Bible section headings

I know this is not a big deal but I wonder whether I am the only person that is bothered by this.

Many – most – modern Bible translations come with pre-printed section headings which prescribe how to divide the text, and which, I feel, prejudice the reader’s understanding of that text. In many churches I hear these section headings being read out as if they were part of the Scriptures.

Does it really matter? Well, yes, I feel that it does – sometimes. On many occasions and in many places it may not matter, but there are places where it makes a big difference. One example is Matthew 22:15-22, from which I am quoting verses 18-21 below. The section heading in the NIV reads, “Paying taxes to Caesar”.

“18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” “


Not surprisingly this passage has been used by conservative churches and leaders to promote civil compliance. Jesus, they say, taught that it is right to pay the taxes we are supposed to pay.

Unfortunately, for me that is not what the passage is about and it is not the primary message of the passage. I would suggest that the primary message is, “Give… to God what is God’s.”

Ask yourself, what belongs to God that must be given to God?
Ask yourself, what is it that has God’s image stamped upon it?

I doubt you need my help to answer those questions!
But do you think that a heading of “Paying taxes to Caesar” is the right one for this passage? What about other such well-intentioned but misdirected headings?

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