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A Theology of Wealth, Possessions and Life
A Consideration from God’s Word
Timothy C. Hoelscher
First Baptist Church -Royal City, WA

And all who believed were together, and had all things in common; and they
were selling the properties and possessions and they were distributing them to all,
whoever had need.
Acts 2:44-45

And the heart and soul of the full number of those believing were one, and not
one said his possessions were his own, but all things were common to all.
Acts 4:32

Jesus Christ had never commanded His disciples to share their possessions and
distribute them among the poor of their group. Yet, in that short time since the
Church began,
these early believers were sharing their possessions. The night before His crucifixion,
had given His disciples a command, “Love one another, in the manner as I have loved
you” (John 13:34). He had promised them that He would send the Spirit when He would
to the Father (John 14:17). The Spirit had come. The believers were experiencing
a new
relationship to and work by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was giving them the ability
to keep that
new command. One way in which they were keeping that new command was to meet the
material needs of one another.
About Twenty years later, James wrote the believing Jews, “From where do wars and
fights among you come? Are they not from your base pleasures which act as soldiers
in your
members? You crave and do not have, you murder and are zealous for, and do not obtain,
fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive
because you
ask in an evil manner (with evil motives?), that you might spend it upon your base
You adulteresses, do you not know that fondness for the world is hostility towards
Whoever determines to be a friend of the world constitutes himself
God’s enemy” (James
Approximately Forty years after James wrote, John warned the young men in the
churches of the outlying area of Ephesus, “Stop loving the world, neither the things
that are in
the world. If any one loves the world, the love for the Father is not in him.” (1
John 2:15).
Several verses later, He explained, “By this we experientially know the love, that
that one laid
down His life in our place, and we are obliged to lay down our lives on behalf of
the brothers.
Now, whoever might have the life material (physical substance) of the world, and
sees with
perception his brother having need, and might close his gut feelings (compassion)
from him,
how does God’s love remain at ease in him?” (1 John 3:16-17). To more further elucidate
1 Middle voice of ?a??st?µ?.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -2
point, he clarifies in 4:20 and 21, “If anyone should say that I love God and hates
His brother, he
is a liar. For the one not loving his brother whom he has seen, is not able to love
God whom he
has not seen. And we have this commandment from Him, that the one loving God, should
love his brother.” From these statement, we conclude, if a believer loves the world,
he isn’t
loving God; he isn’t loving God because he isn’t loving his brother, he isn’t loving
his brother
for he refuses to use his resources to meet his brother’s genuine needs.
In the 1940’s Carl Henry penned a criticism of the then Christian Fundamentalists
The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Henry, rising from among the Fundamentalists
saw issues within the movement with which he was uncomfortable. He wrote, “But what
almost wholly unintelligible to the naturalistic and idealistic groups, burdened
as they are for
a new world order, is the apparent lack of any social passion in Protestant Fundamentalism.
this evaluation, Fundamentalism is the modern priest and Levite, by passing suffering
Henry looked about and saw issues in the world at large and the nearer culture
and society among which he lived. He listed some of the issues which he felt were
avoided, and
that fundamentalist preachers should have been addressing in their preaching: aggressive
warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, liquor traffic, exploitation of labor or
was uncomfortable with what he saw as Fundamentalists’ neglect of these issues. As
in the
above quote, he compared these persons to the characters from Jesus’ account of the
Henry’s concerns continue to find voices in the 21st Century. David Pratt’s Radical
Richard Stearns’ A Hole in Our Gospel express again the problems Henry saw. In a
chapter titled
American Wealth and a World of Poverty
, Pratt points out that God is serious about how we
respond to poverty. “The book of Proverbs warns about curses that come upon those
ignore the poor. The prophets warn of God’s judgment and devastation for those who
trust in
their riches, and James tells those who hoard their money and live in self-indulgence
to ‘weep
and wail because of the misery that is coming’ upon them.”
He asserts, “The Bible nowhere
teaches that caring for the poor is a means by which we earn salvation. The means
of our
salvation is faith in Christ alone, and the basis of our salvation is the work of
Christ alone.”
While he does not front-load the gospel, he undermines it in his next paragraph,
caring for the poor (among other things) is evidence of our salvation.”
(emphasis his).
Additionally, some writers of the Resurgence and Gospel Coalition view our bearing
the image
of God to include responsibilities. Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears explain, “We
image God
by serving him in ways that advance his kingdom, including making culture that honors
him. This also includes fighting injustice, evil, and oppression by working for justice
mercy.” (emphasis mine)
In a chapter on the incarnation, they compare Jesus being sent by
2 Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundentalism, (Grand Rapids:
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1947). 17.
3 ibid, 18.
4 David Pratt, Radical, (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2010) 109.
5 ibid, 109
6 ibid, 110.
7 Mark Driscoll, Gerry Breshear, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, (Wheaton,
IL: Crossway, 2010) 141.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -3
the Trinity as a missionary to our having “an incarnational missional life” living
by crossing cultural barriers.
They point out, “Nonetheless, Jesus dressed, spoke, and ate
according to Jewish culture, participated in their holidays, and observed their customs,
Jesus’ people are also to live as missionaries in whatever culture God has sent them.”
 These recent charges aren’t leveled exclusively against Fundamentalism but
Evangelicalism. Neither are they brought from the outside, but from within the larger
movement of Evangelicalism. All four of the above writers would largely be classed
Evangelicals, though they would likely not consider themselves Fundamentalists per
 So, what are we to make of these charges against Fundamentalism and/or
Evangelicalism? What is the relationship of the believers to the world, its issues
and its needs?
How are we to understand the many Scriptures cited in support of such charges? As
dispensationalists, we might quickly write off these charges and their proponents
mishandling the word, but we need to consider many similar statements written directly
the Church by Paul and John including James’ statements cited above. So it appears
there may
be some legitimacy to the concerns of these authors.
The purpose of this paper is to briefly examine the Scriptures’ teaching on wealth,
possessions and poverty, especially regarding the New Testament Grace believer. This
focus on only one charge by the above writers and that as it touches on wealth and
possessions. I will approach this by considering the Bible’s vocabulary on these
topics and how
it presents God’s perspective and man’s perspective. I will look at a number of key
addressing these issues from the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Epistles. It
will be
necessary to distinguish each context: audience, problem and purpose. It is hoped
that we can
draw a conclusion from all this information. That conclusion may or may not fit our
perspective. If the Bible’s information challenges our present understanding, then
it is our
understanding, not Scripture which needs to change.
The Vocabulary
Before we begin considering the information, it will be helpful to list the key words
followed by a brief working definition. In each of the following categories I have
listed first the
Hebrew words and then the Greek words. Note that some words, translated in our English
Bibles by the same terms, have different primary ideas. Part of my goal in examining
words is to draw distinctions however small the distinction.
OT words for wealth
chavod dwøbD;k
-glory, weight
8 Ibid. 240-241.
9 ibid. 241. It perhaps has not occurred to these authors that Jesus was born a Jew,
of a Jewish woman, under the
Law, to fulfill the Law which involved the customs and holidays which He observed.
He did not do it to blend in to
the culture or reach the people of the Jewish culture.
We will not take up the issue of whether these two titles stand clearly for anything
in the modern world. Some are
asserting that both titles have lost any significance, being applied either so generally,
or so specifically that neither
finds a good representation in the “Christian world.”
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -4
osher rRvOo
-wealth, from the verb (same radicals) meaning to become rich, related to
yesher rvy
to be straight or smooth, and thus to build up, erect leading to building
chayil lˆyAj
nekes sRk‰n
-riches, treasure, from the verb (same radicals) to gather, heap up or ref. to
rekush v…wkr
-property, goods
koach AjO;k
-power, strength -one time translated “wealth” in the AV.
on Nwøa
-vigor, power, life -twice translated in the AV with some idea of substance or
wealth and both could be simple references to might or vigor (Job 18:7; Hosea 12:4).
hon Nwøh
-sufficient wealth -distinguished from osher in Psalm 112:3.
yesh v´y
chosen NRsOj
-treasure, wealth
matemon NwømVfAm
-hidden treasure, from a verb to hide (often by digging and burying)
and hence something hidden, even grain (cf. Jeremiah 41:8).
hamon NwømDh
chemdah h;dVmRj
-desire, delightful thing
NT words for wealth
mamonos µaµ????
-an Aramaic word for wealth or possessions
ploutos p???t??
bios ß???
-possesions which pertains to physical life in this world
OT words for riches -Not listed among words for “wealth.”
NT words for riches
-Not listed among words for “wealth.”
ploutos p???t?
and its cognates-from or equal to a word meaning “full” and includingthe idea of
an abundance.
OT words for possessions -Not listed among words for “wealth” or “riches.”
? ?
?? ?
NT words for possessions -Not listed among words for “wealth” or “riches.”
peripoiasis pe??p???s??and its cognates-that uniquely possessed or secured
hyparxis ?pa????-original property
-to exist i.e. as property, this occurs as a participle describing what
belongs to, or exists as one’s property
great, greatness, therefore, wealthasrelated togreatness
wealth, riches
a noblemansocially
11 J.H. Thayer, The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Lafayette,
IN: AP&A, 1979) 519.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -5
Old Testament word for poor, poverty, widows and orphans
oni yˆnD
-was to be afflicted or pressed down, to be low or humbled, both physically,
spiritually or materially. It is distinct from lå;
and NwøyVbR
by “emphasizing some
disability or distress.”
ispoor.UngerandWhiteseeitsuggestingdestitution. -
?? ?
24 times, 20 of which are in Proverbs.
dal lå;d
-is one who is low, or hangs low, therefore, poor
muk JK…wm
-one brought low
ebyon NwøyVbRa-is one who is needy or in want of something.
New Testament words for poor, poverty, etc.
chara ???a-widow, from a cognate meaning “bereft (of one’s spouse).”
ptochos pt????-poor person, from an unused verb meaning “to crouch, cower.”
ptocheia pt??e?a-poor state, poverty
pt??e??-to be poor, to be a beggar
orphanos ??fa???-orphaned, alone, destitute (2x)
penas pe??
-poor, as a laborer, from a verb meaning “to work for one’s daily bread.”
illustrate this word meaning one who has nothing for this life, or has it sparingly
and must pay attention to work, i.e. to eat and clothe himself.
penichoros pe??????-poor, needy
An Examination of the terms more specificallyThe Poor or Lowly, the Widow and Orphan
The first Hebrew word oni is used of one who is afflicted. Jacob described himself
in this
manner before his father-in-law Laban, if Laban sent him away empty handed (Genesis
Israel was instructed not to lend money at interest to the poor (Exodus 22:25). In
this passagethe verb “to lend” nashah
occurs, meaning to reject and in the Niphal and Hiphil to lead
astray, perhaps a telling statement about the seriousness of lending. God instructed
Israel onspecific means of helping the poor oni, without giving them handouts. They
were to leave thecorners of their fields and the gleanings of their vineyards for
the poor to glean (Leviticus19:10; 23:22). Gleanings were not always available and
so God warned Israel not to have a
closed hand toward their poor brother (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). It is also important
to noticethat the poor would always be in the land. How does this square with the
promise of blessing?
How does the instruction to be generous square with the promise of blessing? God
the Israelis to not keep the wages of a poor or needy man, nor to oppress the poor
or needy
Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament eds. Merrill F. Unger, William
White Jr., (Nashville: Thomas
Nelson, 1980) 295. >NEDOT
13 ibid, p. 295. Harkavy, Gesinius, Holladay, and the TWOT do not emphasize this
14 F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1979)
15 G. Abbott-Smith, A Greek Manual Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T
Clark, 1937, 1948) 393.
16 ibid. 352.
Alexander Harkavy noted that it properly meant “to press, hence: to loan on usury.”
?? ?
A Qal Participle of
Student’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament, (NY: Hebrew Publishing
Co., 1914) 471.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -6
(Deuteronomy 24:12-15). Isaiah three explained some of the reasons why God entered
intojudgment with Israel. The elders and princes of the people had in their homes
the thing takenby robbery or plunder of the poor. They also ground into the ground
the faces of the poor (vv.
14-15). The leaders of Israel had made statutes (combination of the verb and noun)
so that theneedy were deprived of a judge, they robbed the people of their judgment,
took a spoil of
widows and plundered orphans (Isaiah 10:2; cf. Ezekiel 22:23-31, 29; Amos 8:2-6).
In this latter
case the plunder would have involved the possession of the land to which the orphan
wasentitled. God challenged Israel that going through the motions of keeping the
law, without a
real change of attitude towards other Israelis was empty. They were fasting to be
heard fromGod, but failing to appreciate the need of the hungry, homeless poor, and
naked (Isaiah 58:7).
God informed them that had they acted as He had intended, they would have been seen
as a
righteous people, they would have shone brightly. The seriousness of oppressing the
poor isseen by the list of other unrighteous activities (Ezekiel 18:12). God called
Israel to action, toproper treatment of their fellow Jews but they refused (Zechariah
7:8-13). Numerous times thePsalmists describe God as the one who takes up the cause
of the poor, because the wicked of
the land oppress them (9:17-18; 10; 12; 37:12-16; 72:1-4; 82). The sage advised his
son regardingthe proper treatment of the poor (Proverbs 22:22-23).
 The dal is a low one, and in some contexts clearly refers to the poor. As an illustration,
it is used of the scrawny cows in Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:19). The dal is contrasted
to the
rich and one described as having insufficient means (lit. his hand is unable to reach)
(Exodus30:15; Leviticus 14:21). “The dallim constituted the middle class of Israel-those
who were
physically deprived (in the ancient world the majority of people were poor).”
While God
warned Israel of perverting the justice of the needy, they were also not to favor
(honor) thepoor, i.e. to give special treatment (Exodus 23:2-3, 6; Leviticus 19:15).
Justice was to be
maintained whether for or against the poor. In contrast to Israel’s perverted justice
from her
leaders, God promised that the Anointed one would judge the poor with righteousness
(Isaiah11:4). God called the upper class women of Samaria cows for their treatment
of others and
demands for themselves (Amos 4:1ff). They made certain that the poor remained poor
imposing heavy rent [boshas in a Polel Inf] (Amos 5:11-12). Being gracious to the
poor washonor to the Maker (Proverbs 14:31; 19:17; 22:9). The righteous was distinguished
because heknew the rights of the poor in contrast to the evil (Proverbs 29:7).
One who was brought low (made poor, muk) may have had to sell himself to a fellowIsraeli.
He was to be sustained and not treated like a slave (Leviticus 25:35-39, 47ff). His
familywas to redeem any land he had been required to sell because of his need (Leviticus
The Hebrew evyon is one in need or want. While God assured Israel that there would
always be poor [oni] in the land, He also assured them that there would not be needy
[evyon] inthe land (Deuteronomy 15:4). The reason for this is that those who had,
were to meet the need.
It did not remove poverty, but the person was not to be left in need. This is a balance.
God did
not call His people alleviate poverty and spread the wealth, but they were to address
theneeds: food, clothing. The seventh year sabbath was to provide for the needy.
The volunteer
crop in the seventh year, whether field, vineyard, or grove was for the needy, that
is, theycould harvest it for themselves (Exodus 23:11). God called them “wicked people”
who did notplead (act as judge) for the orphan because it prospered him, and did
not defend (judge) therights (judgments) of the poor (Jeremiah 5:28). God refused
to remove the judgment of Israel
18 NEDOT, 296.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -7
for their transgressions, among them, they sold the needy for a pair of sandals (Amos
2:6) and
later were buying them (i.e. to be slaves; Amos 8:6).
Among the poor the widow is often listed. The Hebrew hÎnDmVlAa
almanah is used
exclusively of widows and is therefore an easy term to define. In some passages the
Hebrewword “woman” is interpreted by context to be a widow. Frequently the term orphan
isassociated with the widow. The term literally meant one who is fatherless. God
told Israel notto afflict any widow (Exodus 22:22). They were reminded that God takes
up the cause of thewidow (Deuteronomy 10:18; cf. Psalm 68:5; 146:9). God designated
the tithe every third year tobe shared with the alien, orphan and widow along with
the Levite (Deuteronomy 14:28-29;
24:12-14). A widow’s garment was not to be taken as the pledge or binding material
of anagreement (Deuteronomy 24:17). Sheaves left behind, gleanings of olives, or
vines were to beleft for the orphan or widow (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). God pronounced
a curse [binding tojudgment] on any who distorted the just for an alien, orphan or
widow (Deuteronomy 27:19).
The book of Ruth recounts the righteous acts of a man, who obeyed the law regarding
thewidow of his cousin, at a time when every man was doing what was right in his
own eyes.
Jehovah refused to listen to the prayers of Israel, but asked them to learn to do
good, to seek
justice and strive (plead) for the widow or defend the orphans (Isaiah 1:17). God
asked for thisbecause Israel’s leaders did not help those people, but acted upon
taking bribes, i.e. if unpaid,
they did not do their job (1:23). In 10:2 Isaiah described the leaders as taking
advantage of theorphans and widows, plundering them. Jehovah sent Jeremiah to the
king of Judah and tell himand his men to do justice and righteousness, and to deliver
orphans and widows from thosewho robbed them (Jeremiah 22:3). The word “robbed” is
to take, strip or plunder by force.
Ezekiel prophesied against Israel’s leaders because they had mistreated so many peopleincluding
the fatherless and widow (Ezekiel 22:7). God promised to draw near in judgmentbecause
Israel’s leaders oppressed widows among many others (Malachi 3:5). The Psalmist
wrote against the wicked for they slay the widow, stranger, and orphan (Psalm 94:6).
The attitude of Old Testament people (believers or unbelievers) towards possessions.
Many times the word for wealth in the NASB is the Hebrew word chabvod, the word
glory. The word meant weight or reputation. The idea was that one’s reputation or
glory wasdefined by his possessions or wealth (Genesis 31:1). Wealth probably communicated
the idea,
but the statement meant the weight or reputation demonstrated by the number of one’spossessions.
When God promised judgment, He asked where they would leave their glory, their
weight (Isaiah 10:3). Nahum 2:9 clearly applies glory to physical objects of wealth.
The dominant word for wealth is chayil. This word predominantly means strength. Used
of wealth it pictures one’s possessions as his strength or source of strength. To
lose wealth wasto be deprived of strength. One could not eat, if one did not have
the material resources toacquire food. The same idea could be applied to the need
for clothing, shelter, and protection.
All these required material substance. To remove that substance from a city, meant
that thefarmers in an outlying area had no place to retreat when they came under
attack, therefore,
they were open to plunder. This is the idea of Obadiah 11, 13; Micah 4:13; Zepheniah
During the coming 1,000 year kingdom the nations will bring their wealth (strength)
toJerusalem, making them dependent upon Jerusalem (Zecheriah 14:14). That wealth
or strengthcan be in the form of food, or that which allows one to purchase food.
So Israel is promised
that she will eat the wealth of nations, because those nations will bring their wealth
toJerusalem (Isaiah 60:5, 11; 61:6).
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -8
In Proverbs (19x), the dominant word for wealth is hon, which means that which is
sufficient, that which maintains a way of life. It is illustrated by contrast to
poverty in Proverbs
where it is a fortress which protects one from calamity. In this same verse the sagerelates
hon to osher that which is piled up, amassed, built up or saved. A cognate of this
describes a rich man. The implication is that it is riches because it is piled up.
A little is notriches, a pile, or that built up is. The write of Proverbs warns that
the one who has an evil eyehastens to wealth (osher, 28:22). The verb “hasten” [bahal]
means to run or rush rashly,
The dominant meaning of the word is sudden terror or disaster, so here runningafter
that which comes suddenly as a disaster. Such a person sees his wealth as a strong
city, a
high-walled city protecting him, but this is only in his imagination (18:11). There
is the
encouragement and warning that wealth added by the hand (i.e. work) increases, but
by fraud
is small or becomes small (13:11). One could use wealth to make friends, in contrast
selfishness or begging from others (19:4). The idea being that people who are always
asking for
help lose friends, they avoid them. Proverbs 11:4 demonstrates that riches are not
equivalentto righteousness. Finally, in Proverbs 28:8 the warning is given as a positive
statement that theincrease of wealth by charging interest (forbidden in the Law),
was wealth for those whowould be favorable to the poor. The writer indicates that
God is just and ultimately will takethe wrongly gained wealth and give it to those
who will use it lawfully.
The Hebrew word nekes describes amassed wealth. Joshua 22:8 illustrates that riches
can be comprised of a variety of things: livestock, silver, gold, bronze, iron, and
clothes. Thewriter of Ecclesiastes twice credits God as the source of a man’s riches
(5:19; 6:2). He is notstating that all riches come from God, he is simply giving
examples of individuals who did haveriches given by God. This was the case with Solomon.
God gave Solomon riches after Solomonasked for wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:11, 12).
The verb and noun family osher views wealth as amassed or built up. Abraham refused
to take the spoils of war from Melchizedek so that Melchizedek could not say that
he had
enriched Abraham (Genesis 14:23). Here spoils of war, including a thong or sandal,
riches. When Hannah dedicated Samuel to God, she prayed to God. In that prayer she
attributed men’s poverty or riches to God (1 Samuel 2:7). Solomon was greater than
all other
kings in riches and wisdom (1 Kings 10:23). Through Jeremiah, God accused the rich
in Judah of
enriching themselves by deceit, by setting traps for the people (Jeremiah 4:25-27).
They did notplead the cause of orphans or the poor (v. 28). Some trust in their wealth,
boast in their richesand were foes of the Psalmist (Psalm 49:5-6). The man trusting
in riches is contrasted to theone who trusts God or makes God his fortress (refuge)
(Psalm 52:7). Such a one will fall
(Proverbs 11:16). However, when God makes rich, He doesn’t bring sorrow with the
riches(Proverbs 10:22). The wise man wrote that a name is better than great riches
(Proverbs 22:1).
The writer also warns about wearying one’s self to gain wealth (Proverbs 23:4). The
situation was to be neither poor or rich (Proverbs 30:8). The sage expressed the
humanconclusion that wealth does not come because of an individual’s wisdom or discernment,
sometimes it is simply a matter of time and occurrence (Ecclesiastes 9:11). He seems
to besaying that sometimes wealth is a matter of someone being in the right place
at the right time.
Yet the preacher acknowledged that God causes wealth (6:2). God gave Solomon riches
wealth [chayil] and glory, because he asked for wisdom rather than these (2 Chronicles
God gave Hezekiah great possessions [rekush], one of Judah’s “righteous” kings (2
 as a Niphal Part., Harkavy, op.cit. 51.
? ??
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -9
32:29). The Preacher saw contrasting situations with God-given wealth: sometimes
provided the means to enjoy it and sometimes He denied the ability to enjoy one’s
wealth(Ecclesiastes 5:10; 6:2). This contrast may pivot upon one’s attitude toward
the wealth. Thepursuit of wealth for its satisfaction, the love of silver or abundance
leaves such satisfactionillusive. However, the one doing God’s commands and fear
God as in Psalm 112:1 is able toenjoy the wealth, for it is not the main source of
his satisfaction.
 The noun achastzah occurs with a positive sense, referring to the land as Israel’s
given possession (Genesis 17:8 et al). Ezekiel’s vision of the future temple, city
and land
employs this term for the Levite’s possession and the Prince’s possession. Abraham
a field and a tomb for burial which became his possession (Genesis 49:30). Each Israeli
(Levite’sexcepted) was allotted a possession which even if lost due to debt, reverted
to that family inthe year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10, 13).
NT Thoughts on Riches and Possessions
In the N.T. the noun ploutos is used once in all three synoptics, but the idea of
persons plousios is used three times in Matthew, twice in Mark and eleven times in
Luke. The
verb plouteo to make rich, or enrich occurs twice in Luke. In Luke these words often
bear a
negative emphasis, or describe persons opposed to God’s plan and design. The rich
are alreadyreceiving their comfort (Luke 6:24). This is because they are not righteous
and their wealth is a
sign of their unrighteousness. Jesus warned people not to invite only their rich
neighbors butthose who could not repay (Luke 14:12-13). The rich man is contrasted
to poor Lazarus in Luke
The rich man was grieved at Jesus’ requirement for being a disciple, and Jesus responded
that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom (18:23, 25). Here also, Jesus used
chrama stuff or
possessions. Zaccheus was very rich, and by the context, had acquired his wealth
by abuse of
his position (Luke 19:2). Jesus contrasted the rich giving gifts in the temple to
the widow whogave her whole life (bios) or that which was necessary for her life
(cf 1 John 3:17-18). This later
word bios is used five times in Luke of the things for this life.
The Greek mamonas also refers to wealth but is a neutral term (once in Matthew, twicein
Luke). Louw and Nida disagree on the neutral emphasis, stating, “wealth and riches,
with a
strongly negative connotation — ‘worldly wealth, riches.’”
Jesus warned people that one cannot serve both God and mammon (Luke 16:13), but had
to modify mammon with the adjectiveunrighteous and by its source in unrighteousness
(a Genitive). This would mean that mammonor wealth can come from unrighteous acts
or attitudes. It could be suggested that one mightpossess wealth without such attention
or interest in it that he is said to serve it.
The idea of possessions is also represented by the word ktaomai (three times in the
gospels 2x Luke) and huparcho (3x in Matthew, 15x in Luke (9x of possessions)). The
rich young
man had much ktama and left grieved at Jesus‘ instructions to sell them and follow
(Matthew 19:22; Mark 10:22). The verb encompasses the acquisition of many varying
precious metals, one’s life, a field, even a spouse (a “vessel” metaphorically).
In six passages inActs Luke used two forms of huparcho. Though translated with some
idea of possessions,
huparcho means to be or exist. In these occurrences as a participle, the word represents
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, eds Johannes
P. Louw and Eugene A.
Nida, (NY: United Bible Socities, 1988, 1989 Second Edition). Electronic text hypertexted
and prepared by OakTree
Software, Inc. Version 3.7.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -10
things existing” of someone or for someone.
