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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.
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Hawker, Robert D.D. Entry for 'Publican'. Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance and Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/pmd/p/publican.html. London. 1828.