Bible Articles on the Topic of Publican

The following articles have been compiled and indexed by inWORD Bible software.

Matthew and Money

There are two extreme schools of thought as to the means by which the books of the Bible were composed. The one, which we might call the “dictation” school, implies that the authors were really no more than “secretaries” who wrote down, word for word, what God spoke to them. The other extreme declares that the authors compiled and arranged and edited various materials, part written and part oral, from many older sources. Since these sources were not necessarily “inspired” in any regular sense of the word, and since the compiler was at liberty to “pick and choose”, therefore the final result could scarcely be considered the infallible “word of God”. An “advancement” (?) upon this second school of thought is that the gospels, for example, did not take their final forms until some time in the second century, after later disciples “tinkered around” with their predecessors’ stories.

Custom-House Officers, Taxation, and Publicans

Whether passing through town or country, by quiet side-roads or along the great highway, there was one sight and scene which must constantly have forced itself upon the attention of the traveller, and, if he were of Jewish descent, would ever awaken afresh his indignation and hatred. Whithersoever he went, he encountered in city or country the well-known foreign tax-gatherer, and was met by his insolence, by his vexatious intrusion, and by his exactions. The fact that he was the symbol of Israel’s subjection to foreign domination, galling though it was, had probably not so much to do with the bitter hatred of the Rabbinists towards the class of tax-farmers (Moches) and tax-collectors (Gabbai), both of whom were placed wholly outside the pale of Jewish society, as that they were so utterly shameless and regardless in their unconscientious dealings. For, ever since their return from Babylon, the Jews must, with a brief interval, have been accustomed to foreign taxation. At the time of Ezra (Ezra 4:13,20, 7:24) they paid to the Persian monarch “toll, tribute, and custom”—middah, belo, and halach—rather “ground-tax” (income and property-tax?), “custom” (levied on all that was for consumption, or imported), and “toll,” or road-money. Under the reign of the Ptolemies the taxes seem to have been farmed to the highest bidder, the price varying from eight to sixteen talents—is, from about 3,140 pounds to about 6,280 pounds—very small sum indeed, which enabled the Palestine tax-farmers to acquire immense wealth, and that although they had continually to purchase arms and court favour (Josephus, Ant. xii, 154-185). During the Syrian rule the taxes seem to have consisted of tribute, duty on salt, a third of the produce of all that was sown, and one-half of that from fruit-trees, besides poll-tax, custom duty, and an uncertain kind of tax, called “crown-money” (the aurum coronarium of the Romans), originally an annual gift of a crown of gold, but afterwards compounded for in money (Josephus, Ant. xii, 129-137). Under the Herodians the royal revenue seems to have been derived from crown lands, from a property and income-tax, from import and export duties, and from a duty on all that was publicly sold and bought, to which must be added a tax upon houses in Jerusalem.

New Testament Synonyms: Tax-collector

τελώνης, ἀρχιτελώνης.

The Village Tax Collector Died (Yerushalmi Hagigah Version)

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus... (Luke 16:19-20)

Luke Viewed This As A Parable

“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus...” (Luke 16:19-20)

The Village Tax Collector Died (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin Version)

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus... (Luke 16:19-20)

The Pharisee and the Publican

Two men went one day To the temple to pray Both having the need to repent The first though, was blind And his self-righteous mind Fully, to his own glory was bent He stood there alone His pride was the throne To which all his prayers were sent

Zacchaeus—Sinner or Son of Abraham?

The opening verses of Luke, chapter 19, reveal two opposing opinions of Zacchaeus. As seen by his countrymen, the Jews, Zacchaeus was the publican, the extortioner, the collaborator with Rome and a sinner. In the eyes of Jesus Christ, however, Zacchaeus was a true “son of Abraham.” It is both interesting and profitable to examine the evidence leading to each viewpoint.

The Rich Man and Lazarus: The Truth Versus Pharisaic Tradition

On more than one occasion Jesus pronounced woe on the Pharisees and said, “How shall ye escape the condemnation of Gehenna?”¹ He told them that they would see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, and they themselves would be cast out.² Then the poor disciples of Christ would be exalted to a place in that kingdom: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”³ All this was plain language. But Jesus wished to tell the Pharisees that it was possible for them to escape that doom, by repentance, and by giving heed to Moses and the prophets. So he pictures the future as they supposed it. He takes one of their own traditions which was current at the time, and makes Dives represent the Pharisee class, and Lazarus the poor disciples. He does this so that he can put into the mouth of Abraham words which condemn the Pharisee for giving heed to the traditions of men and neglecting to heed Moses and the prophets. The whole point of Abraham’s rebuke was, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead.”⁴ The “story” was not invented by Jesus. It occurs in several forms in the Jewish Talmud where the persons depicted are represented as speaking to each other. The great gulf which none can pass over; the flame; the torment; all these are part and parcel of the Talmud story, which Jesus took and turned upon the sneering Pharisees.

