The Coin in the Fish

Jesus told Peter to go catch a fish and open its mouth and there will be a piece of money to be used to pay the temple tax. This was an odd miracle. My first assumption was that God (to whom I attribute all of Jesus' miracles) put the money in the fish's mouth, so then I wondered: If God put the money in the fish's mouth, why didn't He simply put it in Peter's hand instead? So then I assumed He must have been trying to make some kind of symbolic point by putting it into the fish's mouth. But what point? After much contemplation, nothing came to mind.

Then, while I was analyzing the story with the help of a study bible, I learned something that caused me to revisit my initial assumption. Did God really put the money in the fish's mouth? Here's the story:

Matthew 17:24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.


The Greek word translated as piece of money is statér, a silver coin which was equivalent to one shekel, and therefore was the exact amount needed for two people (the temple tax was a half-shekel per person). Thus it was a silver coin. In fact, scholars agree, it was very likely this coin, the so-called sliver shekel of Tyre:


Source: Stoa Image Gallery

As I was imagining a silver coin in a fish's mouth, I was reminded of the fact that fish are attracted to shiny silver objects. Fishing lures are often just that. And then it hit me: Did God really put the coin in the fish's mouth or was it there already? If someone dropped a silver coin overboard from a boat, it seems quite plausible that a fish might indeed try to swallow it.

So, contrary to my initial assumption, it became clear that God didn't put the coin in the fish's mouth to make some kind of symbolic point. The coin was already there, God knew it was there, and He somehow led that fish to Peter's hook. This was indeed miraculous, but I think it also reveals something about God's character. Someone with God's abilities could surely have forged a coin and popped it into Peter's hand, but He didn't do that. He didn't have to resort to forgery. He knew where there was a coin no one was using at the moment, lodged in the mouth of a fish nearby. And as for the fish, while it would sting to be caught on a hook, it would no doubt be a relief to have the coin removed, and maybe Peter tossed him back in the sea, who knows. I would like to think this is what happened.


blog comments powered by Disqus