© Courtesy of the Estates of Charles Spencelayh/Private Collection/Christie’s Images/Bridgemand Art Library

To pay or not to pay? Vexed by questions of civic responsibility—or is he just trying to understand his income tax form?—a gentleman, holding in his left hand the money he owes to the government, is seemingly caught in a moment of doubt in this painting, Render unto Caesar (c. 1928), by the English artist Charles Spencelayh. A reproduction of the painting The Tribute Money by Boston painter John Singleton Copley hangs on the wall behind him.

The phrase “render unto Caesar” has generally been taken as a biblical admonition (or at least sanction) to pay one’s taxes and to keep politics separate from religion. But according to Ball, that’s a misunderstanding: Jesus is suggesting by analogy that the coin, which bears the likeness of the emperor, must go to the emperor; but whatever bears God’s likeness—that is, humankind, made in God’s “image” and “likeness” (Genesis 1:26)—must be devoted to God. Caesar might get a coin, but God gets one’s whole self.