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The Head Tax: The Only God-Endorsed Civil Tax

One important area of life to which Bible-believing Christians have been extremely slow to apply the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is taxation. A miniscule number of pastors or theologians teach their congregations or students what the Bible says regarding taxation. Yet taxes affect all of us every day of our lives. We desperately need God's infallible revelation in the area of taxation.

  • Robert Fugate,
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One of the key doctrines rediscovered by the Protestant Reformation was the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture (sola Scriptura).1 This doctrine may be defined as: "Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly."2 Now let's apply this definition to the Biblical worldview-something not typically done by theologians. Since the Scriptures are sufficient for teaching people to please and obey God perfectly, then they must be regarded as being sufficient-not only for individual persons-but also sufficient for the God-ordained institutions, i.e., the family, the church, and the state. Furthermore, since Christ's lordship is comprehensive (Matt. 28:18; Acts 10:36; Col. 1:18; Ps. 2:6-12; 110:1-3), His Word must be authoritative in every area of life, thought, and culture.

One important area of life to which Bible-believing Christians have been extremely slow to apply the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is taxation. A miniscule number of pastors or theologians teach their congregations or students what the Bible says regarding taxation. Yet taxes affect all of us every day of our lives. In fact, some calculations suggest that the average American must toil from January 1 to August 12 (224 days) just to meet all costs imposed by federal, state, and local governments!3 Yet we are told that we live in a "free" society! Do civil governments have God-given authority to tax people with every form of tax they dream up, at any rate they deem appropriate at the time? There have been cases in America and Europe in which "rich" individuals were taxed at over 100% of their annual incomes. R. J. Rushdoony's assessment is surely correct: "The modern humanistic state sees itself, as did the ancient pagan state, as the basic and ultimate power. It holds that it has the ‘right' to tax, confiscate, or seize properties and assets at will,"4 and "Plato's dream of rule by philosopher-kings has always appealed to elitists who see themselves as little gods whose wisdom and abilities make them fit to rule over all others."5 We desperately need God's infallible revelation in the area of taxation. Humanism (which is based on man's depraved mind and depraved motives) is bankrupt and tyrannical.

The primary theologian who taught the Biblical worldview, applying the Bible to the area of taxation, was Rousas Rushdoony.6 Rushdoony taught that God has revealed infallible truth to us regarding His will for civil taxation. It is particularly found in the Biblical law that institutes the head tax. Subsequently, some theonomists have challenged Rushdoony's view of the head tax and have led many to abandon his insights. The present essay will review the Bible's teaching regarding the head tax. A subsequent essay will build upon this foundation, critiquing the arguments and interpretations of Rushdoony's critics.

The Head Tax/Poll Tax

The Old Testament records at least eleven different kinds of taxes imposed in Israel (excluding taxes imposed upon Israel by foreign nations).7 Of these taxes, only the head tax was instituted and endorsed by God.8 Let us examine the Bible's teaching regarding the head tax.

Exodus 30:11-16 records the historical account of God instituting the head tax (also called a poll tax). The head tax is also referred to in several other Biblical passages (Ex. 38:25f.; 2 Kings 12:4-16; 2 Chr. 24:4-14; Neh. 10:32f.; Matt. 17:24-27). We will begin our study with Exodus 30.

11 The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, 12 "When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them [Num.1], then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 13 "This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD. 14 "Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. 15 "The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. 16 "You shall take the atonement money [silver] from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting,9 that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves" (Ex. 30:11-16 NASB).

Five Principles of the Head Tax

  1. Commanded: Payment was obligatory.
  2. Who: Every10 male,11 age twenty and older,12 was taxed.
  3. Frequency: The poll tax was originally paid at a (military) census;13 subsequently, it was not connected with a war or census, but was paid annually (2 Chr. 24:5f., 9; Neh. 10:32).14
  4. Amount: The poll tax was a fixed, flat fee (½ shekel15 or beka of silver16)-not a percentage-for rich and poor alike. "It had to be small, since a large amount would be oppressive for the poor, and it had to be the same for all, to avoid the oppression of the rich. Thus discriminatory taxation was specifically forbidden."17
  5. Purposes: (a) to be a (civil) atonement (i.e., covering, protection18); (b) to finance the tabernacle (initially its construction and furnishing) and later the maintenance of the temple (2 Chr. 24:5f,9 // 2 Kings 12:4f.;19 Neh. 10:32). Since the head tax always supported the tabernacle/temple (rather than supporting a military census designed to muster an army), this was obviously its primary purpose.

