Jesus Christ’s Teaching on Wealth and Poverty -1


Today, we shall continue our examination of the New Testament teaching on Wealth and Poverty. Having given the background to Jesus’ teaching on Wealth and Poverty in the previous post, we shall now look at the specific teachings of Jesus on wealth and poverty. I am of the opinion that any attempt to down play His teachings on this important topic will leading us to the danger zone. This is the zone of those who misinterpret the Scriptures as a result of their ignorance and for selfish reasons.  What is true wealth and should a christian use his wealth? Let us begin to learn from the Lord some of the Christian values that makes on rich beyond material possessions. Thoses values are indeed what makes a man truely wealthy. 

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit (Matt. 5;3; Luke 6:20)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” is the opening statement of what Matthew presented as part of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s version of what he describes as the Sermon on the Plain is “Blessed are the poor”. Here the Lord shocked the multitude who were devotees of the Scribes and Pharisees and zealously followed their example. Relying on the promises in Deuteronomy 28, the Pharisees and Sadducees a like, had always seen poverty as punishment from God and the pursuit of wealth at all cost as legitimate.

What does Jesus mean by describing the poor as happy or lucky people? Jesus literally means “O! Who can describe the happy state, the fullness of joy or the blessedness of the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”; or still “How fortunate are the poor …..?” ‘ptwcoz’ (Poor) refers to someone who is completely destitute, poverty stricken, without any resources whatsoever27. The Greek words for the poor and beggar come from the same root word which means “to cover” or “to cringe”. A ptwcoz28 is one who is so poor that he has to beg. Some beggars at the time of Jesus would cover their faces and crouch as they held out their hands for alms. Begging was regarded as humiliating and therefore many of the beggars were so ashamed that they would not want the givers of alms to know their identity.

Did Jesus choose his words lightly when he said “Blessed are the poor in spiritual “, Did He mean “blessed are: the spiritual paupers; or blessed are the spiritually bankrupt who crouch for alms, or blessed are the spiritually destitute?” To be poor in spirit is the opposite of spiritual pride or feeling self-sufficient. The Pharisees were intensely proud, counting themselves to be righteous and lacking nothing spiritually, (see the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14). In the Psalms the pious man describes himself as poor and needy, calls on God to help against the oppressor and the Lord heard him (Ps. 12:5, 86: 1).

Hence the term ptwcod came to be a designation for the pious, humiliated and the oppressed of the society. Therefore, Christ has been anointed to bring the good news to the poor in order to show that God has not forgotten them. In the Messiah, the promises of God about their relief and liberation are not a group of accursed people under Yahweh’s punishment. In fact, those among them who accepted by faith the message of the good news of the kingdom constitute the happiest people on earth as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This is supported by the fact that majority of his disciples were not from the rich class or the privileged ones of the society.

            Similarly, Paul says that God in his eternal wisdom has chosen the contemptible people of the world to be citizens of the new Divine Common wealth. The apostle aptly sums up this idea thus: “For consider your ca11, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many of you were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are; so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29). James also declares “Has God not chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of Him? (2:5). This means that in the real sense, the Gospel was addressed to the poor. But it is not poverty as such that qualifies a person for salvation, because poverty itself is not a state of happiness, but the promises made by God and the joy of being in the Kingdom. The rich who accepts the message of the good news also has a place in God’s kingdom.

27 William Hendrikson. The Gospel of Mathew (Edinburgh; The banner of truth, 1974), 255-270.

28 J. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An expository of Mathew 5-7 (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1994), 18-21.

Evaluation in the Biblical Concept of Wealth and Poverty (Part 2)


In continuation of my examination of  Health and Wealth Gospel in Nigeria, we shall from this week evaluate the biblical concept of  wealth and poverty from the New Testament perspective. In which case, what does the New Testament has to say on the subject of poverty and wealth? In my last  post, I discussed briefly what the Old Testament has to say on the same subject. However, since most of the Health and Wealth preachers use Scriptures in the New Testament more than that of the Old Testament to substantiate their claims; it is essential that we look at the subject a bit more slowly and systematically through the New Testament. In my opinion, while the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of health and wealth, I believe most of the interpretations that we hear on this important topic in Nigeria today are not only misleading but are also biblically, theological and hermeneutically faulty.  So, we shall look at Jesus’ teachings on wealth and poverty as well as that of Apostles Peter, John and Paul. The purpose of the work is however not to condemn any church or individual preacher for that matter but to make the church in Nigeria and Africa as a whole  see the dangers inherent in misinterpreting the Bible and the importance of letting the Bible speak for itself. I believe most Christians have been led astray as a result of our wrong teachings on the subject of wealth and poverty. This perhaps has played a major role in the erruption of corruption, crimes and pseudo-Christians that we parade in our nations today. I shall start by introducing the work today and continue with the rest of the work later. I must say at this juncture that, the introduction is relatively long but the rest of the work shall come handy and precise until the finish this aspect of the subject. Your comments and criticisms are very welcomed. Thanks and may the Lord bless you as you read this work.

Background for Jesus’s Teachings on Wealth and Poverty

            The situation of Israel immediately before the coming of Jesus provides a helpful starting point for a survey of Jesus’ attitude toward the poor20. Looking at the word of Jesus will be appropriate at this point.

Palestine at the time Jesus was born was undergoing the- pains of Herod the Great’s thirty years rule. He’ was called Herod the Great because of his personal abilities and success in his political policies. Though great he was also a tyrant. Herod, like several African leaders, had embarked on massive spending both at home and abroad. Herod undertook ambitious projects which he financed with heavy taxation. Ruthless means were employed to collect the various taxes. The exorbitant taxes paid further impoverished the majority of the populace who were already very poor. The tax collectors were dishonest and fraudulent like the privileged few in Nigeria today who control the trade but evade tax. They were lining their own pockets .at the expense of the impoverished common people21.

Consequently, by the time Jesus was born, between 6-4 BC, the whole country had been reduced to poverty as a result of huge debts incurred by Herod over his building projects. People were demoralized and their sense of morality had been greatly weakened. The general populace were forced to resign themselves to oppression, misfortune, disease and poverty. Under Herod Agrippa I, who took over the reigns of power from Archelaus in AD 6, taxes remained exorbitantly high. The situation led to open wide bribery and corruption among the officials of government and the ‘law enforcement agents as it is common in most Africans and in other Third World nations. Poor harvest was common in Palestine, noted for its agrarian economy and this normally led to severe famine. In addition, only very few people had regular employment.  The few who secured employment, the daily wage could not keep body and soul together. Consequently, a large section of the population who were extremely poor survived on charity of various kinds.22

The gap between the majority who were hopelessly wretched and the priestly aristocracy which surrounded the court of Herod was quite wide, Pilgrims continued to stream into Jerusalem being the centre of worship with the Temple. This also attracted a large number of beggars into the city; and consequently Jerusalem and a few other large cities became the homes of beggars. By the time of Jesus one could hardly tell an authentic beggar from a charlatan.23 There were poor people who turned beggars, pretending to be dumb, or blind, or deaf, lame, crippled or otherwise handicapped. Outside, at the city gates were lepers begging. Also there were those, like the Nigerian alimongeri, who hang around places of special celebrations, such as weddings’ or parties by the rich.24 ­The large presence of slaves, the massive exploitation of the poor and the widespread unemployment, exacted much pressure on the available resources. Jesus was quite aware of the desperate situation when he said on one occasion: “The poor you always have with you” (Jn. 12:8 cf. Deut. 15:11).

There were essentially two main groups of people in the first century Palestine. The first group was the relatively small wealthy class. The second group often referred ‘to as “the people of the land” constituted well over 95% of the populace. This group was made up of the poor, peasant farmers. They include the artisans, the slaves, the hired laborers, the widows, the orphans, the jobless and the homeless. Judaism of Jesus’ day accepted the social disparity and did not find it necessary to change the situation; but merely encouraged the· wealthy to give alms to the poorest of the poor in the society. The rich included the wealthy high priestly clans who controlled the commerce associated with the Temple worship. Only members of the high-priestly class were involved in the selling of animals for sacrifice and in the changing of Roman coins to local coins. Here the eager poor worshippers were literally defrauded in the name of God. There were country priests who were generally poor. They were broken into twenty-four divisions and each division only came to the city to minister for only two weeks in a year. Zechariah the father of the Baptist belonged to this group of poor priests.

Another wealthy class was made up of those whose control of political power translated into wealth. This was made up of Herod’s family who owned more than half of the land by purchase and acquisition. Also among the small wealthy class were the remnants of the old Jewish aristocracy; although most of their lands had been confiscated by Herod and his sons. There were also a few who became rich as a result of their involvement in commerce or as agents of the Roman government or as tax-collectors.

To be considered rich, one must possess land, holdings, but he would not personally farm the land.’ Rather, he would rent the lands to tenant farmers and spend most of his time in the cities, engaged in commerce and civic affairs. This led to the system of tenants and hired servants. The rich landowners saw the mistreatment of tenants and hired servants as perfectly legitimate; but· the poor’ saw the system as totally unjust and; deeply resented the landowners25. It was, therefore, no surprise that during the Jewish revolt ‘of AD 66-70’ when the common people gained the upper hand; their first action was the ‘burning of the debt record’s and the slaughter of many of the aristocrats. Jesus’ parables on the Unfaithful Servant, the Hired Servants and the Tenants, truly reflect the situation in Jesus’ day.

Of course, there were small landowners engaged in subsistence farming and bad harvest in a year or two could result in the selling of their small holdings to the rich rendering them landless. The hand-to-mouth existence hardly made life worth living for the poor masses. The poorer groups in the first century Palestine were the landless ones, carpenters, fishermen, widows, orphans, laborers and the jobless. Yet the poor were forced to pay the Roman taxes, in addition to those prescribed by the Mosaic Law. Jesus therefore fits into the first century Palestine because he himself belonged to the poor class as the son of a poor carpenter who neither had an inherited nor an acquired land. He was a friend of the poor and the outcasts of the society and was frequently found associating with the, poor. The situation in the first century Palestine provided unmediated context for Jesus’ teaching. Similarly, biblical scholars in Africa cannot ignore or fail to respond to the social, economic, political and spiritual situation around us and still remain relevant. In fact, these should institute the immediate context ‘for our biblical exegesis26.

It is to a people in such a pathetic situation described above that the Savior declared: “He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Luke 4: 18). This was how Jesus described his mission right from the beginning. It is the same ministry which he handed over to the Church in every locality and in every age to practically respond to such situations wherever they may exist. Jesus regarded Isaiah 61:1-2, which, is .prediction about his mission as now being fulfilled. He saw the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed as the main beneficiaries of his mission. It is for this reason that the considerations of Jesus’ pronouncements on the poor, prosperity, good health success are not only relevant at this time, but quite appropriates. We shall therefore examine some of Jesus’ pronouncement wealth which comes to us as part of his various teachings.

20 Augustine U. Nebechukwu. 101.

21 S. O. Abogunrin, 244

22 Herold W. Hoeher, Herod Antepas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing 1972), 15.

23 Charlotte Allen, The Human Christ: The search for the Historical Jesus (Oxford won publishing Plc,

    1998), 15-91.

24 Ibid.

25 S. O. Abogunrin “Christology and the contemporary church in Africa”.  In S. O. Abogunrin et al eds. –Christology in African context Biblical studies series 2, Ibadan, The Nigerian Association for Biblical Studies, 2003), 1-27.

26 S. O. Abogunrin, In search of the original Jesus, Inaugural Lecture 1997/98 (Ibadan: University of Ibadan, 2003), 37 – 49.

Evaluation In the Biblical Concept Of Wealth and Poverty (Part 1)


The promises of material blessings of Yahweh were contingent on complete loyalty and obedience on the part of Israel. Unfortunately today, the eager audience is fed with the great promises of God’s abundant blessings, almost to the total neglect of the conditions under which those blessings will flow. We shall therefore begin with a brief examination of the teachings of the Old Testament1 on wealth and poverty.

 Old Testament Teachings on Wealth and Poverty

            The Scriptures contain a wealth of evidence showing that neither God nor Jesus sanctioned poverty since each one of them sided with the poor to liberate them from injustice. The exodus event is overwhelmingly significant as far as this theme is concerned.2 The Israelites in their situation of being oppressed in Egypt cried out to Yahweh who, being aware of the enormity of their suffering, revealed by their cry, reacted favorably, saying: “I have seen the miserable state of my people…..” (Ex. 3: 7); and now the cry of the sons of Israel has come to me…”) (Ex. 3: 9); and later in the priestly account he says: ‘And I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel.” (Ex. 6:5)”3. God’s response to the cry of the Israelites was definitive. He reacted quickly to the plight of his people, Israel. According to August U. Nebechukwu, Yahweh’s reaction to the plight of his people in the Exodus experience reveals him as the socio-political liberator of an oppressed race.”4

            Apart from the Exodus experience, we see God in the Old Testament as the one who shows much concern about the plight of the poor, the widows, the fatherless, the motherless, the oppressed, etc., and the responsibility of the community of God towards them. God gave Moses various regulations relating to this important issue. Yahweh told Moses that on reaching the Promised Land, those who were rich in worldly goods among them should not be hardened or tightfisted towards their poor brothers, but should freely supply what they needed. Should anyone refuse to come to the aid of the poor, such a person would be guilty before God. They should therefore give generously to the poor without a grudging heart. God told the Israelites that there will always be poor people among them; therefore they should always be open handed towards the poor and the needy (Deut. 15: 7 – 10)5.

            With regard to annual harvest, God gave the directive that each time they harvested their farm produce; they should not reap up to the very edges of their field or gather the gleanings of their harvest. Also they must not go over a vineyard a second time to pick whatever they forgot to pick. They were also forbidden from picking whatever dropped in the course of harvest; All these belonged to the poor, the widows, the orphans and the poor aliens in their midst.6. In fact, Yahweh went further to remind them of the fact that, they too until recently, were aliens and slaves in Egypt (Lev. 19; 9 ; 10; Deut. 24 : 17-22). So, Kerby Anderson was right when he says, “the Old Testament wealth was a commercial one and not individualistic.”7 In other words, those who have financial and material blessing should look after the others who are not as privileged.

            In the same vein, the Lord said to Israel that the Levites, the poor, the orphans, the widows and the aliens were entitled to the part of their title. God directed that when they presented their tithes before Him, they should make the following declarations (Deut. 26:12-14):

1.         I have removed the tithes from my house

2.         I have given to the Levite

3.         I have given to the Alien

4.         I have given to the fatherless and widows

5.         I have not eaten any of it when I was mourning;

6.         Nor have I removed of it for an unclean thing,

7.         Nor given any of it for burial ceremony

8.         I have obeyed the LORD my God8

            In addition to the above, the Lord strictly forbade the Israelites from permanently enslaving fellow Israelites. At the beginning of every Sabbath year or the year of Jubilee, all Israelites who sold themselves or were sold into slavery by their poor parents or relations should be set free without paying any ransom, all debts should be pardoned, lands and other properties taken as pledges for loans must be returned intact. Loans granted to fellow Israelite must not be at interest. If a poor man’s covering cloth was taken as a pledge for a loan, it must be returned to him before nightfall, because he could be frozen by cold in the night. The Lord said that he would punish such a merciless creditor. That the Year of Jubilee or the Sabbath year was only a few months away should not constitute an excuse for not granting loan to the poor on the basis of the fact that the debt would be forgiven at the commencement of the Sabbath year and the debtor could not pay before then. God consistently warned against injustice and oppression of the poor in the society (Exodus 23:10-11; Lev. 25:8-55, 27:17-24; Numb.34:4).9

            In the book of Psalm there are many strong and challenging sayings which portray God as one who has passionate commitment to human justice, as one who champion the cause of the poor, who heeds the cries of the weak and the defenseless. For example, “may Yahweh be a stronghold for the oppressed … He does not ignore the cry of the wretched (Ps. 9:9, 12). “The luckless man commits himself to you… You listen to the want to the humble… judging in favor of the orphaned and exploited…” (Ps. 10: 14, 17, 18). Yahweh… given justice to those denied it, gives food to the hungry, gives liberty to prisoners (Ps. 146:7). As far as corrupt judges in Israel are concerned, Yahweh upbraids them in the following words: “No more mockery of justice, and no more favoring of the wicked! Let the weak and the orphan have justice, be fair to the wretched and destitute; …. Save them from the clutches of the wicked! (Ps. 82:2- 4).[1] This is clear evidence that God has taken side with the poor against social injustice and the exploitation that oppress them.

In the book of Proverbs, God seems to identify with the poor in a definite and concrete way. Any form of oppression or kindness directed to the poor is viewed and interpreted to be directed to God himself. For example, “to oppress the poor is to insult his creator, to be kind to the needy is to honor him” (Prov.14:31).[2] Notice also this powerful instruction to guard the right of the poor: “speak, yourself, on behalf of the dumb, on behalf of the unwanted; speak, yourself, pronounce verdict, uphold the nights of the poor to needs”(Prov.31:8 -9). In other words it is the responsibility of the champion the right of the poor and the needy, those who left desolate by the cruelties of life (see 2 Sam. 14:4-11; 1 Ki.3:16 -28; Ps.45:3-5; 72:4; Is. 9:6).[3]

The Old Testament Prophets thundered against the oppression of the poor. As the conscience of the nation they denounced greedy landlords, land grabbers, liquor vendors, and money lenders. They called God’s people, to genuine religion that helped the needy rather than trusting in ceremonies (Is. 58:6-7). Among the sins of Israel upon which God pronounced judgment through Amos was the tramping upon the poor, cheating with dishonest  scales and buying the poor and needy for a pair of sandals (Am. 2 :7,8; 5,6)13       Amos and Isaiah among several other prophets viewed injustice as a negation of the worship of God and roundly denounced it. How someone claims to know God while he is oppressing his people? Isaiah and Amos noted that those who extort from the poor their clothes and wine make them sacrilegious offerings and that Yahweh unequivocally condemned such practice:

I hate and despise your feasts; I take no delight in your solemn

festivals … but let justice flow like water and integrity like an

unfailing stream14 

 In a strongly worded polemic, Isaiah also maintains that religious observance in a context of oppression and neglect of the poor are abhorrent.  Any form of devotion to God divorced from concern for the poor is hypocritical and unsatisfactory15 is He declared:

What are your endless sacrifices to me? says Yahweh. I am sick of holocausts of rams and the fact of calves …; bring me your worthless offering no more, the smoke of them falls me with disgust. … I cannot endure festival and solemnity. When you strength your hands, I turn my eyes away, you may multiply your prayers, I will not listen.  Your hand are covered with blood, wash, make yourself clean.  Take your wrong – doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well. Beach for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:11-17).

 We can, therefore, rightly infer from this that pious church attendance by Christians is not enough when, during the week, they turn to exploit their neighbors in their interaction with them.  Only those are true worshippers of God who in addition to their religious rituals hunger and thirst for injustice and practice it daily even at the cost of their lives (Mt. 5:6).  Over and over again, God warns about the transient nature of earthly possessions and that it is futile for a man to put his trust in them (Ps. 62:10, 29:4, 28:20, 49:10; Prov.10:5, 11:24, 13:7, 14:20, 15:27, 19:7 & 17, 20:13, 27:24; Eccl. 5:8-10, 5:19, 9:16; Isaiah 3:7; Jer. 17:11, 20:13; Am. 2:17)16.

It is worthy to mention at this junction however, that, while the Old Testament gave an elaborate and comprehensive teaching on wealth and poverty, as well as God’s favorable deposition to the poor; the word of God never promised wealth for everyone. A comprehensive look at the relevant biblical passage quickly reveals that the Old Testament (or biblical) view of wealth is more complex. In fact, scripture teaches three basic principles about wealth.

First, wealth is not condemned. For example, we read in Genesis 13:2 that Abraham had great wealth. In Job 42:10 we see that God once again blessed Job with material possessions. In Deuteronomy, Proverb and Ecclesiastes, wealth is seen as evidence of God’s blessing (Deut. 8:28; Prov.22:2; Eccl. 5:19). But even though wealth might be an evidence of God’s blessing, believers are not to trust in it. Proverbs, Jeremiah and others teach that the believers should not trust in wealth but in God (Prov. 11:4; 11:28; Jer. 9:23)

Second, when wealthy people in the Bible were condemned, they were condemned for the means by which their riches were obtained not for the riches themselves. The Old Testament prophet Amos railed against the injustice of obtaining wealth through oppression or fraud (4:11; 5:11). Micah spoke out against the unjust scales and light weight with which Israel defrauded the poor (6:1). Neither Amos nor Micah condemned wealth per se; they only denounced the unjust means by which it is sometimes achieved17

Third, Christians should be concerned about the effect wealth can have on our lives. We read in Proverbs 30:8-9 and Hosea 13:6 that wealth often tempts us to forget about God. Wealthy believers may no longer look to God for their provision because they can meet their basic needs.  We read in Ecclesiastes 2 and 5 that people who are wealthy cannot really enjoy their wealth. Even billionaires often reflex on the fact that they cannot really enjoy the wealth that they have. Moreover Proverbs 28:11 and Jeremiah 9:23 warn that wealth often leads to pride and arrogance18. So, the Old Testament does not condemn those who are wealthy, we must keep our priorities straight and guard against the seductive effects of wealth.

Finally, Old Testament does not leave in darkness as to the reason why some people are poor. This stresses the fact that it does say we shall all be rich. The Old Testament classifies the causes of poverty into four different categories. The first cause of poverty is oppression and fraud as discussed earlier. In the Old Testament (e.g. poor. 14:31; 22:7; 28:15) we find that many people were poor because they were oppressed by individual or government. Many times, government established unjust laws or debased the currency measures that resulted in the exploitation of individuals.

The second cause of poverty is misfortune, persecution, or judgment. In the book of Job we learn that God allowed Satan to test Job by bringing misfortune upon him (1:12-19). Elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Ps. 109:16; is a 47:9; Lam. 5:3) we read of misfortune from God’s law, God allowed foreign nations to take them into captivity as a judgment for the disobedience.

The third cause of poverty is laziness, neglect, or gluttony, Proverbs teaches that some people are poor because of improper habits and apathy (10; 4; 13; 19; 15; 20:13; 23:21). The final cause of poverty is the culture of poverty. Proverbs 10:15 says, “The ruin of the poor is their poverty.” Poverty breeds poverty and the cycle are not easily broken. People who grow up in impoverished culture usually lack the nutrition and the education that would enable them to be successful in the future.

The Lord promised that if Israel faithfully obeyed his commandments, there would be no poor in the land because He would bless them (Deut: 1-5). But notice the condition of the promise… there shall be no poor among yours for the Lord shall greatly bless thee … only if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God…..’ (Deut 15: 4-5)19. A careful look at the above conditions shows us that, for any preacher to claim complete prosperity for every child of God is an extreme position which is against the counsel of the word of God as found in the Old Testament.

1 Abogunrin

2 Augustine U. Nebuchukwu, “Solidarity with the Poor” In African Theological  Journal (Volume 19, Number 2, 1990), 97 – 98

3 Ibid

4 Ibid

5 Abogunrin, 241 – 242

6 Ibid.

7 Kerby Anderson, Wealth and Poverty (http;//www.probe.org120030, 3.

8 Abogunrin, 242

9 William O. Ondari, Poverty and wealth: A Christian Perspective (http:www. 28th internationalFaith and Learning Seminar. Org, 2001),17. 

[1] Augustine O. Nebuchukwu, 98-99.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kennenth L. Barker (eds.), The Expositors Bible commentary, Old Testament (Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1994), 1005.

13  Ondari, 17.

14  Nebuchuckwu, 99 – 100.

15 Ibid.

16 Abogunrin, 244.

17 Kerby Anderson, 5 -7.

18 Anderson, 8.

19 J.I. Packer & M.C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Israelites (Nashville: Thomas Nelson  Publisher, 1980), 336.