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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Mammon

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MAMMON, or more accurately ‘Mamon,’ is the transliteration of the Gr. equivalent for a late Aram. Aramaic or Syro-Chald. term denoting ‘wealth’ or ‘riches’ or ‘treasure,’ whose etymology is still a matter of dispute (cf. the articles s.v. in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and Encyc. Bib.). In the Gospels it means worldliness in the form of wealth, and occurs twice—(a) in Matthew 6:24 = Luke 16:13 (‘ye cannot serve God and mammon’); and (b) in Luke 16:9; Luke 16:11, where it is defined, or rather described, as unrighteous, the latter epithet being applied to it not only in the Targums, but as early as 1Enoch 63:10 (‘our souls are satisfied with the mammon of unrighteousness, yet for all that we descend into the flame of Sheol’s pain’).

The genuineness of the logion (a) there is no need to question, although its present position is probably due to editorial arrangement. Of the two settings, Matthew’s seems preferable. Mammon here represents a sort of personified worldliness, a Plutus of the age, and Christ exposes the impossibility of combining devotion to this end with devotion to the true God. The spiritual life, He explains in Matthew 6:19-24, must have the two notes of inwardness and unity. Compromise here is out of the question. The object of a man’s confidence determines ultimately his character; and single-mindedness is the supreme condition of health and effectiveness in religion. Jesus ‘warns them that it is impossible to be at once high-minded and just and wise, and to comply with the accustomed forms of human society, seek power, wealth, or empire, either from the idolatry of habit, or as the direct instruments of sensual gratification’ (Shelley). Objection is sometimes taken to this counsel as inapplicable to a group of good disciples. But Jesus had rich people among His adherents, and besides it is not the rich alone who are tempted to make a god of their money. Poor people are just as prone in some ways to attach an exaggerated importance to wealth, to overestimate its power, and thus to let it exercise a control over their desires. No written comment on the verse, however, can equal the impression made by Mr. G. F. Watts’ picture of ‘Mammon,’ with its coarse, gross limbs crushing human life; to which one pendant is the same painter’s picture entitled, ‘For he had great possessions.’

The Lukan setting is as apt in its own way, placing the same logion amid a cluster of characteristic (see Theophilus) sayings and parables on the dangers and abuse of money (cf. Luke 16:14). Luke 16:13 forms one of several rather heterogeneous fringes to the parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-8 or Luke 16:1-7), arranged with almost as little connexion as the logia in Luke 16:16 f. So far as it stands, however, it has the same meaning as in Matthew 6:24. The main difficulty is to correlate it with what immediately precedes, and this opens up the unpersonified use of mammon in the second class of passages (b). The point of Luke 16:1-8, which is certainly a genuine parable of Jesus, is to inculcate the wisdom of making provision in the present life for the life which is to come. The temper commended by Jesus is that of a man who has wit enough to see that his future prospects depend on his present exertions, and who inferentially has no illusions whatever about himself. He is open-eyed to the present situation. He does not flatter himself into a rosy view of his case, or look to some happy chance to bear him through. A prudent regard to self-interest is the saving feature of his character and conduct. So much is clear. The trouble is to adjust Luke 16:9-13 to this standpoint. If, with critics like J. Weiss, Wernle, and Jülicher, all five verses are regarded as editorial glosses, the solution becomes fairly simple, the original parable having nothing to do with the use of money at all, as Christ meant it. But Luke 16:9 may well be the original sequel to Luke 16:8 (so Wellhausen recently), in which case ‘the mammon of unrighteousness’ there and in Luke 16:11 is explained by ‘what belongs to another’ in Matthew 16:12. Wealth, Jesus teaches, does not really belong to a Christian. It is something alien to him. Yet, as the steward used wealth that was not his own for his own ends, so the Christian can and must employ his wealth in order to promote his eternal interests. Money given in alms makes friends for him in heaven, just as it lays up a treasure for him there (Luke 11:41, Matthew 12:23 etc.). Instead of serving God and mammon alike, he is to use mammon wisely in the interests of his relation to God and the heavenly Kingdom, the wisdom consisting in the practice of charity (cf. Matthew 12:19 f.). If not, the prospect held out is ominous. ‘God,’ as Kingsley once said, ‘will yet take account of the selfishness of wealth; and His quarrel has yet to be fought out.’ This is true to the spirit of the Lukan sayings, except that they threaten an eschatological ruin rather than one wrought out on this side of the grave.

