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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Wealth

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WEALTH . This word is used in Scripture occasionally in the Elizabethan and primary sense of ‘well-being’ ( e.g . 1 Samuel 2:32 , Esther 10:3 etc.), but generally in the more usual sense of affluent possessions ( e.g . Genesis 34:29 , Deuteronomy 8:17-18 , Acts 19:25 etc.).

1. Palestine is described in Deuteronomy 8:7-8 as rich not only in cereal but also in mineral wealth; but this may be a description more poetic than literal. It is, however, frequently spoken of as ‘flowing with milk and honey’ ( Exodus 3:8 , etc. etc.) products which were in ancient times considered the marks of fertile lands. The wealth of Israel increased as the country developed; and under the monarchy it reached its height. The increased prosperity did not, however, lead to increased righteousness. If in the times of Isaiah the land was ‘full of silver and gold,’ it was also ‘full of idols’ ( Isaiah 2:7-8 ): the ruling classes oppressed the poor ( Isaiah 5:3 , Micah 2:2 ), drunkenness ( Isaiah 5:11 , Micah 2:11 ) and audacity of sin ( Isaiah 5:13 ) were rampant. The national poverty that followed upon the Exile had been removed before the birth of our Lord, as exemplified by the magnificent buildings of Herod. Throughout the OT and NT many instances of wealthy individuals occur: e.g . Abram ( Genesis 13:2 ), Nabal ( 1 Samuel 25:2 ), Barzillai ( 2 Samuel 19:32 ), Zacchæus ( Luke 19:2 ), Joseph of Arimathæa ( Matthew 27:57 ).

2. In the OT the possession of wealth is generally regarded as evidence of God’s blessing, and so of righteousness ( Psalms 1:3-4 etc.). But the stubborn facts of the godly being called upon sometimes to suffer, and of the wicked sometimes flourishing, led to a deeper view; and the limited power and transitoriness of wealth were realized ( Psalms 49:1-20; Psalms 37:1-40; Psalms 73:1-28 . Job 21:1-34 , Jeremiah 12:1-17 etc.). In the NT the problem does not present itself so keenly; as, in the full belief of a future life, the difficulty resolved itself. But the general conduciveness of virtue to earthly prosperity is inculcated; and we are taught that godliness is profitable for this life as well as for that which is to come ( 1 Timothy 4:8; cf. Matthew 6:33 , Mark 10:30 ).

3. Our Lord’s position regarding wealth must be deduced from His practice and teaching. As regards His practice , it is clear that, until He commenced His ministry, He obtained His livelihood by labour, toiling as a carpenter in Nazareth ( Mark 6:3 ). During His ministry, He and the Twelve formed a family with a common purse. This store, composed, no doubt, of the personal property of those of their number who originally had wealth, was replenished by gifts of attached disciples ( Luke 8:3 ). From it necessary food was purchased and the poor were relieved ( John 4:8; John 13:28 ). Christ and His Apostles as a band, therefore, owned private property. When our Lord dispatched the Twelve on a special tour for preaching and healing, and when He sent the Seventy on a similar errand, He commanded them to take with them neither money nor food ( Matthew 10:10 , Luke 10:4 ); but these were special instructions on special occasions, and doubtless on their return to Him the former system of a common purse was reverted to (cf. Luke 22:36 ).

As regards Christ’s teaching , it is important to balance those sayings which appear to be hostile to any possession of wealth, with those which point in the other direction. On the one hand, we find Him bidding a rich young man sell his all and give to the poor ( Mark 10:21 ), and then telling His disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. He pictures a possessor of increasing wealth hearing God say, ‘Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee’ ( Luke 12:20 ); He follows beyond the grave the histories of a rich man and a beggar, placing the rich man in a ‘place of torment’ and the poor man in Abraham’s bosom ( Luke 16:19 f.). But there is the other side; for we find that He sympathized deeply with those enduring poverty, assuring them of their Father’s care ( Matthew 6:32 ), preaching especially to them the gospel ( Matthew 11:5 ), and pronouncing upon them in their sorrows a special benediction ( Luke 6:20 ). He showed that He desired that all should have a sufficiency, by bidding all, rich and poor alike, pray for ‘daily bread.’ If He taught that riches were indeed an obstacle to entrance into the Kingdom of God, He also taught that it was the ‘few’ (whether rich or poor) that succeeded in entering it ( Matthew 7:14 ). If He told one young man to sell all that he had, clearly He did not intend this counsel to be applicable to all, for He assured of ‘salvation’ Zacchæus, who gave but the half of his goods to the poor ( Luke 19:8-9 ). If the builder of larger barns is termed the ‘foolish one,’ his folly is shown not to have been mere acquisition of wealth, but that acquisition apart from riches ‘toward God’ ( Luke 12:21 ); and if Dives is in Hades, it is evident that be is not there merely because of his riches, for Lazarus lies in the bosom of Abraham, the typical rich Jew. Further, in the parables of the Pounds and the Talents ( Luke 19:12 , Matthew 25:14 ) He teaches, under the symbolism of money, that men are not owners but stewards of all they possess; while in the parable of the Unjust Steward He points out one of the true uses of wealth namely, to relieve the poor, and so to insure a welcome from them when the eternal tabernacles are entered ( Luke 16:9 ).

From the foregoing we may conclude that, while our Lord realized that poverty brought sorrow, He also realized that wealth contained an Intense peril to spiritual life. He came to raise the world from the material to the spiritual; and wealth, as the very token of the material and temporal, was blinding men to the spiritual and eternal. He therefore urged those to whom it was a special hindrance, to resign it altogether; and charged all to regard it as something for the use of which they would be held accountable.

4 . In the Apostolic Church, in its earliest days, we find her members having ‘all things common,’ and the richer selling their possessions to supply the wants of their poorer brethren ( Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:34-37 ). But this active enthusiasm does not necessarily show that the Church thought the personal possession of wealth, in itself, unlawful or undesirable; for the case of Ananias clearly indicates that the right to the possession of private property was not questioned ( Acts 5:4 ). Later in the history of the Church we find St. James inveighing against the proud and heartless rich ( James 2:1-8; James 5:1-5 ), and St. Paul warning men of the spiritual dangers incident to the procuring or possessing of wealth ( 1 Timothy 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; cf. Revelation 3:17 ).

Charles T. P. Grierson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wealth'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/w/wealth.html. 1909.

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