During the early part of the Heroadian epoch, taxes were paid to the king and collected by officers appointed by him. This method which worked fairly well, at least under Herod the Great.......

During the early part of the Heroadian epoch, taxes were paid to the king and collected by officers appointed by him. This method which worked fairly well, at least under Herod the Great, had passed away before any books of the New Testament were written. After the deposition of Archelaus (6AD), at the request of the Jews themselves, Judea was incorporated into the Roman empire and put under procurators who were in charge of all financial administration, although the tetrarchs still collected the internal taxes. This fact conditions all that is to be said about "tribute" and "publicans" in connection with the New Testament. It is to be noted first of all (a fact that is often overlooked by the student) that in the imperial era the direct taxes were not farmed out, but collected by regular imperial officers in the regular routine of official duty. The customs or tolls levied upon exports and imposts, and upon goods in the hands of merchants passing through the country, were sold to the highest bidders, who were called publicans.

With this distinction clearly in mind we may dismiss the subject of general taxation with the following remarks: First that the taxes in Judea went to the imperial treasury (Mt22:17; Mk12:14; Lk20:22); second that these taxes were very heavy. These two facts explain why the question of paying tribute to Caesar, which our Lord was obliged to meet, was so burning an issue. It touched at once religious and financial interest-a powerful combination. In 7AD, immediately after the appointment of Coponius as procurator, Quirinius was sent to Judea to take a census (apographe) for the purpose of poll-tax (kensos, phoros, or epikephalaion (Mt22:17; Mk12:13,14; Lk20:20). This census was the occasion for the bloody uprising of Judas of Gamala (or Galilee) (Acts5:37).As a matter of historical faxct this same census was the occasion of the final destruction of the Jewish commonwealth, for the fierce antagonism to Rome which was aroused at that time never died out until it was extingushed in blood, 70AD.

We are now free to discuss thos matters which center in a general way about the term "publican." According to Stapfer this term (telones) is commonly used to cover several grades of minor officials engaged in the customs service. The word was extended in meaning from the publicanus, properly so called, the farmer-general of a province, to his subordinate local officils. The publicans of the New Testament "examined the goods and collected tolls on roads and bridges" (Mt9:9). These tolls (Latin, portoria; Greek tele) were collected in Israel at Caesarea, Capernaum and Jericho. Those collected at Capernaum went into the treasury of Herod Antipas. At Jericho there was a chief publican (architelones), but most of the publicans mentioned in the New Testament were probably subordinate to men higher in authority.

"Go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up.
Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you."

Sufficient cause for the unpopularity of publicans in New Testament times is not far seek. Hatred of paying duties seems to be ingrained in human nature. Customs officials are always unpopular. The method is necessarily inquisitorial. The man who opens one's boxes and bundles to appraise the value of what one has, is at best a tolerated evil. In Judea, under the Roman system, all circumstances combined to make the publican the object of bitter hatred. He represented and exercised in immediate contact, at a sore spot with individuals, the hatred power of Rome. The tax itself was looked upon as an inherent religious wrong, as well as civil imposition, and by many the payment of it was considered a sinful act of disloyalty to God. The tax-gatherer, if a Jew, was a renegade in the eyes of his patriotic fellows. He paid a fixed sum for the taxes, and received for himself what he could over and above that amount. The ancient and widespread curse of arbitrariness was in the system.

The tariff rates were vague and indefinite. The collector was thus always under the suspicion of being an extortioner and probably was in most instances. The name was apt to realize itself. The unusual combination in a publican of petty tyrant, renegade and extortioner, made by circumstances almost inevitable, was not conductive to popularity. In the score of instances in the New Testament where publicans are mentioned, their common status, their place in the thought and action of Jesus, their new hope in the gospel are clearly set forth. The instances in which our Lord speaks of them are especially illuminating: (1) He uses them on the basis of the popular estimate which the disciples undoubtedly shared, to point in genial irony a reproach addressed to His hearers for their low standard of love and forgiveness (Mt5:46,47). (2) He uses the term in the current combination in giving directions about excommunicating a persistently unrepentant member of the church (Mt18:17). (3) He uses the term in the popular sense in describing the current condemnation of His attitude of social fellowship with them, and constructively accepts the title of "friend of publicans and sinners" (Mt11:19; Lk7:34). (4) Most significant of all, Jesus uses the publican, as He did the Samaritan, in a parable in which the despised outcast shows to advantage in an attitude acceptable to God (Lk18:9).

This parable is reinforced by the statement, made more than once by our Lord, that the readiness to repent shown by the publicans and other outcasts usually found with them was more promising of salvation than the spiritual pride shown by some who were satisfied with themselves (Lk3:12; compare7:29; Mt21:31,32; Lk15:1). The choice of Levi as a disciple (Mt10:3) and the conversion of Zaccheus (Lk19:8), of whom Jesus speaks so beautifully as a son of Abraham (Lk19:9), justified the characteristic attitude which our Lord adopted toward the despised class, about equally guilty and unfortunate. He did not condone their faults or crimes; neither did He accept the popular verdict that pronounced them unfit for companionship with the good and without hope in the world. According to the teaching and accordant action of jesus, no man or woman is without hope until the messenger of hope has been definitely rejected. It is fitting, if somewhat dramatic, that a study of taxation-that historic root of bitterness periodically springing up through the ages--should end in comtemplation of Him who spoke to an outcast and guilty tax-collector (Lk19:10) the wonderful words: "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost."

Jesus calling Zacchaeus the chief Taxgatherer

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