Beatitudes and Poverty

Do The Beatitudes Really Teach That Christian Believers Must Be Poor?

by Kalinda Rose Stevenson

The Beatitudes and Poverty

Why does Christian money teaching about poverty in the “Beatitudes” miss the truly radical meaning of these words of Jesus?

Blessed Are the Poor

What is Christian money teaching about poverty? In the Bible-verse oriented approach to Christian teaching, one Bible verse is singled out above all others to claim that Jesus advocated poverty for believers, based on the words “blessed are the poor” from the “Beatitudes” in both Matthew in “the Sermon on the Mount” and in Luke in “the Sermon on the Plain.” What do these words mean? Do the Beatitudes teach that Christian believers must be poor to get into Heaven? Actually, this statement by Jesus, “blessed are the poor,” is a much more radical statement than most of us have ever realized.

Blessed Are the Beggars

In the original Greek, both Matthew and Luke use the word ptochos. English Bibles translate the Greek ptochos as “poor.” Greek also has another word for “poor” — penes. Penes referred to people who had to work hard for a living, often struggling to make ends meet. In contrast, a ptochos was someone who was utterly destitute and cut off from all family and social ties. In other words, a ptochos was a beggar.

In the advanced agrarian society in which Jesus lived, the penes were the peasant farmers and artisans struggling to earn a living in an unjust and oppressive system. The ptochos were the degraded and expendable people living at the very lowest levels of the society. The ptochos were unwanted, displaced, and rejected.

Both Matthew and Luke use the word ptochos to claim that the Kingdom of God belongs to the beggars, the destitute, and the expendables.

As soon as the phrase, “blessed are the poor,” is disconnected from the vision of the Kingdom of God, it becomes a prime target for a makeover into the idea that Jesus was advocating poverty.

When I think back to my own Sunday School education about  Jesus and money, I am both amazed and appalled by how often we were told that Jesus taught that God wanted us to be poor based on what the beatitudes claimed about being poor. If being rich was going to keep us out of Heaven, being poor was our best guarantee to get in.

When Vision Becomes Rules

The biggest mistake my Sunday School made is the most typical Christian misunderstanding of the Beatitudes and poverty. It confused description with prescription. We didn’t understand that Jesus was describing his vision of life under the Kingdom of God. We thought that we had to be poor in order to be blessed. We missed that Jesus was saying that even the poorest of the poor would receive God’s blessing. That is the radical statement. We thought he was prescribing required rules to get into Heaven. We thought God wanted us to be poor. In fact, Jesus was describing his vision of life on Earth without poverty.

You don’t have to be Christian to be affected by Christian money beliefs about the beatitudes and poverty. You might have learned that money is evil or a rich man cannot get into heaven. What if Jesus really didn’t say you couldn’t get into heaven if you’re rich? Would that make a difference in your life?

My book, Gospel of Wealth or Poverty? How Do Bible Verses about Jesus, Wealth, Poverty, and Heaven Affect Your Income?, puts Jesus money verses into biblical context, to show that much of Christian money education is unbiblical.

You might also be interested in Your True Self Identity: How Familiar Translations of Bible Verses in the Gospel of Matthew Hide Your True Identity from You

[Original Post June 16, 2008]
What are your thoughts about the meaning of "blessed are the poor" in the Beatitudes? Please leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Does the Bible Really Say That? Series focuses on the impact of Bible translations on what people believe "the Bible says" on any topic.

Gospel of Wealth or Poverty?: How do Bible Verses about Jesus, Wealth, Poverty, and Heaven Affect Your Income?  connects your financial status and your biblical beliefs. The question mark in the title challenges either/or choices between wealth or poverty based on Bible verses.

Wealth and poverty are significant themes in the Bible. If you focus on isolated Bible verses, you can claim that God wants you to be poor. You can also claim that God wants to you to be rich. But neither claim can be justified if you go beyond the verses and read whole stories set in their original social, economic, political, and religious contexts.

Available on Amazon in either Kindle or paperback versions. Click Buy Now From Amazon to get your copy right away!

Does the Bible Really Say That? Series focuses on the impact of Bible translations on what people believe "the Bible says" on any topic.

Your True Self Identity: How Familiar Translations of Bible Verses in the Gospel of Matthew Hide Your True Identity from you considers the idea of your true self-identity. Do you know your true self-identity? Are you happy being who you are? If you are not happy, what if the real cause of your unhappiness is what you don't really know your true identity? One powerful reason is the effect of misleading translations of the Christian Bible.

One glaring example of the effect of Bible translations on identity is Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew. Careful analysis of familiar translation choices in English language bibles demonstrates how sin doctrine creates false identities by turning the innocent into sinners.

Available on Amazon in either Kindle or paperback versions. Click Buy Now From Amazon to get your copy right away!

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