Was Matthew A Tax Collector In The Bible

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Was Matthew A Tax Collector In The Bible?

In the New Testament of the Bible, the disciple Matthew is an important figure. He is one of the twelve apostles, commonly known as “the twelve”. While Matthew is best remembered as one of Jesus’ disciples, it is often forgotten that the gospel which bears his name states that he was originally a tax collector before he joined with the other apostles. Despite this detail being referenced in the gospel which bears his name, it remains a source of debate whether this is really the case. In the following article, we will investigate the various perspectives on this debate and explore the circumstances surrounding this important figure in the Bible.

Biblical Evidence

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls a tax collector named Matthew, to follow him and become one of his disciples. This encounter is written in verses 9-13 of chapter 9. During the period of Jesus’ ministry, those who collected taxes for the Roman occupiers were often resented, so for Jesus to call someone from this occupation was a show of love and forgiveness rarely seen. While this is often seen as a beautiful event, doubt has been raised as to whether Matthew was truly a tax collector. Skeptics have proposed that this story was likely enhanced to make a point, or to justify why Jesus chose such an unpopular person. As the whole of the gospel of Matthew is written in the third person, skeptics have argued that the author would not have known if the subject of the gospel was actually a tax collector, or simply just someone called Matthew who was living in the general area.

Historical Evidence

Unlike the gospel of Matthew, much of the historical evidence which exists today supports the idea that the disciple Matthew was indeed a tax collector. Historians have been quick to look within the bible for evidence in this regard, finding that the gospels of Matthew and Luke, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, all mention tax collecting by the groups named as followers of Jesus. Even outside of the text, religious scholars have discovered coins, tax records, and accounts of Roman government which suggest that tax collecting was a practice within the area during the time of Jesus. Put together, these accounts provide evidence to support the idea that Matthew was one of those who was heavily involved in tax collecting.

Industry Analysis

In the context of the Biblical period, tax collecting was a viable profession, and one which was sought after by those hoping to make a living. Roman taxes were often collected at local customs offices and were taken in the form of currency, as well as trade goods such as wheat and barley. Working as a tax collector enabled those who had the opportunity to make a comfortable living, and this practice was particularly popular in Galilee, where the gospel of Matthew is thought to have taken place. This practice also had political importance, as tax collectors were also responsible for keeping regular Census and other population records for Roman authorities.

Scholar Analysis

Although there is little doubt that tax collecting was a profession during the time of the Bible, there is still confusion as to the true identity of the disciple Matthew. Some scholars have argued that the name Matthew was ‘symbolic’ in nature, and that the gospel was really an allegorical tale. However, many biblical scholars, theologians and historians are confident that the disciple Matthew was in fact a tax collector before joining Jesus’ ministry. This view is mainly based on accounts within the text of the gospel as well as external evidence suggesting that Rome was collecting taxes in Galilee during that time.

Cultural Analysis

From a cultural perspective, the idea that Matthew was a tax collector is still considered a provocative topic. Many in the Christian community take the statement in the gospel which identifies the tax collector Matthew as fact. Others, such as those with skeptical views, consider the text in a more metaphorical sense and maintain that it should be read more as an allegorical tale of redemption, rather than an historical record. For those of the Christian faith, the Bible itself is seen as the base level truth upon which all other understandings rely upon. It is in this context that the debate over the disciple Matthew’s occupation before joining Jesus’ ministry is ultimately played out.


The debate over whether Matthew was a tax collector in the Bible is something which continues to this day. While evidence exists to support this notion, there is also still confusion as to whether or not the gospel of Matthew truly identifies Jesus’ disciples as a tax collector. It is likely that the debate will continue as new evidence comes to light, or as new interpretations are made of the text. Until then, the idea that the disciple Matthew was a tax collector remains only a slight possibility.

Different Ways Matthew Was a Disciple

The Bible does not offer detail about how Matthew followed Jesus. Matthew was no doubt an important disciple among the twelve, but it is unclear what his specific role was as a part of the group. Some biblical scholars believe that Matthew was a missionary, a teacher, and that he was involved in spreading the Gospel message. Others suggest that he may have been a financial supporter of the group, and acted as unofficial treasurer – however, this role is not supported by any official biblical source.

The Significance of Tax Collecting in the Bible

Tax collecting is an important detail alluded to in the Bible, and it is a practice which scholars believe to have been employed by the Romans during this period of time. Tax collectors were often resented by the people of the region, and yet, Jesus chose to call Matthew as one of his disciples, adding to the overall redemptive message in the Bible. Regardless of whether or not Matthew truly was a tax collector, it will likely remain a topic of debate for many years to come.

Matthew’s Life After the Disciples

The Bible does not offer much insight into Matthew’s life after he joined the disciples. What is known is that he was a key witness on the Day of Pentecost, as referenced in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, verse 14. He is not mentioned in any other gospels or books of the Bible, and his ultimate fate remains unknown.

Alternative Theories About Matthew’s Identity

Another area of debate is the true identity of Matthew and the name he chose to call himself. Some believe that the Matthew of the Bible was actually a different name, particularly since Jewish writings do not record the existence of anyone using that moniker at the time. Others argue that Matthew may have been the same person as Levi, who we know Jesus called in Mark 2:14. However, this is only conjecture and no direct proof has been found to support either argument.

The Role of Tax Collecting In Modern Society

Though tax collecting is not given much attention in the Bible, in modern times it remains a crucial part of governments’ ability to function. Taxes are a major source of revenue for governments and are necessary for public services such as health care, infrastructure and education. Tax collecting also remains an important role in many parts of the world, enabling governments to maintain their presence in certain areas. The role of tax collecting in the Bible may be debated, but its importance in the modern world is not disputed.

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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