Matthew 17 24-27: THE COIN IN THE FISHES' MOUTH.

Introduction. Read Matthew 17 24-27.

This incident in the life of Jesus has been interpreted in a great variety of ways. I suppose most of the preachers in the Grace Baptist denomination which I belong to would take it perfectly literally; Peter went fishing for the tax and found the required sum in the mouth of the first fish caught. My interpretation is very different to this!

(1) The antagonistic question.

In the time of Jesus every male Jew was expected to pay annually two drachma toward the upkeep of the Temple. This tax was the equivalent of two day's pay for a labouring man. The collection of the tax was carefully organised. On the fifteenth of March each year booths were set up in towns and villages where the tax could be paid. After ten days the booths were dismantled and payment had to be made directly to the Temple.

The question of the Temple tax collectors was:

(a) Accusative. They said to Peter, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" From the way the question is framed it is obvious that Jesus has not paid the tax and there was the hope that he wasn't going to. Then he could be accused of lacking respect for the temple.

(b) Targeted. The temple tax collectors targeted the wrong person. They should have asked Peter to fetch Jesus so he could answer their question. But Jesus was a different proposition to Peter. They were apprehensive about taking Jesus to task - but Peter was error prone.

(c) Inclusive. Peter was included in the implied criticism: "Doesn't YOUR teacher .... ." There is the suggestion that a teacher unwilling to pay the temple tax is hardly worthy of Peter's devotion. Does he really want to follow someone who does not value the temple?


Today Evangelical Protestants are criticised for holding certain views on Gay Marriage. The criticisms come from within the church and without. The BBC seems to see itself as the champion of everything Gay! The Northern Ireland DUP is labelled the nasty party for opposing Gay Marriage.

Advocates of Gay Marriage by the church should target Jesus first and Paul second. Jesus said, "Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said for this reason a man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." Mt19v4and5. Jesus believed men and women were made for one another! There is a very blunt passage in the opening chapter of Paul's epistle to the Roman about men and women exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones.

There is also the implication that if we follow Jesus and embrace his views, we are out of date, out of touch, stuck in the past and in need of embracing modern values. Jesus is not worthy of our devotion.

(2) The unsatisfactory response.

Peter's response was:

(a) Quick. I think it highly likely that Peter replied without much thought: "Yes he does."

(b) Presumptuous. Peter takes it on himself to answer for Jesus. He wants to put Jesus in the right. He doesn't want the authorities to have anything against the Master. What Peter should have done is leave the tax collectors at the door and gone to fetch Jesus so he could answer for himself.

(c) Defensive. Peter said what he did to defend the reputation of Jesus and his followers. "Yes, of course Jesus paid the temple tax. They all did - like every patriotic Jew."


Today, there are plenty of Christians who put words in Jesus' mouth. Recently I heard a woman talking about a couple we will call Jack and Jill, who stopped worshipping at her church - the reason being: Jack was not allowed to take communion because he was a heavy smoker. He didn't like it! The woman said, "I'm sure Jesus wouldn't approve of a smoker like him meeting round his table." But what does Jesus actually say: "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean. .... The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean." Mt15v10and18.

I can imagine a man saying, "Jesus wouldn't want me trapped in a loveless marriage." What does Jesus actually say about divorce? He said: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." Mt19v9.

There are a lot of Christians who believe that they have a healing ministry who will say, "I am sure Jesus wants to heal you." But what does Jesus say to Paul who prayed three times for his thorn in the flesh to be taken away? "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2Cor12v9.

(3) The reproof of Jesus.

Let us look at how Jesus' reacts:

(a) He tackles Peter at once. This suggests that Jesus was very displeased by the effrontery of Peter. If something really upsets or disturbs us we are inclined to deal with the matter promptly.

(b) He chides Peter for overlooking his status. As we have seen, Peter acknowledged earlier Jesus' unique status as the Son of God. If Jesus was, as Peter confessed, the Son of God, surely he was exempt from taxes collected on behalf of his heavenly Father. Jesus challenged Peter: "What do you think? From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes from their own sons or from others?" v25. The Master was querying whether Peter really did in his heart of hearts believe in his royal status.

(c) He identifies Peter's unworthy motive. Jesus says to Peter, "So that we may not offend them." I am sure at this juncture Jesus is being mildly sarcastic. Peter was the one who didn't want to offend the people who mattered. He wanted Jesus and his followers to be well thought of. The desire to be well thought of was Peter's cardinal sin. It wasn't his impulsiveness. He denied Jesus three times because he couldn't bear to be ill thought of. He didn't want to be associated with the Messiah who failed and let all his followers down.

(d) He highlights the futility of giving for discreditable motives. Jesus implies that if we give for bad reasons then it is best to make as little effort as possible to raise the sum donated. It should cost us as little as possible because the gift is worth nothing in God's eyes and not to our credit. So Jesus tells Peter, once again mildly sarcastically, that he had better go and fish for the temple tax. Perhaps he would find a four-drachma coin in the fishes' mouth! There is nothing to suggest that Peter did this. It is more likely that he went fishing, sold his catch, and used the money to pay the temple tax for himself and his Master.

William Barclay gives three reasons why it would be wrong to take Jesus literally. God does not send miracles to enable us to do what we can quite well do ourselves. Jesus never did a miracle for his own benefit - although tempted by Satan to do so. Men should not be allowed to meet their obligations in a lazy and effortless way.


(a) The church should not adopt policies to satisfy worldly opinion. We should be very wary of the world. The Christian has three great enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. There is no way the Church of England should decide to marry Gay people to please the likes of Mrs May and Justine Greening.

There are many things done in the name of Jesus that are discreditable. Take, for example, the typical address given by a clergyman at the funeral of an unbeliever. If the deceased has lived a half-decent life then the officiating minister is liable to promise that the departed has gone to be with God in heaven. This most certainly is NOT the teaching of the New Testament. John wrote: The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. Jn3v20and21. Only those committed to Jesus can be sure of life everlasting. It is no easy thing to be committed to Jesus. We have to deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow him.

(b) We need to be very careful to support the church financially for the purest of motives. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God." Mt5v8. He did not commend the Scribes and Pharisees who did their good works to be seen of men, but he did praise the poor, widow women who gave to God all she had to live on that day. See exposition on Luke21v1to5.

(c) If we give to impress men we certainly will not impress Jesus who told the people of his day to give in such a way the right hand did not know what the left was doing.