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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Wealth (2)

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WEALTH.1. The Gospels differ from each other very considerably in their contributions to the subject of wealth. The Gospel of Jn. contributes scarcely anything. Such words as πλούσιος, πλοῦτος, πλουτεῖν, θησαυρός, θησαυρίζειν do not occur in it; and πτωχός is found only in John 12:5-6; John 12:8; John 13:29. Mk. contributes little—only Mark 4:19 and a few characteristic touches in the narrative of the Rich Young Ruler and the discourse following upon it, as for instance Mark 10:24. It is to Mt. and Lk. that we are indebted for practically all the teaching in the Gospels on this subject. And the material supplied by them is specially rich. But it is not uniform. There is a contrast between the teaching on wealth in Lk. and that in Mt. Lk. has preserved a series of utterances of our Lord, which on the face of them seem hostile to wealth and partial to poverty. These consist partly of sayings peculiar to Lk. and partly of sayings common to Lk. and Mt., but having in Lk.’s version a sense apparently less favourable to wealth. The following sayings regarding wealth are peculiar to Luke 1:53; Luke 3:11; Luke 4:18; Luke 6:24-25; Luke 12:13-21; Luke 14:12-14; Luke 14:33; Luke 16:1-13; Luke 16:19-31. The following are illustrations of sayings common to Mt. and Lk., but with an apparent bias against wealth in Lk.’s version of them: Matthew 5:3, cf. Luke 6:20; Matthew 6:19-21, cf. Luke 12:33; Matthew 5:42, cf. Luke 6:30; Matthew 19:21, cf. Luke 18:22; in the parable of the Marriage Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) it is the ‘good and bad’ who are gathered in from the highways, in the parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16-24) it is the ‘poor and maimed and blind and lame.’

Because of these differences the Gospel of Lk. has been charged with Ebionism (wh. see). It has been said that it preaches the sinfulness of wealth and the merit of poverty. By some this characteristic is taken to be a faithful reproduction of the spirit and teaching of Jesus; by others it is attributed to Lk. or to his sources, or to the influence of the sub-Apostolic period to which, by them, this Gospel is assigned. But before the Gospel of Lk. is credited with a bias against wealth and in favour of poverty, certain facts, pointing to a different conclusion, have to be taken account of. In the first place, what might be construed as proofs of Ebionism are to be found in some of the other Gospels also. The strongest saying of Jesus against wealth, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,’ is recorded by Mt. (Matthew 19:24) and Mk. (Mark 10:25) as well as by Lk. (Luke 18:25). So also are the incidents of Peter and Andrew, of James and John, and of Matthew or Levi leaving all to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9, Mark 1:16-20; Mark 2:14, Luke 5:11; Luke 5:27-28) Mt. and Mk. tell of the Baptist’s ascetic manner of life (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6). It is to Mt. that we are indebted for the record of the sayings, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth’ (Matthew 6:19), and ‘The poor have good tidings preached to them’ (Matthew 11:5). In Matthew 13:22 and Mark 4:19 Jesus is represented as using the phrase ‘the deceitfulness of riches,’—words not recorded by Lk.; and it is Mt. and Mk., not Lk., who have preserved the saying of our Lord in which He speaks of the blessedness of leaving lands (ἀγρούς) for His sake (Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29). On the other hand, Lk. reports incidents and sayings the reverse of Ebionitic. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus recorded by him alone (Luke 16:19-31), rich Abraham is in bliss as well as poor Lazarus. It is Lk. who tells of the women of position who ministered to Jesus of their substance (Luke 8:2-3). He alone records Jesus’ injunction to His disciples, ‘He that hath a purse, let him take it’ (Luke 22:36). To him we owe the story of Zacchaeus, a rich man who won Jesus’ commendation even though he still retained half his wealth (Luke 19:1-10). And he, in common with the other Evangelists, speaks in terms of approval of another rich man, Joseph of Arimathaea (Luke 23:50-53). At the same time it can scarcely be doubted that the prominence accorded in Lk. to the contrast between poverty and wealth, and to sayings of our Lord which seem to favour the poor, indicates a deep interest on the part of the writer in the problem of wealth and poverty. See Poor and Poverty.

