Lipscomb on Giving Caesar His Due (Mark 12:13-17)

Yesterday I posted on Mark 12:13-17 where jesus encounters the “Caesar tax” question as part of my regular blogging on my Sunday morning Bible Class.  It was not an agenda piece but rather part of working through the text of Mark as I understand it.

My views, however, are generally similar to those of David Lipscomb. He reads Jesus’s comment as essentially saying, “pay your tax, but you are not children or servants of the earthly governments.” Or, pay your tax, but you (and everything–including what Caesar thinks is his) belong to God. In other words, pay the tax as part of the situation in which you live “in” this world but you are not “of” this world. Give to Caesar what is necessary as part of living under Roman rule but do not think that the world belongs to Caesar or that you thereby belong to Caesar. Rather, you belong to God and only to God is your allegiance owed. Disciples of Jesus owe no allegiance to Caesar (or any national state).

While C. P. Alexander argued that Jesus was subtly saying “don’t pay the tax” because their allegiance is to God rather than to Caesar, Lipscomb believes that Jesus authorizes payment of the tax. However, the rationale is not because it is owed to Caesar as a matter of allegiance but rather that it is submission to God’s ordained arrangement. In other words, we pay taxes because we are kingdom people who live in peace with their neighbors, including governments.

Below is his comment on an article by C. P. Alexander entitled “Christians Duty to Civil Government” in the Gospel Advocate 15 (23 January 1873), 77-81.  Lipscomb’s comments on the article are found on pages 81-82.

Fully agreeing with our brother that Bro. P[inkerton]’s [GA (November 1872)] conclusion cannot be legitimately drawn from his premises [e.g., two-kingdom theory or dual citizenship, JMH]; and indeed from no passage or example of Scripture; we yet feel under the necessity of dissenting somewhat from some points of our brother.

We understand with Bro. P. that the Savior did teach in the reference to the image on the money the necessity of paying taxes or tribute. We are confirmed in this interpretation from the perfect harmony of the example and other teachings of the Savior and the apostles with this interpretation. We are to pay taxes, Rom. 13, to the civil government under which we live, as a duty we owe to God, a Christian duty–because God commands it, not from a principle of fealty or homage to the civil government. God ordained this much as necessary in order to the peace and quiet of his children.

Submission to the authorities under which we live, is certainly taught us in various passages of Scripture. That submission involves the duty of paying taxes and doing everything required by civil government that is not incompatible with the principles and practices of Jesus Christ. To refuse to pay taxes by evasion or otherwise then, is a refusal to obey God. Justin Martyr affirms in his apology to Trajan the emperor “of all men we pay taxes most faithfully.”

But Bro. P. in my estimation fails to distinguish between submission to a thing and active participation in it. The Bible teaches submission. It does not teach the propriety of active participation. As we regard it, it wholly prohibits it. Indeed in the strict proprieties of language we can hardly be said to submit to that in which we actively and heartily cooperate and participate, into which our sympathies and feelings fully enter. Submission bears the idea of coming under something separate and apart from us. It carries the idea of something upon us that is not agreeable, in harmony with us, that is onerous or burdensom to us. We feel sure too that God has given no license or authority to his subjects in this or any other passage of Scripture to participate in the management of these institutions. No better explanation has ever been given of this saying of the Savior than that offered by Tertullian, in the 2nd century. Give the money that bears Caesar’s image to Caesar–the man which bears God’s image to God. If both money and men be given to Caesar what is left to God? The early Christians all refrained from active participation in civil government. But few of those who protested against Romanism permitted their members to do so until the 15th century. The reformers brought with them this idea from Rome and the Protestant sects adopt it.

Nor do we think Bro. P. on proper consideration, will say the family, originated and perpetuated by God himself, for his own children, bears the same relation to the church that human governments do–which were instituted by man, had their origin among those in rebellion against God, and have been ordained by God in the sense that he ordains instrumentalities to punish those who reject his appointments and seek others of their own liking. But we intended only to dissent from Bro. A’s position on taxation which seems to be rather extreme and which might bring reproach upon the truth.

The great danger is in running to extremes. Like Bro. A. we have no faith in the purity, spirituality and unfaltering zeal of the church, until its members divorce themselves from all attachment to these institutions, free themselves from their spirit, and rely immediately on God’s ability and willingness to confer all good through his own institutions.


Below is his comment in Civil Government (pp. 65-66) on the episode.


No clearer evidence could be furnished that it was well understood by the enemies as well as the friends of Christ, that his mission was to destroy the governments of earth than the record, Matt. xxii: 15, Mark xii: 14, Luke xx: 20. Knowing this they sought to commit him against the lawfulness of giving tribute to Caesar and thus find ground for accusation to secure his condemnation.

“Then went the Pharisees and took counsel against him how they might entangle him in his talk, and they sent unto him the lawyers with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know thou art true and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man, for thou regardest not the person of man. Tell us therefore, what thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money, and they brought him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. When they heard these words, they marvelled, and left him and went their way.”

This clearly shows that it was well understood that Christ was to destroy the kingdoms of earth. These lawyers under the guise of friendship sought to entrap him into expressions that would convict him of treason, that they might secure his condemnation. He not only thwarted their purpose, but taught the lesson in an empathic way of the Christian’s duty to human kingdoms. Tertullian, who was probably born within a half century after the death of the apostle John, gives this explanation of this saying of the Savior:

“The image of Caesar which is on the coin is to be given to Caesar, and the image of God which is in man is to be given to God. Therefore thou must indeed give thy money to Caesar, but thyself to God, for what will remain to God if all be given to Caesar?”

No better explanation has ever been given of the Savior’s words. It teaches what the Savior taught: pay your tax, but you are not children or servants of the earthly governments. Give your personal service and your bodily powers to God. Tertullian not only gives this as the meaning of the Savior, but he shows what was the prevailing impression of the teaching of the Savior and the apostles, within the first century after the establishment of the church. These ideas must have come down from the days of the apostles. They could not have originated after the church found favor with the civil power.

3 Responses to “Lipscomb on Giving Caesar His Due (Mark 12:13-17)”

  1.   Tim Archer Says:

    Though sympathetic to Lipscomb’s views, I wonder a bit about his comments about submission. We submit to God. We submit to one another. To say: “It carries the idea of something upon us that is not agreeable, in harmony with us, that is onerous or burdensom to us” doesn’t seem to fit with those situations.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I agree, Tim. I think he stretches that a bit much. I think one could make a similar point in a different way. We live in submission to government authority but not as people whose allegiance is to the government. Instead, as kingdom people who obey violence/coercion-based institutions for the sake of living quiet lives in order to bear witness to the kingdom. I think his point about “submission” is an attempt to say something like that as, in his view, governments are oppressive instruments whose primary purpose is their own survival.

  2.   eirenetheou Says:

    Let the congregation say, “Amen!”

    Let those who have ears, hear.

    God’s Peace to you.



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