Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
Publican ( Gr. τελώνης).—The Roman practice of selling to the highest bidder the task of collecting the taxes and dues of a province or district for a definite period is well known. The persons thus engaged were called publicani , and usually belonged to the wealthy equestrian order. They, in their turn, employed local agents to get in the revenues, who were also called publicani . This lower class are probably the men referred to in the Gospels, wherever they belong to Judaea (or Samaria), except possibly in the case of Zacchaeus, who was ἀρχιτελώνης of Jericho ( Luke 19:2), and may have farmed the revenues of that important commercial centre on his own account (but see Ramsay as cited below).
In Galilee the publicans had to collect, not for the Imperial treasury (as in Judaea), but for Herod Antipas the tetrarch. Such an official was St. Matthew (Levi), who was called to be an Apostle from the place of toll (τελώνιον) on the shores of the Lake of Galilee at Capernaum ( Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27). And in his house afterwards our Lord met many other publicans of the tetrarchy at a great entertainment.
Whether in the service of the hated Roman Emperor or of Herod Antipas, who was in complete subservience to him, the tax-gatherer was most unpopular with the Jews; for, apart from the obvious liability of the method to abuse, the mere fact of the money being thus raised for an alien power was detestable in their eyes. And no doubt the publicans were often drawn from the lowest ranks in consequence. Hence common talk associated them not only with the Gentiles ( Matthew 18:17), but with harlots ( Matthew 21:31; Matthew 21:22) and sinners in general ( Matthew 9:10-11; Matthew 11:19, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 5:30; Luke 7:34; Luke 15:1).
John the Baptist’s preaching attracted many publicans to him, and when they inquired in what they must mend their ways after being baptized by him, his answer indicated that extortion was their besetting danger, as we should expect ( Luke 3:12-13).
The remarkable effect that our Lord’s ministry also had upon these men, as in the case of St. Matthew and Zacchaeus (cf. Luke 15:1), is not to be held as implying that He laid Himself out more for them than for other sinners who realized their need of Him; nor are we to infer that, in contrasting them with the Pharisees and scribes, as in the well-known parable ( Luke 18:10 ff.), He intended to clear their character altogether from current prejudices and aspersions. Extortion and oppression were as abhorrent to Him in the one class as formalism and hypocrisy were in the other. Both stood equally in need of His salvation ( Luke 19:10), but without a consciousness of the need on their part His salvation could not take effect.
Literature.—Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] i. 474 ff.; Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] i. 514 ff.; Ramsay, ‘The telonai in the Gospels’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Ext. Vol. p. 394bff.; art. ‘Publican’ in DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] and in the JE [Note: E Jewish Encyclopedia.] .
C. L. Feltoe.
Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary 
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—the farmers of the revenue, their partners, and their securities; in which he follows Polybius. These are called the mancipes, socii, and praedes, who were all under the quaestores aerarii, that presided over the finances at Rome. The mancipes farmed the revenue of large districts or provinces, had the oversight of the inferior publicans, received their accounts and collections, and transmitted them to the quaestores aerarii. They often let out their provinces in smaller parcels to the socii: so called, because they were admitted to a share in the contract perhaps for the sake of more easily raising the purchase money; at least to assist in collecting the tribute. Both the mancipes and socii are therefore properly styled τελωναι , from τελος , tributum, and ωνεομαι , emo. They were obliged to procure praedes, or sureties, who gave security to the government for the fulfilment of the contract. The distribution of Sigonius, therefore, or rather of Polybius, is not quite exact. since there were properly but two sorts of publicans, the mancipes and the socii. The former are, probably, those whom the Greeks call αρχιτελωναι , chiefs of the publicans; of which sort was Zaccheus. As they were superior to the common publicans in dignity, being mostly of the equestrian order, so they were generally in their moral character. But as for the common publicans, the collectors or receivers, as many of the socii were, they are spoken of with great contempt, by Heathens as well as Jews; and particularly by Theocritus, who said, that "among the beasts of the wilderness, bears and lions are the most cruel; among the beasts of the city, the publican and parasite." The reason of the general hatred to them was, doubtless, their rapine and extortion. For, having a share in the farm of the tribute, at a certain rate, they were apt to oppress the people with illegal exactions, to raise as large a fortune as they could for themselves. Beside, publicans were particularly odious to the Jews, who looked upon them to be the instruments of their subjection to the Roman emperors, to which they generally held it sinful for them to submit. They considered it as incompatible with their liberty to pay tribute to any foreign power, Luke 20:22 , &c; and those of their own nation that engaged in this employment they regarded as Heathens, Matthew 18:17 . It is even said, that they would not allow them to enter into their temple or synagogues, nor to join in prayers, nor even allow their evidence in a court of justice on any trial; nor would they accept of their offerings in the temple.
