Prelude. This post is long, but touches on principles of interpretation which are applicable elsewhere. Although I have a different view on some of the interpretations, I wish all my members would spend as much effort studying and thinking through their Bible as this enquirer.
Q. This short story in only recorded in Matthew 17:24-27, probably because Matthew himself was a tax collector. However, some problems arise out of this story, which different commentators have given different answers:
(1) Why did the tax collectors asked Peter instead of asking Jesus directly? Was Jesus that difficult to find? How can they expect Peter to answer a question carrying legal responsibility on behalf of his master? I think there is not enough information for an answer, but some commentator said the tax collectors were afraid of facing Jesus, so when they saw Peter, they just asked him. Would this view already construe eisegesis?
As you yourself pointed out, there is not enough information in the passage to tell us why the tax collectors asked Peter and not Jesus directly. But that’s not the point of the incident. Jesus was easy to find. Everywhere He went, crowds gathered around Him e.g. Mt 13:2, Mk 10:1. When they arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said:
• Mt 26:55 Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.
Some feel the tax collectors may not be after the fact whether Jesus actually paid the temple tax; they just want an excuse to trap Him. Knowing that Peter usually speaks before he thinks, they just asked him as an easy prey. I believe this is unlikely. Analyzing a passage is like a detective investigation – you have to examine all the evidence. If you check all references to tax collectors in the NT, although they were looked down upon by the Jews, they were always presented positively in the gospels e.g.
• loving those who love them (Mt 5:46);
• dining with Jesus (Mt 9:10-11; Mk 2:15-16; Lk 5:29-30);
• Jesus’ friends (Mt 11:19; Lk 7:34);
• getting into the kingdom of God by believing John’s message (Mt 21:31-32);
• came to be baptized (Lk 3:12; 7:29); and
• listening to Jesus (Lk 15:1).
Therefore I don’t think they were out to get Jesus. There is no motive.
Based on the gospel evidence, I disagree with the commentator’s view that the tax collectors were afraid of Jesus; I think they actually liked Him. However, I don’t consider the comment to be eisegesis. Eisegesis is interpreting a text by subjectively reading into it one’s own presuppositions, instead of drawing out its meaning through an objective analysis. Here I do not see any agenda from the commentator, only an incidental opinion without careful consideration of the broader background, of why they might ask Peter instead of Jesus. He was not pushing his preconceived notion and forcing the text to fit his mold.
(To be continued)