More Bibles have been sold around the world than any other book in history. In fact, it’s estimated that around five billion Bibles have been printed since 1815.
Similarly to other books that have been circulated and consumed to a mass extent, there are many passages and parts of the Bible that have taken on a life of their own; outside of their original meaning, context and purpose in which they were written.
One example of how this zombification of literature happens is with the book The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire (1883).
The book details how Robin Hood becomes an outlaw after a conflict with foresters, and his many adventures and run-ins with the law that happened thereafter.
Each chapter tells a different tale of Robin as he recruits Merry Men, resists the authorities, and aids his fellow man against the tyranny of law and government.
But the widely-known story of Robin Hood eventually turned into a simplistic tale about a man who did good things with bows and arrows.
Another example of how the message of popular literature gets zombified is Romeo and Juliet. In it, Shakespeare creates a violent world in which two young people fall in love within a web of absolute destruction.
It’s not simply that their families disapprove of the love of Romeo and Juliet; the Montagues and the Capulets are engaged in an all-out blood feud.
But the story, as known, has been pared down into a sad story about young love between families that just can’t get along.
The Bible is constantly misquoted
The same thing happens in the Bible all the time.
In the story of David and Goliath, the contextual purpose is to show that Saul was not fit to be king of Israel; that David was. Saul was chosen to lead the Israelites against their enemies, but when faced with Goliath he refuses to do so.
But the story has been dumbed-down to an inspirationally-intended tale about David being a plucky underdog.
In other examples, the entire life of God’s righteous servant Noah has been reduced to happy pairs of animals peeking out of a big boat.
The life and calling of the “doomsday” prophet Jonah has been turned into Sunday School book cartoon images of him sitting inside the belly of a whale.
Often, small pieces of Scripture taken out of context are so divorced from their original meaning that they become meaningless inspirational calendar quotes or weaponized rebukes that are misquoted to confirm a pre-determined agenda.
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s
There are few Scriptures that are more widely misquoted than Matthew 22:21: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
This Scripture has such a poetic, pleasing cadence that it’s easy to understand how and why it was floated into the cultural ether in the way that it was.
However, without understanding the full context around this popular quote from the mouth of Jesus, the words are easily twisted to fulfill almost any agenda; from advocating full and unquestioning submission to the government, to socialism or tax-free libertarianism, to submitting to a government-mandated vaccine.
But to fully understand what Jesus meant when He spoke these words, we have to take a deep-dive into the actual story and surrounding circumstances in history.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Biblical Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could condemn Him for. To do so, the Pharisees sent out a group of their own disciples, along with several members of a sect known as the Herodians.
In the times of Jesus, taxes were a highly-divisive issue; much like in today’s world. Since Rome was seen as an incredibly immoral government body, most Jewish people felt that it was immoral for them to pay taxes to this entity.
The Herodians were known for being quite pragmatic and were, generally speaking, willing to cooperate with the Jews as much as possible. Therefore, when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about whether or not the Jewish people should pay taxes to Rome, it wasn’t a hypothetical question.
“Teacher,” they asked, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the Truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
This was a simple, yet effect trap that they set for Jesus. If Jesus were to answer them by saying, “Yes, pay your taxes to Rome,” He would have instantly lost the support of zealots who were looking to overthrow Roman rule.
If He were to say, “No, do not pay your taxes,” He would lose support of the moderate Herodians and potentially be arrested for His stance on the situation.
Jesus was very much onto the game the Pharisees were playing with this question, and masterfully sidestepped both of these potential pitfalls.
He replied by saying, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me?”
He then borrowed a coin from a member of the surrounding crowd and asked the Pharisees to identify the image of Caesar on the coin.
“So give back to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.”
This highly disappointed the Pharisees, as it will anyone who attempts to use these words as a way to justify blind and complete obedience to immoral government mandates.
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The advice Jesus gave in this statement cuts through specific policies into the entire way that we look at the world, ourselves, and God.
The importance of the image
The first thing we need to understand about this story is how the idea of an image worked at the time when Jesus was alive.
When we think of modern US coins, we think of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the rest are basically a formality.
But in the days of Jesus, images denoted ownership. When He said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” it was much more than a simple metaphor. It was true in the literal sense of the word.
The vast majority of Jewish people were not Roman citizens at this time in history, and the money they used was Roman money. In addition, the Jewish people were mandated an extra tax as non-citizens, in return for Roman military protection.
This was the tax in question when the question was posed to Jesus by the Pharisees. The money was Roman and the tax for Roman protection was paid in Roman money that had the image of Caesar on it.
The quote is often mischaracterized to make Jesus sound like He was pro-taxation or pro-government. After all, He certainly seemed to be saying that, as the money belongs to the government, you shouldn’t make a fuss about submitting to them.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth of what He was saying.
… and to God’s what is God’s
As He so often masterfully did, Jesus dovetailed His statement with a very important second note: “… and to God what is God’s.”
The money they were trading in had the image of Caesar on it, so He said it belonged to Caesar. However, those who are in Christ have the image of God on us; we belong to God.
Whatever value there might be in haggling about where tax money goes or how it’s paid, there is infinitely more value in determining who we belong to.
We only have so much say into what happens to money once it leaves our hands, which is why so much of Jesus’ teaching were centered on holding earthly possessions loosely.
But our hands themselves that hold the money; and the bodies and souls they’re connected to; those we have a great deal of control over. We should be very concerned about how we’re using something with God’s own image on it; something that belongs to Him.
It’s very dangerous to get caught up into what is rendered to Caesar and forget about what is rendered to God.
The highest priority we have is to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, not to obey immoral government mandates.
Would Jesus take a government-mandated, forced biometric vaccine that will change the DNA and cell structure of the body God created and owns, while tracking your every move with smart dust particles?
Your body belongs to God, not the government. That said, the answer to whether Jesus would take a biometric government-mandated vaccine for COVID-19 would seem to be a resounding “No.”