Paying taxes is a responsibility that people have faced since ancient times, and even Jesus Christ had to pay them. The Bible records in Matthew 17:24-27 the story of how Jesus decided to perform a miracle to provide the tax money that he and his disciple Simon Peter owed. Here's a look at what happened:
A Temple Tax Comes Due
The Bible's account begins in verse 24 and the first part of verse 25: "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?'
'Yes, he does,' he replied."
The temple tax was money that Jewish people paid at their local temple for atonement of their sins, according to the instructions that God gave Moses in Exodus chapter 30 of the Torah and the Bible. In verse 16, God says: "Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives." But Jesus didn't actually owe the atonement money, because he didn't have any sin in his life. Here, scholars believe that Peter was trying to appease the tax collector and therefore lying to him about Jesus paying the temple tax.
The story continues in the last part of verse 25 through verse 27: "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?'
'From others,' Peter answered.
'Then the children are exempt,' Jesus said to him. '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.'"
This passage shows that Jesus knew what Peter was thinking about before he even brought it up. Jesus decided to start a conversation about it and make it clear to Peter that, while he didn't actually owe the atonement tax because he was free of sin, he also didn't want to offend or confuse the tax collectors and others at the temple.
Jesus chose to solve the dilemma by performing a miracle that showed Peter his power as the Son of God, providing the tax money for both Peter and himself in a symbolic way. Jesus used fish in several of his ministry's miracles (such as the multiplication of bread and fish) to help people understand spiritual concepts. Also, fish became a popular ancient symbol of Jesus' mission to be the world's savior, since some of the Bible was written in Greek and the Greek word for fish contains the initials of a Greek phrase that means "Jesus Christ, son of God, savior."