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§ 247. Combination of the Pharisees and Herodians.—Christ’s Decision on paying Tribute to Caesar.

Besides the Pharisaical party, there was another among the Jews at that time, the Herodians, a political rather than religious party, whose greatest care was to preserve the public quiet, and avoid all occasions of offence to the Romans. These two parties now combined against Christ;664664   Mark, iii. 6, perhaps implies that this union was formed at an earlier period. not the first or the last instance in history in which priests have made use of politicians, even otherwise opposed to them, to crush a reformer whose zeal might be inimical to both.

A question was proposed to Christ, apparently out of respect to his authority, but really with a view to draw such an answer from him as would offend either the hierarchs or politicians: “Master, we know that thou art true; for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?665665   Mark, xii. 14, 15. A denial of the obligation would subject him to accusation before the Roman authorities as a man politically dangerous, and a ringleader of rebellion. To acknowledge it, might lay him open to the charge of degrading the dignity of the Theocratic nation. Asking for a Roman 361denarius, he inquired. “Whose is this image and superscription?” “Caesar’s.” The very currency of the coin implied an acknowledgment of the political dependence of the nation upon the Roman Empire, and of the obligations that flowed from such dependence. This conclusion he uttered in very few words: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

These words imply that it was not Christ’s calling to alter the relations and duties of civil society. Had he meant to represent himself as Messiah in the sense of Messiahship held by the Pharisees, he must have given a different reply; but his answer taught them that their obligations to Caesar were not inconsistent with their duties to God; on the contrary, that the latter constituted the basis of the former. At the same time, it reminded them of a duty to which they were most unfaithful, viz., to give truly to God what is God’s; as man, bearing the stamp of his image, belongs to him, and should be dedicated to him. And the “giving to God what is God’s” not only affords the basis, but also fixes the just limitations of the civil obligations growing out of relations brought about by Divine Providence.

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