I had never thought about why Jesus would tell Peter to look in the fish’s mouth for a coin to pay a tax. Have you? It may actually be related to what is found in the Menachoth – the Babylonian Talmud. Here’s the story from the Bible:
“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 shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” (Matthew 17:24-27)
The two-drachma tax is based on Exodus 30:13-16, where all adult Jewish males paid an annual tax for the maintenance of the temple in Jerusalem. The tax was imposed even in Matthew’s day. After 70 A.D., the Roman empire had the tax paid to the Roman government. So that the Jews could maintain their Jewish heritage, the Jewish Christians, in conjunction with the non-Christian Jews, also paid the tax.1
Now here’s the thought found in the Menachoth:
“If a man set apart money for his Nazirite offerings, it is forbidden to make any other use of it, yet there would be no infringement of the law of sacrilege, since it may all be used for the purchase of peace-offerings. If he died and the money was not yet apportioned [for the respective offerings], it all goes for freewill-offerings; if it was apportioned, the price of the sin-offering must be cast into the Dead Sea — no use may be made of it; yet [if one did] there would be no infringement of the law of sacrilege; with the price of the burnt-offering a burnt-offering must be brought and the law of sacrilege applies to it; with the price of the peace-offering a peace-offering must be brought which must be eaten the same day, but it does not require the Bread-offering.”2
Could this be the money Jesus had Peter go fishing for? The money would have belonged to a Nazarite who set aside this money for an offering. Upon his death, without the offering paid, it would had to have been cast into the sea. A fish, thinking it may have been food, could easily have taken it in his mouth to eat it.
It’s an interesting thought anyway.