2 Kings 12:4-16 // 2 Chr. 24:4-14

During years of apostasy the temple fell into disrepair. King Jehoash/Joash ordered the priests to collect each man's "census tax"/"census money" (2 Kings 12:4 NET, NKJV, NIV, NAB, etc.20) and use it to pay for the needed temple repairs. The parallel passage describes this census tax as "the tax authorized by Moses the LORD's servant ... the tax that Moses, God's servant, imposed on Israel in the wilderness" (2 Chr. 24:6, 9 NET). The census/head tax was collected "from year to year" (2 Chr. 24:5).

Interestingly, the text sharply distinguishes between this census tax (i.e., the head/poll tax), which was deposited into the temple treasury, and the money that was to be given ("belonged") to the priests, which was not brought into the temple (2 Kings 12:16).

Note also that in these passages the census tax is not connected with a military census or mustering the army for war. However, the same head tax was still in force over six hundred years after Moses instituted it.21

Neh. 10:32f.

After Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity, Nehemiah reinstituted the head tax.22 The head tax was paid "yearly" (Neh. 10:32). Thus the book of Nehemiah confirms that the head tax was again in force over one thousand years after Moses had instituted it.23

The Relationship Between Temples and Taxes in the Ancient Near East

"Whereas we normally associate ‘taxes' with an obligatory payment to the government and ‘tithes' with the temple, the situation was not so segregated in the ANE [ancient Near East]."24 In the ancient Near East temples were collection points for state taxes.25 To cite only one example, consider Persia. "As agents of the Persian Empire, temples were incorporated into the government-regulated system of land tenure and the network of tax-gathering organizations. Temple administrators, therefore, were de facto tax collectors for the state ... An obvious advantage to collecting royal taxes at the temple was the implied sanctioning by the resident deity."26

Even in ancient Israel "the temple was a likely collection point for state taxes."27 The list of temple officials confirms this.28 Later in Israel's history, "when Israel/Judah no longer enjoyed independence, the rebuilt Second Temple probably served as a central collection site for government taxes."29

Furthermore, "In the ancient Near East court and archives generally were located in temple complexes, and this was true of ancient Israel as well. Deuteronomy 1:16-17 states that judgment is God's prerogative, and Deuteronomy 17:8-12 ordains that the central court be located in the Temple."30

The Anchor Bible Dictionary concurs with the assessment that the Jerusalem Temple had both a "religious and political significance." It devotes three columns to the political function of this temple, noting:

These religious-political dynamics clearly functioned on an economic level as well. The Temple with its treasures and treasuries was a national bank of sorts. It was a stronghold, safely situated in the most defensible part of the Jerusalem landscape ...  The side chambers of the Temple ...  held at least some of the revenues of the state ...  It was instrumental in establishing both divine and royal power.31

In the light of New Testament revelation, we learn that Israel's tabernacle and temple signified both Christ's priestly/ecclesiastical ministry (administrated in the Old Testament through Levi) and His kingly/civil ministry (administrated in the Old Testament through Judah) (cf. Ps. 110). The tabernacle and the temple housed the Holy of Holies, which was God's throne room, containing only the Ark of the Covenant, which was God's throne. The Holy of Holies was God's governmental center, both civil and ecclesiastical.32 God, as King of Israel, ruled from His throne room in the tabernacle/temple. The tabernacle/temple thus represents the whole Kingdom of God.

The New Testament also teaches that the Sanhedrin, which was the civil power in Israel (under Rome's control), met in the temple.

In light of the civil aspect of the temple, it was quite natural that the Jewish civil poll tax was brought to God's house/palace.33

Is Matt. 17:24-27 the Mosaic Head Tax?

The key New Testament passage regarding the head tax is Matt. 17:24-27:

24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?"34 25 He said, "Yes." And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" 26 Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. 27 "Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money35; take that and give it to them for Me and you" (Matt. 17:24-27 NKJV, italic added).

