Left-leaning Christians (and even non-Christians) often point to Jesus’ admonitions about personal wealth. Even the theologian David Bentley Hart, in the introduction to his New Testament translation, claims that the New Testament condemns personal wealth as intrinsically evil, and that biblical texts “are so unambiguous on this matter that it requires an almost heroic defiance of the obvious to fail to grasp their import” (pg xxvi). The typical rejection of this view regarding Jesus’ admonitions against the wealthy in the Gospels is that Jesus wasn’t against wealth per se, but about its abuses or one’s heart attitude toward wealth.
Yet according to a new paper for The Association of Christian Economists by Walker Wright titled, “Ye Cannot Serve God and Mammon,” Hart’s analysis is correct: the New Testament does view wealth as primarily an inherent evil.
If this is true, does that mean Christians should eschew capitalism? Does it mean we should chastise those with personal wealth or prevent its acquisition? And if not, why not? Wright says the historical context is supremely important, as it will help us discern why Jesus said what he did about wealth.
Wright’s article is available as a PDF here, and is a demonstration that the why behind certain biblical admonitions are a key factor in proper interpretation, rather than taking them at “face value.” The next time somebody asks if Jesus was against wealth, you can respond with, Yes, but the reason why makes all the difference!