I swing between anarchism & minarchism on the regular, as practicality burdens me. Perhaps it is status quo bias effect, but many days it is not easy to accept anarchism on face value. Logically, it is sound. Psychologically, it can be freeing. Spiritually, as shown in The Kingdom of God is Within You, by Leo Tolstoy. But does it work? Perhaps for a Christian, it shouldn’t matter:
“…the Pharisees took counsel so as they might trap Him in words. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth, and it does not concern You about anyone, for You do not look to the face of men. Then tell us, what do You think? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’
But knowing their wickedness, Yeshua* said, ‘Why do you test Me, hypocrites? Show Me the tribute coin.’ And they brought a denarius to Him. And He said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’
They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’
Then He said to them, ‘Then give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God.’”
[Matthew 22:15-22 (LITV) see also Mark 12:13-17 & Luke 20:20-26]
Most churches use this passage of Scripture to teach their congregation to pay taxes, after all, the money comes from our version of Caesar. However, that’s not the message being taught by Yeshua. In order to understand the meaning of this passage, one must understand the context of the times as well.
During the life of Yeshua, as with the vast majority of human history, there was no “central bank” in the modern sense of the word. Certainly, Caesar – along with other kings, princes and governors – issued coins that could be used throughout the empire, but Caesar didn’t have a monopoly on currency like modern central banks enjoy. Caesar’s mint was still a central bank, but it had competition. To supplement (or compete with) the “kings money” there were several alternative and local currencies. (The Temple, for example had it’s own currency, that could only be used at the Temple, which explains the presence of the money-changers).
In this passage, His accuser gave Him a Roman coin with the inscription of Caesar, most likely Tiberius. It is perhaps significant that Yeshua did not carry such a coin with him but that one of his questioners did.
Yeshua answered, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to YHWH** the things that are YHWH’s”
Professor of Religion at Oregon State University, Marcus Borg explains:
“In context, the saying is thoroughly ambiguous. The word ‘render’ means ‘give back.’ The first half of the saying could thus mean, ‘It’s Caesar’s coin–go ahead and give it back to him.’…When its second half is added, the phrase remains equally ambiguous. What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God? The possible answers range from ‘Pay your tribute tax to Caesar, and your temple tax to God’ to ‘Everything belongs to God.’ If the latter, what is owed to Caesar? Nothing.”
Yeshua did not say that taxes are lawful, nor did he counsel obedience to the Romans. In the context of a society with many competing currencies, most of which did not have Caesar’s inscription, Yushua’s response is subtly seditious. Even if one rejects the idea that all things belong to YHWH, they must acknowledge that nothing rightfully belongs to Caesar. Governments own/create nothing that they did not first take from someone else. I can think of no better argument from the Scriptures against taxation, but counceling against using the “king’s money” is a powerful rejection of “central banks.”
Professor of Economics at Rutgers University, Michael Bordo explains:
“A central bank is the term used to describe the authority responsible for policies that affect a country’s supply of money and credit. More specifically, a central bank uses its tools of monetary policy—open market operations, discount window lending, changes in reserve requirements—to affect short-term interest rates and the monetary base (currency held by the public plus bank reserves) and to achieve important policy goals.”
The Federal Reserve (the current US central bank) claims, “to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.” Yet, as Ron Paul pointed out “throughout its nearly 100-year history, the Federal Reserve has presided over the near-complete destruction of the United States dollar. Since 1913 the dollar has lost over 95% of its purchasing power, aided and abetted by the Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy.”
Without legal tender laws, a central bank, a printing press, or a coin mint, the Caesars of our day have nothing. If Caesar has nothing, he cannot be owed anything… and there would be nothing for us to “render unto Caesar.” Seems like it’s time to be exploring alternatives.