Matthew the Publican

Scholars and commentators are practically unanimous in identifying the Matthew whose call is recorded in Matthew 9:9, with the Levi whose call is recorded in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. The reasons for this identification are obvious and compelling. In each account it is a telones, i.e., a tax-gatherer or customs officer, who is called. In each account the words of the call are precisely the same. In each account there is the story of a great feast given to celebrate the call. The conclusion is inevitable, that Levi, the Son of Alphaeus, and Matthew were one and the same person.

The Pharisee and the Publican

“This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”

Matthew and the Good Publican

The enemies of Jesus found many grounds for criticising him, but one of the most-used was based upon the company which he kept. Three times¹ we are told he defended himself against the charge of consorting with social outcasts, and in view of the comparatively few incidents in the life of Jesus that we know, we can assume that the charge was made on other occasions.

The Pharisee and the Publican

The spirit of Pharisaism existed in Jewry long before the time of Jesus. Indeed, in human nature of a certain sort it is endemic. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up” (Proverbs 30:12,13; and cp. 28:13). And Isaiah pilloried those “which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me: for I am holier than thou” (65:5). These area smoke in God’s nose, and not sweet incense. “They trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (v. 9) is very close to the LXX text of Ezekiel 33:13; “if he trust in his own righteousness,” a passage which has a marked contrast (in v. 14-16) appropriate to redemption in Christ.

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

It was the afternoon before the sabbath began (see Study 154), and Jesus, accompanied by a great throng of Passover pilgrims, was passing through Jericho, when one of the most unusual incidents of his ministry took place.


One who farmed the taxes (e.g., Zacchaeus, Luke 19:2) to be levied from a town or district, and thus undertook to pay to the supreme government a certain amount. In order to collect the taxes, the publicans employed subordinates (5:27; 15:1; 18:10), who, for their own ends, were often guilty of extortion and peculation. In New Testament times these taxes were paid to the Romans, and hence were regarded by the Jews as a very heavy burden, and hence also the collectors of taxes, who were frequently Jews, were hated, and were usually spoken of in very opprobrious terms. Jesus was accused of being a “friend of publicans and sinners” (Luke 7:34).


a-ses ́ẽr: Lit. one who sits by another, an assistant; among the ancients especially an assistant to the king (compare “The assessor of his throne,” Dryden, Milton’s P.L., Book vi), or to the judge (see Dryden, Virgil’s Aeneid, vi.583). Later it came to mean one who assesses people or property for purposes of taxation.


The Bible gives scant information concerning the secular or political taxes of the Jews. Practically all that can be gathered is the following: Just as Abraham (Genesis 14:20) voluntarily gave a tenth “of all” (i.e., according to the context, of the whole spoil taken in war), so the Israelitish and foreign subjects of the kings of Israel voluntarily brought presents to their rulers.These gifts were withheld by churlish people only (comp. 1 Samuel 10:27), but were given by all others (ib. 16:20; 2 Samuel 8:2, 11 et seq.; 12:30; 1 Kings 10:10, 25; 2 Kings 3:4; 2 Chronicles 9:24; Isaiah 16:1; Psalms 72:10). A chief source of the king’s income consisted in his landed possessions (1 Chronicles 27:25 et seq.; 2 Chronicles 26:10); but a money-or poll-tax is not mentioned among the royal prerogatives, even in the detailed description of them with which Samuel tried to deter the people from choosing a king (1 Samuel 8:11-17). The census of the people which was ordered by David (2 Samuel 24:1 et seq.) was intended perhaps to furnish a basis for a methodical distribution of the military burdens and taxes; but Solomon was the first monarch to systematize the furnishing of foodstuffs (1 Kings 4:7-28), and to demand toll from the merchants (ib. 10:15), and he, moreover, made the lot of the people an inordinately heavy one (12:4), probably imposing an additional money-tax. The later kings again received only voluntary gifts from their subjects, as is recorded of the time of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 17:5, 32:23), a money-tax being levied in time of war only, when the demands of victorious enemies had to be satisfied (2 Kings 15:20, 23:35).


Publican, (τελώνης). The word thus translated belongs only, in the New Test., to the three Synoptic Gospels. The class designated by the Greek word were employed as collectors of the Roman revenue. The Latin word from which the English of the A.V. has been taken was applied to a higher order of men. It will be necessary to glance at the financial administration of the Roman provinces in order to nnderstand the relation of the two classes to each other, and the grounds of the hatred and scorn which appear in the New Test. to have fallen on the former.

The Publican


Zacchaeus the Tax Collector


Pharisee and the Publican

The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (or the Pharisee and the Tax Collector) is a parable of Jesus that appears in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 18:9-14, a Pharisee, obsessed by his own virtue, is contrasted with a tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy.