Like we do for every Bible history recap, we need to look at the scriptures first. Today’s scriptures will come from Matthew 17:24-27.
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
“Yes,” he said.
When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?”
When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But so that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”
Explanation of the scriptures’ context
If I were to explain the situation again, it would be like this. When Jesus had reached Capernaum with his disciples, a person came up to Peter. That person asked, “Are you Peter? Why doesn’t Jesus pay temple taxes?” So from this part of the conversation, we can garner that Jesus did not pay his taxes. But Peter replied, “Of course he does. Jesus pays taxes. But I’ll go and talk to him about it anyway.” That’s how the story began.
Immediately after that, Peter went to Jesus and told Jesus that the tax collectors were asking for them to pay taxes. At that time, the temple tax was two drachma coins per person. And every person had to offer their tribute to God once a year as a temple tax, half a shekel. Half a shekel isn’t really that much money. If you converted half a shekel into today’s currency standard, it’d be about 1 USD. Because the value of currencies change so much, I can’t really give you an exact figure, but it about that much approximately.
People thought Jesus should pay for the temple tax
Jesus was a believer of God. He was a man who lived an amazing life of faith. So many people expected him to pay the temple tax.
They thought since Jesus was a believer of God, he should also pay the temple tax. All people who lived a life of faith should do it. And it was for a good cause. The tax money was used for everyone’s benefit. That’s why everybody was supposed to pay half a shekel each.
So when Jesus saw Peter coming in to talk about the temple tax, he already knew what was going on. So he said, “Peter, let’s say there is a king. He wants to collect taxes. Will he collect taxes from strangers or will he collect it from his own sons?”
Thinking the answer was obvious, Peter said, “Oh, well, the king will collect taxes from strangers because his sons should be exempt.”
“Yeah, the king’s sons must be exempt from the taxes, right?”
“Well, even if that’s the case, I want you to go to the ocean anyway and throw out a line. And whichever fish you catch first, open its mouth and you will find a shekel in its mouth. So go and use that to pay the taxes for you and me.”
And Peter said he would follow what Jesus said.
But is that really what happened?
The truth behind the shekel Peter found in a fish he caught
That is the end of the story in the scriptures. But I will explain the truth behind this story.
To find out the truth, we have to ask ourselves certain questions. As Jesus said, was there really a fish with a shekel inside its mouth? Did Peter catch that fish and use the money to pay for the temple tax?
Almost all Christians will say that Peter actually went to catch a fish, found a shekel in its mouth, and paid the temple tax as Jesus said. Since that’s how the scriptures were written, that’s how it happened. Peter used that money to pay for his tax and Jesus’ tax. Many people would agree that this was a miracle.
People who attend church have probably heard this sermon many times. Me too. I also attended church so I heard sermons about this part of the scripture. When I was a child, I heard this story and was really blown away.
The many religious people who studied those scriptures explained why this event was a miracle.
But there is something we have to consider when reading about the things Jesus says.
Jesus has a particular way of speaking
When we look at other parts of the scriptures, there is a time when Jesus speaks with Peter for the first time. He says to Peter, “I tell you the truth. Follow me, and you will be a fisherman. You will be a fisher of man.”
That’s what Jesus said, and that’s what Peter did.
Peter ended up evangelizing 3000 people in one day. And this was something Peter did after Jesus spoke with him. But why would Jesus later tell Peter to go back and catch actual fish instead of people?
If you look at all the parables in the Bible carefully, you will notice they all have something in common. All the parables of nature used in the Bible were parables for people, at least 90%. So when Jesus spoke, he used many different parables to talk about people.
So it wasn’t that Peter went out with a fishing pole to catch a fish. When Peter went to people and told them about Jesus’ situation, someone gave him money so that he could pay half a shekel for himself and Jesus.
Jesus was not telling Peter to catch actual fish. He was talking about people.
Other parables Jesus uses to talk about people
There is a time when the Bible talks about dogs. In Revelations 22:15, it says that, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Jesus says that these dogs cannot inherit the kingdom of God. It’s in the Bible.
But when you read this verse, do you really think Jesus was talking about actual dogs? Does this mean that there will be no dogs in Heaven?
But why group dogs with those who practice magic arts, liars, and idolaters? When we read this, we have to interpret it. It’s not talking about dogs here. It’s talking about people who live like dogs. People who live like dogs cannot go into the kingdom of God.
What are dogs like?
Dogs are animals that vomit and come back to eat their vomit. They keep eating their vomit. So people who continue to repeat bad things, people who promise not to sin but sin again against God, they are like dogs. People who are like that cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus wasn’t talking about literal dogs.
In this way, there are thousands of parables in the Bible that Jesus uses to talk about people. One of them was when Jesus told Peter to go out and catch a fish in the ocean.
The ocean represents the world. The fish represents people. And the fishing line represents the Word.
When you take the Word in the scriptures and see it for what it really is, then that is the truth. And the truth is the essence of God.
Jesus was not talking about literal fish
It’s not that Peter went out and caught a fish in the ocean. And then it happened to have some money in it.
At that time, Israel used coins as a form of money. The coins back then were made of precious metals like gold. But would a fish by holding something like that in its mouth?
It doesn’t make any sense logically, and God doesn’t make history in strange ways. The history of God always takes place within the system He created. It’s the most logical way.
Basically, Peter went to someone and told that person the good news. He told him that Jesus was such and such a person and that he had come to Israel. But the kicker was that people did not recognize Jesus so they were asking him to pay the temple tax.
The ones who should pay the temple tax are different.
Jesus was a man sent by God to be in this world. Let’s say there was a king and he had sons and his people. When he collects tax for his nation, should he accept taxes from his sons? Or should he collect taxes from from his people?
Of course, he should collect it from the people. The sons should be exempt.
Peter spoke like that to people. Among them, there was a person who agreed that what Peter was saying was reasonable. Jesus was a man sent by God. He came as the owner of religion, so should he pay for the temple tax?
The listener who agreed said, “That’s ridiculous. Here, I will pay for his temple tax and gave you a shekel.”
So with that, he paid for Peter’s and Jesus’ tax.
Why didn’t Jesus have to pay for the temple tax?
Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He’s the Christ. At that time, people didn’t know. So the tax collectors simply told everyone to pay taxes, including Jesus.
Among the Jewish, there were the Pharisees and Sadducee who looked for fallacies and contradictions in Jesus. But the tax collectors were just doing their job.
Jesus came at the Son of God. Since God is the king and Jesus the son, he should be exempt.
Let’s say you had 10 friends. When it’s your birthday, your friends would all gather their money to get you something. But to ask Jesus to pay the temple tax is like going up to a person whose birthday it is and saying, “Hey, we need to buy something for you since it’s your birthday. Give us some money.”
The people who were collecting taxes from Jesus were like those people. But Jesus was the owner of religion.
Whenever God does something, he works through people. The fish Peter caught was not an actual fish. God used Peter to talk to someone and open their eyes to the truth. Since the person felt so thankful, he gave money to Peter to pay for Jesus’ temple tax.
But yet in Christianity, many pastors tell people that it was a miracle or a sign. They say, “This was the work of God. Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing is impossible for Jesus as well.” But it has nothing to do with catching a fish.
How can we really know if this was a parable or not?
Jesus said that he never spoke without using parables (Matthew 13:34). And in Isaiah 34:16, it says, “Look in the scroll of the LORD and read: None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate. For it is his mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together.”
When we read the Bible, we have to read it as a uniform text. In seminary schools, they tell people that it is contradictory to understand the Bible by looking at one part. But that is something they do. They interpret the Bible based on one part and create non-existent contradictions.
If you look at how Jesus spoke, you can see he spoke in parables. And when he spoke, he revealed things that were hidden since the creation of the world. He fulfilled this prophecy.
Jesus told Peter, “Follow me and you will become a fisher of man.” And what happened to Peter?
He became a fisher of man. He did not become a fisher of fish.
It’s not unusual for the Bible to be written in parables. People speak in parables all the time. It’s called figurative speech.
“Oh, that person is like a pig. He eats a lot,” or, “That’s persons like a fox. So coy.”
In this way, everyone speaks in parables. Jesus was no exception. Almost all the words in the Bible are manifested in parables.
Examples of God’s Words that don’t make sense if interpreted literally
“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.” ~ Jeremiah 16:16
Why would God want to catch all the fish and send hunters to hunt all the animals? What have the fish done against God? They’ve done nothing wrong, right?
So who are these fishermen and hunters?
They both refer to soldiers that wage war. God is saying he will send soldiers to destroy people. The fish had nothing to do with it.
So this is an example of God using parables in the Old Testament.
If you read more scriptures in the Bible, you will find that there are a lot of parables. So when you understand the parables properly, it will make sense how humans fell from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil are parables as well. I mean, why would a person fall after eating a fruit? If that were true, that’d be pretty amazing. Why would God create the fruit in the first place?
After Adam and Eve ate the fruit, humanity had to go through 4000 years of punishment. Did God want us to go through all that suffering? It starts to make us question God, right?
But if you understand parables, then there is nothing wrong with what happened. There are no contradictions in the Bible.
There are only contradictions when you interpret the words spoken in parables in a literal way. It doesn’t make any sense. It feels like a miracle because it’s not interpreted properly. But at the same time, it makes it unbelievable, so it hinders people from making a concrete foundation of faith.
What we need to learn from this lesson
Academics is something God gave us so that we can learn about God. God gave us academics so we could learn properly.
How can people who cannot teach the Bible properly teach about life?
But I will teach you about the truth properly. Although this lesson was only a small glimpse of that, I will teach you bit by bit so that you can gain a full understanding of the Bible as a whole.
We must never forget the fact that God only works through people or things in nature when he is dealing with the physical world. That is the true miracle.
Once you know this, you will notice God working in subtle ways in your life. You can probably recall experiences that have happened in your life as well.
God is and has always been with us.