Excerpt from Jesus and Money

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis by Ben Witherington III.

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It is important from the start to recognize that money is just one sort of asset, one sort of material good that exists in this world, and from a theological point of view all such “stuff” should be discussed together. The rationale for such a discussion comes from the very first chapter of the Bible, where we read the following: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and then it goes on to say at the end of the chapter “and God saw all that he had made, and it was good” (Gen. 1:1 and 31). All things—the whole material universe and everything in it—are created by God. Equally important, all things were created good. Trees are good, the sun is good, animals are good, food is good, minerals are good, people are good, and so on. There is nothing inherently evil about any material thing, not even money. Of course it is true that human beings have the capacity to take a good thing and turn it into something harmful and even wicked, like turning the coca plant into cocaine.

But there is an important corollary that comes with the notion that God created all things, and made them all good. That corollary is that all things ultimately belong to God. They do not “belong” in the fullest sense to human beings. As the psalmist puts it, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell there” (Ps. 24:1). Properly speaking, God is the only owner of all things, whether born or made, whether natural or humanly fashioned. This sounds simple and obvious enough, but all too often we fail to think about money and material possessions in this proper theological way. And that failure leads to a host of problems. Apparently it is easy to forget that we brought nothing with us into this world, and even if we are buried with our pink Cadillacs we can’t actually take them with us. Perhaps you’ve heard the humorous story about a man who was about to die so he liquidated all his assets, turning them into gold bricks. He required his family to pack the bricks in two suitcases and bury them with him. When he arrived at the pearly gates St. Peter met him and immediately noted the oddity that this man had come to heaven with luggage. “What’s in the suitcases?” inquired Peter. The man proudly opened his suitcases. Peter stared into them nonplussed, then said: “You brought pavement up here? Pavement?”

Christians can have some pretty odd notions about the issue of ownership in this world. What a proper understanding of the Genesis creation story reminds us of is that God is the maker and owner of all things, and so, as the story of Adam and Eve makes evident, we are but stewards of God’s property. Our task is to be good stewards of property we do not own. Adam and Eve were to fill the earth and subdue it, they were to be fruitful and multiply, they were to tend and take care of the garden, but they were not to think they owned the world just because they worked in the world. And this brings us to another important point.

In modern Western culture we place a high value on work, which is fine, but one of the philosophical assumptions that can come with such values is that we assume that we own what we earn or buy. From a biblical point of view this is extremely problematic. There isn’t any necessary correlation between hard work and ownership. Think, for example, of all the hard work that went into building the pyramids in Egypt. Most of the workers were slaves, and they had no delusions that because they built the pyramids they owned the pyramids. No, they believed that both the pyramids and they themselves belonged to Pharaoh! In this sense (excepting of course that Pharaoh is not God), they had a more biblical worldview of work than most of us do. Our hard work may be well rewarded or not. It may produce prosperity or not. But until we see all that we receive, whether by earning it or receiving it without work, as a gift from God, a gift we should use knowing who the true owner of the gift is, we will not be thinking biblically about such matters.


©2010 by Ben Witherington III. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.