Zacchaeus a Big Tax Cheat?


Was Zacchaeus a big cheater on taxes ?

Luke 19:2-8
“And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. … Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” … And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Recently, I heard a commentator say that Zacchaeus was a big cheater and thief when it came to collecting taxes.

Question: Is that perception just a misinterpretation that is read into the text ?

It seems to me that the text itself suggests Zacchaeus did not cheat often.

  1. The Romans did not employ Jews to help collect taxes for the purpose of making those Jews rich. Yes, they had to be well paid because it was considered to be a most undesirable job. However, if there was extra money to be extracted from the peasants the Romans would have wanted that for themselves, and not for those Jews who helped them subjugate the rest. The Romans did believe in law and order and they were powerful. The Romans ruled by fear, e.g. crucifixion was used. I think that fear would have kept the collectors honest for the most part.

  2. Zacchaeus promises to pay back those who were cheated fourfold. If that number of people was a large number then the amount of information documenting that would have been a huge amount of information. Such documentation would have been necessary for Zacchaeus to pay them back fourfold. It is unlikely that he would have kept that amount of information at hand if his cheating was done on a large scale.

  3. If most of his money came from cheating he would not have been able to pay back each person that was cheated fourfold.

Therefore, I believe it to be a myth that Zacchaeus was a big cheater. I think he was despised by his fellow Jews not because he was a cheat, but because he helped the Romans oppress his fellow Jew.

Any thoughts ?



There’s a very important two-letter word in Zach’s words.

I agree with your conclusion. Some tax collectors were cheats, but it does not necessarily follow that all of them were. That they were working for the Romans was enough of a excuse for their fellow Jews to hate them.


You also have to remember that not all the tax collectors mentioned in the gospels were directly working for the Romans. The Galilean ones in particular were under Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction. Antipas had his own tetrarchy; while he did have a deal with the Romans (he’ll give tribute to Rome; in return Rome will protect his territory and give him comparative freedom to run his own affairs), he was more or less free to run his territory as he wished. In other words, most everything in the Galilee was not exactly Rome’s - it was Antipas’.


Unfortunately all of Zacchaeus’ emails were lost during a hard-drive malfunction, so we will never know for sure. :eek:





Kudos for the proper interpretation of Zach’s tax and the Lois Lerner quip. May Zacheus pray for God’s restoration of justice and mercy in our personal dealings and in our governments and institutions. Thanks, Most Holy Trinity!:harp:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit