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Bible Passages on Wealth

This page looks at Bible passages that are relevant to wealth. It is being compiled at the same time as I am compiling a discussion on Rethinking Wealth. Passages discussed so far:

Luke 12:13-21. The Rich Fool

To be written =====.

This shows the uncertainty of wealth, property, prosperity. It directs us to see wealth as temporary and not to be "served"; see Luke 16:1-15.

Luke 16:1-15. The Dishonest Manager

I use [square brackets] sometimes, either to show Greek words, or else indicate English words that do not appear in the Greek but have been added.

Verses 1-9, NIV.:

(1) Jesus said to his disciples: "There was a rich [plousios] man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. (2) So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.' (3) The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg - (4) I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'

(5) "So he called each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' (6) 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' (7) Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'

(8) "The master commended his dishonest [adikias] manager because he had acted shrewdly.

"For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. (9) I tell you, use worldly [adikias] wealth [mamona] to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone [eklipe], you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

Verses 10-13, NIV; Jesus continues talking to his disciples ...

(10) "... Whoever can be trusted [pistos] with very little can also be trusted [pistos] with much, and whoever is dishonest [adikos] with very little will also be dishonest [adikos] with much.

(11) "So if you have not been trustworthy [pistoi] in handling worldly [adiko] wealth [mamona], who will trust you [pisteusei] with the true [alethinon] [riches]? (12) And if you have not been trustworthy [pistoi] with someone else's [property], who will give you [property] of your own?

(13) "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money [mamona]."

(14) The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. (15) He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly vaaued among men is detestable in God's sight."

Context of Reading this Passage

I have always found this passage difficult to understand. Why, in v8, should the master commend his manager for effectively robbing him of potential returns (half the oil, a fifth of the wheat) even though shrewd? Does Jesus see shrewdness as a good or bad thing. If good, does Jesus commend dishonesty in certain circumstances? Surely not! Does v9 mean we can buy our way into heaven or into acceptance with God? (Does that justify Roman Catholic indulgences?) Surely not! But if not, what does this passage mean?

First, we have to see it in context, remembering that in the original text there is no chapter division, and it runs on from what Jesus was saying in chapter 15. In chapter 15, Jesus had been challenged by the Pharisees and Teachers of Law for welcoming sinners and the unjust (tax collectors who corruptly robbed the people of their money), and gave three parables about the loving heart of God towards welcoming such people back into God's family or presence. In chapter 16, Jesus turns to the disciples, apparently in the hearing of the Pharisees (v14), and explained something about wealth.

Remembering that Jesus' disciples are those who represent him in the world (""), he is giving them an attitude to wealth they should take. Given also that humans represent God to the rest of Creation (see same page), this passage reveals some truths about monetary wealth that is valid for all.

Reflections on the Passage

Notice how the Greek "adik..." is translated in several words; that is misleading. As discussed in page on Tsedeq and Dikaios, we should bear in mind that dik... means "right relationships among all things in the created order", i.e. as God intended. "adik..." means its opposite: wrong relationships, destroyed right relationships; going against what God intended. So, where "adik..." occurs in the passage, we see that the manager, and the kind of wealth described here are going against the created order as God intended.

This is probably true of all wealth of this kind, not just when managed dishonestly. When Jesus tells his disciples to use "adiko wealth" for certain things, it seems that the adiko is inherent in the wealth itself not just in its management. This makes sense of why Jesus then says "You cannot serve God and wealth", where he does not bother to add the "adik..." adjective.

Why might this be? The preacher at Grace Church Durham, on 23 August 2020, who was expounding this passage, and is no leftist, pointed out that all the wealth we have was built on exploitation e.g. as we earlier robbed other nations of their resources; a lot of our wealth grew because of the slave trade. All wealth seems to be tainted with unrighteousness [adik...]. Some have more wealth than others; that is "privilege" and we need to be careful about the privilege we hold (c.f. "What have you that you have not received?"; I Cor 4:7).

Is it possible, then, to have wealth in a sinless creation where there is no "adik..."? In theory, possibly yes, but it would grow at a much slower pace than this world has seen so far. Since Governments make economic growth (especially of GDP) one of their primary aims they conveniently overlook the "adik..." involved in that growth; they are serving money rather than God (v13), to which we now turn.

Now, about money and wealth, for which the Greek word in all three cases above is "mamona" (so why does the NIV translate it as "Money" in the final time and "wealth" the other times?). Jesus' warning in v13 is stark, "You cannot serve both God and money [mamona]." Jesus' followers are called to "use" mamona but never to serve it. What does this mean and entail?

Our motives for doing some of these things might also include some valid good, but have they not been contaminated by serving mamona? When we "serve mamona" - whether as individuals, businesses, governments or society - we are cutting ourselves off from serving God. This is why, perhaps, Jesus included the third kind of soil, where the pleasures and problems of this world choke the seed and prevent it becoming fruitful; see above/below.

When we "serve mamona" it is not just that we cannot serve God; those who dislike God might then think they can serve wealth. Rather, it harms the entire working of temporal reality. Many new economists are discussing this, how the adherence to economic growth as measured by GDP or by bottom line, is harmful of environment, climate, cultures, psychological health, and so on. To my mind, "serving God" coincides with what is most healthy, productive, satisfying and peaceful in the working of temporal reality in all its varied aspects.

Instead of serving mamona, we are called to use it for certain purposes. (And this might apply at all levels, not just individuals, but readers will have to work that out for themselves.) First, an important aside, "when it is gone", literally "when it fails" Greek eklipe. mamona will fail; Jesus did not say "if it fails" but "when it fails". Anything "adik..." will ultimately fail because it is going against the grain of creation, of the way temporal reality works. Wealth does not just fail its 'owner' when the owner dies (see Luke 12:13-21), but it fails as such, by its very nature. One way it fails is that the value of money keeps on changing, and can never by relied on.

Now, in what way and for what may we use it? It seems Jesus was treating it as a fact of life, albeit sinful life; it is a structure of society within which we are constrained to live. So we will use mamona. The question is: for what do we use it? In what way?

The preacher I mentioned earlier interpreted this as meaning that we should devote money to the preaching of the gospel, to Christian mission or poverty organisations. I agree, but would like to widen it. I have a lump sum from my retirement. I was tempted to invest in shares or devices to ensure that it would maintain its value against inflation, but decided that, instead, I wanted to "invest in Good" rather than investing in money itself. Investing in money in order to maintain or increase value: is that not "serving mamona"? Investing in Good is using mamona for the Kingdom of God. (The Good I have invested in has included both gospel spreading, helping people, Christian organisations, and also environmental good, being willing to risk for those sakes.) This links with trust that our Heavenly Father knows what we need and will always supply it; see Matthew 5: 19-34.

However, that view which I take causes me a problem in this passage. Jesus does not say "invest mamona in Good". Instead, he says (word-by-word translation from the Greek) "For yourselves, make friends by the wealth of unrighteousness [mamona adikias] that when it fails they might receive you into the eternal dwellings". This seems rather self-centred, does it not? Does it not seem almost like what today we would call corruption? I doubt that Jesus intended that, but, as yet, I have no answer to this; I await an answer. The preacher I mentioned talked about people who are brought to Christ because of money we send to Christian missions and, when we reach the Next Life, they will come up and greet us with "The reason I am here is because you sent money there." That does make some sense of "make friends ... who will receive you" but I'm still a bit uncomfortable about it.

However, there is one point that I do understand. The word "receive into" is exactly the same one as the dishonest manager uses of friends who will receive him into their houses: dexontai. It seems likely that Jesus is comparing and contrasting here. The world uses mamona to make friends to be received into temporal, temporary houses (v4); we are to use it for "eternal dwellings" (v9). The contrast of the temporary with the eternal parallels Jesus' contrast between the "unrighteous" [adiko] and the "true" [alethinon]. ("True" here is like when we say "You are a true friend" - "true" means "as it was intended to be" and thus links closely with "dikias", right relationships among all things in the created order; see context.)

This linking of wealth (mamona) with (un)righteous and (un)true is perhaps why Jesus remarks that those who are faithful [pistos] in small things are faithful in much (v10). The world thinks the opposite ("It doesn't matter about letting someone down about a small thing; it's not very big; it doesn't matter"), but that is functionalist thinking, seeing it only from the external functioning of the person. Jesus, by contrast, sees it from the heart and attitude of the person: the attitude. Do we have an attitude to taking advantage for ourselves, or do we have an attitude of serving the Kingdom of God and giving from ourselves for that? That attitude will result in us not being controlled, governed by mamona, but merely employing it for the Kingdom of God.

With these things about attitude in mind, the question I had about why the master should commend the dishonest manager falls away into irrelevance.

I Corinthians 4:7

"For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"

In this verse we find an interesting take on all that we have and are. Do we not tend, in this era, to think that we are self-made, that who we are and what we have is by our own choices, effort and qualities? Is this not what Paul called "boast"?

All our wealth - whether monetary or other resources - has been given to us. Even the gifts and talents by which we earned that wealth have been given to us. This, in my mind, nullifies the idea that wealth can be owned. We might hold it in trust, as stewards, for a time, but we do not own it. All we have has been received.

This aligns with the idea that money is not possession but flow. Money flows, and in doing so enables human functioning. And our functioning is either Good, Harmful or Useless. See the discussion of rethinking wealth.

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This page, URL= '', is offered to God, and you, as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Compiled by Andrew Basden. Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of Classic HTML.

Created: 25 August 2020 Last updated: