Sure; but, What If Caesar is Evil?

Sure; but, What If Caesar is Evil?

Introduction

“Render unto Caesar” is a command of Christ (Mt. 22:21). Yet, sometimes, Caesar is evil. For example, that evil was experienced by of citizens in Le Chambron-sur-Lignon, a village of only five thousand in south central France. While Nazi Germany’s reign of terror needs no introduction, the systematic rounding up of people across the Continent for execution or slave labor was a horrendous stain on the 20th Century. Le Chambron refused to participate. From December 1940 until September 1944, the small village sheltered an estimated 5,000 Jews. While millions of Europeans either stood by or actively participated in the action of evil governments, the brave citizens of Le Chambron resisted the demands of the Third Reich — an evil Caesar (or in German, Kaiser) — to protect, hide, and transport Jews to safety. Their conspiracy to resist an evil government prevented the loss of life for five thousand souls [i].

Thesis

When faced with a dilemma regarding the authority of Caesar contrasted with the Lord God, Christians can find a good example of Christ’s response in Matthew 22:15-22. When posed with a sociopolitical challenge by Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus did not subvert the authority of Caesar, but he still maintained the authority of God over all things which bear his image. Jesus’s response, however, introduces complexity to the interpretation of this passage. In his context, there was no division between the secular and sacred; the Lord is sovereign over all.  If, then, everything belongs to the Lord, what does Caesar actually get?

This paper will argue that Jesus’s answer to the Pharisees and Herodians diminished Caesar’s authority by asserting the limitation of his domain. This paper will, first, examine the Greek text and its historical and literary context. This paper will then provide a history of interpretation which provide helpful commentary on the passage.

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