Coin in the fish's mouth

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The Apostle Peter paying the temple tax with a coin from the fish's mouth, by Augustin Tünger, 1486.
Tilapia zilli ("St. Peter's fish"), served in a Tiberias restaurant.

The coin in the fish's mouth is one of the miracles of Jesus, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew 17:24–27.[1][2][3]

Biblical account[edit]

In Matthew's account, in Capernaum the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax ask Peter whether Jesus does not pay the tax, and Peter replies "Yes". When Peter returns to where they are staying, Jesus speaks of the matter, asking Peter's opinion: "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes, from their own children or from others?" Peter answers, "from others", and Jesus replies: "Then the children are exempt. But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake [the Sea of Galilee] and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

For the New International Version's word "others", the New King James Version reads "strangers" and the Good News Translation reads "foreigners".[4] Albert Barnes argues that "strangers" does not mean "foreigners", but "those that were not their own sons or members of their family".[5]


Heinrich Meyer suggests that Peter's assertion "Yes" makes it "clear that Jesus had hitherto been in the habit of paying the tax".[6]

The story ends without stating that Peter caught the fish as Jesus predicted,[7] nor does the text specify the species of the fish involved, but tilapia is sometimes referred to as "St. Peter's fish".[citation needed]

Jesus performed this miracle in order to not offend those who collected the two-drachma temple tax. This is the only miracle that Jesus performed in order to avoid offending people. Jesus typically performed miracles as well as made statements that were offensive to his audience, particularly the Jewish priesthood. Jesus' statement "the children are exempt" is one of many statements where Jesus describes his followers and himself as being part of a spiritual family. Some interpretations of this passage indicate that Christians should not pay the traditional church tithe. Some interpretations of Peter's reply "from others" indicate that the church tithe should not come from Christians, but rather from non-Christian visitors attending church.

The four-drachma (or shekel) coin would be exactly enough to pay the temple tax (two-drachma coin) for two people.[8] It is usually thought to be a Tyrian shekel.[9][10]

Jesus' reluctance to pay the temple tax is consistent with his teachings regarding the physical temple. The Gospels record five times when he either says "destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it", or is quoted as saying this. Jesus may have said this to emphasize a spiritual temple over the physical temple.

The coin in the fish's mouth is generally seen as a symbolic act or sign, but there is little agreement concerning what it signifies.[7]

History of the didrachma tribute[edit]

Saint Peter Paying the Tribute With a Piece of Silver Found in a Fish (1817)

This tribute was a civil tax, which was given either to the Romans, or to Herod Antipas. This is evident from the phrase of Christ, "of whom do the kings of the earth take custom, or tribute?" Thus it was payable to a king or an emperor. The same is clear from Matthew 22:21, where the Herodians ask Jesus, "is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?” The tribute started to be levied before the time of Christ, when Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, the grandsons of Simon Maccabaeus were fighting over which one should have the high priesthood. Pompey was called in to meditate between them, and decided on Hyrcanus. However the people of Jerusalem favoured the other candidate, and gave it back to Aristobulus. Pompey subsequently overthrew Jerusalem, and made Judea under subjection to Rome, with an annual tribute. And because the Jews were used to paying a didrachma for the temple (Exodus 30:13), the Romans had them pay the same tax to them. However after the rebellion, when Jerusalem was captured by Vespasian, the temple was destroyed, and he ordered them to pay the didrachma to the Roman capitol. But the Jews disliked paying tribute to the Romans. They claimed that as the people of God, they should pay tribute to God, not Rome. This sentiment around the time of Christ, resulted in the sect of the Galilæans, led by Judas of Galilee, who refused to pay tribute to Caesar. Christ and His Apostles were suspected of being members of this sect, since they were from Galilee, and preached a new, heavenly kingdom. St. Jerome, Bede and others are of the opinion that in order therefore that Christ might show the baselessness of this charge, He paid the didrachma. The collectors of the tribute did not try to ask Christ for it, because of the great report of His sanctity and miracles, and instead asked Peter.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel J. Scholz 2009 Introducing the New Testament ISBN 0-88489-955-1 p. 86
  2. ^ Steven L. Cox, Kendell H Easley, 2007 Harmony of the Gospels ISBN 0-8054-9444-8 p. 349
  3. ^ Herbert Lockyer, All the Miracles of the Bible (Zondervan, 1988) p. 219.
  4. ^, Matthew 17:25, accessed 7 December 2022
  5. ^ Barnes, A. (1834), Barnes' Notes on Matthew 17, accessed 7 December 2022
  6. ^ Meyer, H. A. W. (1880), Meyer's NT Commentary on Matthew 17, translated from the German sixth edition, accessed 7 December 2022
  7. ^ a b Graham H. Twelftree, 1999, Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study, InterVarsity Press, p. 137.
  8. ^ Keener, Craig S., 2009, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-8028-6498-8, p. 445.
  9. ^ Hendin, David. "The coin in the fish's mouth". Coins Weekly. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  10. ^ Lewis, Peter E.; Bolden, Ron (2002). The Pocket Guide to Saint Paul: Coins Encountered by the Apostle on His Travels. Wakefield Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-86254562-5. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  11. ^ à Lapide, Cornelius (1889). The great commentary of Cornelius à Lapide. Translated by Thomas Wimberly Mossman. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.