So though not a proper noun for possessions itdoes look at things as belonging or
existing specifically for an individual.
Understanding the OT situation
God established Israel as a nation. While religion or the worship of God played a
keyrole in their existence, Israel existed as a national group with not only religious
laws but civil
laws. In fact, God made no significant distinction between the religious aspects
of the Law and
the civil. As an example, the Ten Commandments include commands regarding Israel’sattitude
toward God with respect to false gods (other gods and images), and a rule aboutbearing
false witness against one’s neighbor. It included a rule about the proper and improper
use of God’s name, and a rule against stealing. It included a rule for the cessation
of labor on a
specific day of the week, and a rule against murder. Israel had a socio/religious
law as a God-
formed nation.
Had Israel kept the Law they would have been a unique people. The peoples around
them would have observed their lives and their blessings, stating, “Surely this great
nation is a
wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6). Israel would ask, “What great nation
isthere that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?”
(v. 7). God
gave Israel statues and judgments of a righteous character to govern their social
as well asreligious lives. It was one law for one people, Israel.
The law contained commands that addressed both national and individual responses
toneeds within their nation: poverty, loss, cheating, widows, orphans. God made it
clear that noIsraeli was to take advantage of any other Israeli, nor was anyone to
show favoritism toward
either rich or poor (Exodus 23:3
; Leviticus 19:15
; Deuteronomy 1:17
). God instructed themnot to take bribes as bribes blind the eyes of the wise and
overturn words of righteousness(Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). It seems implied
that a bribe is most easily offered by thewealthy, and the poor have nothing to give
for a bribe. This would tilt justice in favor of thewealthy.
The Law required land owners to let their land lie fallow
every seventh year (Exodus
23:11). In that year the needy [ebyon] of their people would be allowed to eat the
crop. We might view this as a form of welfare for any who would work for it by gathering
thevolunteer crop. God commanded Israel to bring their whole tithe to their local
city (gate) everythird year (Deuteronomy 14:28; 26:12). The Levite, stranger, orphan
and widow would eat fromthis provision (v. 29). This was a more general welfare provision.
God explained that therewould be no needy in the land for He was going to bless them
(Deuteronomy 15:4). He thenaddressed the issue of the needy in the land (e.g. vv.
7, 9). The needy would be present, but if
the people shared their blessings from God, the needy would not exist. In this vein,
God told
Israel not to harden their heart or close their hand to their brother (Deuteronomy
15:7). They
21 It is modified by Genitive pronouns “his” or “theirs” or the Dative pronoun (of
advantage) “for him,” though in
the latter case, it is translated as a possessive.
22 Qal Imperfect of rdh to honor, or adorn.
23 Qal Imperfect of acn to lift up with the noun face
24 Hiphil Imperfect of rkn to cause to regard or recognize used with the noun face.
fmv Qal Imperfect to let free, let drop and vfn Qal Perfect to abandon or allow.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -11
were to really give
to their needy brother and not to have an evil heart when they did so(Deuteronomy
15:10). The needy would never cease from the land (v. 11). This allowed for a
test of the people’s attitude toward God and one another. Obedience to God’s command
generosity would bring God’s blessing (Deuteronomy 14:29; 15:10).
The Old Testament records the progressive neglect, reversal, and twisting of thesecommands
so that the rich and powerful ground the poor into the ground. Through Hisprophets,
God indicted the people for their actions. The prophets brought numerous chargesof
this nature against Israel. The following are just a sample. Through Amos God charged
with selling the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals (Amos 8:5,
6). Theywere accepting bribes and turning away
the poor at the gate, not giving them access to
counsel (5:12). Through Micah, Jehovah portrayed the heads of Israel treating the
people likemeat to be chopped up, cooked and eaten (Micah 3:1-3). Isaiah charged
some in Israel of takingadvantage of the poor and working to make a spoil from widows
(Isaiah 10:1-2; 1:23).
Apparently they shed the blood of the poor by making false charges against them,
perhaps likeJezebel and Ahab’s plot against Naboth (Jeremiah 2:34; 1 Kings 21). The
actions of Israel
extended to bribes and blood shed all for the sake of gain by violence
(Ezekiel 22:7-12).
Following Judah’s return from the Babylonian exile, as the Old Testament closed,
God charged
some in Judah of oppressing the wage earner, widow and orphan (Malachi 3:6). Such
peopleabhorred justice. The heads of Judah gave judgments for a bribe (Malachi 3:11).
