Chapter 1 – Ad fontes! Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis

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This is not for a traditional review, but represents internal dialogue that I am having with this book. You can follow along with the series by using the tags at the bottom of this post.

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After introducing the impetus of writing, the author tries to lay the foundation for the proper understanding of wealth and money in Scriptures. I’m not sure he accomplishes his goal, so much as he strings us along, pointing us several times to something later in the book. This is fine, but I really feel like this chapter could have been folded together with the prequel, or fleshed out centered on the role of stewardship in Genesis 1-3.

Witherington directs us in this chapter to the very beginning of the Canon – Genesis and the Garden of Eden (dum…dum…dum…). For him, it is ad fontes! And it is a good place to start. It is, after all, the very beginning of our narrative, and must be of every theological narrative from which we draw our Christian story. In doing so, he brings to light the notion that we simply own nothing. This is what I have often referred too when I dismiss the notion that the Old Testament contains a belief of private property. In the U.S., some say that there is no private ownership of property because we can have it taken away from us for various reasons (namely, failing to pay the yearly tax). Here, I would make the point that the Hebrews knew of no real private property ownership due to such laws as the Year of Jubilee and tithing. BW3 makes the same point, pretty much. After all, God doesn’t give to Adam and Eve the earth, but instead makes them stewards while not only maintaining property rights but also demanding a return on his investment. This is really bad terminology, I understand, but it is the best we’ve got at the moment. I mean, the zenith of God’s creation is Humanity, and if Walton is correct, Humanity takes care of the Temple while God upholds (8th day here) Creation. Our worship is, in part, that return of investment. Granted, this isn’t really broached by BW3, but I think that my view isn’t that far off from him, and the more so when the author notes that the singular corollary to being God’s stewards is that everything (including us) ultimately belongs to Him (18). This, the author demands, is the proper starting point, this theological understanding of material possessions and once we do, we understand that our task includes stewardship of a world which we will never own.

He makes some points which I haven’t fully thought of before. Such as the point that a correlation doesn’t really exist between hard work and ownership. I think that this might fly in the face of Marxists and their idealized (ideolized?) view that we own what we create by our own work. Of course, the notion that the Bible doesn’t support private property must grate the nerves of capitalists too. Here, BW3 insists that we must understand that all things are ‘owned’ by God and that there are our gifts. This Creation Theology of Ownership (my term) negates, he insists, recent notions of so-called private and public ownership of property. As Rodney noted on Saturday, Socialism is a derivative of Smithian economics in that it still focuses on ownership. And as BW3 notes later, even our notion of Charity involves a very real idea of ownership. For BW3, Charity is unbiblical and even sinful. Another disconcerting point. I mean, what do we feel justified in giving something away as if we own anything? It is not Charity then, but obedience. A lot there that needs to be focused on, but in a weakness of this chapter, it isn’t.

After dwelling on the use of tithe (which he says is no longer needed, but remains as a philosophical tie) as a means to show that private property didn’t exist in Scripture, he notes that ancient economics weren’t based on money. We have to get out of this idea that wealth is determined by money and that money has been around since the beginning. What ancient economics were dependent upon, BW3 insists, is slaver labor. He cites postulated data. I agree with him. We have seen empires and socio-economic revolutions built upon the backs of slave laborers. This is a historical fact. This is the way it has always worked and it makes me wonder if we can advance past this – or is it dangerous to do so? (Kingdom Theology must be understood here, I think before this thought is taken care of). I mean, if ancient economies were built on wealth and wealth was built on slave labor then how can we rightly proceed?

Of course, I think we need to review wealth and what it is, how you get it, and what you do with it rightly. BW3 notes as he did in the prequel, that wealth is not always evil. It does cause sin, etc…, but wealth in of itself is not bad. The Prophets, as he notes, takes on the improper use of wealth, and the more so, to take away the rights of the poor (Isaiah 10.1-3). He goes further to note something which many do not get. Prosperity, or rather, the promises of prosperity int he Old Testament are often the result of peace after the exile, after redemption. (The author spends too much time in this chapter in dialogue with the Prosperity Preachers.)

He ends the chapter with a  look at the often trumpeted “Prayer of Jabez.” He handles it with biblical criticism (i.e., what the Hebrew actually says), which he failed to do what biblical prosperity actually is.

Not much in this chapter, expect the notion that Charity is unbiblical, that ancient economics weren’t based on money, and of course, that private property wasn’t a biblical concept.

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