Is There an OT and a NT View of Wealth?

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I’ve had this question rattling around in my little noggin, so I wanted some of you smart readers to help me solidify some of my thoughts.

Inevitably, when Christians have a discussion regarding Christian wealth, someone will point out all the characters in the Bible who were extremely wealthy.  However, there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind:

1.  Biblical narrative is not a moral narrative.  Let me explain that.  We read stories to our children that have moral foundations.  When they read those stories we want them to learn morals from the story.  A Biblical narrative can comment on tragic character flaws, and it rarely takes time to add a notation that offers a character judgment.

Consider Noah who got drunk.  Was that good, bad, or neither?  The narrative does not reflect on the morality of his action.  In the same way, just because someone is rich in the Bible doesn’t mean the Bible is making a moral statement about wealth.  Because King Solomon was wealthy doesn’t mean exorbitant wealth is good.  Solomon also had hundreds of wives.

2.  Interestingly, most of those names we throw out will come from the Old Testament.  Many of our rich God-fearing heroes come from the pages of the Old Testament.  There are some in the New Testament, but many refer to the Old Testament characters.

Is there an intentional shift in the view of wealth between Old Testament and New Testament?

God seems to have a very clear agenda in the Old Testament – to build up and to prosper his followers.  However, the agenda seems to (at the very least) morph under the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus criticizes some people for having wealth, encourages some people to sell their wealth, and even tells someone salvation came because he gave away money.

Evangelical Christians have had a long and interesting relationship with the Old Testament.  One that I cannot fully summarize here.  Let’s simply say that different bodies of Christians are willing to dismiss differing parts of the Old Testament as “old law” or “former covenant”, thus making those teachings, examples, or injunctions obsolete.

Our question for today is – was the view of wealth one of those things that changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

In the story of the Rich Young Man, Jesus seems to be challenging his disciples’ assumptions.  They thought wealth was the proof you were accepted by God.  They wondered how anyone could enter the kingdom of God if this man couldn’t.  At the very least, Jesus is teaching his disciples to change their view of wealth.  These are not the only people that God accepts.

Without a doubt, I think we could say that wealth is viewed much more positively in the Old Testament than it is in the New.  Do you agree?

Then the question remains:

Why the transition from a more positive view to a more negative view?

  • The shift represents a cultural critic.  During that time, the New Testament addressed audiences that seemed to have an unhealthy relationship with money.
  • The shift represents God’s New Testament ethic – a move away from the opulence that once characterized his people.
  • The shift is simply an equalizer.  Serves to present a balanced view of money – it can be either good or bad, depending on how it is used.

There is a final option.  That option is that I have no idea what I’m talking about, and there is not shift between the OT and NT view of wealth.  Back in 1997 I was wrong, so I’d be willing to accept the fact that I might be wrong once again.

Is there an OT and NT view of wealth?  If yes, why?  If no, do you plan to unsubscribe from this blog?

Comments

  1. says

    I think you’re on to a good idea here, Craig. There is at least a shift of emphasis from OT to NT in regards to wealth – most clearly in Jesus’ teachings but also the teachings of the apostles.

    I think too often we fail to read the Bible in context. As you said, some people use examples of wealthy people in the OT as a basis for pursuing wealth and material possessions. But Jesus’ words for the wealthy weren’t exactly kind or supportive. Too often we warp the meaning of passages by taking them out of context and not thinking about the true intent behind the words.

    Regarding OT laws being obsolete – personally, I think some people take this idea to the extreme. Christians are not under the Law, but the Law did serve as a tutor to help people recognize sin. However, it was only a shadow of things to come and it was to be replaced by the New Covenant that Jesus enacted through His shed blood. So we can look at OT laws as far as principles/ideas/guidelines go, but we must never try to push ourselves back under the Law. Otherwise, we’re rejected the grace that’s available to us through Jesus Christ. In my opinion, that’s on order with denying Him because we’re making His sacrifice into nothing.

    • says

      Paul,
      Regarding the law, most Christians need to be reminded that Paul said the law is good (Rom. 7:12). Much of our theology as Christians is based on demonizing the law and misrepresenting Jewish theology. The Jews were not cold, calloused people who simply followed the law. Yes, there were some. Read Deuteronomy and underline every time you see the word heart. Read the prophets and see if they are calling people to a stale religion.
      Romans 8:3 reminds us that the problem was not with the law (and Heb. 8:8), but with our sinful nature. The difference for NT Christians is that we have the help of the Spirit to help us keep the covenant we make with God.
      Thus, I wonder what it would look like for one to “push themselves back under the Law”. How does one do that?

      • says

        I guess by “push themselves back under the Law” I mean that some people seek to be justified as to their righteousness by their ability to keep the Law. In doing that, we ignore the justification we receive by faith alone in Christ.

        I guess my reluctance to base too much of our “religion” on the Law comes from Paul’s words in Galatians 3:23-25. Now that faith has come and Jesus Christ has been revealed, why would we want to operate under the Law? It was only a tutor until the true Teacher came. While it is still good, we have something (someOne) better.

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  2. Eric says

    I think the views of wealth were more cultural than biblical. Jews had come to see wealth as a sign of God’s favor, and if you weren’t wealth then you must have sin in your life and God is punishing you for it. While certainly God did prosper His people, I think it was taken too far by the legalistic views of the jews.

    • says

      Eric,
      I think the issue is a little more complicated. Sifting through the cultural connections in Scripture is a difficult task. However, I think the message we have in Scripture (both OT and NT) is the Word of God not a simply cultural commentary. Yet, we do see the culture of the day influencing the content of Scripture.

      • Eric says

        I didn’t intend to imply the view of money is simply a cultural view, but that when you see the examples of God blessing his people in the OT, the culture came to associate wealth and prosperity with living a life pleasing to God. That same view also caused them to associate illness and troubles with living a sinful life. I think the scriptural view of wealth is that God will bless whom He wants to bless, not that it is something earned through righteous behavior.

        We clearly see a shift in focus in the NT when Jesus openly declares that trusting and following him will not be an easy road, and that some sacrifices are necessary. Yet God’s loving gift of grace is sufficient.

        As Paul writes in Phil 3:7-9 (NASB) “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, ”

        Living a ‘righteous’ life as the Jews saw it, amounts to rubbish. God’s blessings and grace can not be earned because we are unable to have a righteousness of our own. Only through Christ can we attain the “righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith”

        I think as you said “The shift represents a cultural critic. During that time, the New Testament addressed audiences that seemed to have an unhealthy relationship with money.”

        • says

          Eric,
          Thanks for following up with the clarification. I see what you’re saying. So it is, in your opinion, a cultural critic of how they trusted in or relied on money as sign of righteousness.

  3. David J says

    Let me preface by saying that I am not a Biblical scholar, and hopefully someone else can either augment, support, or correct what I am trying to say.

    God’s entire purpose throughout history has been to glorify himself, honor his name, and bring salvation to the world. This does not change between the testaments, nor has it changed currently. However, I do think his method for doing so changed after the (obviously pivotal) incarnation.

    In the Old Testament, God chose Abraham (and later the nation of Israel) out of all the other people and nations in the world at the time. For whatever reason, He chose to make his name known through a single family line. As a result, He sought to bless those that followed him through material wealth and land. This made Israel stand out to the surrounding nations, so that they might be curious and introduced to the character of God.

    However, after Jesus came and died, the focus shifted. Salvation was no longer through belonging to Israel (and therefore following God in faith), but through the sacrificial death of God’s Son. As a result, the way of God being most honored was for humanity to see Him and His cross as most worthy of worship. The willingness to sacrifice everything (including material wealth) for Christ is the supreme way to honor and glorify God under the new covenant.

    What do you think?

    • David J says

      Even as I was writing, I started to change my opinion or at least potentially shift my perspective.

      As I wrote that God blessed those who followed him through material wealth and land, I immediately began thinking: “What about the Widow of Zarapheth or any other devoted followers of God who remained in relative poverty?” Suddenly I realized that another reason for the seeming shift in perspectives may be because of the overarching narrative’s purpose.

      The entire purpose of the Bible is to tell the story of God’s plan of redemption for humanity, centering on the person of Jesus Christ. As we see clearly in the first verses of Matthew, the focus of the Old Testament is telling the story of Jesus’ lineage throughout history, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah. Well, Jesus’ lineage is the kingly family line of Israel, tracing all the way back to Abraham. Therefore, of course the people that the Old Testament focuses on are all either kings or the great Fathers of the faith–in other words, very wealthy people. The Old Testament covers 4,000 years of history and only has room to really deal with the history makers and we only see glimpses of the “common people” who do not live in extravagant wealth.

      However, in the New Testament, we zoom in on a period of 50-60 years and suddenly the scope of the narrative has room to open up and include all of the “common people” that God cares about and has sent his message through. The early church was not composed of people in power and wealth. Perhaps one of the reasons there seems like a shift in perspective on wealth is mainly because there is a shift in the types of characters we are exposed to.

      • says

        I think that’s a very good explanation for the seemingly huge shift in focus on wealth between the OT and NT, David. Very good job thinking it through and sharing it with us!

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