This ranked
high among the reasons God approached and will approach Israel in judgment (Malachi
Yet when Israel first prepared to enter the land, God warned them of the deceptionwhich
wealth brings (Deuteronomy 8:11-17). Several times God warned Israel of forgetting
Himand His covenant with them. People who become wealthy have a tendency to forget
that itcomes from God. They attribute the wealth or gaining of wealth to themselves
or to sourcesother than God. Gomer, the wife of Hosea, exemplified this attitude.
Like Israel, she acquired
her wealth from her husband: Gomer from Hosea; Israel from God. Gomer turned to acting
as a
prostitute and attributed her wealth to her prostitution rather than her husband
4:12-14). Israel prostituted herself to other gods and attributed her God-given wealth
to thesefalse gods (Hosea 2:8-9). Israel allowed her God-given prosperity to lead
her astray.
How did Israel, a God-ordained nation with a divinely given law, devolve into this
social classes, oppression of the lower classes by those in power? Certainly Israel’s
unrighteousness extended beyond these issue, but the prophets regularly cited these
failuresas breaches of God’s law or covenant. Israel abandoned God and turned to
idols. As Gomer
forgot her true husband, Israel forgot her God.
The law promised material blessings for obedience to the Law.
26 Qal Imperfect and Qal Infinitive of Ntn to give, to intensify the idea of giving.
] could mean “cause to send away” though the normal meaning if to stretch nata[
?? ?
The Hiphil stem of the verb
out. For this reason, the alternate translation of “pervert” may make more sense,
and still does justice the thought.
 is a cutting off, by context, for gain. John Oswalt suggests it may have the idea
of taking a
? ? ?
The Piel stem of
cut from others’ profits like a racketeer. (TWOT, op. cit). As the word is often
applied to persons in position of
power, it may carry the idea of cutting off from access to justice, which such persons
were to maintain. The Qal stem
occurs with the noun in Ezekiel 22:27, “to extort for the gain of extortion” or “to
cut off, for the profit from cutting
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -12
Interpreted selectively, ignoring passages which specifically addressed an Israeli’s
response to the poor and especially warning him against abuse of the poor, some had
the Law in their favor. It would be easy to suggest that since obedience brought
blessing and
disobedience brought cursing, the state of the widow, orphan or other poor was due
to their
own disobedience. If the powerful could get away with taking advantage of the poor,
then itwas further proof they were obedient and being blessed and the poor were losing
due to their
disobedience. Whether this was exactly the scenario, Paul’s warning to Timothy of
teachers included the charge that they equated godliness with gain or a means of
gain (1Timothy 6:5). This indicates that people thought of wealth as a sign of how
much they honored
God, and that honoring God was a means of gaining wealth.
Understanding the Gospel context
On this background of a socially, economically and religiously twisted Jewish people,
Jesus presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah. The Old Testament remained.
Priests, Pharisees,
Sadducees, and Scribes comprised Israel’s religious leadership. Whatever practical
doctrinal differences existed among them, all four groups formed an elite aristocratic
religiouspart of Jewish society.
Jesus found the works of the religious leaders to be malignant regarding the people.
Matthew 23 records Jesus’ indictments against the leaders. They placed heavy burdens
on men,
but themselves had nothing to do with the burdens (v. 4). In many ways they loved
to receivehonor (vv. 5-7). They shut off the kingdom from the heavens from the people
and wouldn’tenter it themselves (v. 13). They went great distances to make proselytes
who would only turnout twice the son of gehenna as they were, indicating they were
destined for gehenna, and
their proselytes would go beyond them in their actions (v. 15). They acted as blind
guides (vv.
16-22). They diligently tithed of their small spices while neglecting significant
issues: justice,
mercy and faithfulness (v. 23). They worried about cleaning the outside of the cup
but inside,
they were full of robbery and no self-control (v. 25). They were like outwardly neat
filled inside with hypocrisy and lawlessness (vv. 27-28). Note especially among these
chargestheir neglect of justice and mercy, their fullness of robbery, and their hypocrisy.
In all thesethe religious leaders demonstrated failures regarding the poor, widows,
and orphans.
29 Some distinguish the Judaism of Jesus’ day from that of the earlier Old Testament
socio-religious structure. They
identify the five hundred years of the Old Testament as Second Temple Judaism.
A Theology of Material Possessions and Life -13
Emphasis in Luke
All the three synoptic gospels use terms for wealth and need. However, Lukegives
greater emphasis to these ideas. The following chart illustrates the concentration
terms (by family) in Luke.