Jesus Pays The Temple Tax


It’s been well documented that all Jews throughout the Roman Empire were required to pay the Jewish temple tax in order to fund the maintenance of the temple in Jerusalem. Although this was ordered by Julius Caesar, the amount commanded by God for the temple tax was originally instituted to ‘pay’ for the individual’s sins and was half a shekel of silver, Exodus 30:11-16.

By the time Jesus came on the scene, half a shekel was equivalent to two silver Roman denarii or two silver Greek drachmas, which was about two days’ wages. The money was needed because it was the duty of every male Jew who came to the temple to worship, to pay half a shekel for the upkeep of the temple, this was called ‘Temple Tax.’ A half-shekel was equal to a third, or a fourth of a Denarius, or a penny and could only be paid in the temple.

But many coinages were in use in the Roman Empire at that time, and pilgrims from abroad usually only had Greek, Roman or Syrian money, which couldn’t be used. Obviously, Jewish money wasn’t likely to be used in the wider Roman Empire, so, their foreign money had to be exchanged into coins that the temple treasury would accept.

‘After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ ‘Yes, he does,’ he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?’ ‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him. ‘But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’ Matthew 17:24-27

Tax Collectors

Most people know that a tax collector wasn’t highly esteemed in Biblical times, in fact, most were hated because they were considered either a traitor or a thief. This is because Israel was occupied by Rome and all the taxes collected went to Rome. The Romans demanded a certain amount of tax, but the tax collector could add more to bump up his wages, Luke 3:13. The tax collectors were called ‘publicans’, which is the equivalent of what we would call the Inland Revenue.

The temple tax was paid yearly, about a month before Passover, in order to support those who worked with the religious services of the temple, Exodus 30:13-14 and on this occasion the tax collector asked Peter if Jesus pays the tax or not. Peter says that Jesus paid the tax, though he evidently hadn’t seen Jesus do so.

The Exemption

Jesus asks Peter a question and the answer is simple; the sons of the king are free from paying the taxes, but the subjects of the king must pay. Jesus is making the point that since He is greater than the temple, He was the Son of God, then He wouldn’t be subject to pay the tax to the temple. It’s clear here that Jesus is claiming His sonship of God.

Why did Jesus pay?

Jesus paid the tax because He didn’t want to cause any offence, in other words, He wanted to avoid any unnecessary controversy concerning the payment of the tax. 1 Corinthians 8:12 / 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Later Jesus will miraculously provide the money to pay the tax, but Peter would still have to pay the tax. He, as well as all Jews, were subject to paying the tax.

The miracle

When Jesus was approached about paying His temple tax, he told Peter to catch a fish on a line and open its mouth. Some suggest that the fish was probably a ‘Tilapia’ which has a marked pouch beneath its mouth where tiny young fish hide from danger, but we simply don’t know.

Think about this for a moment, what are the chances of this actually happening? Please don’t miss the miracle, this wasn’t just some random chance of Peter catching a fish, even though he was a fisherman, and the fish just happens to have a coin in its mouth. No!

This was all God’s doing, just like Jonah, when God provided a great fish to swallow him, Jonah 1:17, here we see Jesus not only providing the fish and directing the fish straight onto Peter’s hook at the exact right moment, but we also see that when Peter did as Jesus said and when he opened its mouth, he found a ‘stater’, a four-drachma coin, the equivalent of a silver shekel, which was the exact amount needed to pay the temple tax for both of them.

Just as a side note, some suggest that Jesus never ever touched money, the text doesn’t suggest that He did here, even in Matthew 22:18-22, the text suggests that He didn’t touch the money which was brought to Him, He simply just asked to see it.


Jesus could have chosen not to pay the temple tax as He had no legal obligation to do so, however, He did pay for the sake of peace and I think we can learn a simple lesson of humility from Him.

There are times we too can avoid some unnecessary conflict with people if we’re wise enough to choose to do so. Sometimes we’re so eager to stand up for what’s right and our rights, we actually end up causing more harm than good and so, in other words, winning the battle doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve won the war.

‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ Romans 12:18