tax collectors

tax collectors

Persons responsible for collecting tolls and taxes on behalf of the Roman government. In areas ruled by the Roman Empire, contracts for collecting taxes in a region were farmed out, usually to wealthy foreigners. These persons, in turn, hired local inhabitants to collect the taxes, such as Zacchaeus, who is called a chief tax collector in Jericho (Luke 19:1). Such individuals would rely on low-level tax gatherers (often slaves) to do the actual work of collecting the monies, which might involve, for example, examining goods being transported along local roads and assessing tolls accordingly. Goods sold in certain markets were also subject to taxes. Tax collectors were responsible for paying to the government the revenue they had promised in obtaining their contract, but they were generally free to collect extra taxes from the people in order to make a profit. Opportunities for theft, fraud, and corruption abounded, and tax collectors are portrayed negatively in almost all Greco-Roman literature. Thus in the NT, “tax collectors and sinners” are cited together as examples of undesirable types (Matt 9:11; Matt 11:19; Luke 15:1). In a surprising reversal of cultural norms, Jesus lauds tax collectors and harlots over the Jewish leaders, because the tax collectors and harlots believed John the Baptist (Matt 21:31). The chief tax collector Zacchaeus believes in Jesus and says that he will repay fourfold those whom he has defrauded (Luke 19:8). Jesus is also sharply criticized for associating with tax collectors (Matt 9:10-13; Matt 11:19; Luke 15:1), and he is even reported to have called a tax collector to be one of his disciples (Matt 9:9; Matt 10:3).

Luke 19:1

Jesus and Zacchaeus
1He entered Jericho and was passing through it.

Matt 9:11

11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Matt 11:19

19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by h ... View more

Luke 15:1

The Parable of the Lost Sheep
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

Matt 21:31

31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going ... View more

Luke 19:8

8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pa ... View more

Matt 9:10-13

10And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.11When the Pharisees saw this, they sai ... View more

Matt 11:19

19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by h ... View more

Luke 15:1

The Parable of the Lost Sheep
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

Matt 9:9

The Call of Matthew
9As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and follow ... View more

Matt 10:3

3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.