Fish-hooking Never Meant by the VEGAN Christ! By Dr. Chapman Chen
Summary: According to Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus commands Peter to go hook a fish and dig a coin from her/his mouth in order to pay a temple tax which the tax collectors has asked Peter whether Jesus has paid or not. Some animal-eating Christians have seized upon this story as proof that Jesus was not a vegan. But this weird "miracle" could not be real because firstly, it was never executed; secondly, it's improbable that Jesus would have performed a complex miracle in order to pay his own tax; thirdly, how could Jesus, who died for animal liberation, have had the heart to order his disciple to do such a cruel thing to an innocent fish? This "miracle" is probably a sarcasm made by Jesus in order to cleverly deal with the tax collectors bent on forcing him to reveal whether He is an establishment man or a tax rebel. Alternatively, it may be the remnant of a lost-and-found-again legend found in the rabbinic tradition.
1. The Temple Tax
Now when they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me” (Matthew 17:24-27 NASB).
2. Why this so-called "miracle" could not be real
2.1 . It's never fulfilled.
2.2. It's an implausible command.
What? Merely for the sake of getting a small coin for paying the temple tax, Jesus actually goes into the trouble of performing a complex miracle, which involves Peter going to the sea, throwing in a hook, catching a fish, and prying open her/his mouth to look for the coin? Isn't it a bit over the top?
2.3. Jesus never performed a miracle for personal gain or relief for his own needs.
2.4. It's unique with no close canonical parallel; it is only recorded in Matthew.
2.5. It was Jesus Himself who had asked Peter to quit fishing and follow Him
It was Jesus who had asked Peter to catch men instead of fish (Matthew 4:18-22). How come He now commands Peter to catch a fish?
2.6. Jesus was vegan.
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice!" said Jesus (Matthew 9:13 NIV). He even died for the liberation of animals. In driving out from the Holy Temple those vendors who were buying and selling animals for cruel sacrifice (Matthew 21:12), Jesus offended the chief priests and teachers of the law, for the reason that he was disrupting their revenue stream (cf. Akers 2000). Immediately afterwards, "the chief priests and the teachers of the law heard about this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him because the whole crowd was amazed at his teachings" (Mark 11:18).
How could He, a dedicated animal rights activist, have had the heart to command someone to cruelly hook up an innocent fish, and pry open her/his mouth in order to obtain a coin for paying His own tax? So much the more, as His disciple, Peter must know that his teacher was a vegan. How come in this story, he was never astonished by his teacher's bizarre command?
3. A Sarcasm Made by Jesus
3.1 What is Temple Tax?
In Jesus's days, all Jewish males at the age of 19 or above were supposed to pay 2 drachmas (equal to a half shekel) for the Holy Temple's maintenance. This tax originated from the Old Testament law that required each male in Israel to pay a half shekel of "atonement money" for the upkeep of the tent of meeting (Exodus 30:11-16). Ultimately, it was regarded by the temple tax collectors as a kind of tax payable to God. Similar to most taxes, this temple tax was liked by few and vigorously opposed by some. Groups, for example, the Pharisees, approved of the tax, but many other Jews tried to evade it. For instance, Sadducees argued that the annual payment should be a voluntary gift rather than an imposed tax, from which priests were exempt; the Qumran community recognized the obligation in terms of Exodus 30:11-16 as a one-off contribution...
3.2. What Jesus Really Thinks about this Tax
Based on what Jesus said to Peter when the latter returned home after meeting the tax collectors, Jesus apparently thinks that they have no obligation to pay this tax:- "Jesus spoke... 'What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?' When Peter said, 'From strangers,' Jesus said to him, 'Then the sons are exempt'” (Matthew 17:24-27 NASB). This is probably because of the following reasons:- Number one, to Jesus, we are all "children of God" (1 John 3:1 NIV). Number two, Jesus is the son of King David (Matthew 1:1). Number three, Jesus is "the son of the Living God" as He has had Peter confirmed to Him just recently (Matthew 17:15 NIV).
3.3. A Political Question
However, the tax collectors are here asking Jesus a tricky, political question just like the Pharisees subsequently, in order to trap Jesus, ask Him, "Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?" (Matthew 22:17 NIV). According to Long (1997), "They want to know if Jesus is loyal to the temple or not. The tax collectors are not asking if Jesus’ current tax bill is paid up; rather, they are asking whether he is an establishment man or a tax rebel, a part of the mainstream Judaism or on the fringe." To borrow the words of Vinson (2013), "Jesus is in a Catch-22" and his reply could lead to a rift in his ministry.
3.4. A Response as Wise as Serpents
Thus, in order to avoid offending the tax collectors, Jesus cleverly responds to them with the strange command to Peter in the same way that Jesus later tactfully answered the Pharisees, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21 NLT), which, in Liu's (2013) interpretation, means "everything belongs to God". This kind of tactfulness reminds us of "as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents" (Matthew 10:16 KJV).
In my interpretation, Jesus's awkward command to Peter is a sarcasm, which effectively says, "Ok, I will pay the temple tax if only my disciple Peter could find a shekel in the first fish caught by him today." But of course, Peter, familiar with his master's character, never actually goes catch a fish and open her/his mouth in an attempt to find the coin for paying the temple tax.
3.5. The Remnant of a Jewish Legend
Albright and Mann (1995) speculate that the narrative may be the remnant of a Jewish legend, "much on the lines of folk tales found in the rabbinic tradition of the lost-and-found-again variety."
Quite a few ancient stories tell of finding something valuable in a fish that has been caught; the most well-known one is the recovery of Polycrates [d. 522 BCE]’s ring (Herodotus [d. 522 BCE] Histories 3.41-42), but there are similar Jewish stores in Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 119a; Genesis Rabbah 11:4, and other cultures provide numerous examples (France 2007: 671).
4. Other Fish-related Queries about Jesus
How about the "Five Loaves and Two Fish" miracle? How about Jesus eating fish after resurrection? For fish-related queries like these, please refer to Chen (2022).
Akers, Keith (2000). The Lost Religion of Jesus. Lagos: Lantern Books.
Albright, W.F. and Mann, C.S. (1995). Matthew. Introduction, Translation, and Notes. New Haven: YaleUniversity.
Chen, Chapman (2022). "Jesus did NOT Eat Meat. Go VEGAN!" HKBNEWS, March 15 (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/jesus-did-not-eat-meat-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews)
France, R.T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). New York: Eerdmans.
Long, Thomas G. (1997). Matthew (Westminster Bible Companion). London: WJK.
Vinson, Chandler (2013). "Fishing for Taxes (Matthew 17:27)". TrivialDevotion, Oct. 9. http://trivialdevotion.blogspot.com/2013/10/fishing-for-taxes-matthew-1727.html