Prosperity Gospel

Prosperity Gospel or Poverty Gospel?

by Kalinda Rose Stevenson

What "The Bible Says" about Money

Is it a Prosperity Bible or a Poverty Bible? What does the Bible really say about money? Do Bible verses about money promise that God wants you to become a millionaire? Or do they tell you that money is evil? Do they tell you that you will be rich if you tithe? Or do they tell you that being rich will keep you out of heaven?

The Problem with Bible Verses

Every time you hear someone say, “The Bible says...” about a particular topic, it probably doesn’t — at least not the way it's claimed.

Few things cause more hurt and confusion than religion doled out in Bible verses. Too often, isolated Bible verses become rules. The rules then become weapons to be used against people, such as:

  • Women may not lead.
  • Husbands must rule.
  • Slaves must submit obediently to their masters.
  • Gays have no place in the church.

You can find Bible verses that seem to proclaim these rules. But when these verses are put into their own contexts, the strident clarity of the Bible verses turns into something else. The verses become pieces of a larger whole. And very frequently, the Bible verse that is so confidently proclaimed as the very "word of God" turns out to be a distortion of the original intention behind the Bible verse.

Conflicting Claims about Money

These are the types of conflicting claims about money based on bible verses.

  • Poverty Gospel Christians who believe that they cannot have both God and money can easily quote Bible verses about the evils of money.
  • Prosperity Gospel Christians who quote a different set of verses to claim that material prosperity is their God-promised right. They can quote chapter and verse of Bible verses to prove that God wants them to be rich.

Televangelists use out-of-context Bible verses as pretexts to promise massive wealth to their prosperity gospel followers. In the process, the televangelists also amass great fortunes for themselves.

Right now, prosperity gospel televangelist Kenneth Copeland is the focus of considerable attention because he has gone on the offensive against federal requests for detailed financial information [See note below].

One of the tools that Copeland is using to rally public support is his website. His website frames the federal investigations into his personal and organizational finances — and the finances of other prosperity preachers — as an attack on religious freedom:

The site is in response to an inquiry led by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who last November sent letters to six prominent ministries asking that they provide financial records and answer questions regarding their organizational as well as personal finances. The senate probe was prompted by media reports and ministry watchdogs that alleged opulent spending and possible abuse of their nonprofit status (Kenneth Copeland Takes Senate Probe Battle to Public.).

Parable about Three Sermons on the Mount

Copeland's website has a rather transparent and self-serving “Parable About Three Sermons On The Mount.” The entire point of the parable is that poor people would much rather hear that God wants them to be rich than poor.

The reason this parable is so transparent and self-serving is that it simply reinforces the idea that the popularity of a message is equivalent to the validity of the message. Does anyone doubt that a prosperity gospel message is more popular than a message of self-sacrifice and poverty — especially if the message is addressed to people who are living in poverty?

It's obvious that Copeland and other prosperity gospel preachers amass both great crowds and great wealth as they quote Bible verses promising prosperity. However, pointing to the popularity of the message avoids the basic question: Is this promise of prosperity a Biblical message?

Carefully Selected Bible Verses

And so, I come back to Bible verses and my assertion that “Every time you hear someone say, 'The Bible says...' about a particular topic, it probably doesn’t.”

Most of the time, when someone quotes the Bible — for any purpose — you will hear carefully selected Bible verses that are quoted without any effort to place those Bible verses into any larger Biblical context.

By ignoring larger social, political, religious contexts, Bible verses about money often turn into something far different from what the words meant in the original stories. Bible verses about money become pretexts without context when:

  • Bible verses are separated from the context of the whole story in the Bible.
  • Bible verses are separated from the context of the society in which the biblical story was written.
  • Bible verses are quoted without paying attention to the contexts of our own economic and religious systems.

When Bible verses about money are used without context, they become pretexts — whether they are used by billionaire televangelists such as Kenneth Copeland who proclaim that God wants you to be rich, or broke preachers standing on street corners proclaiming that God condemns all material wealth, or anyone in between these two extremes.

Bible Verses as Weapons

From my observations, nothing good comes from taking Bible stories out of context and misapplying the intended meaning, to make them mean whatever someone wants them to mean. Regrettably, this happens frequently when people quote the Bible. The Bible verses become tools for something that misses or distorts the original intention of the words in their actual Biblical contexts. This is why so many Bible money verses become pretexts for something other than the original intentions.

[Note to reader: The original post was first published on August 4, 2008. Find out the outcome at Grassley Withers Under Religious Right.]

Find out more about the Bible and money in Gospel of Wealth or Poverty? How Do Bible Verses about Jesus, Wealth, Poverty, and Heaven Affect Your Income?

What are your thoughts about the conflicting stories about money in the Bible? 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.

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