Tax Collectors Overview
The Tax Collectors | Index
The Jewish people were under the yoke of foreign oppressors ever since the
Babylonian captivity. During the New Testament times the land of Israel was
within the province of Syria and the tax collectors were collectors of Roman
taxes, they were extortioners, and very despised.
The Jews detested these tax collectors not only on account of their abusive and
tyrannical attitude, but because the very taxes that they were forced to collect
by the Roman government were a badge of servitude and a constant reminder that
God had forsaken His people. The tax collectors were always classed by the
people with the harlots, usurers, gamblers, thieves, and dishonest herdsmen, who
lived promiscuous, lawless lives. Some of the common terms for the tax
collectors were "licensed robbers" and "beasts in human shape."
According to Rabbinism there was no hope for a tax collector. They were excluded
from all religious fellowship including the Temple and Synagogue. Their money
was considered tainted and it defiled anyone who accepted it. They could not
serve as a witness in any court in Israel. The Rabbis had no word to describe
any sort of help for the tax collector, because they expected him to externally
conform to the law in order to be justified before God.
Ancient Jewish writings reveal some interesting views of Rabbis toward the tax
"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
"It was not lawful to use riches received from them, as gotten by rapine; nor
could they judge or give testimony in court -Sanhedr. 25, sec. 2
The attitude of Jesus toward the tax collectors was in stark contrast to that of
the Rabbis. He had come to seek and save the lost. The Pharisees were
separatists, and did not lower themselves to have anything to do with a tax
collector, who was to them no better than a Gentile. But Jesus came not to
condemn anyone, but to save every sinner and offer a better life. He never
taught that there was anything inherently wrong with paying tribute to the Roman
Government or collecting the tax. He was opposed to extortioners, but would
fling open the door of repentance and salvation to them. He rejected none, not
even the worst.
Jesus made himself a friend of men, even of the tax collectors and the worst of
sinners. He set a new precedent among the Jews by accepting and associating with
the tax collectors. He ate with them (Mark 2:16), He offered salvation to them
(Luke 19:9), and He even chose a tax collector (Matthew) as one of His twelve
disciples (Matt 9:9).
Luke 18:9-14 "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves
that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to
pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and
prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners,
unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give
tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would
not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be
merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified
rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he
who humbles himself will be exalted."