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.
JESUS WAS RICH
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!
JESUS WAS 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.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary