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God vs Wealth, part 8: Were Jesus and Paul Rich?

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To read other parts of the series, go here.

I always get confused when some Christians argue that Jesus was rich, since it is like claiming that Donald Trump is poor. How can you think that a homeless, jobless foot-walking preacher was wealthy? Have they found a hidden Bible verse that states that Jesus had a mansion somewhere, despite saying that “the Son of Man has no place to put his head” (Mt 8:20)? Have they found an ancient document that shows that He actually owned a jet plane? My Bible says that he was totally aid-dependent, recieving His support from women and sharing everything with His disciples, practicing community of goods (Lk 8:1-3, Jn 13:29).

But the main argument for the rich Jesus is His seemless garment. John 19:23-24 says:

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”

I’ve seen countless articles and heard many sermons that use this passage to prove that Jesus was rich, since they claim that a seemless garment must have been the clothing of the wealthy. I’m not sure if I would call a homeless, jobless, foot-walking guy who didn’t have anything but a shirt rich though. And more importantly, I can’t find any evidence that only rich people had seemless garments. The Bible sure never says it. And it isn’t hard to create seemless clothing. All you really need to do is to cut a hole in a blanket and ta daa – you got a seemless poncho.

More importantly, the seemless garment Jesus was wearing was His tunic, or “undergarment” as NIV puts it. His underwear. If you wanted to show status and wealth, you didn’t do it through the underwear, but through the mantle. The Bible often talks about purple mantles being symbols for wealth and kingship. So when the soldiers mocked Jesus before His crucifixion through putting a purple mantle on Him and a crown of thorns, He was probably wearing something much more expensive than His seemless underwear. Really, using underwear as an argument for wealth shows how silly it is to try to prove the impossible – that Jesus was rich.

How about Paul, then? He says:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:11-13).

Rich Christians often highlights the parts about living in plenty rather than the hungry, needy stuff, and claims that this shows that it’s perfectly fine for a Christian to be rich. But that is of course not Paul’s point. He is writing this after being in a very critical and dangerous situation caused by poverty that the Philippians rescued him from through giving him money. However, in this thank you letter he says that he has learned to be content with poverty as if he had been wealthy. This is really radical – Paul is saying that he doesn’t need wealth at all, because poverty is content for him!

But doesn’t he say that he “know what it is to have plenty”? Yes, but he used to be a pharisee, and pharisees love money (Lk 16:14). Now, as a Christian, he is saying that we should be content with food and clothing (1 Tim 6:8) and that if we want to be rich we bring ourselves into harmful desires and ruin and destruction. That’s not the words of a man who thinks it’s perfectly fine to be rich. That’s the words of a man who despises wealth and is content with poverty.

Don’t forget to check out part 9!

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9 Comments

  1. Ryan Robinson says:

    Interesting. I’ve never encountered anybody use either of those arguments. I’ve heard a lot of arguing over whether Jesus’ followers could/should be wealthy but I’d never heard anybody suggest Jesus or Paul were wealthy except in history class looking at the medieval era (official church teaching declared that Jesus and the apostles did not live in day-to-day poverty out of rejection of Franciscan teaching).

  2. Adrian says:

    I almost completely agree with your sentiments. But then I look at Job. One of the richest men in the bible, whom God richly blessed out of His love for him.

    I think you’re nearly there. It’s not that you can’t be wealthy, it’s your attachment to these temporal things. Greed is a sin, after all.

    The problem isn’t the things, the problem is our value in these things, just like in Mark 10:21, the rich man grieved because he had many goods, and he was leaning on them. Also, in Luke 12:20 the man who’s soul was destroyed was not destroyed for being rich, but for putting his faith in those things, and thought he could take it easy and not worry about God so much.

    It’s not God vs. Wealth, it’s God vs. Sin. There is no sin in having much, it’s what you do with it. If you have much, and can continue to produce, you’re responsible to provide for those in your life/world who can not do so for themselves for whatever reason.

    Look at the parable of the talents, this can be extrapolated physically, and not just spiritually.

    Because I love God, am I to live in the wilderness as John the Baptists did? He hasn’t put it on my heart. I have some nice cars, should I sell them to give to the poor? But then how would I get to the market, seeing that the closest one is ~10 miles away? How would my mother get to work each day, when it is more than 30? How would my disabled father be able to get to the doctor unless I carried him 11 miles? If people didn’t have wealth, how could I support myself as a boat mechanic, when all the boats I work on are pleasure craft? If God wanted every christian to live as they did in the beginning of the church, with nearly everything in common, wouldn’t almost every christian since then be found wanting, and lose a portion of their reward, and maybe even salvation through continued, deliberate sin?

    In your first post about this subject, you quoted James 5:1-6, but you totally glossed over the part where the rich were also practicing injustice. Deliberately not paying folks, or giving them an unlivable wage. Not attending to the widow and the orphan. Not offering a helping hand to every man he saw who needed help.

    Understand that this is not meant as to be divisive, but I seek to calm your heart and to edify you in Christ.

    Read Romans 14, and judge for yourself. Surely it is a lesson that can be applied to every disputable matter.

    • Hello Adrian! Thank you for reading and commenting my series. I would like to ask you to look at parts of it one more time since some of the critique you give here I have actually already commented there. In part 6, The Old Testament, I talk about Job:

      And I think it’s hard to just label him “rich” in our sense of the word, since all he had was cattle which he used to support his own family, in the patriarchal society of the Bible property is labeled after the house father although there is actually quite a big group living from it. Furthermore, as I point out in the video, the Bible says he never refused to help the poor with what he had.

      Then, you seem to fully believe in what I call “Treasures on earth, heart in Heaven” theology, which I criticize here:

      You say “The problem is not the things but our value in things”, but that doesn’t make sense when it comes to feeding the poor because it does make a lot of difference if you give your money to them or keep them to yourself. That’s the point of my series, if you’re spending money on unnecessary stuff you take part in the oppression of the poor through ignoring their needs. We have to spend as much as we can on them.

      In this video I also show how it is impossible for the parable of the talents to have an economic meaning. If it was so, Jesus is saying that believers that don’t produce economic profit will go to hell, and that’s just insane really.

      I will answer some of your questions:

      “I have some nice cars, should I sell them to give to the poor?”

      Yes of course! You will end suffering and save lives if you give the money to humanitarian aid. Please do that!

      “But then how would I get to the market, seeing that the closest one is ~10 miles away?”

      Through one non-fancy car. Or move.

      “How would my mother get to work each day, when it is more than 30?”

      Through one non-fancy car.

      “How would my disabled father be able to get to the doctor unless I carried him 11 miles?”

      Through one non-fancy car.

      “If people didn’t have wealth, how could I support myself as a boat mechanic, when all the boats I work on are pleasure craft?”

      I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of needs for good boat mechanics in developing nations, where you can lift people out of poverty who need to fish or transport themselves. Trust me, it’s a waste of the gifts God has given you to work with pleasure crafts when you can fight poverty with the same skills.

      “If God wanted every christian to live as they did in the beginning of the church, with nearly everything in common, wouldn’t almost every christian since then be found wanting, and lose a portion of their reward, and maybe even salvation through continued, deliberate sin?”

      Absolutely not! I’ve heard a lot of arguments why we shouldn’t live as the Christians in the New Testament but this is the first time I hear someone argue that we would lose our faith through it. On the contrary, more people would find Jesus if the church started to practice community of goods! Equality does not create poverty as you assume, it does not decrease capital, it just distributes it equally.

      “In your first post about this subject, you quoted James 5:1-6, but you totally glossed over the part where the rich were also practicing injustice.”

      What do you mean? I pointed out that James clearly says that it is not just because the rich give too little to their workforce that they are sinning but keeping wealth for yourself is per se against God’s will, since he accuses them for gathering treasures in the last days and living in luxury.

      All right, that was my response. Take care and God bless you!

      Micael

      • Adrian says:

        Brother, I wish not to lay a stumbling block before you, so I will not dispute your words.

        I urge you to pray, read Romans 14, and consider the faith of others. Do not condemn one because they like to own a few nice things. We have not been called to lay guilt and shame on our brothers and sisters, but to exhort them in Christ.

        When a person loves The Lord, The Lord will lead them as He wishes. I’ve seen it at work in my life, my family’s, and my church’s.

        Is the Western church in dire straights? Yes. All the more reason they need the compassion of people like you, who has been given much spiritually. Let us not forget Galatians 6:1.

        Myself? I do as The Lord has called me, which I know includes missions, yet I also know I am not ready. My skills in many areas are still improving, including in public speaking. When the time comes, I know what I will do.

        Peace and Grace to ya!

        Oh! I haven’t watched the videos, only read, because my speakers a blown! Sorry!

  3. Bob says:

    …and he (Job) was very rich….

    The bible used the words ”very’ rich’.

    According to you he mistreated his laborers, became fat…..etc. You said that in you first video about rich people because that’s what James ch.1 said about the rich.

    Above this post in the previous conversation, you responded that Job gave to the poor whenever needed, as if this made it ok.

    But this contradicts your previous arguments, that those who say “As long as I put God first wealth is ok” is wrong.

    I think you need to step back and search your own heart. There’s obviously something in it that you are not aware of. To want to see the poor’s needs met is a noble endeavor, but I think that this desire is clouding your studies.

    Job was even doubled in his possessions in the end – and this blessing was from God, not Jobs efforts.

    This kind of shoots holes in you thesis that its wrong to be rich. *God* blessed Job. I’m stressing this point, because if wealth came from God, you can’t say its wrong

    And you can’t say that the ‘if my motives are ok…’ view is wrong.

    Lazarus was rich also. He even had his own tomb and was Jesus’ friend. Jesus wept (probably because of this being a reminder of His own death) and then raised him.

    These stories hardly convey the msg that its wrong to be rich.

    I think you should open up to the notion that you ‘could’ be wrong, pray and ask God for light.

    The answer will come eventually, and in a way that is unmistakable…

    Peace, Bob

    • Hi Bob! Thank you so much for your comment and for reading my posts! Let me clarify what I try to say with God vs Wealth.

      In the first part of this series, I wrote “Earning money is not wrong, keeping more money than you need is. Earning a lot of money is a temptation, but not necessarily sinful, as long as they are earned through a righteous and sustainable business.” What I try to highliht is that there is an important difference between earning wealth and owning wealth. If you earn a lot of money and give as much as you can to the poor, like Job, I don’t see much of a problem with that. But if you earn a lot of money and keep it for yourself, spending it on unnecessary stuff, then you sin according to Deut 15:9 and 1 Jn 3:17.

      Furthermore, it’s a bit problematic to equal the wealth of Job with the wealth of the Western middle class. Job was, just as the patriarchs, a nomad who had responsibility for a big family along with servants. His camels and cattle fed more people than himself, including the poor. He had much more in common with a primitive African tribe leader than an American capitalist.

      In the modern Western civilization, it is hardly possible to be rich without the exploitations that James criticizes. But that would be possible for Job. If you want to live like Job I won’t blame you but encourage you – it would probably be a life close to the Amish, but much more primitive. But I find it very unhonest to refer to Job when trying to live like the Western middle class.

      God can bless us with wealth, but His will is equality (Lk 3:11, 2 Cor 8:13-15) and so He wants us to give it away. God gave wealth to Salomon, but He had already forbidden kings to keep silver and gold for themselves in Deut 17:17.

      What I mean with the “treasures on earth heart in heaven” theology that I discuss in “Three Heresies”, is the idea that as long as I love God and don’t worship money, it’s fine for me to be rich and do whatever I want with my money. This is contradicting to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6, if we have our hearts in heaven we want to give away our money. Thus, I am not saying that it’s wrong to want to give your money to the poor, but it’s wrong to use love to God as an argument to keep money for yourself. I’m not talking about motives in general, but a specific motive that says that if I love God it’s nothing wrong to spend money on a yacht or a Jacuzzi.

      I hope that was clarifying. Blessings!

  4. obetslink says:

    for the Author of this article, I would like to study this (Jesus and Paul rich?)with you if you will permit.

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

A Living Alternative

God vs Inequality

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