The Defamation Against Zacchaeus

Blaine Robison, M.A.


Published 11 August 2007; Revised 24 July 2022


Sources: Bibliographic data for research sources may be found at the end of the article. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Luke and his book.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).

For centuries Bible expositors have treated Zacchaeus (Heb. Zakkai) as a virtual criminal, guilty of all manner of offenses including theft, fraud, extortion, and bribery. Such charges, if true, would indeed be grievous. Zacchaeus has been pilloried by Christians who have judged him in the court of public opinion without the opportunity of rebutting the allegations. It's long past time to recall the witnesses to the stand and hear again their evidence to restore his good character.

The Testimony of Luke

"Now Yeshua entered Jericho and was passing through. And here was a man by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich." (Luke 19:1-2)

At Home in Jericho

Luke identifies the person at the heart of the story as Zacchaeus. The first hint of Zacchaeus' character is his name, which in Hebrew (Zakkai) means "the just" or "the pure." Certainly its possible for someone to be given a good name and not live up to it, but taken in the total context his name turned out to be prophetic. Nothing is known of Zacchaeus' lineage, but there is a Zacchaeus ("Zaccai" NASB) mentioned in Ezra 2:9 and Nehemiah 3:20; 7:14. He was the "father" (i.e., ancestor) of 760 men of Israel who returned from the Babylonian exile and one notable son, Baruch, who assisted Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

Zacchaeus was a resident of Jericho (Heb. Yericho), which lay about five miles west of the Jordan (Heb. Yarden) and 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem (Heb. Yerushalayim). There were actually two cities called Jericho that sat next to each other: Old Jericho, the site of the Canaanite city, and New Jericho, the recently rebuilt Herodian city where Yeshua had his interview with Zacchaeus. The town had three distinctions at this time in history.

· Jericho was home to many priests and Levites who could be encountered on the road as they traveled to the Temple for their assigned duties (cf. Luke 10:30-32).

· Jericho was near where John (Heb. Yochanan) the Immerser conducted his ministry (Luke 3:3) and where Yeshua immersed himself (Matt 3:13). Given the fact that many tax collectors went out to Yochanan (Luke 3:12) it's very likely that Zacchaeus had personal knowledge of him.

· Jericho was where Yeshua healed a blind man, Bartimaeus (Heb. Bar-Timai) (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-41). The story is set in the context of Yeshua's visit to Zacchaeus. Most significant to the theme of Yeshua's visit is that Bartimaeus addressed Yeshua as both "Son of David" and "Rabbi" (Heb. Rabbouni, "my master").

· Jericho was one of three places in the Land for the collection of customs and highway tolls. The other two were Capernaum (Heb. K'far Nachum) and Caesarea. It was at these points that tax agents examined import and export goods and collected tolls on roads and bridges, because they were major trade intersections. Yeshua found Matthew at the customs booth in Capernaum.

Zacchaeus owned a home and apparently enjoyed a comfortable living. Being "wealthy" (Grk. plousios) referred primarily to someone that did not have to perform physical labor for a living. However, Luke does not say how Zacchaeus acquired his wealth or offer any comment to suggest that his affluence was not legitimately gained through inheritance or earned through his business.

Luke informs us that Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector (Grk. architelōnēs) of Jericho, which means he had administrative responsibilities in supervising other Jewish tax collectors that collected customs and tolls in the district of the Jordan. The title which Zacchaeus bore is found nowhere else in Scripture or other ancient Jewish literature. His appointment is highly unusual and may be a silent testimony to his integrity. Ordinarily the Romans would not trust a Jew to be the director of their tax collections in a district.

Roman Taxation in Israel

Some commentators believe Zacchaeus practiced "tax farming," a practice that existed for about a century and a half before Yeshua in which businessmen, called publicani, bid directly to the Roman government for the right to collect taxes. Taxes were imposed on communities and the provinces and levied primarily on wealth and all forms of property, since census taking was infrequent. The publicani essentially loaned money to the state in advance of tax collections. Publicani were also given the responsibility of converting their collected taxes into Roman coinage. So, the collections had to provide enough revenue to repay their advance to the authorities plus enough to cover interest, their fee for converting tax collections into cash, and a profit as well.

