Publican, in the Gospels, is derived from the publicanus of the Vulgate, and signifies a member or employee of the Roman financial companies who farmed the taxes. From the time of the Republic the Roman State relieved itself of the trouble of collecting the taxes in the provinces by putting up the taxes of each in a lump sum to auction. The highest bidder received the authorization to extort the sum from the province in question. Such a system afforded ample opportunity for rapacious exactions on the part of the company and its officials, and the abuses were often intolerable. On account of these, and more, perhaps, because of the natural though impotent Jewish hatred of the Roman supremacy, those of the Jews who found it profitable thus to serve the foreign rulers were objects of execration to their countrymen. In the Gospel narrative we find them as a class habitually coupled with “sinners” and the “heathen”. The attitude of Christ towards this, as well as other despised classes, was that of an uplifting sympathy. One great reproach cast upon Him by His enemies, the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees, was His friendship for, and association with publicans and sinners; and consistently with this conduct it pleased Him to choose as one of the twelve Apostles Levi or Matthew the Publican (Matt., ix, 9).
JAMES F. DRISCOLL