Temple Tax in Matthew 17 Was Not an Innovation

Some scholars note that the various Jewish factions of Christ's day were divided with regard to paying the temple tax. They then proceed to suggest that the temple tax in Matthew 17 may have been a recent innovation, rather than based on Exodus 30. But, even if it were the case (and I'm not suggesting that it is) that there was some innovation in Matthew 17, might the innovation be something besides the temple tax itself? For instance, enforcing the temple tax by civil sanction may have been an innovation.36 Also, if the amount of the tax changed, that would be an innovation.37 Thus, even if there was disagreement regarding the temple tax and perhaps even some innovation, this does not prove that the temple tax itself must be viewed as an innovation. Indeed, several scholars adamantly affirm that the temple tax in Matthew 17 was mandated by Biblical law:

"The tax was rooted in the law (Ex. 30:13) and therefore was not merely traditional."38
"The paying of this tax was not a merely human regulation but a divinely instituted requirement."39

In sum, it is quite probable that Matthew 17:25-27 concerns the same head tax/temple tax that was instituted by Moses in Exodus 30.40 Thus this passage provides further confirmation that the Jewish people recognized the continuing applicability of the head/census tax for 1,500 years.

Who Is Exempt?

Jesus teaches that God (like human kings) does not tax His own "sons." Who are these exempt "sons" of God the King (i.e., His royal family)? There are two common answers.

1. The exempt "sons" are all Israel. However, this view suffers from several difficulties:

  • It implies that non-covenantal Gentiles—not God's covenant Jews—are to be the sole financiers of the Jewish temple-a dubious notion (Ezra 4:3).41
  • "A Jew, with experience of taxation under the Herods, would not think it true that Jewish kings do not tax Jews."42
  • If the temple tax in Matthew 17 is Biblically mandated, then Jesus would be encouraging all Jews to break the Mosaic Law.
  • This view is out of harmony with an important aspect of the eschatological theme in Matthew's Gospel: the Kingdom is being taken from covenant-breaking Israel (Matt. 8:11f.; 21:43; 24:1-3543; indeed, at least twenty-two chapters in Matthew's Gospel depict Israel's failures).
  • "There is no example in literature of citizens being called ‘children'."44
  • Jesus made a sharp demarcation between God being His Father (John 5:17ff) and the devil being the father of the unbelieving Jews (John 8:39, 44; cf. Matt. 3:7-10).

2. A second common interpretation of the exempt "sons" suggests that they are Jesus and His disciples (and, by implication, all Christians). This view also has its difficulties:

  • This view presupposes a discontinuity in the people of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament-a view inimical to the Reformed faith and covenant theology (Rom. 11:16-24, 26, 28; cp. Jl 2:28-32 with Acts 2:17-21; cp. Amos 9:11f. with Acts 15:16f.; cp. Jer. 31:31-34 with Heb. 8:8-10). (However, this view is consistent with the unbiblical hermeneutic of dispensationalism.) Furthermore, in this view, the implied discontinuity between the people of God would have begun while the old covenant was still in effect—since Matthew 17 takes place prior to the inauguration of the new covenant (Matt. 26:28).
  • It is not true that God never taxes His people; He certainly did tax them (Ex. 30; 2 Kings 12:4-16 // 2 Chr. 24:4-14). Even God's obligatory tithe/s may be viewed as a divine tax upon His people (although it is not to be forcibly collected by either church or state).
  • If the point of this passage is that all Jesus' disciples were exempt from the temple tax but they should not use their liberty to give offense, then why is no mention made of Jesus' disciples (except Peter) paying this tax?45
  • Jesus and the writers of the New Testament consistently distinguish between Jesus' unique Sonship and the sonship of believers.46 This interpretation obscures this consistent Biblical distinction.
  • This view, combined with our previous discussion of the head tax being the only God-instituted and God-endorsed civil tax, implies that Christians are not obligated to pay any civil tax. Does this conclusion really comport with the rest of Scripture (Rom. 13:6f.)?

In light of the weaknesses of these two views, we should look for a better interpretation.

