The Bible uses 2 words for tax collectors:  tax collectors or publicans. Some Bible history references note that the word “Publicans” was likely used for the chief tax collector in charge who would then hire a staff of tax collectors to actually go out and do the work of gathering the money.  Remembering that Rome ruled extensive areas, the Romans expected taxes be paid by both Jews and none Jews alike. The Publicans, or chiefs, were likely to be Romans because they were hired to be loyal to the Roman government and enforce these collections.  For the Biblical accounts of interactions with the tax collectors, those were likely to be Jews hired to collect the taxes from their own people.

Why were they hated? 

Across the centuries people have been taxed and most people dislike it. Taxes support the government, leaders, and the military. Back in Jesus day, the Roman government would take a census to find out who was living under their territories and would likely use that census as a list for tax collection purposes.  Then, it was the tax collectors responsibility to go door to door and demand for X amount of money.  The love of money being a source of temptation and point of corruption, it is likely some the tax collectors would overcharge/extort the people so they could keep some extra money for themselves (Luke 3:13).  For the Jews, they were supposed to be separate from Gentiles, and having to pay the Roman government must have been painful. But to have their fellow Jew participate in the process must have angered their hearts. They may have felt as if Jewish tax collectors were traitors to God and to the nation of Israel (Luke 18:9).

Were any Apostles tax-collectors?

Matthew 10:2-4, “… the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

So one Apostle was specifically identified as a tax collector. This helps us to see the broad range of individuals that Jesus called out to be his followers (Luke 7:34, Luke 15:1). Jesus did not pick the wisest, richest or noblest, but he looks at the individual’s heart condition. Are you wanting to change from the inside, are you wanting to do better in God’s eyes, are you tired of the suffering and evil in the world and hoping for something greater?  While the world then and today may look down on individuals, judging circumstances outwardly, God judges the heart. If today, you may not feel you are in a good place, God sees the potential in you. If you are willing to work on stopping your sinful actions, words and thoughts, put aside your will and look to do God’s will, go to God in prayer and ask forgiveness with sincerity. You will be blessed. Not with worldly riches, fame or praise but by having peace and spiritual favor of God.