What Does The Bible Teach About Money?
Kalinda Rose Stevenson, PhD
Is there a more controversial book on this Earth than the Bible? Some people believe in the Bible literally, and take it as word-for-word truth. Others treat it as literature, astute moral guidance, and compelling stories of faith. Still others treat it as nothing more than ancient superstition, myths, and fables, with as much credibility as fairy tales.
No matter what you believe about the validity of the Bible, the Bible continues to affect what people believe about many important topics, such as the meaning of human life, human worth, marriage, slavery, war, sex, government, and money. Let's pick just one topic that affects all of us. What is the Biblical teaching about money?
Before we can go begin to address the question, we run into a problem. The Bible is not really a single book. It is a collection of books. The word "Bible" comes from the plural word, "books," in Greek. So, even though we can buy a single book called the Bible, we are really buying a collection of separate books.
Anytime anyone tells you that "the Bible teaches" something particular about a topic, you can find someone else who claims that the Bible teaches the exact opposite. Each will cite Bible verses to "prove" the point.
The only way to get beyond such contradictory arguments is to recognize that the Bible was not written as a coherent, organized book. Instead, it is a collection of widely divergent material from different historical eras, geographical locations, and originally written in different languages. And the collection itself has been edited and expanded, and then edited some more.
The Bible has many stories about money and wealth, but they come from different economic eras than our own. Many of the earliest stories in the Bible are about nomads, who lived as herders rather than farmers. Other stories were written about people living as farmers in agrarian societies, where wealth was based on control of the land. Money in a capitalist economy is far different from money in societies based on herding or farming. If you consult the Bible to find out "what the Bible teaches about money," you need to be clear about the economic system behind the particular stories.
People often read the Bible as if they are stories written in today's newspaper. People will ignore the differences between these economic systems, to look for direct answers to apply directly to our own capitalist era.
So, what do you do? Do you take the stories of someone like Abraham, a nomad who amassed great wealth, as proof that God wants you to be rich? Do you take words of Jesus, "Blessed are the poor," as proof that God wants you to be poor? Or do you become confused and conflicted?
At a seminar about creating wealth, I saw a man who was confused about what he thought the Bible teaches about money. I heard him ask the speaker, "How can you say it is good to be rich? Jesus said that a rich man cannot get into heaven"
The first problem is that the man had misquoted a story told in the Gospel of Matthew. (The same story is also told in the Gospels of Mark and Luke.) "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'" (Matthew 19: 23-24.)
The point that the man at the seminar missed was that a rich man at the time of Jesus was rich for one reason. He was part of the ruling class in an agrarian society. It was a society in which a few very rich people controlled the land and made life miserable for the vast majority of the society.
Jesus was not talking about being rich in a capitalist economy. It is possible to be rich in a capitalistic economy without exploiting others. Yet the man who asked the question assumed that the words of Jesus apply directly to being rich in a capitalist economy. This meant that he really didn't understand the real point of the story.
This is the kind of misunderstanding that happens again and again when people use Bible verses without paying attention to the economic context behind the story. The only real answer to the man who asked the question at the seminar would be to understand the point of the story in an agrarian society.
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