Was Jesus Rich or Poor?

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Was Jesus rich or poor? This issue was discussed in an article published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on October 22. Several reasons are offered to prove that Jesus was rich and several reasons are presented to prove that Jesus was poor.


The following are some of the reasons people believe Jesus was rich:

The wise men from the East made Jesus wealthy at his birth: The Rev. Creflo Dollar, senior pastor of World Changers Church International in College Park, says the Gospel of Matthew proves that Jesus was the recipient of wealth at his birth.

“In the book of Matthew in Chapter 2, the kings came to him, and they bought him gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

Jesus had so much money that he needed a treasurer: The New Testament describes Judas as the “treasurer” for Jesus’ disciples. “Why would a band of 12 men need a treasurer if they didn’t have some treasures,” says Bishop Johnathan Alvarado of Total Grace Christian Center in Decatur. “You need a treasurer when you have surplus.”

Jesus wore expensive clothes: In the 19th chapter of John’s Gospel, the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus are depicted gambling for his “seamless” undergarment. Alvarado says Jesus wore garments that were a “nobleman’s garments.” “If his clothes were a poor man’s clothes, why would centurions gamble for it?” Alvarado asks.

In a sermon titled “Jesus Was Not Poor,” published on the Web page of Harvest Church, it is written:

I call your attention to Mark 14:3-7. Jesus is dining in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany when a woman came with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure spikenard and broke the vial and poured the contents over His head. There were some that were indignant and said, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred pence, and the money given to the poor”. Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to me. For the poor you always have with you , and whenever you wish, you can do them good: but you do not always have Me.” Jesus did not count Himself among the poor because Jesus was not poor! He was not necessarily wealthy (in natural terms) but Jesus Was Not Poor! — The Disciples Were Not Poor!


The following are some of the reasons people believe Jesus was poor:

Roman soldiers gambled for the clothes of many condemned criminals.
“It was ordinary for prisoners to be stripped naked and looted by soldiers,” says Sondra Ely Wheeler, an ethicist at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and author of “Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, $20). Wheeler says the soldiers also were gambling for the robe Herod placed on Jesus to mock him. “I’m sure that was expensive — he got it from Herod.

The text doesn’t say that Judas was a treasurer, only that he held the common purse: Neither the King James nor the New International Version of the Bible calls Judas the “treasurer.” The NIV calls him the “keeper of the money bag,” and the King James says he “had the bag.” Scholars say he held the money not for Jesus but for all the disciples, a common custom of the time for itinerant preachers. “To call Judas a treasurer is like looking at two kids who go to the movies and calling the one who holds the money the treasurer,” Wheeler says.

Jesus did not have a lucrative occupation: Crossan says the Greek word in Matthew for Jesus’ occupation has been translated into carpenter, but a more accurate translation would change the word to a laborer.

Jesus and his disciples were poor, according to archaeological evidence: Eric Meyers, a professor of archaeology at Duke University and editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, says he has personally excavated the village of Nazareth where Jesus lived. He pointed out that the Bible says Jesus was so poor that he couldn’t afford his own tomb for his burial. “There is no way to speak of wealth in that context,” he says. “This is living at the margins of society, eking out an agricultural existence.”

Read the complete article published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by clicking here.

There is no doubt that the New Testament teaches that Jesus was poor and that he came from a family with limited wealth. At the time of his birth, Jesus was born in a cave. This may or may not indicate how wealthy Joseph and Mary were. However, when Jesus was presented in the temple, his parents sacrificed two turtle doves which, according to the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 12:2-8), was the sacrifice offered by poor people.

When a scribe came to Jesus and declared his intentions to follow him, Jesus said to that man: “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head” (Matthew 8:20). Jesus did not have a home to call his own. As an itinerant preacher he probably depended on people like Lazarus and his family and well-to-do admirers to provide for him and his disciples.

In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul wrote that Jesus, “though he was very rich,” yet for our sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make us rich. However, Paul is not speaking about finances but of spiritual matters. Jesus became poor by leaving his riches in heaven and by humbling himself and by becoming a servant of all.

The desire to prove that Jesus was rich is just an effort to justify a gospel of wealth and prosperity: If Jesus was rich then he desires his followers also to be rich.
Many years ago, one of my seminary professors said in class that Jesus was rich, or at least he was someone who belonged to the middle class. The reason for his view was that only someone who is rich or middle class could care and fight for the poor.

The idea that only the rich can liberate the poor and oppressed people represents an idealistic view that oppressed people are incapable of rising up to liberate themselves and others. A quick review of acts of liberation in history, I believe, will prove this theory wrong.

I think the text speaks for itself: Although Jesus was not destitute, he did not belong to the rich class of people who lived in Israelite society of the First Century A.D.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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18 Responses to Was Jesus Rich or Poor?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jesus chose to be poor. He could have been rich if he wanted to. But you are right that was not his desire whatsoever! But people have been manipulating Christ from the day of His birth. So I am not surprised this people say that. We’re all gonna be in for a lot of surprises on judgement day.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Because we (Americans) ourselves are rich, we have a subjective view of who is poor or not. Jesus was homeless, but not traditionally homeless. He commanded to sell everything and give to the poor. Wouldn’t that seller become poor then? But Jesus said that whoever did so would gain many partners in the Gospel and that keeps them from being “poor.”


  3. Nicole,Because Jesus chose to identify himself with us, he also chose to identify himself with the poor. Many people today tend to use the name and the person of Christ in order to promote their own agenda. You are right: Many people will be surprised when they realize that their preaching about wealth and prosperity was contrary to the teachings of Christ.Thank you for your comment.

    Claude Mariottini

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ephilei,

    I agree with you: people who live in America tend to interpret the New Testament from an American perspective. Many followers of Jesus today (and in the past also) are poor but they are happy and blessed. To equate wealth and prosperity with faith and blessing is to misinterpret the teachings of the New Testament.Thank you for your comment.

    Claude Mariottini


  5. Anonymous says:

    To be rich does not neccessary mean to have money, just as being very wealthy does not mean that you are rich.Jesus was poor as far as how much money he had in his possession. He was rich although in many ways and was worthy and wealthy in many ways but not rich of the world (Material possessions). He was not of the world and was not rich in the world. To be rich in the world could mean that you are spiritualy in poverty. I’m not rich but I do consider myself wealthy because of the blessing that god has given to my family and I. God has taught me to recognize the wealth that he has blessed my family with. He has given us a home, a job, a trasportation method, good children and too many things to list that has made our lives more enjoyable. We are not rich with money or material items of the world, but it is the relationship with god that has made our lives rich!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dr. Mariotinni, it appears you did not actually read the Harvest Church site you mentioned in your post. It quotes Luke 9:50 and following, which makes the context of Jesus’ remark about having no place to “lay his head” much clearer. You decided to quote the Matthew 8:20 reference, which does NOT make the context clear. Unless you believe these to be two separate quotes, from two separate times, which just happen to have the same text (unlikely, don’t you think?), then the text you cite doesn’t make your argument… and also doesn’t really make you appear to be one who is faithfully handling his sources.You appear not to engage with the notion that “there was no room in the inn”, as opposed to Joseph being unable to afford a place to stay, which the text does not say.It’s critical that people in positions such as yours use the text carefully and thoughtfully.


  7. Dear HarmonicMiner,Thank you for visiting my blog and for posting your comment. First, let me say that I read the article published at the Harvest Church site. The problem with that article is that the article does not reflect much knowledge of the social realities of first century Palestine. I wish I had the time to address the many fallacies promoted in that article, but I don’t. I have already addressed some of the issues in my article, even though you may not be willing to accept some of the facts I presented in my post.The article published by Harvest Church says that Joseph had a “fairly rewarding occupation.” But look at the reality as seen in the biblical text. First, here is the the regulation for a woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. Leviticus 12:8 says: “If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.”Luke 2: 24 says that when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, to offer the sacrifice according to the laws in Leviticus 12:8, Joseph and Mary brought “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Why? Because, according to Leviticus 12:8 they could not afford a lamb.I thank you for your concern. I also recommend that you do some real study of the social realities in Jesus’ time before you accuse someone of not handling the text carefully.

    Claude Mariottini


    • btheepan7 @ yaoo.com says:

      Jesus born in a cave.because there was no hotel all full that time.urgent delivery nearby cave.so Jesus was born.that time Joseph had own transport now a days like car.rich people. And Joseph wasn’t ordinary carpenter he was contracted,making wood work in big scales.


      • Dear Btheepan7,

        In those days many people had mules. Today many people have transportation: they may have bicycles but not cars. When you say that Joseph and Jesus were rich this clearly indicates that you do not understand the cultural background of Palestine in the first century. Contrary to what you and many people believe, Jesus and his family were not rich. They were average citizens and the sacrifice they presented in the temple indicates their economic status.

        Claude Mariottini


  8. Dr. Mariottini,I didn’t defend each and every aspect of the Harvest Church site. You may be correct that Joseph and Mary were “poor”… although I don’t think the doves observation is adequate to make the point. Your notion is that conforming with a religious practice as specified 1400 years earlier (time of Moses) is determinative for economic status in N.T. times. Joseph had an animal. He was healthy enough to walk 100 miles. He was prosperous enough to marry. He bought food all along the way… they surely didn’t CARRY that much food with them. He was looking for an INN, implying he could afford to pay. They were just full, and he was in a last minute predicament. I”ve slept in my car because no motels were available, and I was tired…They weren’t rich… but may not have been poor.However, you didn’t address my main criticism of your post: Harvest Church quoted Luke 9:50 and following, which provides necessary context not present in Matthew 8 for interpreting the “lay his head” comment. Surely you don’t really believe Jesus had no home at all? He had family, and had been a carpenter, so it seems. But he was “on the road”, and couldn’t seem to find a place to stay, and he was pointing out the cost of discipleship.What was your reason for quoting Matt and not Luke in this context?And would you respond to the apparent fact that Joseph sought an inn, implying he could pay?I’m well aware that there was not a “middle class” of any significance (as we understand the term middle class) in Palestine N.T. times. That doesn’t mean Joseph and Mary were “the poor” to whom Jesus referred in his preaching, however.That seems a pretty romanticized view of the nativity, and not one supported by the facts in the text.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Anonymous says:

    A quote above about the seamless tunic is in error. the claim from the anti-prosperity quote is that they gambled for the robe. But it says they cast lots for his tunic, not robe. Also, the robe didnt come from herod, it came from the soldiers, along with a crown of thorns(John 19:2) Why, when they place no value on Jesus, would they go through the trouble of putting an expensive robe on Jesus, just to bloody it up and fight for it in the end, when they couldve just gambled for it in the before it got all bloodied up?And as for 2nd Corinthian 8:9, mayebe you should put that back into context. The 8 verses before this one was talking about their gift of money that they gave to him. the next 15 verses after verse 9 are talking about the financial gift they gave to paul. The whole next chapter, chapter 9, is talking about money. I like 9:8, which says God will give us enough to give to every good work. The word grace in 2cor. 9:8 means material blessing. Look it up in you lexicon. So why, in the MANY verses surrounding 2nd Cor 8:9, why would he “get off subject” and start talking “spiritual” as you say? I dont expect you to allow this comment on here for long but you need to know taking verses out of context is a serious offense. The reason people hyperspiritualize verses like these is because it places responsibility on us to give..something most cant do.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. ben says:

    It seems like contemporary christians have the same believe that had or still have half-paganistic so called "church"(catholic or orthodox). They like to teach about poverty. And most Christians nowadays inherited this theology. This "holy poverty" theology came from Creek philosophers. This idea you can find in Buddhism, Hinduism and other paganistic religions. Tell me why we have selective reading? Please read the Bible carefully in context! What I want to tell that Bible was written not for super smart, super spiritual theologians. Really not. Bible is understandable even for kids. I want to disappoint you, Sir and all people here. When God created Universe there was no poverty at all. Read carefully! When I read Book of Revelation you will see the same picture – no poverty. It makes sense because He is El Shaddai – God of Abundance. Jesus said that He and Father is One. He couldn't bring another theology. If He did – We believe in our man-made image of Jesus. New Testament says that Jesus become Second Adam – to bring back all His children back to God, to the same position that Adam had before his fall. Why Adam was cursed and one of the curse was poverty? He sinned. So, you want to tell that Jesus couldn't redeem us from all consequences of sin? It sounds like. Who told you that Jesus was homeless, quoting that Scripture when Jesus said that He has no place for His rest? In context you can see that Bible says about hearts of the people who refused to accept Him. Unfortunately, we spiritualize those Scriptures that don’t have spiritual meaning. Because we can see some extreme in contemporary church in the sphere on finances, it doesn’t mean that we have a right to believe in opposite. If poverty from God – don’t help poor people, they suppose to live in God’s blessings. If poverty from God – don’t take an offering in church – poverty is blessing. Don’t be angry at me. This is what you believe in. If Jesus was talking about spiritual offering that we need to take from people but not finances – pay for church utility by spiritual blessings. Don’t work because eventually you will become wealthy and this will lead you for the love of the money. If we use God to make ourselves wealthy but don’t care that He wants our heart and He wants to save people – this is extreme. Were Jesus and Apostles living in abundance? Yes, they were. Jesus didn’t work but He never had lack. We totally forgot that they were Jewish, they knew Torah. Jesus and Apostles always was quoting from Torah. Read about His miracles and about His sponsors from Herod house. By the way, some Apostles had fishing business (they had boats), some built tents (Paul and other). It’s in the Bible. Even more, Old Testament says Deuteronomy 8; 17,18 that God gives us a power to get wealth to establish His Covenant. It’s not just money – It’s His Covenant with His people. Even, it’s not our talents or man’s wisdom – it’s His supernatural blessings in our business or in our job.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ben,Thank you for your comment and thank you for visiting my blog.The problem with your theology is that you use biblical texts selectively and in some cases take them out of context.I know that you mean well, but even though you may not believe what I am telling you, your theology of wealth and prosperity is not biblical.

    Claude Mariottini


  12. ben says:

    It’s sounds like back biting not like you know your theology good. But I want to disappoint you – Bible is not about theology but about relationships with God. When you know person, you will know what he meant. You will not do math of his speech. I see that you don’t want to think what is the Bible really means. Bible about knowing God closer not having knowledge of Bible as much as possible. You know what in Gospel of John said that God and His Word are one. It's not a knowledge. If it would be this way many unbelievers would be in Heaven even atheists. Even Satan know Bible very much. But so what, does it help him? You have to look at the Bible as whole picture not like verse by verse. You’re professor of theology suppose to know that all Old Testament even in ceremony talks about Jesus. So, Jesus created Universe, Jesus was in Old Testament, Jesus was in New Testament and now He’s on the right hand of His Father. He is eternal. Unfortunately, we don’t see why Jesus become so called poor, why He was taken our disease, shame, sin etc. Because it was one time in the history of Universe mission to save us from all consequences of sin, such as poverty, shame, disease etc. But we are so "smart" today that we try to say through our teaching that Jesus died in vain. Why? Because we still need to have disease, poverty and even fight with sin and never have victory in our Christian life. It's dangerous to minimize Jesus mission. Don't messed up with the mission for our Redemption which was once and forever and His identity. Jesus was always rich, never had diseases, never had lack of anything. You have to observe whole picture of Jesus' character or being. Can I ask you a question, Sir?Why when Jesus multiply fishes and bread, they had left over? Does Jesus have a problem with calculation? He suppose to know that that need exactly what they need. But they have a lot more. Why? I'll tell you. Because it's about His character, He's generous, He always gives. He said once, "Give and shall be given to you…"It's says that Jesus is God of Abundance. He always gives more.The problem of Christians who believe in poverty that they always accept what their spirituals fathers told them. They never want to accept as Apostle Paul, from God Himself. Our fathers was deceived and we accepted this theology as truth. But how dare we believe people more than God Himself? It's idolatry! I am talking about this subject not because some famous preachers told me but because I was seeking God's answer and He revealed me His truth. May God help you to know Him personally not by head knowledge but by personal relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Anonymous says:

    This is an interesting debate. Let me first point out that in Revelation 3:17 Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea because they were materially wealthy but poor spiritually. Paul was an apostle and he chose to work so that he could support himself and others in ministry. In 2nd Corinthians 8:9 it clearly states that Jesus became poor.While coming from heaven to earth is very likely in view here, it was pointed out in another comment that the context of this passage IS material wealth. That being the case, one might argue that Jesus was materially rich at some point in his life, let's just run with that assumption for a moment and see where it leads. He would have needed to divest himself of that wealth, and given to the poor in my opinion otherwise the young rich man that went away grieved could have said to Jesus,"Master why don't you follow your own advice? (Sell what you have and give to the poor)" So I believe that Jesus was not materially wealthy. Another possibility, if this means materially rich, is that He had had material wealth at one time, but used it all in the three years of ministry. He died poor. He asked John to take care of His mother, because he didn't store up for himself. On the other hand he did not have any anxieties about tomorrow's supply because His focus was on spiritual food (John chapter 4)AND because of his relationship with the father. He once went 40 days without food. His kingdom was not from here. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. Jesus also sent Peter to draw a fish out of the water to pay taxes for himself and Peter. Taxes are based on income. One coin paid for Jesus and Peter, so it appears that at that time Jesus did not have material wealth to speak of, with the exception of his tunic. Jesus asked to see a coin and asked whose image was on it and then said "Render to Ceaesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. Money is useful. The love of money is destructive. Jesus kingdom was not from here. Though he was rich he BECAME poor for our sakes, that we through His poverty might become rich. Are we to become materially rich? If the riches that are in view here are material riches then, I guess i would like to be in a position to be a steward of considerable material wealth and use the wealth wisely for his kingdom. Jesus spoke harshly to the church at Laodicea who could boast that they were rich and had need of nothing, calling them "naked and poor and wretched and blind." To the church at Symrna Jesus said "I know your works, oppression and your poverty(but you are rich). The important thing, whether we are rich or poor is to have a relationship with Him. Remember that material wealth was historically a snare to the Israelites, and can be to us. The bible speaks of "the poor rich in faith," in one place and in a psalm it says "give me neither poverty nor riches." I believe that too much emphasis on material blessings takes away from a spiritual focus. If we get sick or go through trials of any kind, the health, wealth and prosperity teachings fall miserably short of explaining what a Sovereign God is up to. Job was blessed in the end, materially, but it was based on relationship with God because his relationship with God was not based on external circumstances. "Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him." My hope is that more people, including myself would be in a position to spend more time seeking after Him than after the blessings that come from Him.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. ben says:

    What was Laodicean church’s problem? – Spiritual. Jesus didn't say anything about their material riches but spiritual. It means they were lukewarm but they thought that they are hot. It was their deception. So, Professor, you misquoted. I don't drive Mercedes, I don't live in mansion but I don't believe in poverty as the will of God. You are Professor of Old Testament and suppose to know that Old Testament never presented God as God of Poverty. All men of faith were rich. Do you know why Job was poor a short period of time? First of all, he was rich, and then he lost everything. Why? Because he lived in fear. Read the Bible diligently! But it’s not the end of the story – God restored everything what he lost, even it was the fruit of his fear. Biblically speaking, fear is sin. God not even forgave him but he restored everything. As I know most preachers of poverty like to quote the Scripture about Job. But all the time they misquote Book of Job.By the way, I never said that Christian suppose to pursue their riches set aside spiritual life. Totally wrong! You know what God said in Deuteronomy 30; 19, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you …blessing and cursing…” Why you Professor love money so much that accept church offering or any offering that was given for your ministry? You don’t have to, according to your belief. You suppose to live by spiritual currency. But you don’t. Jesus never commanded us to leave this world but not to be influenced by the worldly things. Money is neutral, Internet neutral, radio neutral etc. Was Jesus using money? – Yes. Did He sin? – No. Do you know that God mostly teaching us about idols problem? Do you know that Church can be idol or any church traditions? Do you know that we always have temptation with that? Bible says that love of money is sin. It means – don’t make money-idol. When I listen to the preachers of poverty, sounds like God is not able to free as from that kind of love. Do you believe that too? All of those examples that you quoted was presented not according to the context. Read what you quoted, “Though he was rich he BECAME poor for our sakes, that we through His poverty might become rich.” Though he was RICH. HE WAS RICH!! Does Jesus become poor when He gave away everything to us? Think about it. Luck of anything is destructive and mostly comes from the Author of Destruction. Have you ever noticed that poor people mostly do a crime? Satan came to kill , to steal and to DESTROY. I believe you know this Scripture. But Jesus came to give live and give abundantly. Look like you blame God of doing things He never did, but praise Satan for what he is doing in our lives. It’s so sad. God is not destroyer, Satan is. To believe in poverty as good things is foolishness. If it would be that way that you believe, Jesus would never multiply bread and fishes because luck is good and make you spiritual. Also, Jesus would refuse to accept money from Cesar House. I amazed how some Christian hate wealthy people. Does Jesus love wealthy? – Yes. Same as poor. It’s so rare to see that Christians would evangelize them but not criticize them. “The important thing, whether we are rich or poor is to have a relationship with Him.” I like what you said. Poverty is not able to make you rich spiritually. Why? To be spiritually rich you have to seek Him. To live in prosperity or to be wealthy you have to seek Him first. By the way, when you study Bible about prosperity you find someday that Bible always connects hunger for God with prosperity. Actually, it’s a condition of prosperity. But how come that you are not prosper when you seek God? Because you don’t believe that you will be prosper. Everything comes through faith!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ethan says:

      Man you hit it right on the nail. Yes exactly. Christians always confuse the prosperity gospel with blessings. I don’t pray for riches but I pray that God will be honored by my work, and that if He is satisfied with my work may He bless and multiply it as He sees fit. If God hated people finding financial success then why did God create gold or silver or diamonds? That is always the question I lead with when I hear a supporter of the poverty gospel


      • Ethan,

        The most important thing in life is to allow God’s will to be done in our lives. God blesses and God prosper people, but not all people will be rich and not all people will be poor. There is no poverty gospel in the same way that there is prosperity gospel. The gospel is the good news that God came to save us in Christ. The believer’s greatest reward is to know God and have a personal relationship with him. The other things are just blessings that God gives to his people.

        Thank you for visiting my blog.

        Claude Mariottini


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