3. Although Jesus uses the plural "sons," He is referring only to Himself.

  • The plural is simply derived from the analogy to earthly kings (which occurs in the plural) and their sons.
  • Matthew 17 has just recorded God the Father declaring on the Mount of Transfiguration that Jesus—in contrast to the disciples and Moses and Elijah—is "My beloved Son" (Matt.17:5). Thus this view (unlike view #2) properly distinguishes between Jesus' unique Sonship and the sonship of believers.
  • The very question of paying the temple tax was asked regarding Jesus alone (Matt. 17:24-25a).
  • After Jesus asserted His immunity from His Father's temple tax, He performed a miraculous sign that confirmed His immunity (Matt. 17:27).47

Thus in Matthew 17:25-27 Jesus is teaching that, "just as royal sons are exempt from the taxes imposed by their fathers, so too Jesus is exempt from the ‘tax' imposed by his Father [i.e., the poll or temple tax] ... since he is uniquely God's Son [v. 5], therefore he is exempt (v. 26). The focus of the pericope is thus supremely christological."48


God has given us an infallible revelation of His will regarding civil taxation. That revelation is found only in God's written Word, the Bible, which is sufficient to instruct us how to please God in all areas of life ("thoroughly equipped for every good work," 2 Tim. 3:17).

The head tax is: (a) a mandatory civil tax;49 (b) levied upon every male (age twenty and older); (c) paid annually; (d) a fixed, flat fee (not a percentage) that is a low enough amount that every man can afford to pay it.

By cutting off additional sources of funding, the Bible's system of limited taxation prevents civil governments from transgressing their God-ordained jurisdictions and usurping the jurisdictions of family and church. Such limited tax revenues foster liberty by preventing the state from becoming a welfare-warfare, "big brother" state. It also precludes nations from having the financial resources to fund a world government. Truly, God's wisdom far exceeds man's folly (1 Cor. 1:19-21f.; 3:19; Rom. 8:5; 12:2; 2 Cor. 10:5; cf. wisdom and folly in Proverbs)! May Christ's church proclaim His all-encompassing, absolute truth, His law-Word, at such a time as this-for His glory and for the extension of His conquering Kingdom!

1. For an explanation and a Biblical defense of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture see Robert E. Fugate, The Bible: God's Words to You (Omaha, NE: Lord of the Nations, LLC, 2012), 334-345.

2. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 127.

3. "Cost of Government Day" ( And this total cost does not include what economists call "opportunity cost." Cp. "Tax Freedom Day" (

4. Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 3 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1999), 23. For a Biblical discussion of eminent domain see Robert E. Fugate, Key Principles of Biblical Civil Government (Omaha, NE: Thy Word Is Truth Publishers, 2007), 125-128; available

5. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Exodus (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2004), 446.

6. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Exodus (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2004), 443-446. Idem., The Institutes of Biblical Law, vol. 1. (n.p.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1973), 281-283. Idem., The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 3 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1999), 23f. Idem., Law and Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), 696f. Rushdoony asserts, "Those who deny the application of Exodus 30:11-16 must then say that God gave no taxing power to the state, or else that at this point God left all taxing power to the state" (The Institutes of Biblical Law, 3:24).

7. Robert E. Fugate, Toward a Theology of Taxation (Omaha, NE: Lord of the Nations, LLC, 2009). Much of the present article is taken from this monograph. It is available at

8. One must be careful not to commit the naturalistic fallacy, i.e., attempting to derive ought from is. Just because certain kings of Israel and Judah did impose many different types of taxes at various times in their history does not mean that they should have imposed these taxes. Furthermore, in terms of valid hermeneutical methodology by which we interpret historical narrative genre, the text itself must indicate that God approved of a particular taxation practice before we can endorse it.

9. "The service [work] of the tent of meeting" does not refer to the sacrificial service, but to its construction (Ex. 38:25-28; 39:32), which was to be more of a permanent "memorial" (Ex 30:16) (Umberto Cassuto Commentary on the Book of Exodus [Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967], 394f.; William H.C. Propp, Exodus 19-40, AB [New York, NY: Doubleday, 2006] 479; Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, 196). Subsequently, the poll tax was used for the maintenance of God's palace (2 Chr. 24:5f., 9 // 2 Kings 12:4f.).

10. In one place R. J. Rushdoony asserts that the poll tax (which was first levied at a military census) was not mandatory for the priests and Levites (who were not subject to military draft, Num. 1:47-50; Ezra 7:23f.) (The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:282). (In a subsequent article we will discuss a less likely interpretation of Matt. 17:25f., which suggests that the king's "sons" who are exempt from taxation are Jesus' disciples-and maybe all Christians.)

11. Women were not taxed separately because the family was treated as a covenantal unit, and every family was represented in the civil sphere by its male head. Furthermore, women were not part of the Israelite army (see the following endnote).

12. Twenty was the age of military service (Num. 1:3; 26:2). According to Josephus, the poll tax was levied on every male of military age, i.e., ages 20-50 (Antiquities of the Jews, 3:8:2 §194-196; 18:9:1 §312; cf. D. A. Carson, "Matthew," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. F. E. Gaebelein [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], 8:393). Of course, women in Israel were not conscripted for military service. The Old Testament does not give a maximum age for military service—only requiring every man to be able to go to war and handle weapons (Num. 1:3; 2 Chr. 25:5). Levites retired at age 50 (Num. 8:25; 4:3).

13. David's census (2 Sam. 24 // 1 Chr. 21) served two purposes: levying taxes and registering men for military service (or sometimes for forced labor) (Robert E. Fugate, Toward a Theology of Taxation, 23-25). The poll tax may have enabled Israel's leaders to obtain "an accurate census without actually counting anyone" (William H. C. Propp, Exodus 19-40, 476).

14. It is significant that subsequent Scripture designates the head tax of Exodus 30 as "the levy [tax] fixed by Moses the servant of the LORD on the congregation of Israel for the tent of the testimony ... the levy fixed by Moses the servant of God" (2 Chr. 24:6, 9 NASB) and "census money" (2 Kings 12:4). This head tax was to be collected "from year to year" (2 Chr. 24:5); cf. "yearly" (Neh. 10:32).

15. A shekel is not a coin, but a unit of weight, particularly used for gold or silver. The Old Testament shekel probably weighed between 11-13 grams (ABD 6:907); cf. 10-14 grams or 0.4 oz (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis [NIDOTTE], ed. W.A. VanGemeren, 5 Vols. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997] 4:237); 11.4 grams or 0.4 ounces (ISBE 4:1054); an average weight of 11.4 grams (Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991], 196); 14.5 grams, i.e., 0.5 oz (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, eds. David N. Freedman, et al. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000], 1203). The Pentateuch refers to the standard measure known as "the shekel of the sanctuary" (Ex. 30:13, 24; 38:24-26; Lev. 5:15; 27:3, 25; Num. 3:47, 50; 7:13-86; 18:16) (see NIDOTTE, 4:237). There may also have been royal standards (2 Sam. 14:26).

16. "Money" (keseph) means silver. Thus silver was the money in which the Jewish poll tax was to be paid (Ex. 30:16; 38:25f).

17. Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:282. "The Tabernacle belongs equally to every Israelite, irrespective of one's social status or wealth. As all human beings are equal before God, there is to be one standard contribution from all, to be neither exceeded nor reduced" (Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, 196). Furthermore, in Biblical law all citizens are juridically equal before the law (Dt. 27:19); thus judgment must be impartial (Dt. 1:17; 16:19; 2 Chr. 19:6f.; Pr. 24:23), not favoring either the rich or the poor (Ex. 23:3, 6; Lev. 19:15).

18. "By means of this tax, the people placed themselves under God as their King, paying tribute to Him, and gained in return God's protecting care" (Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:281f.), "that they suffer not defeat in battle" (J. H. Herz, ed., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Exodus [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930], 357). See George Bush, Commentary on Exodus (repr.: Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), 494f.

19. "The notice that funds were not employed to manufacture the vessels used in the temple ritual-basins, snuffers, bowls, trumpets, and so on (cf. 1 Kings 7:38-40, 45-47)-indicates that the funds were used only for [temple] repairs" (Marvin A. Sweeney, 1 & 2 Kings, OTL [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2007], 353).

20. Numerous commentators connect this census tax with that instituted by Moses in Exodus 30; for example: T. R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, WBC [Waco, TX: Word, 1985], 152; Marvin A. Sweeney, 1 & 2 Kings, 352; Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, 2 Kings, AB (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 137; August H. Konkel, 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 512; Iain W. Provan, 1 And 2 Kings, NIBC (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 225; Donald J. Wiseman, 1 and 2 Kings, TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 236; Robert L. Hubbard, First & Second Kings, EBC (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1991), 184; John Gray, 1 & 2 Kings, OTL, 2nd rev. ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1970), 585; Carl F. Keil, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 3 vol. (repr.: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 1:366.

21. James Ussher dates the remodeling of the temple at 857 B.C. (The Annals of the World [1658; repr.: Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003], § 539).

22. The Jews who returned from exile covenanted to pay 1/3 shekel (Neh. 10:32), rather than the 1/2 shekel (Ex. 30:13). One explanation for the discrepancy is the extreme poverty caused by famine and by oppressive Persian taxation (Ezra 4:13; 7:24; 9:9; 6:8; Neh. 5:1-5; 9:36f.; Esther 10:1). A second explanation is that this later Babylonian-Persian shekel was based on a heavier standard (21 grams); thus 1/3 of the later shekel was equal to 1/2 of the earlier Phoenician shekel (14 grams). Cf. Edwin Yamauchi, "Ezra, Nehemiah," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (EBC), ed. F.E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 4:742; R.A. Bowman, "The Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah," in The Interpreter's Bible, ed. G.A. Buttrick, 12 vols. (New York, NY: Abingdon, 1954), 3:764; Leslie C. Allen and Timothy S. Laniak, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, NIBC (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 143.

23. James Ussher dates Nehemiah's work at 454 B.C. (The Annals of the World, § 1243).

24. Marty E. Stevens, Temples, Tithes, and Taxes (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 98. Stevens pioneers new ground in this study.

25. Ibid., 98-113.

26. Ibid., 107.

27. Ibid., 123 (referring to pp. 98-113).

28. The temple "gatekeeper" (Hebrew shoer) was actually a temple gate clerk or accountant, responsible for safeguarding the contents of the baskets placed at the thresholds, and perhaps assaying the items deposited, assigning value, and crediting the account of the depositor. The temple "scribe" (sopher) was the storehouse accountant, functioning as counter, recorder, ledger-keeper, and enumerator for the temple storehouses (Marty E. Stevens, Temples, Tithes, and Taxes, 172, 71-77).

29. Ibid., 113. "Because most of the money contributed to the synagogues was transported to the main sanctuary, one might even say they were ‘branches' of the central repository" (110).

For historical documentation of the incredible wealth in the second temple in Jerusalem see p. 143. We read in the Old Testament that David's golden shields were stored in Solomon's temple (2 Kings 11:10 = 2 Chr. 23:9; cf. 2 Sam. 8:7 = 1 Chr. 18:7).

Stevens even believes that in the ancient Near East the temple functioned as financial intermediary, being a collector, user, and disburser of goods and financial services (167-172).

30. Baruch A. Levine, JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 27.

31. "Temple, Jerusalem," Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD), ed. D.N. Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:361.

32. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Exodus (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2004), 444.

33. Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1:283. Rushdoony asserts that the poll tax supported the civil order, i.e., "the state, its military power plus its courts," but not the social order (which was supported by tithes).

34. The Greek word translated "temple tax" (in NKJV, NET, NIV, NAB, etc.) is didrachmon. A didrachmon is "a double drachma, two-drachma piece (two didrachmon = 1 stater) monetary unit of the Aegean, Corinthian, Persian, and Italian-Sicilian coinage system; a [silver] coin worth two Attic drachmas, but no longer in circulation in NT times; it was about equal to a half shekel (two days' wage) among the Jews, and was the sum required of each person annually as the temple tax; even though this tax was paid with other coins, the amount was termed a didrachmon" (BDAG, 241f.). This is a case of metonymy, i.e., a figure of speech in which the coin formerly used to pay the temple tax is used to represent the temple tax itself.

35. The Greek word translated "piece of money" is stater, which was "a silver coin = four drachmas (approximately equal to four days' wages)" (BDAG, 940).

36. Alfred Edersheim states, "It had only been about a century before, during the reign of Salome-Alexandra (about 78 B.C.), that the Pharisaical party, being then in power, had carried an enactment by which the Temple tribute was to be enforced by law. It need scarcely be said that for this there is not the slightest Scriptural warrant" (The Temple [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969], 72f.).

37. John Nolland argues that the amount of the temple tax doubled from Exodus 30 (The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005], 723f.).

38. George Beasley-Murray, Matthew (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1984), 75.

39. William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, NTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1973), 679. Cf. Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3 Vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n.d.), 3:82.

