The Temple Tax-Jesus paying for Peter

From Matthew 17:

24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

I would like some insights, please on the significance of Jesus paying the tax for Peter?


I have heard (either from Edward Sri, Scott Hahn, or Jeff Cavins, can’t remember who) that under a certain age (18 I think) there was no tax required. So Jesus and Peter were the only ones old enough to pay the tax. This theory presents the apostles as very young.

I’m sure there are other possibilities, though. This is just one view. Where the magisterium hasn’t spoken directly in interpreting Scripture (through dogma and doctrine), proper exegesis is allowed (so long as it does not oppose Church teaching). Note the ‘proper’. Simply pulling interpretations out of thin air without consulting the historical context and the Church fathers is never a good idea.

Edit: the NAB notes say 19 was the age required for the tax.

From the Haydock Commentary:

"Ver. 23. They that received the didrachmas, (ta didrachma) in value about fifteen-pence of our money. (Witham) — A tax, according to some, laid on every person who was twenty years of age, for the service of the temple. See Exodus xxx. St. Chrysostom thinks it was paid for the first-born only, whom the Lord would have redeemed for the first-born of the Egyptians, whom he slew. Others think it was a tribute paid to the Romans, as Christ, in ver. 24, seems to insinuate, by mentioning the kings of the earth; and the Jews were tributary to them at this time. In ver. 24, the evangelist uses the word Kensos, taken from the Latin census, or tax.

Ver. 25. Then the children. From these words and the following, that we may not scandalize them, some argue that Christians are exempt from taxes. The fallacy of this deduction is victoriously demonstrated from the express words of St. Paul, (Romans xiii.) commanding us to be subject to the higher powers, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake: Render tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom, &c. The word children then does not mean subjects, but must be understood in its natural limited sense. (Jansenius) — Jesus Christ argues a minori ad majus thus, if the kings of the earth exact money from their subjects only, and exempt their own children, how much more ought I to be exempt, who do not claim my descent from a temporal prince only, but from the supreme King of heaven. This example our Saviour would never have adduced, says St. Chrysostom had he not really been the Son of God. (hom. lix.) Our Saviour uniformly waved his right to exemptions in temporal things: he declares every where that temporal princes have nothing to fear from him, or his doctrines, since his kingdom is not of this world. (Haydock)

Ver. 26. But that we may not. Jesus Christ pays the tribute, not as one subject to the law, but as consulting the infirmity of the people; but he first shews himself exempt from the above example, lest his disciples might take occasion of scandal therefrom. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lix.) — For me and thee. A great mystery this: Jesus Christ paid not only for himself, but for the future representative of Him and his Church, in whom, as chief, the rest were comprised. (St. Augustine, q. ex Nov. Tes. q. lxxv. tom. 4.) Jesus Christ here, as well as on many other occasions, pointedly marks the precedence of Peter, which might give rise to the strife and contention of the disciples, in the commencement of the ensuing chapter, on the subject of superiority. Thus St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, Tirinus, &c.

And from the Catena Aurea:

"Gloss., non occ.: The disciples were exceeding sorrowful when they heard of the Lord’s passion, and therefore that none might ascribe His suffering to compulsion, and not to a voluntary submission, he adds an incident which instances Christ’s power, and His submission; “And when they were come to Capernaum, there came to Peter those who received the didrachma, and said unto him, Doth not your Master pay the didrachma?”
Hilary: The Lord is called upon to pay the didrachma, (that is, two denarii,) for this the Law had enjoined upon all Israel for the redemption of their body and soul, and the use of those that served in the temple.
Chrys.: For when God slew the firstborn of Egypt, He then accepted the tribe of Levi for them. [margin note: Numb 3:44] But because the numbers of this tribe were less than the number of firstborn among the Jews, it was ordained that redemption money should be paid for the number that came short; and thence sprang the custom of paying this tax. Because then Christ was a firstborn son, and Peter seemed to be the first among the disciples, they came to him. And as it seems to me this was not demanded in every district, they come to Christ in Capernaum, because that was considered His native place.
Jerome: Or otherwise; From the time of Augustus Caesar Judaea was made tributary, and all the inhabitants were registered, as Joseph with Mary his kinswoman gave in His name at Bethlehem. Again, because the Lord was brought up at Nazareth, which is a town of Galilee subject to Capernaum, it is there that the tribute is asked of Him; but for that His miracles were so great, those who collected it did not dare to ask Himself, but make up to the disciple.
Chrys.: And him they address not with boldness, but courteously; for they do not arraign, but ask a question, “Doth not your Master pay the didrachma?”
Jerome: Or, They enquire with malicious purpose whether He pays tribute, or resists Caesar’s will.
Chrys.: What then does Peter say? [p. 618] “He saith, Yea.” To these then he said that He did pay, but to Christ he said not so, blushing perhaps to speak of such matters.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Otherwise; Peter answered, Yea; meaning, yea, He does not pay. And Peter sought to acquaint the Lord that the Herodians had demanded tribute, but the Lord prevented him; as it follows, “And when he had entered into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, Of whom do the kings of the earth receive custom or tribute,” (i. e. head- money,) “of their children, or of strangers?”
Jerome: Before any hint from Peter, the Lord puts the question to him, that His disciples might not be offended at the demand of tribute, when they see that He knows even those things that are done in His absence.
It follows, “But he said, From strangers; Jesus said unto him, Then are the children free.”
Origen: This speech has a twofold meaning. First, that the children of the kings of the earth are free with the kings of the earth; but strangers, foreigners in the land, are not free, because of those that oppress them, as the Egyptians did the children of Israel.
The second sense is; forasmuch as there be some who are strangers to the sons of the kings of the earth, and are yet sons of God, therefore it is they that abide in the words of Jesus; these are free, for they have known the truth, and the truth has set them free from the service of sin: but the sons of the kings of the earth are not free; for “whoso doth sin, he is the servant of sin.” [John 8:34]
Jerome: But our Lord was the son of the king, both according to the flesh, and according to the Spirit; whether as sprung of the seed of David, or as the Word of the Almighty Father; therefore as the king’s son He owed no tribute.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 23: For, saith He, in every kingdom the children are free, that is, not under tax. Much more therefore should they be free in any earthly kingdom, who are children of that very kingdom under which are all the kingdoms of the earth.
Chrys.: But this instance were brought to no purpose if He were not a son. But some one may say, He is son indeed, but not an own son. But then He were a stranger; and so this instance would not apply; for He speaks only of own sons, distinct from whom He calls them strangers who are actually born of parents. Mark how here also Christ certifies that relationship which was revealed to Peter from God, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jerome: Howsoever free then He was, yet seeing He [p. 619] had taken to Him lowliness of the flesh, He ought to fulfil all righteousness; whence it follows, “But that they should not be offended, go to the sea.”


Continued from the Catena Aurea:

"Origen: We may hence gather as a consequence of this, that when any come with justice demanding our earthly goods, it is the kings of the earth that send them, to claim of us what is their own; and by His own example the Lord forbids any offence to be given even to these, whether that they should sin no more, or that they should be saved. For the Son of God, who did no servile work, yet as having the form of a slave, which He took on Him for man’s sake, gave custom and tribute.
Jerome: I am at a loss what first to admire in this passage; whether the foreknowledge, or the mighty power of the Saviour. His foreknowledge, in that He knew that a fish had a stater in its mouth, and that that fish should be the first taken; His mighty power, if the stater were created in the fish’s mouth at His word, and if by His command that which was to happen was ordered. Christ then, for His eminent love, endured the cross, and paid tribute; how wretched we who are called by the name of Christ, though we do nothing worthy of so great dignity, yet in respect of His majesty, pay no tribute, but are exempt from tax as the King’s sons. But even in its literal import it edifies the hearer to learn, that so great was the Lord’s poverty, that He had not whence to pay the tribute for Himself and His Apostle. Should any object that Judas bore money in a bag, we shall answer, Jesus held it a fraud to divert that which was the poor’s to His own use, and left us an example therein.
Chrys.: Or He does not direct it to be paid out of that they had at hand, that He might shew that He was Lord also of the sea and the fish.
Gloss., non occ.: Or because Jesus had not any image of Caesar, (for the prince of this world had nothing in Him,) therefore He furnished an image of Caesar, not out of their own stock, but out of the sea. But He takes not the stater into His own possession, that there should never be found an image of Caesar upon the Image of the invisible God.
Chrys.: Observe also the wisdom of Christ; He neither refuses the tribute, nor merely commands that it be paid; but first proves that He is of right exempt, and then bids to give the money; the money was paid to avoid offence to the collectors; the vindication of His exemption was to avoid the offence to the [p. 620] disciples.
Indeed in another place He disregards the offence of the Pharisees, in disputing of meats; teaching us herein to know the seasons in which we must attend to, and those in which we must slight the thoughts of those who are like to be scandalized.
Greg., in Ezech. 7. 4: For we must cast about how, as far as we may without sin, to avoid giving scandal to our neighbours. But if offence is taken from truth, it is better that offence should come, though truth be forsaken.
Chrys.: As you wonder at Christ’s power, so admire Peter’s faith, who was obedient in no easy matter. In reward of his faith he was joined with his Lord in the payment. An abundant honour! “Thou shalt find a stater, that take and give unto them for thee and for me.”
Gloss., ap. Anselm: For by custom every several man paid a didrachma for himself; now a stater is equal to two didrachmas.
Origen: Mystically; In the field of comfort, (for so is Capernaum expounded,) He comforts each one of His disciples, and pronounces him to be a son and free, and gives him the power of taking the first fish, that after His ascension Peter may have comfort over that which he has caught.
Hilary: When Peter is instructed to take the first fish, it is shewn therein that he shall catch more than one. The blessed first martyr Stephen was the first that came up, having in his mouth a stater, which contained the didrachma of the new preaching, divided as two denarii, for he preached as he beheld in his passion the glory of God, and Christ the Lord.
Jerome: Or; That fish which was first taken is the first Adam, who is set free by the second Adam; and that which is found in his mouth, that is, in his confession, is given for Peter and for the Lord.
Origen: And when you see any miser rebuked by some Peter who takes the speech of his money out of his mouth, you may say that he is risen out of the sea of covetousness to the hook of reason, and is caught and saved by some Peter, who has taught him the truth, that he should change his stater for the image of God, that is for the oracles of God.
Jerome: And beautifully is this very stater given for the tribute; but it is divided; for Peter as for a sinner a ransom is to be paid, but the Lord had not sin. Yet herein is shewn the likeness of their flesh, when the Lord and His servants are redeemed with the same price.

It’s the other way around. The significance is that Peter went to the temple in the place of Jesus and paid the tax on his behalf.

Peter acted in persona Christi.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit