Before they met Jesus, many (if not all) of the disciples were gainfully employed. Peter, John, James, and Andrew were members of the Galilean Fisherman’s Union. Simon was part of a terrorist organization (the Zealots.) And good old Matthew, the author of the gospel bearing his name, worked for Rome.

Matthew, of course, ran a little H&R Block-syle kiosk alongside the dusty pathways of Capernaum. His employer was the IRRS – “Imperial Roman Revenue Service.” In layman’s terms, he was a tax collector.  (And, given recent news stories, the Roman version of the IRS may have been only a shade shadier than our own.)

Since Matthew spent his pre-Christian days adding, subtracting, counting, and “robbing Peter to pay” Tiberius, it comes as no surprise that his gospel account is filled with accountant jargon.  Just as Dr. Luke’s gospel contains more details about diseases and miraculous healings than any other; Matthew’s gospel has more money-talk than the rest. (Below, I have created a chart showing the many money references and economic denominations found in Matthew’s gospel.)

In today’s sermon text (Matthew 22:15-22), Jesus is asked about whether or not people should even pay taxes to Rome. In verse 19, Jesus said, “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” This “coin” was commonly known as a denarius and was worth about one day’s wage (see chart below.)

What Jesus held in his hands, that day, was a coin that looked exactly like the one pictured below. The “likeness” and “inscription” which Jesus made mention of, was precisely what you see here. The picture was Caesar (a title), who was named Tiberius. The wording, stamped in Latin, was a rather offensive and audacious claim, (on the front side, with his bust) “[This is] Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine/god Augustus”and “pontif maxim”(on the back) which means, “High Priest.”

Denarius

A Roman denarius featuring Tiberius; Caesar from Sept 18, AD 14 to March 16, AD 37.

Surely such outright blasphemy by a pagan government was a good reason for godly people to withhold their taxes. Or was it? Jesus said, in Matthew 15:21, “Render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God.” Money matters matter, both to the government and to God.

 

Chart of Money Names, References & Values (Matthew)

Greek Name

Roman Amount

Matthew Verses

Modern Value 

Talent*

 

600 Denarii Matt 25:14-30

(Parable: 5, 2, and 1 talents)

 

Matt 18:24

(Parable: 10,000 talents!!)

 

US = $60,000

Argurion*

(Approximately 30 shekels)

 

120 Denarii Matt 26:15

(Judas’ hush $$)

 

US = $12,000

Tetradrachma

(Heb. = shekel)

4 Denarii

(aka Stater)

Matt 17:27

(For 2 people’s Jewish tax)

 

US = $400

Two-Drachma

2 Denarii Matt 17:24

(Jewish Tax)

 

US = $200

 

Drachma

Denarius

(A Day’s Wage)

Matt 20:9-10

(Parable)

 

Matt 22:21

(Roman Tax )

 

US = $100**

 

 

Assarius

(aka “a cent”)

1/4 Denarius Matthew 10:29

(2 sparrows cost)

 

US = $25

Lepton

(aka “mites,”

“copper coins”)

 

1/32 Denarius Mark 12:42

(Widow’s gift, not in Matt but noteworthy)

 

US = $3

 

*This was a total sum of money, not an individual coin/denomination. The term was used as shorthand, in a similar way that we might refer to “5k” as $5,000.

 

** I am sure there is a more accurate way to figure this considering inflation and other details. At the risk of oversimplying, I simply wanted to find a somewhat modern point of reference. I chose $100 as a reasonable/familiar figure for a day’s wage ($36,500 annual income). All figures are based on this denarius/drachma figure. My apologies to the economists, accountants and mathematicians in our church.