Tax farming proved to be quite profitable and a major investment for wealthy citizens of Rome. The process also held great potential for corruption. For example, with the profits collected, publicani could collude with local magistrates or farmers to buy large quantities of grain at low rates and hold it in reserve until times of shortage. These publicani were also moneylenders, or the bankers of the ancient world, and would lend cash to hard-pressed provincials at the exorbitant rate of 4% per month or more.

However, due to complaints about excessive assessments Caesar Augustus in 1 BC ended tax farming and imposed a direct form of taxation in which each province was required to pay a wealth (or income) tax of about 1% and a flat poll tax of one drachma on each adult. The Roman government also created a wide variety of taxes on commerce such as sales taxes, highway tolls, customs at border crossings and assorted government fees. The income and poll taxes relied on a regular census being taken to evaluate the taxable number of people and their income/wealth status.

After the death of Herod the Great and the appointment of a Roman procurator Jewish tax collectors worked directly for the Imperial Treasury under the supervision of foreign publicani and assisted in the census taking and collecting the taxes that had been assessed. Similar to the publicani, subordinate tax collectors were independent contractors, not civil servants, and earned their income from fees charged to individual taxpayers for banking services and changing property or money into Roman coinage to pay taxes. The cost of collection rested squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayer, not the government. With local control the process was supposedly fairer than tax farming and less subject to corruption than the previous system. Citizens knew beforehand the exact amount to pay for income and poll-taxes and anything leftover was entirely theirs.

However, taxes on commerce and travel were a very different matter. The ancient and widespread curse of arbitrariness made the system oppressive. Besides the indignity of having one's boxes and bundles opened in order to appraise the value of the goods, the tariff rates on travel and commerce were often vague and indefinite, which enabled tax collectors to literally commit "highway robbery." While Roman society enjoyed greater prosperity than ever before under Augustus, the provinces, especially Israel, experienced Roman taxation as a crushing weight. As a result, some violent civil revolts occurred because of the tax burden (Acts 5:37; 21:38).

Since the incident between Zacchaeus and Yeshua occurred in 30-33 AD (depending on when the birth of Yeshua is dated) there is insufficient evidence to accuse Zacchaeus of gaining his wealth from tax farming.

Encounter with the Messiah

"Zacchaeus was trying to see who Yeshua was, but he couldn't because of the crowd, for he was short in height. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Yeshua, for He was about to pass through that way. When Yeshua came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today." Zacchaeus hurried and came down and welcomed Him joyfully." (Luke 19:3-6)

Luke goes on to describe Zacchaeus as short in height. The physical stature seems emphasized by the fact that he could not see Yeshua because of the crowd and so he climbed a tree for better observation. Luke does not mean that Zacchaeus manifested dwarfism, but simply that he was shorter than the average height in that time (estimated at 5'6" to 5'11" tall from what I've read). The tree was a "fig-mulberry tree" similar to the English oak. It has a short trunk and wide lateral branches forking out in all directions, so it is not too difficult to climb. The fact that Zacchaeus both ran and climbed a tree hints at his age, as well as his physical condition.

The reader is next informed of Zacchaeus' eagerness to see Yeshua, which led him to climb the tree. Zacchaeus was even more delighted that Yeshua wanted to come to his house and ran home to make the preparations. Absent is the humility of the Roman centurion who didn't feel worthy for Yeshua to come under his roof. Zacchaeus shows not a hint of a guilty conscience, but simply joy over Yeshua receiving his hospitality. From Zacchaeus' point of view Yeshua's willingness to come to his home amounted to vindication.

The Testimony of the Complainants

"But when everyone saw it, they began to grumble, saying, "Yeshua has gone to be the guest of a sinner." (Luke 19:7)

Yeshua entered New Jericho followed by a great host of people. Those giving testimony for the prosecution were probably priests or Levites or possibly Pharisees (cf. Luke 5:30), since on no other occasion do ordinary citizens complain about whom Yeshua visited. The religious leaders couldn't understand why Yeshua would go to the home of anyone believed to be a sinner. It is ironic that Christian interpreters give any credence to these hostile witnesses when their uncharitable religious exclusiveness is uniformly condemned in commentaries on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The meaning of "sinner" is important to establish. In the Tanakh (Old Testament) the term "sinner" (Heb. chatta) referred to someone who willfully violated Torah commandments, and which tended toward habitual practice. In the Besekh the Greek word hamartōlos equates to the Hebrew word, but has a broader usage, meaning essentially one who fails to meet religious or legal standards, i.e., an outsider relative to the "in-group."

Among the Pharisees, the ultimate "in-group," the category of "sinner" included prostitutes and thieves, persons of low reputation, and Sabbath violators. Indeed, habitual violation of traditions they considered important was enough to label a person as a "sinner." Some Pharisees were outraged because Yeshua associated with "sinners" and even allowed one to touch him (Matt 9:11; Luke 7:39). Eventually they labeled Yeshua a sinner because he healed on the Sabbath (John 9:16). When one begins to call light dark, then the meaning of "sinner" loses its force.

The complainants offer no explanation as to why they branded Zacchaeus a sinner nor are any specific charges leveled. For any alleged fraud or extortion victims could have complained to the provincial governor since Roman law provided for punishment of fraudulent tax collection. Christian commentators judge Zacchaeus guilty by association, because ancient tax collectors, particularly customs agents, were mistrusted and usually for good reason. Yet, nowhere in the Besekh is the integrity of any Jewish tax collector impugned nor is any tax collector actually accused of theft. To shred someone's reputation with broad generalizations and no evidence of actual wrongdoing is called defamation and is an actionable offense.

Jewish tax collectors were considered sinners primarily because they worked for the despised Romans, the enemies of Israel. The label had nothing to do with their fiduciary competence. Moreover, the tax collectors were disobeying the Torah prohibition of numbering and thus helping to perpetuate Roman tyranny. Paying taxes to Rome using the Roman coins with Caesar's imprint was tantamount to declaring that Caesar replaced God as the rightful King of Israel. Finally, the taxes being collected were regarded as too heavy and the equivalent of robbery. By virtue of this viewpoint a tax collector was automatically considered a robber and therefore a "sinner."

Being labeled a "sinner" the Jewish tax collector faced a number of restrictions. He was generally a religious outcast, which meant he would be unable to attend synagogue services. He could not serve as a judge or give testimony as a witness in a court case. No alms would be accepted from him if the money came from tax profits. Living as a pariah to the religious elite one can easily understand how Zacchaeus and other tax collectors were happy to have Yeshua's company.

Such unjust treatment finds no justification in the Torah or from God's messengers. Tax collectors received immersion under Yochanan's ministry (Luke 3:12; 7:29) and when they asked him what they should do, he simply said, "Do not take more than you are supposed to" (Luke 3:13). He did not impugn their character nor tell them to leave their profession. One can only wonder whether Zacchaeus had been immersed by Yochanan.

Yeshua freely and frequently associated with tax collectors. Yeshua taught tax collectors (Luke 15:1), ate with tax collectors (Luke 5:29-30), offered friendship to tax collectors (Luke 7:34) and welcomed tax collectors into the Kingdom (Matt 21:31). Perhaps most significant of all he called a tax collector, Matthew (Levi), to be one of his apostles (Matt 9:9; 10:3; Luke 5:27) and who along with the rest of the twelve will one day judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30).

The Testimony of Zacchaeus

"But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, Master, half of my possessions I give to the poor, and if I have somehow cheated anyone, I repay four times as much." (Luke 19:8)

Zacchaeus began his response to the complaint by calling Yeshua, "Master." The Grk. title kurios (= Heb. adōn) literally means "master by right of possession." Other Bible versions translate kurios with "Lord." In personal address kurios can be translated as "Sir." However, Zacchaeus was clearly saying more than offering a respectful greeting to a passer-by. The title "Master" reflects Zacchaeus' recognition of Yeshua's mission, position and authority and especially suits the declaration that follows. Zacchaeus then says "look" (Grk. idoú, lit. "behold"), an emphatic exclamation intended to capture attention. It has the effect of "look at me" or "see me," and in this instance no doubt is directed as much to his critics as to Yeshua.

Zacchaeus then makes two bold declarations. The first assertion is a commitment to almsgiving. The words "my possessions," Grk. huparchō, refers to what is at one's disposal, what belongs to someone, including property, possessions or means. Such unheard of almsgiving could only be exceeded by the widow who gave all she had into the alms box at the temple (Luke 21:1-4). Some time before coming to Jericho Yeshua had encountered a rich young ruler who wanted to obtain eternal life. Yeshua commanded him to sell everything and become a disciple. The young man refused to make so great a sacrifice, whereupon Yeshua commented on how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom (Luke 18:22-24). Yet, here we have a rich man proving his readiness for the Messianic kingdom.

Yeshua's own teaching on giving to the poor was well known. He rebuked his Pharisee critics for their greed (Luke 16:14-15), cruelty in regards to financial support of their parents (Matt 15:3-5) and injustice to widows (Matt 23:14). Yeshua warned against stinginess and the danger of loving money too much (Matt 6:19-24) and urged his disciples to "sell your possessions and give to charity" (Luke 12:33 NASB). To Yeshua Zacchaeus declared, "I give half." The verb "give" (Grk. didōmi), a verb that often focuses on generosity, is present tense, which could mean "I currently give," i.e., "for me giving to the poor is a personal value."

In Greek the present tense can have a variety of meanings. A present tense verb may indicate action in progress, habitual practice, or action at successive intervals. However, sometimes the present tense is used to indicate an event now occurring, a past event with vividness, an anticipated future event or an action purposed. Commentators generally interpret these words as a commitment for future action and some versions offer the translation of "I will give."

Zacchaeus may well have given to the poor in the past, but having met and been accepted by Yeshua he was motivated to demonstrate his submission to kingdom values. It would no doubt take some time to liquidate assets, but the poor would learn of Zacchaeus' public announcement and the priests and Levites, who normally handled such distributions, would have no choice but to pass the largesse to them.

Zacchaeus' second assertion is "if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold" (NKJV). He makes a conditional statement beginning with IF, a word minimized by commentators. What does "if" mean? "If" (Grk. ei, conj., 'if') introduces a conditional statement with two terms, one stated and the other unstated: if "a" is true or exists, then "b" is a logical outcome. If "a" is not true, then the opposite outcome may be inferred. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1Jn 1:9). Commentators typically treat Zacchaeus' "if" statement as "since." The present tense of "restore" emphasizes a practice of being responsible if his subordinates should make a mistake in valuations of property. The word "if" cannot condemn Zacchaeus of deliberate or habitual practice of wrongdoing.

The next word Zacchaeus uses is "false accusation," Grk. sukphanteō. (The TLV has "cheated.") This verb is formed from sukon, which means a fig, and phainō, which means to function in a manner that makes observation possible. Originally this word had to do with the illegal export of figs from Greece. In Athens there were men called "sukophantia" whose business it was to inform against any one whom they might detect exporting figs out of Greece, and extorted money from exporters who wanted to avoid being exposed.

The verb developed a wider range of usage until it meant basically to misuse authority for personal gain. The offense could be simple fraud (as suggested by the NASB "defrauded") or at worst extortion with the use of intimidation (HCSB "extorted"). This is the word that Yochanan the Immerser used when he told repentant soldiers not to extort from anyone and to be content with their wages. Interestingly, Yochanan does not use this word when asked by tax collectors what they should do.

Who and what would be restored? Since "accused" is a past tense verb, one of two scenarios is possible: (1) A subordinate allowed imports or exports to pass through without imposing the required duty by accepting payments under the table. The restoration would then be to the Imperial Treasury. (2) A subordinate charged more tax on an Israelite than was lawful or reasonable. The restoration would then be to the tax payer.

While not obvious in a number of Bible versions, the verb "restore" (Grk. apodidōmi, "to repay or restore") is present tense, as translated in the ESV, KJV, NKJV, RSV and TLV. As with the verb "give" many Bible versions translate apodidōmi as future tense, assuming an intention to complete the action in the future. This translation is grammatically reasonable, but we should not assume that Zacchaeus made a practice of rejecting complaints against his employees. If Zacchaeus was not referring to a standing practice, then the use of "look" would indicate Zacchaeus' immediate initiation of these actions. The generosity and openness is not to be an event at some indefinite time in the future when Yeshua is no longer around to witness it.

Commentators who assume the future tense typically interpret the verb as evidence of a stricken conscience. Then, conviction led to repentance and repentance led to restitution. However, Zacchaeus' actual words contain no confession and no repentance as the tax collector did in the parable Yeshua told the previous day (Luke 18:13). The apostolic narratives indicate that when people confessed their sins they did so openly without prevarication (e.g., Matt 3:6; 27:4; Luke 5:8). There is simply no evidence that Zacchaeus was offering penance for a life of crime. He also made no offer to immediately quit tax collecting, although he eventually left his business behind to serve the Messiah.

Commentators typically say that Zacchaeus offered restitution. However, restitution is simple restoration, which in this case would mean a refund. Zacchaeus was an administrator, so how much he dealt with the public is unknown. If anyone could show negligence of his employees then under the Torah he should pay double for a breach of trust (Ex 22:9). However, Zacchaeus offered to pay four times the amount or punitive damages, the amount required for deliberate wrongdoing (Ex 22:1-2; 2Sam 12:6). Zacchaeus did not say that he had collected more than legally allowed or that he had extorted from anyone, but to his credit he was willing to be subjected to an audit.

Zacchaeus essentially issues a challenge to anyone in the crowd to step forward and make a claim. This would be like hitting the lottery if malfeasance in office could be proven. The willingness to pay the extreme penalty amounts to asserting innocence. The declaration of Zacchaeus is not unlike that of Samuel the prophet who declared his fiduciary integrity before acceding national leadership to Saul (1Sam 12:3-4). Luke, a thorough historian, offers no hint that anyone ever made a formal complaint. With that silence we should be content.

The Testimony of Yeshua

"Then Yeshua said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:9-10)

The testimony of Yeshua that supports the defendant may be found first in His public announcement that he wished to come to the house of Zacchaeus. Yet, when Yeshua begins to speak he does not seem to respond to Zacchaeus' words, but takes the opportunity to deliver a midrash. The curious thing about the short message in verses 9 and 10 is that there is no confrontation of sin, no forgiveness offered (cf. Luke 5:20; 7:47) and no warning to stop sinning (cf. John 5:14; 8:11). After the incident with Zacchaeus and noting that Yeshua had said nothing about Zacchaeus' vocation Yeshua's enemies asked him about the legitimacy of paying taxes to Caesar. He replied with the famous words, "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Luke 20:25).

Some consider Zacchaeus to be a sinner because Yeshua said, "Today salvation has come to this house." Yeshua actually engaged in a bit of word play, because his name is a contraction of Heb. Y'hoshua (Joshua), "YHVH is salvation." "Yeshua" also has same root as Heb. yoshia, "He will save," and is the masculine form of Heb. yeshu‘ah, "salvation" or "deliverance." From its Hebrew roots "salvation" has a broader meaning than usually found in Christian usage. In the Hebrew Scriptures salvation is sought and expected for all manner of distress, both national and individual, including enemies, natural catastrophes and sickness. The one who brings deliverance is known as the "savior." While there may be human agents involved in the salvation, the obstacles surmounted were so impressive that Adonai, the God of Israel, is the only one who can be credited with the deliverance.

God is known as the "God of our salvation" (1Chr 16:35; Ps 65:5; 68:19; 79:9; 85:4). Israelites of that time expected that the Messiah would deliver them from the oppressive Romans, but the message of Yeshua (and later the apostles) incorporated a spiritual meaning. The good news was that God promised deliverance from the power and penalty of sinning, in order that people might fulfill the holy standards of the Torah (Matt 5:17; Rom 8:4), all of which required a righteous savior since sinning necessitated judgment (Ps 51:14; Isa 45:21). God was (and is) that kind of savior. Moreover, God would accomplish complete salvation with all these elements by sending his Anointed One or Messiah.

By telling Zacchaeus that salvation had come to his house, Yeshua meant that he was the Messiah that brought the full salvation promised by the Father. The announcement does not prove that Zacchaeus had committed something deserving of being called a sinner by the complainants. Rather, Yeshua emphasizes that the good news of the kingdom's arrival was for the rich as well as the poor, for the outcast as well as the orthodox. Yeshua's words and actions function as an acted out parable, implying that salvation had not only come to the house of Zacchaeus, but to the house of Israel. The nation that eagerly anticipated the Messiah must welcome him as Zacchaeus did.

Yeshua went on to call Zacchaeus a son of Abraham. In the Besekh "son of Abraham" has both a genealogical meaning (Matt 1:1; Luke 3:34; Acts 13:26) and a spiritual meaning (Rom 4:12; Gal 3:7). In speaking of Zacchaeus, Yeshua said, "he also," not simply "he is." The adverb "also" offers a contrast. The self-righteous neighbors treated Zacchaeus as if he didn't belong to the nation of Israel. Yeshua could be saying, "He, too, shares in the Abrahamic covenant by right of genealogy and thus does not deserve ostracism."

"He, too" could also allude directly to the righteousness of Abraham who in faith left Ur of the Chaldeans to seek a land where God would make him into a great nation and bless him abundantly, so that through Abraham God might bless others (Gen 12:1-2). Zacchaeus had demonstrated that he was a true spiritual son of Abraham by seeking out and affirming Yeshua the Messiah (cf. Rom 4:13-16), in contrast to certain Pharisees that asserted their lineage from Abraham, yet Yeshua called them children of the devil (John 8:33-44).

Next in his short message Yeshua, as was typical, spoke of himself in the third person as the Son of Man. Besides the suffering Mashiach ben Yosef (Isa 53), Jewish literature identified three figures of the victorious Messiah: (1) Mashiach ben Adam, the seed of Adam who would crush the Serpent (Gen 3:15; Dan 7:13); (2) Mashiach ben David (Isa 9:7), the one who would establish the throne of David forever; and (3) Mashiach ben Ananim (son of the clouds, Dan 7:13; Sanhedrin 96b; 98a), the one who would come from heaven to destroy the enemies of Israel. The apostles proclaimed that Yeshua fulfills all the figures of the Messiah (Matt 1:1, 16; 20:18; 24:30).

Here as elsewhere Yeshua connected the eschatological title with his spiritual mission. The commitment to seek and save what was lost echoes his teaching on the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). Similar to this situation the parable of the lost sheep was told in response to the complaint of some Pharisees and scribes that Yeshua was welcoming tax collectors and sinners into His kingdom! The phrase "that which was lost" is neuter and thus is not limited to Zacchaeus. In reality, Zacchaeus was no more spiritually lost than anyone else in Israel.

All Israel was lost, not because they had all become wicked heathens, but because their spiritual shepherds had abandoned their responsibilities (Mark 6:34; John 10:12f) and the people were dispirited and without direction (Matt 9:36). Yeshua never blames the sheep for being lost, but the shepherds. All Israelites needed to acknowledge that the Chief Shepherd had come and would lay down his life for them (John 10:14-15).

The Warning of Yeshua

"As they were listening to this, Yeshua went on to tell a parable." (Luke 19:11)

As on another occasion when a Pharisee was bothered by Yeshua associating with a "sinner" (Luke 7:36-42), Yeshua proceeds to tell a parable to the critics (Luke 19:11-27). A wealthy nobleman prepared to take a journey to a distant country. Being from a noble family he was in line for the throne, but the citizens made it clear that they didn't want him as their king. In any event before departure the nobleman called ten of his servants together and distributed ten minahs to each of them. The mina was a Greek coin equal to 100 drachmas. A drachma was basically equivalent to the Roman denarius.

Some time later the nobleman returned from his trip and conducted an audit, which resulted in proportional judgment similar to the parable of the talents in the Olivet Discourse. The servants who multiplied their coins were shocked when they received authority over cities in the nobleman's kingdom. The servant who failed to produce an increase suffered the wrath of his master. Yeshua's intention in telling this parable of wealth distribution is very different from the one in the Olivet Discourse.

Here the clear implication is that Zacchaeus is like the productive slaves. Zacchaeus used God's wealth to bless the needy. Zacchaeus welcomed Yeshua as Messiah and King. Interestingly, according to church tradition Peter appointed Zacchaeus as overseer of the congregation in Caesarea (Clementine Homilies, III, 66). He received his city. However, Zacchaeus' critics are like those who did not want the Messiah to rule. It's unlikely they could have missed the point.


Since the Lord Yeshua offered no indictment of Zacchaeus, I believe that it is long past due to restore his good name. Zacchaeus lived up to the meaning of his name and demonstrated his faith by his works in spite of his circumstances. Moreover, Zacchaeus exceeded the righteousness of the priests, scribes and Pharisees by welcoming the Messiah and treating his wealth as a resource from God to bless others. We would do well to emulate that example.


Sources Consulted

Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1979. (NICNT)

Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English: With Interlinear Translation by Alfred Marshall. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.

The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.

Fritz Rienecker, "Luke," A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Vol. 1, Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.

David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

Louis Matthews Sweet, Tax; Taxing, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. edited by James Orr, published in 1939 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Website HTML, 2008; accessed 25 August 2010.

"Tax," Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 3, ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.

Roman Taxes, UNRV History. accessed 11 October 2007.

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