Coins of at least three different nations were used in everyday life in Judea during the NT era. The NT text uses the names of Greek coins, Roman coins, and Jewish coins. The original readers of the NT were presumably very familiar with all of these terms and also knew their relative values, just as Americans intuitively know the relationship between a dime and a quarter and a dollar. The challenge for the translator is to use English terms for the various coins that will convey for modern readers the same intuitive sense of meaning. A case in point is the incident in Matt 17:24-27, in which Jesus sent Peter to find a coin (in a fish’s mouth!) to pay the Temple tax.
Matthew–the former tax collector–is the only Gospel writer to tell about this incident. And in the space of four verses, he uses the names of two Greek coins. In 17:24 he twice uses the term didrachma, which means simply a two-drachma coin. (The drachma was the Greek coin more or less equivalent to the Roman denarius, and both coins represent the daily wage for a laborer.) This is the only use of didrachma in the NT, and it is used to refer to the annual tax required for the upkeep of the Temple. In Exod 30:13-16, its predecessor–the tax for the care of the Tabernacle–is presented (in ancient Hebrew terminology) as a tax of “half a shekel.”
Matthew’s readers would intuitively have understood what was meant when the tax collectors came to ask Peter, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the didrachma?” But how should this term be translated into English? Can we give the reader a similar intuitive sense of what was going on? Here’s a list of how nine major English translations have handled this term:
|NLT||the Temple tax / the Temple tax||[with a footnote]|
|KJV||tribute money / tribute|
|NKJV||the temple tax / the temple tax|
|NASB||the two-drachma tax / the two-drachma tax||[with a footnote]|
|RSV||the half-shekel tax / the tax|
|NRSV||the temple tax / the temple tax||[with a footnote]|
|ESV||the half-shekel tax / the tax||[with a footnote]|
|NIV||the two-drachma tax / the temple tax||[with a footnote]|
|HCSB||the double-drachma tax / the double-drachma tax||[with a footnote]|
So which translation is most accurate? The answer is that each is accurate in its own way. The NLT, the NKVJ, the NRSV, and the NIV (in the second instance) all communicate clearly that the temple tax is in view. The RSV and its offspring, the ESV, both borrow from Hebrew terminology (half-shekel) to help make the connection with the tax first mentioned in Exodus. (Interestingly, the ESV is not at all literal in this rendering.) The most literal renderings are found in the NASB, the NIV (in the first instance), and the HCSB, But does the modern English reader understand that the literal rendering “two-drachma tax” relates to the temple tax? I doubt it.
A few verses later (Matt 17:27), Jesus tells Peter to go catch a fish, open its mouth, and pull out a stater. This Greek coin–mentioned only here in the NT–is equal to two didrachmas, or four drachmas. And if a didrachma pays the temple tax for one man, a stater is sufficient to pay the tax for both of them. Now let’s look at how the same nine translations handle this term:
|NLT||a large silver coin||[with a footnote]|
|KJV||a piece of money|
|NKJV||a piece of money|
|NASB||a shekel||[with a footnote]|
|NRSV||a coin||[with a footnote]|
|NIV||a four-drachma coin|
|HCSB||a coin||[with a footnote]|
Here only the NIV provides a literal translation–but does the reader have any intuitive sense of what a four-drachma coin represents? I doubt it. The RSV and ESV once again resort to a Hebrew term (a shekel), which provides little meaning for the English reader. Interestingly, the NASB also uses the non-literal shekel, though in the earlier verse it used the literal rendering “two-drachma tax.” The other translations use variations on the theme of “a coin.”
As the NLT scholars wrestled with how to translate this kind of technical terminology, we tried to ensure that the English reader would get an intuitive understanding of the meaning of the text (“the Temple tax . . . a large silver coin”). And the careful reader can look down to the NLT footnotes to get the technical data:
17:24 Footnote on “the Temple tax”: Greek the two-drachma [tax]. See Exod 30:13-16; Neh 10:32-33.
17:27 Footnote on “a large silver coin”: Greek a stater, a Greek coin equivalent to four drachmas.
Mark D. Taylor