In any case Luke 16:10-13 (Luke 16:10 coming from Luke 19:17) form a conglomerate appendix, added to prevent misconceptions, ‘another instance of editorial solicitude on the part of an Evangelist ever careful to guard the character and teaching of Jesus against misunderstanding’ (Bruce). Luke 16:11, especially, indicates the right use of money (as in the parable of the Talents): Use it faithfully, i.e. for the good of the needy, instead of hoarding it up selfishly. Honesty in money matters (Luke 16:10) is vital to the Christian. And honesty, in this particular application, is viewed under the light of liberality (Luke 16:11), in accordance with the tenor of Luke’s social sympathies throughout his Gospel. Thus the use of mammon brings out two elements in the teaching of Jesus upon money—(a) the need of administering it wisely, and (b) the essentially inferior and even irrelevant position of money in the religious life. The latter is brought out by the epithet unrighteous (almost equal to ‘secular’ here); money is less by far than a Christian’s other interests (Luke 16:10), alien (Luke 16:12), and unreal (Luke 16:11), even when it is not allowed to be a positive rival to God (Luke 16:13). By its nature it belongs to the present (i.e. this evil) generation, not to the real order of things which forms the sphere of the children of light, i.e. Christians. Yet even so it is a test; it furnishes opportunities for the exercise of certain virtues (cf. Morley’s Voltaire, p. 107). Christians are trusted with money, as the steward was. But what in his case was fraud, in their case is both honest and shrewd. Forethought is the quality commended by our Lord, as opposed to a selfish and shortsighted policy. Faithfulness in dealing with money means giving it away. And the two, faithfulness and forethought, are different sides of the same habit—pretty much as in the proverb, ‘What I gave, I have’ (cf. Proverbs 11:24). The steward dispensed his goods; no doubt, for selfish ends. Still he dispensed them, and so proved his wisdom at least.

On this interpretation ‘the mammon of unrighteousness’ does not mean money or worldly advantages wrongfully gained, as though the point of the parable were that wealth, dishonestly come by, should be disbursed in charity (so Strauss, and O. Holtzmann in Stade’s Geschichte Israels, ii. 584–585). The steward is not commended because he atoned by beneficence for ill-gotten gains, as if he represented a sinner who insured forgiveness and welcome in heaven by means of charity to his fellows on earth, finding it impossible to restore, as Zacchaeus did, his fraudulent profits (so even Bruce, Parabolic Teaching of Jesus, pp. 373–374). ‘The mammon of unrighteousness’ means money as essentially secular and unchristian (cf. Weinel’s Wirkungen des Geistes, 1899, p. 15), pertaining to the order of the Evil One. Jesus does not deal here with any question of reparation. The object of the parable is to point out how one may best use this tainted possession in view of the future, and the teaching is on the lines of the later Jewish Rabbis, who attached high religious significance to alms (cf. Luke 12:15-21; Luke 18:22 etc.), though it must be borne in mind that some allowance has to be made for St. Luke’s ‘ascetic’ bias in estimating some of Christ’s sayings on wealth in the Third Gospel, where logia, perhaps originally genuine, have been sharpened (e.g. in Luke 6:24 f.) into exaggerated emphasis. In calling mammon ‘unrighteous,’ Jesus means that great wealth is seldom gained or employed without injustice. The stain of abuse is upon it. The mark of the evil world is stamped on it. At best, then, it is a means, not an end, for the Christian, and a means which demands care and conscience for its wise employment, lest life degenerate into the mercenary and narrowing spirit which devotes itself to what Bacon called ‘a Sabbathless pursuit of fortune,’ a culpable love of acquisition and material goods, and an insidious appetite for self-gratification which deadens the higher faculties of the soul and stunts the instinct of self-sacrifice.

Literature.—See the commentators on Matthew and Luke, the various Lives of Jesus, and the current works upon the Parables, in all of which the mammon passages are handled; also Zahn’s Einleitung, i. 11–12. On the parable of the Unjust Steward, cf. the critical discussions of Feine (Eine vorkanon. Ueberlieferung d. Lukas, p. 80 f.), J. Weiss (in Meyer’s Luke 8, 528–535), Schmiedel (Encyc. Bibl. 1863–1864), and incidentally Rodenbusch (ZNTW [Note: NTW Zeitschrift für die Neutest. Wissen. schaft.] , 1903, 243 f.). For Christ’s attitude to wealth, consult H. Holtzmann, Neutest. Theologie, i. p. 448 f.; Titius, Jesu Lehre vom Reiche Gottes, 72–79; Pfleiderer, Urchristenthum2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , i. p. 649 f.; Keim, Jesus of Nazara, iv. p. 80 f. (extreme); and Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, p. 244 f. Further discussions on the significance of the parable may be found in Expos. 4th ser. vii. 21 f.; Expos. Times, 1903–1905, passim; Latham’s Pastor Pastorum, p. 386 f.; Expos. 1903, 273–283 (Oesterley); and Christliche Welt (xvii. 218–227); besides F. W. Robertson’s Sermons, iv. (No. 22); J. Martineau, Endeavours after the Chr. Life, p. 76; R. F. Horton, Commandments of Jesus, p. 249. On mammon-worship, see Carlyle, French Revolution (iii. bk. 3, ch. vii.) and Past and Present (bk. 4, ch. iv.); Ruskin, Mornings in Florence, § 50; also Morley, Gladstone, iii. p. 548, for modern war as the most remarkable ‘incentive to mammon-worship’; Coleridge in his Friend (Essay xvi. written during 1818) said that Luke 16:8 would form a suitable motto for a collection of Machiavelli’s most weighty aphorisms, by some vigorous mind, in order to illustrate thereby the ‘present triumph of lawless violence’ as due to the imprudent neglect of such worldly-wise maxims.—In Academy (1888), pp. 416–417, C. Bezold criticises unfavourably Mr. Pinches’ derivation of the term from an Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] mimmu or memmu = ‘anything,’ ‘everything,’ ‘property,’ etc.

J. Moffatt.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mammon'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/m/mammon.html. 1906-1918.

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