-15. (See MONEY; JESUS CHRIST; PETER.)
Collected both before and after the Babylonian captivity (2Ki 12:4; 2Ch 24:9) from all Jews wherever sojourning (Josephus 18:9, section 1; Philo Monarch. 2:2, section 224). Hence Peter at once recognized the obligation. But Christ, while to avoid offense (wherein Paul imitated his Master in a different case, 1Co 9:4-19) He miraculously supplied the stater in the fish, for Himself and Peter, yet claimed freedom from the payment to the temple, seeing He was its Lord for whose service the tribute was collected. As Son of the heavenly King He was free from the legal exactions which bound all others, since the law finds its antitypical realization in Him the Son of God and "the end of the law" (Ro 10:4).
The temple offerings, for which the half shekels were collected, through Him become needless to His people also; hence they, by virtue of union with Him in justification and sanctification, are secondarily included in His pregnant saying, "then are the children (not merely the SON) free" (Joh 8:35-36; Ga 4:3-7; 5:1). As children with Him, they are sons of the King and share the kingdom (Ro 8:15-17). The legal term "the didrachma" Matthew uses as one so familiar to his readers as to need no explanation; he must therefore have written about the time, alleged, namely, some time before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, after which an explanatory comment would have been needed such as Josephus gives (Ant. 18:10, section 1). The undesigned omission in Matthew confirms the genuineness. and truth of his Gospel.
Various Hebrew words are thus represented, but the signification in general is that which one nation or people paid to another, either in money or kind (2Ki 3:4), in order to be left in peaceable possession. Some of the Canaanites were not driven out of the land, but they paid tribute to the Israelites, and Solomon put others under tribute. Jos 17:13; 2Ch 8:7-8. Afterwards, because of their sin, Israel had to pay tribute to Assyria, Egypt, etc., and in the N.T. the Jews paid tribute to the Romans in the shape of taxes. Lu 20:22. These were farmed, which led to abuses: cf. Lu 3:12-13.
The word 'tribute' is used in the A.V. in another signification, as when the Jews asked Peter if his teacher paid 'tribute.' Here the word is ????????? (double drachma), and signifies the sum each Jew paid to the temple. It was about 15d. The fish Peter caught had in its mouth a stater of the value of about 2s. 6d., which paid for the Lord and for Peter. Mt 17:24-27. The Lord refers to what the kings of the earth did in ordinary tribute, in order to show that Himself and Peter as sons of the King of the temple could have claimed exemption, though they did not. Cf. Mt 21:13. The institution of this yearly payment apparently began in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is introduced with the words, "We made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God." Ne 10:32. It was so far a voluntary arrangement.
The chief biblical facts connected with the payment of tribute have been already given under TAXES. The tribute (money) mentioned in
was the half shekel (worth from 25 to 27 cents) applied to defray the general expenses of the temple. After the destruction of the temple this was sequestrated by Vespasian and his successors and transferred to the temple of the Capitoline Jupiter. This "tribute" of
must not be confounded with the tribute paid to the Roman emperor.
The temple rate, though resting on an ancient precedent--
was as above a fixed annual tribute of comparatively late origin.
TRIBUTE. The Hebrews acknowledged none for sovereign over them but God alone: whence Josephus calls their government a theocracy, or divine government. They acknowledged the sovereign dominion of God by a tribute, or capitation tax, of half a shekel a head, which every Israelite paid yearly, Ex 30:13. Our Saviour, in the Gospel, thus reasons with St. Peter: "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?" Mt 17:25, meaning, that as he was the Son of God, he ought to be exempt from this capitation tax. We do not find that either the kings or the judges of the Hebrews, when they were themselves Jews, demanded any tribute of them. Solomon, at the beginning of his reign, 1Ki 11:22,33; 2Ch 8:9, compelled the Canaanites, who were left in the country, to pay him tribute, and to perform the drudgery of the public works he had undertaken. As to the children of Israel, he would not suffer one of them to be employed upon them, but made them his soldiers, ministers, and chief officers, to command his armies, his chariots, and his horsemen. Yet, afterward, toward the end of his reign, he imposed a tribute upon them, and made them work at the public buildings, 1Ki 5:13-14; 9:15; 11:27; which much alienated their minds from him, and sowed the seeds of that discontent which afterward appeared in an open revolt, by the rebellion of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat; who was at first indeed obliged to take shelter in Egypt. But afterward the defection became general, by the total revolt of the ten tribes. Hence it was, that the Israelites said to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, "Thy father made our yoke grievous; now therefore, make thou the grievous service of thy father, and the heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee," 1Ki 12:4. It is needless to observe, that the Israelites were frequently subdued by foreign princes, who laid great taxes and tribute upon them, to which fear and necessity compelled them to submit. Yet in the latter times, that is, after Archelaus had been banished to Vienne in France, in the sixth year of the vulgar era, and after Judea was reduced to a province, Augustus sent Quirinius into this country to take a new poll of the people, and to make a new estimate of their substance, that he might thereby regulate the tribute that every one was to pay to the Romans. Then Judas, surnamed the Galilean, formed a sedition, and made an insurrection, to oppose the levying of this tribute. See in St. Mt 22:16-17, &c, the answer that Jesus Christ returned to the Pharisee, who came with an insidious design of tempting him, and asked him, whether or not it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar? and in Joh 8:33, where the Jews boast of having never been slaves to any body, of being a free nation, that acknowledged God only for master and sovereign.