It appears by the Gospel that there were many publicans in Judea at the time of our Saviour. Zaccheus, probably, was one of the principal receivers, since he is called the chief of the publicans, Luke 19:2; but St. Matthew was only an inferior publican. The Jews reproached our Saviour for showing kindness to these persons, Luke 7:34; and he himself ranks them with harlots, Matthew 21:31 . Some of them, it should seem, had humbling views of themselves, Luke 18:10 . Zaccheus assures our Lord, who had honoured him with a visit, that he was ready to give the half of his goods to the poor, Luke 19:8 , and to return fourfold of whatever he had unjustly acquired.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary 
Only mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew leaves the parable of the publican to Luke ( Luke 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 ( Matthew 9:9-11; Mark 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"); Luke 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" ( Luke 15:1-2; Matthew 18:17; Matthew 5:46; Matthew 21:31; Mark 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 ( Matthew 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" ( Matthew 11:19).
Smith's Bible Dictionary 
Publican. 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 Zacchaeus as a "chief among the publicans," Luke 19:2, implies a gradation of some kind, among the persons thus employed.
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary 
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, Deuteronomy 17:15 . Those of their own nation who undertook this office they looked upon as heathen, Matthew 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," Luke 19:2; but Matthew was only an inferior publican, Luke 5:27 . The Jews reproached Jesus with being a "friend of publicans and sinners, and eating with them," Luke 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," Matthew 21:31 . Compare also the beautiful demeanor of the penitent publican in the temple, and the self-justifying spirit of the Pharisee, Luke 18:10-14 .
Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary 
It were to be wished that the term publican was well understood when reading the New Testament, since to the want of it many errors may occur. In modern times we all perfectly consider by the name of publican, one who keeps a public house or tavern. Very different from this was the character of the publican in Scripture. Among the Romans they had tax-gatherers, who were called publicans; and as the office was odious to all Jews being under the government of the Roman power, and as the office itself was invidious, so was the person collecting. Hence they were considered as the most worthless of men, and always classed with the refuse of the people. It became proverbial to join publicans and sinners together; and especially if a Jew, for the sake of gain, hired himself out to gather the taxes for the Romans, and thereby exacted it from his brethren, his name and character became altogether detestable. And hence when the Lord Jesus was pointing out to his disciples a man of more than ordinary worthlessness, he said, "Let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican." ( Matthew 18:17)
It is very blessed and encouraging to discover that with all this odiousness of character, we find a Matthew and a Zaccheus eminently distingushed as partakers of the grace in Christ Jesus. Such indeed are the proper grace, Lord seems to delight in giving tokens of its distinguishing power. "Publicians and harlots, said Jesus, to the proud self-righteous pharisees, go into the kingdom of God before you." ( Matthew 21:31) The reader will find a beautiful and interesting portrait of an humble publican contrasted to a proud pharisee, Luke 18:9. And the reader will find a yet more lovely and interesting portrait of Jesus receiving poor publicans, and being encircled with them, Luke 15:1, etc.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words 
primarily denoted "a farmer of the tax" (from telos, "toll, custom, tax"), then, as in the NT, a subsequent subordinate of such, who collected taxes in some district, "a tax gatherer;" such were naturally hated intensely by the people; they are classed with "sinners," Matthew 9:10,11; 11:9; Mark 2:15,16; Luke 5:30; 7:34; 15:1; with harlots, Matthew 21:31,32; with "the Gentile," Matthew 18:17; some mss. have it in Matthew 5:47 , the best have ethnikoi, "Gentiles." See also Matthew 5:46; 10:3; Luke 3;12; 5:27,29; 7:29; 18:10,11,13 .
