Session 11                                 THE TEMPLE TAX 

  THE TAIL WAGGING THE DOG

The Council of 70 (the “Sanhedrin”) was responsible for the life and fate of the Jewish religion and the overall life and laws of the Holy Land itself.  The Council was run by the High Priest.  During Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion, the High Priest was Caiaphas (John 18:13 ESV “First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.”)  Next in power on the Council were the five Chief Priests who had the following responsibilities:

  1. The Vice President of the Council and assistant to the High Priest.
  2. The Superintendent of the Temple’s priestly operations and the Temple Guards
  3. Overseer of the Temple Treasury
  4. Overseer of the Temple Treasury
  5. Overseer of the Temple Treasury

     So, in essence we have 4 of the 5 in charge of the Temple and three of those are specifically responsible for the money?  No, no, no!  These are merely the TOP layers of administration, in a sense “The Board of Directors!”1  Under them are the “worker bees” who have the daily responsibilities.

The Jewish Encyclopedia, published in 1906, is a compendium of historical information about the Temple as found in the Mishnah.  Accordingly, beneath the Chief Priests come the “Officers of the Temple,” 15 in all, who fill appointed positions thusly:

  1. In charge of seals (coupons?) given in exchange for money to purchase sacrifices
  2. In charge of libations (drink offerings; Exodus 29 and Leviticus 23 as examples)
  3. Selection and posting of the priests’ schedule of duties
  4. Maintaining healthy nests of birds housed for sale for sacrifices
  5. The health department—keeping staff healthy
  6. Digging and maintaining wells for travelers on their way to Jerusalem
  7. Public announcements (the Temple crier, trumpeters, etc.)
  8. Opening/closing the gates of the Temple and maintaining public access
  9. Responsible for the candle wicks on the menorahs, oil supplies, etc.
  10. Maintaining the cymbals used in the liturgies
  11. Maintaining the other musical instruments used for worship
  12. Preparation of fresh “showbread” for the priestly functions
  13. Keeping the incense supplied and fresh
  14. Maintenance and cleanliness of the Temple curtains
  15. Maintenance and cleanliness of the priestly vestments

Beyond all of these are 7 trustees and 3 cashiers in charge of the Temple Treasury,  providing safeguards upon safeguards to protect the money.  The Temple wasn’t just the “main industry” of Jerusalem—it was the ONLY industry!

Now, suppose someone would come along and speak AGAINST the Temple?  How do you think such a person would be welcomed?  Jesus, Matthew 24, tells about the destruction of the Temple.  Stephen, Acts 7, condemns the Temple.  Neither of them fared well at the hands of those who heard them!

The Temple was the tail wagging the dog.  Nothing was more important:  simply put, THAT is where the money is!  Lose the Temple and even the rich go hungry.

WAS JUDAS PAID IN TEMPLE TAX MONEY?

Luke 22:3-6 tells us that when Judas went to the Chief Priests, they agreed “to give him money” (αὐτῷ ἀργύριον δοῦναι) and Mark 14:11 uses the exact same words.  It is only Matthew 26:15 where we learn the additional detail of “30 pieces of silver.” (τριάκοντα ἀργύρια).  Yet all three Gospels use the same Greek word ἀργύριος because the word for “silver” is used idiomatically for “money.”

Were these “30 pieces of silver” Tyrian shekels?   Jeffrey Gibbs says “the type of silver coin is not specified.”2   Arthur Just translates “to give him silver” instead of “money,” but then ignores the issue entirely in his commentary section!3   James Voelz believes “in all likelihood” the money is indeed Tyrian Shekels “since coinage paid to the Jerusalem temple had to be pure silver, and only the so-called shekel of Tyre, originally minted in Tyre but at our Lord’s time minted only in Jerusalem, principally for payment of the temple tax, qualified.  The Jewish leaders would logically have used such money.”4

With this last statement I am prepared to take issue.  Although we cannot know for certain whether Tyrian shekels or other silver denominations were given to Judas, I would suggest that the payoff was in all likelihood NOT Tyrian shekels.  For one thing, not all the money coming into the hands of the Chief Priests would be from the Temple Tax.  Many travelers would have to exchange their “inferior” silver or copper coinage for the “real deal—the Tyrian silver shekel!”  What did the officials do with this other money that had been exchanged for the Tyrian pieces?  They surely didn’t throw it away or use it for land fill.  Why not dump some of it into the lap of this little sneak-thief, Judas, who was ready to sell his soul for a bowl of porridge?  Why give Judas the “good stuff?”

Secondly, there were “depositories” for non-Tyrian-shekel gifts, so the Temple funds were only kept pure in regard to the taxes themselves.  If the Tyrian coins were used primarily for the upkeep and operation of the Temple, there was plenty of other currency which could be accessed for things such as under-the-table payoffs.

When Judas threw the money back into the Temple, it was “blood money” and not “inferior coinage” which was given as a reason why it could not be used for the Temple.  Mark 12:41-42 ESV provides us with proof such non-Tyrian shekels WERE deposited into the Temple Treasury:  And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums.  And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”  The Temple Tax was never paid with such copper coins!

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  1. Shmuel Safrai and M. Stern, The Jewish People in the First Century, in two volumes, tell us

that the treasury “Overseers” were all relatives of Annas, the ex-High Priest who was mentioned in John 18:13 and who was the true power behind the throne.

  1. Gibbs, Jeffrey.  Matthew 21:1—28:20, Concordia Commentary (Volume 3), St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 2018. Page 1385.  He quotes Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:452:  “If they are Tyrian shekels…Judas gains the equivalent of about four months of minimum wage.”
  2. Just, Arthur.  Luke 9:51—24:53, Concordia Commentary. St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1997.  (Volume 2), p. 811ff.
  3. Voelz, James and Christopher W. Mitchell.  Mark 8:27–16:20, Concordia Commentary (Volume 2), St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 2019.  Page 1009.  Voelz also refers the reader to Volume 1 addendum on “Biblical Coinage.”