“Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
If Jesus agreed that it was okay to pay taxes to Caesar the Pharisees would be able to proclaim to Jesus’ followers that Jesus is not the Messiah or that he is a Roman puppet as the Messiah was expected to be sovereign king of the Jews. If Jesus disagreed with paying taxes to Caesar, then the Pharisees could bring him to the Roman authorities for treason. Jesus was able to navigate his way out of this trap by implicitly appealing to the Law of Moses. Graven images like the implicitly deified face of Caesar on Roman money was a violation of the Law of Moses. When Jesus said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus seems to have averted the trap the Pharisees tried to set for Jesus by implying the idea of giving back this sinful money which violates the Law but without answering the question directly (see Jesus, Currency, and a Reconsideration of “Render to Caesar” by Jonathan E. Thomas).