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
PUBLICAN . 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 JudÃ¦a, with similar duties (during the Empire there was State machinery for collecting the taxes, and the Emperor had a procurator in each province whose business it was to supervise the collection of revenue). They were employed in collecting the customs dues on exports. Some Jews found it profitable to serve the Roman State in this way, and became objects of detestation to such of their fellow-countrymen as showed an impotent hatred of the Roman supremacy. The Gospels show clearly that they were coupled habitually with ‘sinners,’ a word of the deepest contempt.
People's Dictionary of the Bible 
Publican, a collector of Roman tribute. Matthew 18:17. The principal fanners of this revenue were men of great credit and influence, but the under-farmers, or common publicans', were remarkable, for their rapacity and extortion, and were accounted as oppressive thieves and pickpockets. Hence the Jews classed them with sinners, and would not allow them to enter the temple or the synagogues, to partake of the public prayers or offices of judicature, or to give testimony in a court of justice.
Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types 
Matthew 11:19 (b) This name is applied to any evil person as an epithet of contempt. The Pharisees used this name for anyone who failed to agree with their doctrines and their manner of life. (See Luke 7:34).
Luke 18:10 (b) The word here is used to represent any evil person who comes to Christ in repentance and accepts the Saviour to be his Lord and Master.
King James Dictionary 
PUB'LICAN, n. L.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
2. The keeper of a public house an innkeeper.
Webster's Dictionary 
(1): ( n.) The keeper of an inn or public house; one licensed to retail beer, spirits, or wine.
(2): ( n.) A farmer of the taxes and public revenues; hence, a collector of toll or tribute. The inferior officers of this class were often oppressive in their exactions, and were regarded with great detestation.
Holman Bible Dictionary 
Luke 19:2 Matthew 21:32 Matthew 9:11
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
Luke 19:2 Luke 7:34
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
( Τελώνης ) . The word thus translated belongs only, in the New Test., to the three Synoptic Gospels. The class designated by the Greek word were employed as collectors of the Roman revenue. The Latin word from which the English of the A.V. has been taken was applied to a higher order of men. It will be necessary to glance at the financial administration of the Roman provinces in order to nnderstand the relation of the two classes to each other, and the grounds of the hatred and scorn which appear in the New Test. to have fallen on the former.
The Roman senate had found it convenient, at a period as early as, if not earlier than. the second Punic war, to farm out at public auction the vectigalia (direct taxes) and the portoria (customs, including the octroi on goods carried into or out of cities) to capitalists who undertook to pay a given sum into the treasury (in publicumn), and so received the name of publicani (Livy, 32:7). Contracts of this kind fell naturally into the hands of the equites, as the richest class of Romans. These knights were an order instituted as early as the time of Romulus, and composedt of men of great consideration with the government — "the principal men of dignity in their several countries," who occupied a kind of middle rank between the senators and the people (Josephus, Ant. 12:4). Although these officers were, according to Cicero, the ornament of the city and the strength of the commonwealth, they did not attain to great offices, nor enter the senate, so long as they continued in the order of knights. They were thus more capable of devoting their attention to the collection of the public revenue. Not unfrequently the sum bidden went beyond the means of any individual capitalist, and a joint-stock company (societas) was formed, with one of the partners, or an agent appointed by them, acting as managing director (magister; Cicero, Ad Div. 13:9). Under this officer, who commonly resided at Rome, transacting the business of the company, paying profits to the partners and the like, were the submagistri, living in the provinces. Under them, in like manner, were the portitores, the actual custom-house officers (douaniers), 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 word Τελῶναι , which etymologically might have been used of the Publicani properly so called ( Τέλη , Ὠνέομαι ) , was used popularly, and in the New Test. exclusively, of the Portitores. The same practice prevailed in the East, from which an illustration of it has been preserved to us by Josephus. He tells us that on the marriage of Cleopatra to Ptolemy. the latter received from Antiochus as his daughters dowry Coele-Syria, Samaria, Judaea. and Phoenicia; that "upon the division of the taxes between the two kings, the principal men farmed the taxes of their several countries," paying to the kings the stipulated sum; and that "when the day came on which the king was to let the taxes of the cities to farm, and those that were the principal men of dignity in their several countries were to bid for them, the sum of the taxes together of CceleSyria, and Phoenicia, and Judea, and Samaria, as they were bidden for, came to eight thousand talents" (Ant. 12:4, 1, 4). Those thus spoken of by the Jewish historian as "principal men of dignity" were the real publicani of antiquity. In the Roman empire especially they were persons of no small consequence; in times of trouble they advanced large sums of money to the State, and towards the close of the republic they were so generally members of the equestrian order that the words equites and publicani were sometimes used as synonymous (Smith, Dict. Gr. and Rom. Antiq. s.v.).