2. What, then, is the view of wealth presented in the Gospels? What, in particular, is Jesus’ view of wealth? (1) He assumes, though He nowhere explicitly declares, the lawfulness of the possession of wealth. This is implied in such parables as those of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the Pounds (Luke 19:12-27), and the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-8), all of which deal with the uses of money, without any disapprobation of its possession being indicated. It is implied in His parting injunctions to His disciples (Luke 22:35-36), and in the saying, ‘Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness’ (Luke 16:9), which also involve the possession and use of money. It is implied even in the demand which He made of the Rich Young Ruler and others to part with wealth (Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22; Luke 12:33; Luke 14:33), and in the exhortation, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth’ (Matthew 6:19). In each of these cases Jesus appealed to men to forego what He did not deny was their right. ‘He was pressing on them a moral choice, not establishing an economic law’ (Speer). The woes pronounced upon the rich and prosperous (Luke 6:24-26) have parallels in the OT (Isaiah 10:2, Amos 2:6-7; Amos 8:6), and are to be explained on the ground of the moral dangers of wealth as well as on the ground of the oppression of the pious poor by the rich. Nor is the fate of Dives (Luke 16:19-31) any proof that Jesus condemned the possession of wealth as such. See Dives.

(2) Jesus implies that wealth is the gift of God. This is the view of the OT (Psalms 89:11; Psalms 50:10-12; Psalms 50:14 etc.). And it is accepted by Jesus and illustrated in the parables of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the Pounds (Luke 19:12-27), and the Foolish Rich Man (Luke 12:16-21). In all these, gifts and possessions, including wealth, are represented as bestowed on men by God. And this is made specially clear with regard to wealth in the parable of the Foolish Rich Man. The Rich Man’s wealth came to him through the medium which is most evidently at God’s discretion, namely, through his ground bringing forth plentifully. The same truth is implied in the petition, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11, Luke 11:3), and in the sayings: ‘If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?’ (Matthew 6:30, Luke 12:28); ‘Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.… All these things shall be added unto you.’ (Matthew 6:32-33, Luke 12:30-31). And the description of wealth as τὸ ἀλλότριον (Luke 16:12) seems to carry with it the idea that wealth belongs really to God, and is only lent or entrusted by Him to men.

(3) Wealth, according to Jesus, is essentially a subordinate good. It is characterized by Him as ἐλάχιστον (Luke 16:10) compared with spiritual interests. It is too uncertain to be the goal of life (Matthew 6:19-20). Inasmuch as it is something outside man and apart from him, the possession of it does not necessarily contribute to riches of character, but may, on the contrary, coexist with poverty of soul (Luke 12:16-21; Luke 14:18-19, Matthew 22:5-6). Nor will the possession of wealth compensate for the loss of the true life (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36-37, Luke 9:25). Life, in fact, in the highest sense of the term, is a larger and richer thing than mere possession of wealth (Luke 12:15; Luke 12:23, Matthew 6:20; Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:33); and it is, to a considerable degree, independent of wealth (Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:33-34, Luke 12:22-23; Luke 12:29-34).

(4) Wealth is a means, not an end. It is subordinate to the great moral issues of life, and it is of value only in so far as it promotes the true purpose of life. It is a test and discipline of character. The getting, possessing, and spending of wealth develop qualities which survive death, and are fraught with important consequences in the world to come. This view of wealth is presented in the parables of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the Pounds (Luke 19:12-27), the Foolish Rich Man (Luke 12:16-21), the Unjust Steward and Christ’s comments on it (Luke 16:1-13), Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), and in the picture of the Judgment of Men (Matthew 25:31-46). In these passages wealth is regarded as a trust committed by God to man, demanding in the possessor of it fidelity, watchfulness, and foresight. Faithfulness in the administration of the unrighteous mammon prepares for greater and more serious responsibilities in the world to come, and contributes to our well-being there (Luke 16:1-13); but failure to use wealth aright entails loss and condemnation (Luke 12:16-21; Luke 16:10-13; Luke 16:19-31). On the other hand, we are taught in the parable of the Unrighteous Steward that as the Steward employed his lord’s wealth in securing for himself friends who would support him after he was deprived of his office, so we should administer the wealth committed to us in such a way that it will contribute to our well-being in the world to come.

As to how exactly this is to be done Jesus lays down no detailed rules, trusting rather to the impulses of the regenerate heart issuing in right action. Where love to God and love to man rule the life, wealth will be wisely administered. ‘The cross of Christ is the solution of the social problem’ (Kambli). At the same time, we are not left without hints and indications as to how one inspired by the enthusiasm of Christianity will deal with wealth. In acquiring wealth he will have regard to the rights and claims of his fellowmen as much as to his own (Matthew 22:39; Matthew 7:12, Mark 12:31, Luke 6:31). He will be sparing in his own personal expenditure, and will aim at simplicity of life (Luke 10:41-42 (Revised Version margin) ). He will be mindful of the claims of relatives (Mark 7:10-13). He will contribute liberally in gifts and personal service for the advancement of God’s Kingdom, even at much sacrifice and inconvenience (Luke 21:1-4; Luke 8:1-3; Luke 23:50-56). Nor need the gift necessarily be justifiable on purely utilitarian grounds: it may be artistically expressive of devotion and gratitude (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:2-8, Luke 7:36-50). Such a one will also relieve the needs of his fellow-men, either by almsgiving or by personal ministration, or in some other way suggested by circumstances (Matthew 6:2-4; Matthew 19:21; Matthew 25:31-46, Mark 10:21, Luke 6:30; Luke 10:30-37; Luke 12:33; Luke 14:12-14; Luke 19:8, John 13:29), care, however, always being taken that ostentation or other wrong motives mar not the value of the gift or service (Matthew 6:2-4). And Jesus, by His commendation of Mary for her gift of costly spikenard (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:3-8), and of the woman who was a sinner for a similar act (Luke 7:36-50), as well as by His presence at the marriage at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11), and at feasts, and by His appreciation of nature, seems to sanction expenditure of wealth in ministering not merely to the necessities of men, but also to their happiness through the gratification of their social instincts and their love of beauty.

(5) But whilst Jesus implies the lawfulness of private possessions and gives guidance as to the right use of them, He is at the same time keenly alive to the perils attached to wealth; and His recorded utterances contain many warnings with reference to them. This is the explanation of those sayings of His which seem on the first reading of them to condemn wealth and the possession of it. He characterizes money as ‘the mammon of unrighteousness’ and ‘the unrighteous mammon’ (Luke 16:9; Luke 16:11), not because money is evil in itself, but because the getting and possessing and spending of it are so apt to lead to unrighteousness. Again, He pronounces woe upon the rich and prosperous (Luke 6:24-25), not only because they were too often guilty of oppressing the pious poor, but also because their wealth exposed them to grave spiritual perils. And He indicates what some or these perils are. Wealth tends to delude a man as to is real worth, and to invest him with a factitious importance (Luke 12:16-21). It tends to become a man’s god, and to oust the true God from His supremacy in the heart (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13; Luke 12:16-21). The rich man is apt to trust in his riches, not in God, and to think that the possession of them insures him against adversity (Luke 12:16-21). Wealth is also apt to make him forgetful of his indebtedness to God, and to lead him to regard God’s gifts to him as his own absolute possessions to do with as he pleases (Luke 12:16-21). Further, wealth has the tendency to deaden the possessor’s sense of spiritual need and his aspirations after spiritual good (Matthew 13:22, Luke 12:16-21; Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 22:5, Luke 14:18-20). It tends also to limit the possessor’s thoughts to this present world and its interests, to the exclusion of higher things (Matthew 6:19-34, Luke 12:16-21; Luke 16:19-31). It is apt to come into conflict with the demands of the Kingdom of God and to indispose to the acceptance of them (Matthew 19:16-26, Mark 10:17-27, Luke 18:18-27; Luke 9:57-62; Luke 14:18-20, Matthew 22:5). There is the danger, too, of producing alienation of sympathy from our fellow-men and selfish ignoring of their needs and claims (Luke 12:16-21; Luke 16:19-31). And, lastly, there is the danger of covetousness (Luke 12:15, Matthew 13:22), wealth tending to breed the desire for more wealth (Luke 12:16-21), though this sin may beset those also who do not possess (Luke 12:13-15).

(6) These dangers, vividly realized by Jesus and greatly dreaded by Him, led Him to make use occasionally of language which, interpreted literally, would seem to teach the incompatibility of the possession of wealth with membership in the Kingdom of God. Such are the Woes pronounced on the rich and prosperous (Luke 6:24-25), the conversation following the incident of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-25, Luke 18:24-25), and the demand that whosoever would be His disciple must renounce all that he hath (Luke 14:33). These utterances are to be explained partly by the circumstances of the age in which they were spoken. Jesus foresaw trouble and affliction for His followers. In the world they would have tribulation: they would be hated of all men for His name’s sake. Hence, if they were to endure unto the end, it was necessary that they should hold property and friends and life cheap, ready to part with them for the sake of Christ (Matthew 10:34-39, Luke 14:26). And this was specially incumbent on those who were to be the preachers and missionaries of the gospel (Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 8:18-22). Hence Jesus’ demand that those who would be His disciples should renounce all that they had. And hence also the severe things He says regarding the rich. But these utterances are to be interpreted also in accordance with Jesus’ practice of embodying His teaching in bold, striking, picturesque utterances designed and fitted to arrest attention. He expresses Himself thus strongly in order to impress men in all ages with the extreme peril of wealth, and to admonish the rich that they should hold their wealth lightly, and be ready to sacrifice it if duty demands.

But Jesus went further, and in one case at least demanded of an aspirant for eternal life that he sell all and give to the poor if he would have treasure in heaven (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23). This demand may have been made to make clear to the Young Man the inadequacy of his observance of the Divine law, and especially the shallowness of his love for his neighbour. But more probably it was made in accordance with the principle, laid down elsewhere by Jesus, that whatever interests or relationships conflict with a man’s spiritual well-being and with the claims of God’s Kingdom should be sacrificed, even though in themselves legitimate (Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 19:10-12, Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45; Mark 9:47, Luke 14:26). It was probably perceived by Jesus that the Young Ruler’s wealth was interfering with his realization of the highest good, and would render loyal and enthusiastic discipleship impossible for him. Hence Jesus called upon him to part with it. Though this is the only case of the kind recorded in the Gospels, it may well be that there were others similar. But even though it stand alone, it is sufficient to establish the principle that the influence of wealth on the possessor may be so injurious to his highest interests that he must renounce it if he is to enter into life. See also Property.

Literature.—Rogge, Derirdische Besitz im NT, 1897; Jacoby, Jesus Christus und die irdischen Güter, 1875; Holtzmann, ‘Die ersten Christen und die sociale Frage,’ and Kambli, ‘Das Eigenthum im Licht des Evangeliums,’ both in Wissenschaftliche Vorträge über religiöse Fragen, 1882; Wendt, ‘Das Eigentum nach christlicher Beurteilung’ in ZThK [Note: ThK Zeitschrift f. Theologie u. Kirche.] , 1898; Naumann, Jesus als Volksmann, 1894; Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, 1900; Orello Cone, Rich and Poor in the NT, 1902; Harnack, Das Wesen des Christentums, 1901; Heuver, The Teachings of Jesus concerning Wealth, 1903; Speer, The Principles of Jesus, 1902; Dickie, The Christian Ethics of Social Life, 1903; Stubbs, Christ and Economics, 1894; Abbott, Christianity and Social Problems, 1896; Denney, ‘Christ’s Teaching on Money’ in Union Magazine, September 1901; Ottley, ‘Ethics of Property’ in Lombard Street in Lent; James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902; Feine, Eine vorkanonische Ueberlieferung des Lukas, 1891; Campbell, Critical Studies on Luke, 1891; Milligan, ‘A Group of Parables,’ Expos., Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] 1892; Hicks, ‘The Communistic Experiment of Acts ii. and iv.,’ Expos., Jan. 1906; also Lives of Jesus by Strauss, Renan, Keim, Weiss, Beyschlag, etc.; B. Weiss, NT Theol. 1880; Beyschlag, NT Theol. [English translation 1895]; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, 1892; various works on the Parables; commentaries on Mt. and Lk., esp. Plummer’s ‘St. Luke’ in ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] ; artt. ‘Matthew,’ ‘Luke,’ and ‘Gospels’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible .

J. W. Slater.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wealth (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/w/wealth-2.html. 1906-1918.

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