- Included in Eastons: Yes
- Included in Hitchcocks: No
- Included in Naves: Yes
- Included in Smiths: Yes
- Included in Websters: Yes
- Included in Strongs: Yes
- Included in Thayers: Yes
- Included in BDB: No
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).
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, (Luke 3:13) they brought false charges of smuggling in the hope of extorting hush-money (Luke 19:8) 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, (Matthew 22:15) 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 Zacch'us as a "chief among the publicans," (Luke 19:2) implies a gradation of some kind among the persons thus employed.
PUB'LICAN, noun [Latin publicanus, from publicus.]
1. A collector of toll or tribute. Among the Romans, a publican was a farmer of the taxes and public revenues, and the inferior officers of this class were deemed oppressive.
As Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10.
2. The keeper of a public house; an innkeeper.
Roman tax collectors.
Zacchaeus, chief among, receives Jesus into his house