40. D.A. Carson, "Matthew," EBC, 8:393. Josephus directly connects the first century temple tax with Moses' commandment (Antiquities of the Jews, 3:8:2 §193-196; cf. 18:9:1 §312). Cf. the Mishnah (Shekalim, especially 1:1, 3, in Herbert Danby, The Mishnah [London: Oxford University Press, 1950], 152).

41. According to the Mishnah, no religious tax was to be received from a Gentile or a Samaritan (Shekalim 1:5; in Herbert Danby, The Mishnah, 152). This Mishnah passage cites Ezra 4:3 for Biblical support.

42. Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956), 245.

43. For exegesis of the Olivet Discourse that conclusively demonstrates Matthew 24:1-35 applies to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 and not to the second coming of Christ (which is discussed in Matt. 24:36-25:46), see R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007); cf. France, The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002). France surpasses all commentaries I have seen in demonstrating that every passage in Matthew's Gospel using the language of Psalm 110 or Daniel 7:13f. refers to the rule of Jesus Christ from the Father's right hand (i.e., while He remains in heaven, not a rule commencing with the second coming of Christ).

44. Grant R. Osborne, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 663.

45. If one should ask why Jesus paid Peter's tax, we offer a two-fold answer. First, "the didrachma, worth one-half a stater or shekel, was seldom minted at this time; and probably two people joined to pay a tetradrachma (‘a four-drachma coin,' v. 27) or shekel" (D.A. Carson, "Matthew," EBC, 8:393; cf. didrachmon, BDAG, 241). Second, since Peter had to go catch the fish and use the found coin to pay Jesus' tax, Jesus, in essence, used the excess amount to pay Peter for his labor. This is in keeping with Jesus' practice of not wasting leftovers after performing a miracle (John 6:12f.).

46. Jesus is ontologically the Son of God (i.e., in His being or eternal existence); whereas believers are adopted children of God. "These two kinds of relationships, viz., that of Jesus and that of the believers, to the Father, must not be identified ...  Jesus never speaks of ‘our Father,' so as to identify himself with his disciples, but distinguishes between ‘my Father' and ‘your Father'" [John 20:17] (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom [Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962], 237). Only Jesus is the unique, Divine Son of God (Matt. 17:5). The temple was His "Father's house" (Luke 2:49), and He is greater than the temple (Matt. 12:6). Indeed, Jesus' physical body was the new "temple" (i.e., the dwelling place of God), in contradistinction to Herod's Temple (John 2:19-22; 1:14; Col. 2:9; cf. Rev. 21:22). In John's writings Jesus' unique Sonship is also emphasized by the Biblical Greek term μονογενής (monogenes)-the only one of its kind (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).

47. The miracle of the coin in the fish's mouth should be seen in its historical context. "The [Roman] Emperor's sovereignty extended to what was in the sea. Hence the fishing industry on bodies of water such as the Sea of Galilee was tightly regulated through the sale of contracts to fishermen and taxes on what was caught, processed, and transported" (Warren Carter, "Matthew Negotiates the Roman Empire," In the Shadow of Empire, ed. Richard A. Horsley [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008], 131). Thus the Lord Jesus was demonstrating that He, not Caesar, is the real sovereign over creation, including the sea and the fish (cf. Jesus' miracles of multiplying fish, Matt. 14-15).

48. D. A. Carson, "Matthew," EBC, 8:394 (Carson emphasizes the Christological application, but he holds view #2 above). For representatives of view #3 see: Herman N. Ridderbos, "His appeal to His sonship was rather a messianic claim ... Jesus therefore regarded Himself as exempt from the duty to pay the temple tax" (cf. Matt. 12:1-8) (Matthew, BSC [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987], 329; cf. idem., The Coming of the Kingdom, 237, 304); Matthew Poole, "This tribute is gathered for my heavenly Father. I am his Son, I am not bound to pay it. ... [Jesus] first asserted his immunity ...  and by this miracle he also confirmed his immunity" (A Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3:82; cf. Matthew Henry); Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, 246.

49. Interestingly, "The head or poll tax was once the basic civil tax in some American colonies" (Rousas J. Rushdoony, Law and Society, 696).

  • Robert Fugate

Dr. Robert Fugate (Ph.D., M.Div.) is the pastor of Word and Spirit Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska. In addition to his job as pastor, Dr. Fugate mentors young adults, missionary candidates, and other pastors in Biblical worldview, presuppositional apologetics, and theology.

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