An officer of the revenue, employed in collecting taxes. Among the Romans there were two sorts of tax-gatherers; some were general receivers, who in each province had deputies; they collected the revenues of the empire, and accounted to the emperor. These were men of great consideration in the government; and Cicero says that among these were the flower of the Roman knights, the ornaments of the city, and the strength of the commonwealth. But the deputies, the under-collectors, the publicans of the lower order, were looked upon as so many thieves and pickpockets. Theocritus being asked which was the cruelest of all beasts, answered, "Among the beasts of the wilderness, the bear and the lion; among the beasts of the city, the publican and the parasite." Among the Jews, the name and profession of a publican were especially odious. They could not, without the utmost reluctance, see publicans exacting tributes and impositions laid on them by foreigners, the Romans. The Galileans, or Herodians, especially, submitted to this with the greatest impatience, and thought it even unlawful, De 17:15. Those of their own nation who undertook this office they looked upon as heathen, Mt 18:17. It is even said that they would not allow them to enter the temple or the synagogues, to engage in the public prayers or offices of judicature, or to give testimony in a court of justice.
There were many publicans in Judea in the time of our Savior; Zaccheus, probably, was one of the principal receivers, since he is called "chief among the publicans," Lu 19:2; but Matthew was only an inferior publican, Lu 5:27. The Jews reproached Jesus with being a "friend of publicans and sinners, and eating with them," Lu 7:34; but he, knowing the self-righteousness, unbelief and hypocrisy of his accusers, replied, "The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you," Mt 21:31. Compare also the beautiful demeanor of the penitent publican in the temple, and the self-justifying spirit of the Pharisee, Lu 18:10-14.
one who farmed the taxes (e.g., Zacchaeus, Lu 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 (Lu 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" (Lu 7:34).
Only mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew leaves the parable of the publican to Luke (Lu 18:9), because he is the publican from whom it is drawn. In the New Testament are meant not the "publicani" (never mentioned in the New Testament) who were generally wealthy Roman knights, capitalists at Rome, that bought for a fixed sum to be paid into the treasury (in publicum) the taxes and customs of particular provinces. Under them were "chiefs of publicans," having supervision of a district, as Zacchaeus (Luke 19), in the provinces; and under these again the ordinary "publicans" (in the New Testament sense) who, like Levi or Matthew, gathered the customs on exports and imports and taxes (Mt 9:9-11; Mr 2:14, etc.). The office for "receipt of custom" was at city gates, on public roads, or bridges. Levi's post was on the great road between Damascus and the seaports of Phoenicia. Jericho, Zacchaeus' head quarters, was center of the balsam trade.
Jesus, preferring a publican's house to that of any of the priests at Jericho, then said to number 12,000, marks the honour He does to Zacchaeus and drew on Him the indignation of Jewish bigots. Even the chief publican, Zacchaeus implies, often "took from men by false accusation" (esukofanteesa, rather "unfairly exacted," "extorted"); Lu 3:13 also, John the Baptist's charge "exact no more than that which is appointed you." Still more odious to the Jews was the common publican, with whom most they came in contact. Inquisitorial proceedings and unscrupulous extortion in a conquered country made the office, hateful already as the badge of God's elect nation's subjection to pagan, still more so. Most Jews thought it unlawful to pay tribute to pagan.
To crown all, the publicans were often Jews, in the eyes of their countrymen traitors to Israel's high calling and hopes; to be spoiled by foreigners was bad, but to be plundered by their own countrymen was far worse. Publican became synonymous with "sinner" and "pagan" (Lu 15:1-2; Mt 18:17; 5:46; 21:31; Mr 2:15-16). The hatred and contempt in which they were held hardened them against all better feelings, so that, they defied public opinion.
As the Pharisees were the respectable and outwardly religious class, so the publicans were the vile and degraded. Hence the rabbis declared, as one robber disgraced his whole family, so one publican in a family; promises were not to be kept with murderers, thieves and publicans (Nedar 3:4); the synagogue alms box and the temple corban must not receive their alms (Baba Kama 10:1); it was not lawful to use riches received from them, as gotten by rapine; nor could they judge or give testimony in court (Sauhedr. 25, sec. 2). Hence we see what a breach of Jewish notions was the Lord's eating with them (Mt 9:11), and His choice of Matthew as an apostle, and His parable in which He justified the penitent self condemned publican and condemned the self satisfied Pharisee. They were at least no hypocrites. Abhorred by all others, it was a new thing to them to find a Holy One "a friend of publicans" (Mt 11:19).
This term is a transliteration of a Latin word, which strictly meant a member of one of the great Roman financial companies, which farmed the taxes of the provinces of the Roman Empire. The Roman State during the Republic relieved itself of the trouble and expense of collecting the taxes of the provinces by putting up the taxes of each in a lump to auction. The auctioneer was the censor, and the buyer was one of the above companies, composed mainly of members of the equestrian order, who made the best they could out of the bargain. The abuses to which this system gave rise were terrible, especially as the governors could sometimes be bribed to wink at extortion; and in one particular year the provincials of Asia had to pay the taxes three times over. These companies required officials of their own to do the business of collection. The publicans of the Gospels appear to have been agents of the Imperial procurator of Jud
The class designated by this word in the New Testament were employed as collectors of the Roman revenue. The Roman senate farmed the vectigalia (direct taxes) and the portorin (customs) to capitalists who undertook to pay a given sum into the treasury (in publicum), and so received the name of publicani. Contracts of this kind fell naturally into the hands of the equites, as the richest class of Romans. They appointed managers, under whom were the portitores, the actual custom-house officers, who examined each bale of goods, exported or imported, assessed its value more or less arbitrarily, wrote out the ticket, and enforced payment. The latter were commonly natives of the province in which they were stationed as being brought daily into contact with all classes of the population. The name pubicani was used popularly, and in the New Testament exclusively, of the portitores. The system was essentially a vicious one. The portitores were encouraged in the most vexatious or fraudulent exactions and a remedy was all but impossible. They overcharged whenever they had an opportunity,
they brought false charges of smuggling in the hope of extorting hush-money
they detained and opened letters on mere suspicion. It was the basest of all livelihoods. All this was enough to bring the class into ill favor everywhere. In Judea and Galilee there were special circumstances of aggravation. The employment brought out all the besetting vices of the Jewish character. The strong feeling of many Jews as to the absolute unlawfulness of paying tribute at all made matters worse. The scribes who discussed the question,
for the most part answered it in the negative. In addition to their other faults, accordingly, the publicans of the New Testament were regarded as traitors and apostates, defiled by their frequent intercourse with the heathen, willing tools of the oppressor. The class thus practically excommunicated furnished some of the earliest disciples both of the Baptist and of our Lord. The position of Zacchaeus as a "chief among the publicans,"
implies a gradation of some kind among the persons thus employed.
PUBLICAN, a collector or receiver of the Roman revenues. Judea being added to the provinces of the Roman empire, and the taxes paid by the Jews directly to the emperor, the publicans were the officers appointed to collect them. The ordinary taxes which the Romans levied in the provinces were of three sorts:
1. Customs upon goods imported and exported; which tribute was therefore called portorium, from portus, "a haven."
2. A tax upon cattle fed in certain pastures belonging to the Roman state, the number of which being kept in writing, this tribute was called scriptura.
3. A tax upon corn, of which the government demanded a tenth part. This tribute was called decuma. These publicans are distinguished by Sigonius into three sorts or degrees