In The Pockets Of Romans; A Study on Matthew 5:33-47

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In The Pockets Of Romans; A Study on Matthew 5:33-47

Posted in : Theology and Political Philosophy on by : GodArchy

The following article was originally published at the Political Alchemist. The Political Alchemist is an anonymous collaborative writing project focused on inspiring individuals in spirituality and the sciences, through art, to the pursuit of wisdom.


“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? – Matthew 5:45-47

A strange incident – that the first mention of tax collectors from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels would be documented by Matthew, a tax collector himself. The word for ‘Tax Collectors’ used here is τελώνης. In the Greek, it’s better translated as ‘Publicans’, a word often used in other verses throughout the gospels describing “tax collectors and other sinners,” a way of saying “This, that, the other, etc.”  Most Christian doctrines emphasize a special degree of corruption associated to the tax collector who besides collecting the appropriate tax owed to the Roman government, would coerce the people into giving them more than what was required, therefore equating them with other notorious ‘sinners.’ Though this was in fact a typical occurrence among tax collectors, the word ‘publican’ implies something very different.

The word Publican’ in the early first century was used to describe a public contractor. Because of the high demand, typically and most notoriously, public contractors were in fact tax collectors. But they were also a number of other things. Hence, the “this, that, and the other” statement made by “tax collectors and other sinners.”

But what exactly then, is a public contractor, or ‘publican’?

A publican was someone paid by the Roman government for any one of many provided services such as the most common, tax collection; someone who worked for the state. The opposite of a publican or a public contractor was a private contractor, or more commonly known today as an independent contractor. This was someone who provides their services to the individual voluntarily via the free market. A publican could be someone paid by the state to perform a number of various services besides collecting taxes, such as enlisting in its military, overseeing government building projects, judging in its courts, enforcing its laws, etc. Basically, a statist in the purest sense of the word, in which case the verse could almost better be read, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the statists do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the statists do so?”

Until eventually the word took on the meaning in the eighteenth century to represent the owner of a drinking tavern or a public house, otherwise known as a ‘pub’. In other words, a publican in Jesus’ era was a citizen who was in the pocket of the government itself. It is also worthy to note that Jesus spoke this verse bewaring the publican and those like them as a conclusion to his teaching on loving your enemies, a teaching which provides the pinnacle of his famous Sermon on the Mount.


The verse at 5:43, just three verses before the first use of the word publican, states, “You have heard the law that says, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say, ‘love your enemies!'” Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon’ defines the word for ‘neighbor’ (πλησίον) as “one who has settled in a country,” i.e. a citizen of the state. The same lexicon defines the word for ‘enemy’ (ἐχθρόν) as “alien; one who is at war,” i.e. a foreigner from an opposing nation. By this very interpretation of the words Jesus spoke, the scripture can be better translated as such: “You have heard the law that says, ‘love your nation and those within it and hate all opposing nations and those within them’, but I say, ‘love everyone, despite nationality!'”

This scripture is a direct attack against the ideological nationalism which plagues the world around us, not only then, but today. Jesus then concluded his accusation with the word ‘publican,’ better recognized as statists aka. “tax collectors and other sinners,” which he had used to describe those who have been purchased by this ideology he so blatantly opposed. What then of this nationalist ideology and from what does it stem? Let us examine further what Jesus said prior.


Before Jesus begins his teaching on “loving your enemy,” better summarized as his “teaching on nationalism,” Jesus teaches on another subject commonly represented as “teachings on revenge” in verses 5:38-42.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘the punishment must match the injury: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other also.” As a reference to verse 5:41 we often refer to this teaching as “going the extra mile.”

“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is obviously a reference to Exodus 21:24. But the phrase dates back much further to The Code of Hammurabi, a legal framework created by the sixth king of Babylon in the 1700’s BC. The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest preserved and deciphered writings in the world. While it’s parallel in Exodus can only be traced so far back through fragments as 150 BC. With no older manuscripts having been found regarding the book of Exodus, king Hammurabi holds the oldest known manuscript to man of “eye for an eye.” Babylon is generally synonymous with the world system throughout biblical theology, along with Egypt. In other words, the Code of Hammurabi is a direct representation of the judicial system of Babylon, and even more so the proverbial world.

When Jesus says, “But I say do not resist an evil person!” he is actively opposing the system of the world which this law represents. And it is the basis upon which the entire nationalist government system in which we live. Here we find Jesus opposing not only the law (legislation), but he is opposing those who enforce it (judicial), and well as those who create it (executive) – legislative, Judicial, and Executive, being the three branches upon which all of our American government hangs, condemn itself by its very design.


Now we’ve examined the identity of a publican as one who sells himself to the nationalist agenda, a byproduct of nationalism itself. And that the cause of nationalism is government, better identified as the executive, legislative, and judicial system. But if publicanism is the fruit of the tree of nationalism that has roots in government itself, what then of the soil in which these roots take hold and find their nourishment?

Once more, let’s look at Jesus’ teaching prior to the one we just examined. In verses 5:33-37 we find Jesus’ teaching on “vows.”

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

This particular teaching of Jesus seems peculiarly insignificant in comparison to the many other teachings which seem to overshadow it, such as this such as those on giving to the poor, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. But the dirt, the soil of one’s heart in which the seeds of any teaching are able to take hold often does seem rather insignificant. There is much glory in bearing the right fruit and very little in tilling the soil from which it will be able to grow. This teaching holds the key to nourishing either one seed or the other. The seed of the fruit of publicanism from the tree of nationalism, or the fruit of liberty from the tree of anarchy.

Vows. Either by Heaven, Earth, Jerusalem, or even man himself. Over the years vows have taken on an often overlooked yet synonymous alias which affects all of us on a daily basis from even our childhood. A pledge, and more specifically that of allegiance. From the moment we step foot in our very own assigned publican led education centers (public schools) we are taught to pledge our allegiance and vow ourselves to the nationalism which Jesus so openly opposes.

This pledging lays the groundwork and fertilizes the soil within us which allows the roots of government to take hold and grow into the tree of nationalism, against which Jesus holds the axe, that bears the sin of publicanism. It justifies within our hearts an early age, when we are most susceptible to it, that the sins against another are not sins if done in the name of nationalist publicanism, that murder is not murder if it is war, that theft is not theft if it is tax, that judgement is not judgement if it is court, that coercion is not coercion if it is government, and that sin is not sin if it is statist.

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