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