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4 Most Misinterpreted Bible Verses About Money

Bible verse about money

Christian financial experts claim that their advice is based on Biblical principles of money. But too often, Christian Financial Experts misconstrue (or misuse) these Bible verses about money. This leaves us with a sub-par ‘theology of money’. Here I unpack the 4 Money Bible Verse misinterpretations that grind my gears the most.

Bible Verse about Money #1:

If you don’t work you don’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

The Common Interpretation:  If someone is unemployed, underemployed, or seems to be (in our view) working the system, instead of a job, then we as Christ follower’s have no obligation to help them because “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

The problem with the interpretation of this Bible verse is it is doesn’t jive with the narrative of the Bible. Or Paul’s eagerness to help the poor.

Don't work don't eat

The church in Thesselonia was eagerly anticipating the second return of Christ. So anticipating, in fact, that they had quit their jobs and were mostly just twiddling their thumbs waiting for his return.

This caused all sorts of problems (gossiping, vain conjectures about theology, and idleness). Paul in this Bible verse is encouraging people to not rely on money from the church (which had a robust ministry to the poor), but to ‘make their own living’ by doing ‘honest work with their own hands’. Keep in mind this is an admonition for Christians, by Christians.

Those who say they follow Christ are to be discipled in the way of honest work, but those outside the church we are not called to judge. Only to love, and nothing says ‘love’ like a warm loaf of bread.

Bible Verse about Money #2:

The borrower is slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7)

This Bible verse misinterpretation really annoys me because it ignores the other half of the proverbial couplet. In Hebrew thought, often two ideas are expressed to communicate one truth. When we simply say “the borrower is slave to the lender” It’s easy to conclude

The Common Interpretation: Slavery is bad, Borrowing is slavery, therefore, borrowing is bad.

However, this lines pair just before it says “the rich rule over the poor”. This complicates the verse and if we are to derive one meaning from both couplets, we would have to declare “Borrowing is bad, being poor is bad”.

This too fails to align with the rest of the Biblical narrative where Jesus states that it is the rich, not the poor who will struggle to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Old and New Testament admonitions abound to help the poor, not to help people avoid poverty.

Borrower is slave

The truth this proverb is communicating is one of power imbalance. The Hebrew word here to borrow means literally ‘to join’. It could be the joining together of an agreement such as a borrower/lender agreement, but it could also be other things, like an indentured servant, a promise of some work performed or to ‘cast your lot’ with another.

The concept here is so much more far sweeping than simply. “Cut up the credit cards.” The instruction for us is that those with power; landlords, lenders, bosses, civic leaders, and parents alike, need to recognize that we have more power than someone, and it is our duty to use it for good not for ill, to defend the weak, not to exploit them.

There are other reasons to avoid debt, but this verse isn’t one of them.

Bible Verse about Money 3:

“ which of you would build a tower without first counting the cost…. “ (Luke 14:28-30)

The Common Interpretation: Jesus insists that we should budget, and gives an example of building a tower.

WRONG!

I can’t decide if this one is misinterpreted by willful blindness, or if Christian Financial ‘experts’ are just this desperate to find a Bible verse on budgeting.

This Bible verse isn’t even about money.

At best, Jesus uses budgeting as an illustration for a more spiritual and life altering truth. Two verses before this one Jesus says:

26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

budgeting
Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

Jesus is actually saying the OPPOSITE of ‘budget and live responsibly’. He’s saying don’t follow me unless you’re prepared to give it all. If you can’t give up your financial security, your successful career, your money. Don’t even think about following me.

That’s a smidge different than “Jesus says I should budget.”

Having a plan for how you are going to use your money is a good idea. But this verse is more about taking risk, than it is about having a plan.

Bible Verse about Money 4:

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

This might be the most often quoted Bible verse about money.

You know the story. The Master leaves and gives three of his servants money to manage. Two of the servants do well, doubling their money. One servant is bad and buries his money in the dirt and the master disciplines him.

The Common Interpretation: God gave me money, and so it is my responsibility to ‘steward’ that money in order for it to grow. The more I grow my money the better steward I am.

Money bag
Image by Dizzy Roseblade from Pixabay

As much as I’d love the Bible verse to tell me to worry about my own money accumulation. This story is not about growing my money, or my business, or my wealth. Stewardship, is the idea of using someone else’s money for THEIR benefit.

God doesn’t need us to make him more money, he owns the ‘cattle on a thousand hills’ Proverbs 50:10. What He needs is for us to DEPLOY the money He gave us on His mission. Actually, those who focus on wealth building, instead of Mission Money, are those digging a hole and burying their assets in the sand.

Good Stewardship of our resources looks like taking risks, funding our missions and the missions of others. Getting that money working on projects that pray ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Bonus- The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Just kidding!

This one isn’t even in the Bible. Though too many people think it is.

Debrief

There are a lot of Bible verses about money. Unfortunately, a lot of it has been misconstrued by well meaning (or less than well meaning) financial experts to teach worldly principles through loosely biblically based ideas. The problem with this is; we are not people of this world! We are followers of Christ. Which means we should think about money differently than the world does. We should take instruction from the Bible on how we treat our worldly possessions not try to cram worldly wisdom into how we understand scripture.

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4 thoughts on “4 Most Misinterpreted Bible Verses About Money”

  1. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. 🙂 A little bit of eisegesis on the Proverb but that is ok. I liked this reminder – “The instruction for us is that those with power; landlords, lenders, bosses, civic leaders, and parents alike, need to recognize that we have more power than someone, and it is our duty to use it for good not for ill, to defend the weak, not to exploit them.”

    Peace

    1. Glad you had some take-aways! Don’t know that I am OK with eisegesis, but 1,000 words is a little thin for any robust theology. Look forward to unpacking more as we go. Thanks for commenting.

  2. As my life progresses I realize talents come in multiple life forms. Time, interest, tasks, goals and passions. These scriptures could each promote lengthy discussions and I love finding out the Hebrew and Greek words used in many. Our English language so simplifies the words of scripture, when Hebrew words actually have numbers, pictures and multiple aspects we glaze over with our quick interpretations. I followed the Mission Money link and really loved it. A fresh prospective on money management. My Dad promoted “The Richest Man in Babylon”. On fixed income since sixth grade, I was allowed to budget my funds with my Mother’s guidance. $30/month. We used the envelope method in our family. I watched my parents do this every month. I believe I’ll begin implementing the Mission Money method. Thanks

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