The publicani were thus an important section of the equestrian order. An orator wishing, for political purposes, to court that order, might describe them as "flos equitum Romanorum, ornamentum civitatis, firmamentum Reipublicae" (Cicero, Pro Planc . 9). The system was, however, essentially a vicious one — the most detestable, perhaps, of all modes of managing a revenue (comp. Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, vol. ii), and it bore its natural fruits. The publicani were banded together to support each other's interest, and at once resented and defied all interference (Livy, 25:3). They demanded severe laws, and put every such law into execution. Their agents, the portitores, were encouraged in the most vexatious or fraudulent exactions, and a remedy was all but impossible. The popular feeling ran strong even against the equestrian capitalists. The Macedonians complained, as soon as they were brought under Roman government, that "ubi publicanus est, ibi aut jus publicum vanum, aut libertas sociis nulla" (Livy, xlv, 18). Cicero, in writing to his brother (Ad Quint. i, 1, 11), speaks of the difficulty of keeping the publicani within rounds, and yet not offending them as the hardest task of the governor of a province. Tacitus counted it as one bright feature of the ideal life of a people unlike his own that there "nec publicanus atterit" (Genrm. 29). For a moment the capricious liberalism of Nero led him to entertain the thought of sweeping away the whole system of portoria; but the conservatism of the senate, servile as it was in all things else, rose in arms against it, and the scheme was dropped (Tacitus, Ann. 13:50), and the "immodestia publicanorum" (ibid.) remained unchecked.
If this was the case with the directors of the company, we may imagine how it stood with the underlings. 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 (Terence, Phorm. i, 2, 99; Plautus, Trinumnn. iii, 3, 64). Thle Injurice Portitorum, rather than the Porioria themselves, were in most cases the subject of complaint (Cicero, Ad Quint. i, 1, 11). It was the basest of all livelihoods (Cicero, De Off i, 42). They were the wolves and bears of human society (Stobeus, Serm. ii, 34). Πάντες Τελῶναι , Πάντες Ἃρπαγες had become a proverb, even under an earlier regime, and it was truer than ever now (Xenoph. Comic. ap. Dicaearch. Meineke, Frag. Com. 4:596). Of these subordinate officials there appear to have been two classes, both included by us under the general name publican — the Ἀρχιτελῶναι , or "chief of the publicans," of whom we have an instance in Zacchoeus; and the ordinary publicans ( Τελῶναι ), the lowest class of servants engaged in the collection of the revenue, and of whom Levi, afterwards the apostle Matthew, is an example. The former, the Ἀρχιτελῶναι , appear to have been managers under the Publicani proper, or associations of publicans, already spoken of. They were intrusted with the supervision of a collecting district, and it was their duty to see that, in that district, the inferior officers were faithful, and that the various taxes were regularly gathered in. Their situation was thus one of much greater consequence than that of the ordinary "publican" of the Gospels. They seem to have possessed a much higher character, and many of them became wealthy men. Zacchaeus is the only example of an Ἀρχιτελώνης mentioned in the New Test., and it is the ordinary Τελῶναι , neither the farmers of the revenues, nor the superintendents whom they employed, but a still lower class of servants, who most interest us. These were not the Publicani, but the Portitores of the Roman empire, who derived their name from their levying the taxes known as the Portoria. The Portoria included the duties upon imported and exported goods, and upon merchandise passing through the country — one important source of the wealth of Solomon: "Besides that, he had of the merchantmen, and of the traffic of the spice merchants" ( 1 Kings 10:15). They included also the tribute or head-money levied from individuals, and the varicous tolls which appear to have been exigible for the use of roads and bridges. They thus extended over a large number of particulars, and, however honorably and gently the function of the Portitor had been discharged, it would have been impossible for him to avoid that odium which the tax-collector seldom escapes from the taxpayer. But the office, invidious enough in itself, was in the ancient world rendered still more hateful, as we have seen, by the inquisitorial proceedings and the lnscrupulous exactions of those who discharged its duties. The frightful abuses practiced in conquered provinces by the governors who were sent to rule them are well known to all; but the same system of abuse marked the whole army of officials from the highest to the lowest, only that the lowest came in contact with the great mass of the people, and that their petty interferences and severities must have been felt, under one form or another, by almost all. To such an extent, indeed, did these exactions proceed, even in the very neighborhood of Rome, that at one time the Roman government, as the only means of introducing a remedy, abolished all the import and export duties in the ports of Italy (Smith, Dict. Gr. and Rom. Antiq. s.v. Portitores).
All this was enough to bring the class into ill-favor everywhere. In Judlea 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. The Galilaeans or Herodians, the disciples of Judas the Gaulonite, were the most turbulent and rebellious ( Acts 5:37). They thought it unlawful to pay tribute, and founded their refusal to do so on their being the people of the Lord, because a true Israelite was not permitted to acknowledge any other sovereign than God (Josephus, Ant . 18:2). The publicans were hated as the instruments by which the subjection of the Jews to the Roman emperor was perpetuated, and the paying of tribute was regarded as a virtual acknowledgment of his sovereignty. They were also noted for their imposition, rapine, and extortion, to which they were, perhaps, more especially prompted by having a share in the farm of the tribute, as they were thus tempted to oppress the people with illegal exactions that they might the more speedily enrich themselves. Theocritus considered the bear and the lion the most cruel anmong the beasts of the wilderness, and among the beasts of the city the publican and the parasite. In addition to their other faults, accordingly, the publicans of the New Test. were regarded as traitors and apostates, defiled by their frequent intercourse with the heathen, willing tools of the oppressor. They were classed with sinners ( Matthew 9:11; Matthew 11:19), with harlots ( Matthew 21:31-32), with the heathen ( Matthew 18:17). In Galilee they consisted probably of the least reputable members of the fisherman and peasant class. Left to themselves, men of decent lives holding aloof from them, their only friends or companions were found among those who, like themselves, were outcasts from the world's law. Scribes and people alike hated them.
The Gospels present us with some instances of this feeling. To eat and drink "with publicans" seems to the Pharisaic mind incompatible with the character of a recognised rabbi ( Matthew 9:11). They spoke in their scorn of our Lord as the friend of publicans ( Matthew 11:19). Rabbinic writings furnish some curious illustrations of the same feeling. The Chaldee Targum and I. Solomon find in "the archers who sit by the waters" of Judges 5:11, a description of the Τελῶναι sitting on the banks of rivers or seas in ambush for the wayfarer. The casuistry of the Talmud enumerates three classes of men with whom promises need not be kept, and the three are murderers, thieves, and publicans (Nedar. iii, 4). No money known to come from them was received into the alms-box of the synagogue or the corban of the Temple (Babac Kama, 10:1). To write a publican's ticket, or even to carry the ink for it on the Sabbath-day, was a distinct breach of the commandment (Shabb. 8:2). They were not fit to sit in judgment, or even to give testimony (Sanhedr. fol. 25, 2). Sometimes there is an exceptional notice in their favor. It was recorded as a special excellence in the father of a rabbi that, having been a publican for thirteen years, he had lessened instead of increasing the pressure of taxation (ibid.). The early Christian fathers take up the same complaint. "Publicanus ex officio peccator," exclaims Tertullian; and from thie exhaustless vocabulary of Chrysostom they have heaped upon them every epithet of abuse. See the passages bearing upon this point in Wetstein's note on Matthew 5:46; also Suicer's Thesaurus, s.v. Τελώνης ; Grotius, Ad Matthew 18 ; Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. Ad Matthew 18 .
The class thus practically excommunicated furnished some of the earliest disciples both of the Baptist and of our Lord. Like the outlying, so-called "dangerous classes" of other times, they were at least free from hypocrisy. Whatever morality they had was real, and not conventional. We may think of the Baptist's preaching as having been to them what Wesley's was to the colliers of Kingswood or the Cornish miners. The publican who cried in the bitterness of his spirit, "God be merciful to me a sinner" ( Luke 18:13), may be taken as the representative of those who had come under this influence ( Matthew 21:32). The Galilaean fishermen had probably learned, even before their Master taught them, to overcome their repugnance to the publicans who with them had been sharers in the same baptism. The publicans (Matthew perhaps among them) had probably gone back to their work learning to exact no more than what was appointed them ( Luke 3:13). However startling the choice of Matthew, the publican, to be of the number of the twelve may have seemed to the Pharisees, we have no trace of any perplexity or offence on the part of the disciples.
The position of Zaccheus as an Ἀρχιτελώνης ( Luke 19:2) implies a position of some importance among the persons thus employed. Possibly the balsam trade, of which Jericho was the centre, may have brought larger profits; possibly he was one of the Submagistri in immediate communication with the bureau at Rome. That it was possible for even a Jewish publican to attain considerable wealth we find from the history of John the Τελώνης (Josephns, War, ii, 14, 4), who acts with the leading Jews and offers a bribe of eight talents to the procurator, Gessius Florus. The fact that Jericho was at this time a city of the priests — 12,000 are said to have lived there — gives, it need hardly be said, a special significance to our Lord's preference of the house of Zacchlaeus. When Jesus visited the house of Zaccheus, who appears to have been eminently honest and upright, he was assured by him that he was ready to give one half of his goods to the poor, and if he had taken anything from any man by false accusation, to "restore him four-fold" ( Luke 19:8). This was in reference to the Roman law, which required that when any farmer was convicted of extortion he should return four times the value of what he had fraudulently obtained. There is no reason to suppose that either Zacchaeus or Matthew had been guilty of unjust practices, or that there was any exception to their characters bevond that of being engaged in an odious employment. Some other examples of this occur. Suetonius ( Vesp. 1) mentions the case of Sabinus, a collector of the fortieth penny in Asia, who had several statues erected to him by the cities of the province, with this inscription, "To the honest tax-farmer." See Bible Educator, iii, 193. For monographs on the publicans, see Volbeding, Index Programmantum, p. 52, 67. (See Tax-Gatherer).
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature 
Publican, a person who farmed the taxes and public revenues. This office was usually held by Roman knights, an order instituted as early as the time of Romulus, and composed of men of great consideration with the government, 'the principal men of dignity in their several countries,' who occupied a kind of middle rank between the senators and the people. Although these officers were, according to Cicero, the ornament of the city and the strength of the commonwealth, they did not attain to great offices, nor enter the senate, so long as they continued in the order of knights. They were thus more capable of devoting their attention to the collection of the public revenue.
The publicans were distributed into three classes: the farmers of the revenue, their partners, and their securities, corresponding to the Mancipes, Socii, and Prædes. They were all under the Quaestores Ærarii, who presided over the finances at Rome. Strictly speaking, there were only two sorts of publicans, the Mancipes and the Socii. The former, who were generally of the equestrian order, and much superior to the latter in rank and character, are mentioned by Cicero with great honor and respect; but the common publicans, the collectors or receivers of the tribute, as many of the Socii were, are covered both by heathens and Jews with opprobrium and contempt.
The name and profession of a publican were, indeed, extremely odious among the Jews, who submitted with much reluctance to the taxes levied by the Romans. The Galileans or Herodians, the disciples of Judas the Gaulonite, were the most turbulent and rebellious . They thought it unlawful to pay tribute, and founded their refusal to do so on their being the people of the Lord, because a true Israelite was not permitted to acknowledge any other sovereign than God (Josephus, Antiq. xv. 5. 3). The publicans were hated as the instruments by which the subjection of the Jews to the Roman emperor was perpetuated; and the paying of tribute was regarded as a virtual acknowledgment of his sovereignty. They were also noted for their imposition, rapine, and extortion, to which they were, perhaps, more especially prompted by having a share in the farm of the tribute, as they were thus tempted to oppress the people with illegal exactions, that they might the more speedily enrich themselves. Those Jews who accepted the office of publican were execrated by their own nation equally with heathens: 'Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican' . It is said they were not allowed to enter the temple or synagogues, to engage in the public prayers, fill offices of judicature, or even give testimony in courts of justice. According to the Rabbins, it was a maxim that a religious man who became a publican was to be driven out of the religious society. They would not receive their presents at the temple any more than the price of prostitution, of blood, or of anything wicked and offensive.
- ↑ Publican from Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
- ↑ Publican from Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Fausset's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Smith's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words
- ↑ Publican from Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Publican from People's Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Publican from Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types
- ↑ Publican from King James Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Webster's Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Holman Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Publican from Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
- ↑ Publican from Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature