My fellow blogger Milton Stanley has established Transforming Publishing, a publishing venture designed “to make new, high-quality Bible studies and commentaries available worldwide through free file downloads and low-cost hardcopy sales.” I congratulate Milton on this new venture. Transforming Publishing will introduce Christian writers and books to a wider audience.
Milton sent me a copy of Jeff Weddle’s book The Gospel-Filled Wallet: What the Bible Really Says About Money for review. This book is a study of what the Bible says about money, based primarily on an interpretation of Matthew 6:24. Jesus said to his disciples: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24 KJV).
Weddle begins his book by saying: “I think I hate God” (p. 1). And the affirmation that he hates God appears several times in the book. The statement that he hates God is based on his interpretation of Matthew 6:24. Because we need money and spend most of our lives working hard to earn a paycheck in order to buy the basic necessities of life, because “Our lives are consumed with money,” and because “All of our life is centered on the pursuit, acquisition, and spending” of money, then “our lives prove that we love money,” and thus, “we hate God” (p. 5).
Weddle said: “If you love money, you hate God. If you hold onto money, you are at the same time letting go of and fleeing from God” (p. 3).
Weddle cites several passages of the New Testament to show what Jesus said about money (pp. 7-17), what Paul said about money (pp. 19-29), and what other New Testament writers wrote about money. The book contains a section that describes the attitudes of several people in both the Old Testament and New Testament towards money (pp. 39-51). Weddle then teaches his readers how to hate money and love God (pp. 53-63).
So, how can people then demonstrate that they hate money and love God? By spending the money they have. He said: “If you spend your money, you don’t have it any more, so it ceases to be a problem” (p. 56). Of course, Weddle suggests that people spend their money wisely, on things such as the poor, family, missions, taxes, and other worthy causes.
Weddle concludes the last section of his book with this statement: “The biblical principle on money is this: money is the enemy master opposed to God and it will destroy your faith, so get rid of it quickly” (p. 61). Then he adds: “To me, the fact that the Bible says the best thing to do with money is get rid of it quickly is totally awesome” (p. 62).
Weddle has written many good things about money, things that people in general should consider very seriously. People in general and many Christians in particular are so enamored with the acquisition of wealth that they forget the biblical admonition that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:10).
There are, however, some problems that readers must be aware of when they read this book. The ebionism advocated by Weddle does not reflect the teachings of the Bible. It is true that a passion for money can bring many problems to one’s life, but Paul does not say that money will destroy one’s faith or that people should get rid of money quickly so that they will not lose their faith.
There are some other issues in Weddle’s book that weaken his discussion on what the Bible has to say about money.
First, from my perspective as a professor of Old Testament, the title of the book is incorrect. The subtitle of the book is: What the Bible Really Says About Money and yet, Weddle does not cite one verse from the Old Testament dealing with money. He mentions a few passages from the Old Testament but none of them discusses what the Old Testament teaches about money and wealth. As I tell my students every year, the Bible begins in Genesis, not in Matthew.
Second, in a book dedicated to present the danger of mammon, it is surprising that Weddle does not explain mammon from a first century perspective. Mammon is an Aramaic word. Jews in the first century understood the meaning of the word, but Christians in the twenty-first century do not. To say that mammon means money is not enough.
The origin of the word is uncertain. The word in its original use was not always used negatively. The word acquired a pejorative use in the first century. If, as scholars believe, the word “mammon” comes from the Aramaic word ’mn (believe, trust), then the word “mammon” means “that which one places trust.”
Third, Weddle misunderstood the meaning of “love” and “hate” in Matthew 6:24. In the Old Testament, “love” and “hate” are words related to the covenant and the classical example is Malachi 1:2-3 where God “loved” Jacob but “hated” Esau. The words “love” and “hate” do refer to emotions but to choosing, choosing one person rather than another, choosing one thing and not the other.
Jesus used “love” and “hate” with this same meaning in Luke 14:26. He said: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” No Christian hates father and mother. Hating father and mother means that Jesus’ disciples must put Christ above loyalty to family. When people place money above God they love money more than they love God.
Many Christians believe that Jesus’ denunciation of wealth means that his disciples must renounce material possessions. However, what Jesus is teaching is that service to God must be exclusive and total. God demands exclusive allegiance of his followers. This demand transcends all other claims on a person’s life.
However, according to the Old Testament, serving God does not necessarily exclude the possession of wealth, for wealth can be understood as a gift from God. Those who put the accumulation of wealth above their commitment to God have denied God’s exclusive claim on their lives because now money claims the allegiance of those persons.
The Bible does not condemn the accumulation of wealth. Deuteronomy 8:17-18 says: “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” If God is the one who gives us the “power to get wealth,” then the accumulation of wealth is not wrong.
What people must learn is that God is the source of everything they have. The Bible also says: “Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14).
This is what I believe is behind Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24. The writer of Deuteronomy says that silver and gold will be multiplied, but God holds his people accountable for the wealth he has enabled them to acquire and expects them to be generous and compassionate in sharing their wealth with others.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Tags: Money, Wealth, Mammon, Jeff Weddle