Is wealth a sign of sin and wickedness or a sign of righteousness? Does the Bible claim that it is both?
Wealth is one of the most divisive things in our culture today. It can be a sign of success or a sign of seedy deception and manipulation. It can be used to bless or oppress. Humans are selfish creatures so it is not a wonder that the Bible often chooses to view it in a cautious light.
In one of the strangest claims of Bible contradiction I’ve come across, critics have pitted various verses against each other to show that wealth is both a sign of wickedness and a sigh of righteousness. This is a strange case it as seems to fly in the face of common sense. Money is morally neutral. It is not a thing that has exclusively good or bad connotations. Its ethics depend entirely on the hand it’s in. Like a knife that can be used to prepare food or end a life, one does not say that there exists a contradiction in the event that the same knife that once cut a stick of celery also sliced into the neck of another man. Money can be used in either good or evil ways. It can be both a sign of righteousness and wickedness. However, for the sake of thoroughness, let’s look at each verse and see where the bigger problem lies.
Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord …. Wealth and riches shall be in his house (Psalm 112:1, 3).
A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just (Proverbs 13:22).
In the house of the righteous is much treasure (Proverbs 15:6).
These are pitted against verses in the New Testament that condemn wealth.
Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24).
Woe to you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation (Luke 6:24).
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you (James 5:1).
The verses the critic sites in the positive are examples from proverbial literature. Proverbial literature is a genre that does not always require a literal or absolute reading. This is a sufficient answer on its own, but we’ll dig a little further into the reason why this particular claim of contradiction is so absurd.
Does not the prerequisite of a righteous man gaining wealth follow that what will be done with the wealth would be righteous also? Would a righteous man who “fears God” suddenly turn evil once his hands touch money? It’s possible, but not likely. It’s more likely that the righteous man who fears God will want to do with his wealth whatever will honour God and that would include sharing it with those in need.
The critic also assumes that wealth in God’s eyes is always money-related. This is not true. Spiritual wealth and the riches of faith in Christ are even more valuable than physical gold (Matt. 13:44; James 2:5). When Soloman says “In the house of the righteous is much treasure” can that not also mean spiritual treasure? Or family and love? It can mean physical riches, however, the critic has merely assumed as much for the sake of the discrepancy.
The verses in the New Testament focus on the consequences of wealth when it’s in the hands of the wicked. For those who have not sought Christ, wealth can be an incredible stumbling block. Wealth can make us believe that we are self-sufficient or that we have done something right in life in order to possess it. We may have received it out of sheer luck, such as a family inheritance of the prize draw in the lottery, and it can fool us into thinking that nothing could possibly go wrong. I’ve even seen firsthand that wealth can give one an arrogance that persuades them into placing themselves above even God. Jesus’ analogy in Matthew is describing just this.
Jesus’ words in Luke 6 are poetic and thus fit into the same genre as Proverbs. Moreover, they continue to illuminate the self-dependence and arrogance of the wealthy.
The passage in James is a warning to wealthy oppressors and those in authority (You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you – James 5:6). Once again, wealth can be used for good and evil depending on the hand it is in. With this principle in mind, we can very easily conclude that a contradiction does not exist between these verses.
(Side note: If you would like to see a complete checklist of Bible contradictions I have addressed on this blog I now have a hub page here. Feel free to request any contradictions you find and I will answer them as soon as I can.)