What does the Bible say about money? By Jack Kettler
“For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1Timothy 6:10)
This passage from Timothy is routinely misunderstood. Money is not condemned; the love of money is. In the New Testament, we learn about Jesus and His view of money. Jesus observed the rich putting their money into the treasury, and the poor widow casting in her two mites. The two mites were in the eyes of Jesus were worth far more.
“And He sat down over against the treasury and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And He called unto Him His disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they which are casting into the treasury; for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Mark 12:41-44 RV)
Jesus is concerned about a person’s heart. The rich people in this passage were, in reality, giving nothing. The poor widow gave everything. She could have given only half, one mite. We can all ask, are our hearts fixated on money?
Rather than deal with temptations and warnings in Scripture about money, this study or primer will be concerned with a definition of money, and biblically how exchanges were to be made and what was the item or medium of trade.
As an introduction, money in the Bible was not made out of paper like today; it was a hard medium of exchange like silver, gold. Livestock or crops could be traded or bartered but were not as efficient as a metal since storage of grains and other factors such as transportation made it unmanageable. With modern silos, numerous crops have a better storage value. Metal, on the other hand, in ancient times, had a practical storage value. In addition, silver and gold could be held in a person’s hand and could be relocated to an exchange.
Scriptures on money and its everyday functions. A survey of passages with lexical help:
Strong's Concordance 3701 keseph
keseph: silver, money
Original Word: כֶּסֶף
Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (keh'-sef)
Definition: silver, money
Silver is used as money in a number of passages. The biblical references are listed rather than the whole text except in a few cases.
Sometimes the King James translators use the word money and sometimes silver when translating the Hebrew word keseph.
See the two examples from Genesis 17:27 and Genesis 20:16 on the translation of keseph:
Genesis 17:27 - “And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money (keseph) of the stranger, were circumcised with him.”
Genesis 20:16 - “And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: (keseph) behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.”
Genesis 43:12-23; 44:1-8; 47:14-18;
Exodus 12:44; 21:11, 21, 34-35; 22:7, 17, 25; 30:16;
Leviticus 22:11; 25:37, 51; 27:15, 18;
Numbers 3:48-51; 18:16;
Deuteronomy 2:6, 28; 14:25-26; 21:14; 23:19;
Judges 5:19; 16:18; 17:4;
1 Kings 21:2,6,15; 2 Kings 5:26; 12:4,7-16; 15:20; 22:7, 9; 23:35;
2Chronicles 24:5, 11, 14; 34:9, 14, 17;
Ezra 3:7; 7:17;
Nehemiah 5:4, 10-11;
Esther 4:7; Job 31:39;
Ecclesiastes 7:12; 10:19;
Isaiah 43:24; 52:3; 55:1-2;
Jeremiah 32:9-10, 25, 44;
Lamentations 5:4; Micah 3:11;
Matthew 25:18, 27; 28:12, 15;
Luke 9:3; 19:15, 23; 22:5;
Acts 7:16; 8:20.
Strong's Concordance 2091 zahab
Original Word: זָהָב
Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (zaw-hawb')
Gold used as money in the Old Testament:
Genesis 13:2 And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.
Ezekiel 7:19; 28:4;
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance Greek 5557 chrusos
Perhaps from the base of chraomai (through the idea of the utility of the metal); gold, by extension, a golden article, as an ornament or coin -- gold.
See GREEK chraomai
Gold in the New Testament:
Matthew 2:11; 10:9;
Acts 3:6; 20:33;
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance 5475 chalkos
Money, copper or bronze
Perhaps from chalao through the idea of hollowing out as a vessel (this metal being chiefly used for that purpose); copper (the substance, or some implement or coin made of it) -- brass, money.
See GREEK chalao
Copper or bronze used as money:
Mark 12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, an abbreviated entry on money:
“mun'-i: Various terms are used for money in the Bible, but the most common are the Hebrew keceph, and Greek argurion, both meaning silver. We find also qesiTah, rendered by Septuagint “lambs,” probably referring to money in a particular form; chalkos is used for money in Mt 10:9; Mark 6:8; 12:41. It was the name of a small coin of Agrippa II (Madden, Coins of the Jews); chrema, “price,” is rendered money in Ac 4:37; 8:18,20; 24:26; kerma, “piece,” i.e. piece of money (Joh 2:15); didrachmon, “tribute money” (Mt 17:24 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) “half-shekel”); kensos, “census,” “tribute money” (Mt 22:19).
1. Material and Form:
Gold and silver were the common medium of exchange in Syria and Palestine in the earliest times of which we have any historical record. The period of mere barter had passed before Abraham. The close connection of the country with the two great civilized centers of antiquity, Egypt and Babylonia, had led to the introduction of a currency for the purposes of trade. We have abundant evidence of the use of these metals in the Biblical records, and we know from the monuments that they were used as money before the time of Abraham. The patriarch came back from his visit to Egypt “rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (Ge 13:2). There was no system of coinage, but they had these metals cast in a convenient form for use in exchange, such as bars or rings, the latter being a common form and often represented or mentioned on the monuments of Egypt. In Babylonia the more common form seems to have been the former, such as the bar, or wedge, that Achan found in the sack of Jericho (Jos 7:21). This might indicate that the pieces were too large for ordinary use, but we have indications of the use of small portions also (2Ki 12:9; Job 42:11). But the pieces were not so accurately divided as to pass for money without weighing, as we see in the case of the transaction between Abraham and the children of Heth for the purchase of the field of Machpelah (Ge 23:1-20). This transaction indicates also the common use of silver as currency, for it was “current money with the merchant,” and earlier than this we have mention of the use of silver by Abraham as money: “He that is born in thy house and he that is bought with thy money” (Ge 17:13).
Jewels of silver and gold were probably made to conform to the shekel weight, so that they might be used for money in case of necessity. Thus Abraham's servant gave to Rebecca a gold ring of half a shekel weight and bracelets of ten shekels weight (Ge 24:22). The bundles of money carried by the sons of Jacob to Egypt for the purchase of grain (Ge 42:35) were probably silver rings tied together in bundles. The Hebrew for “talent,” kikkar, signifies something round or circular, suggesting a ring of this weight to be used as money. The ordinary term for money was keceph, “silver,” and this word preceded by a numeral always refers to money, either with or without “shekel,” which we are probably to supply where it is not expressed after the numeral, at least wherever value is involved, as the shekel (sheqel) was the standard of value as well as of weight (see WEIGHTS AND MEASURES). Thus the value of the field of Ephron was in shekels, as was also the estimation of offerings for sacred purposes (Le 5:15; 27:1-34, passim). Solomon purchased chariots at 600 (shekels) each and horses at 150 (1Ki 10:29). Large sums were expressed in talents, which were a multiple of the shekel. Thus Menahem gave Pul 1,000 talents of silver (2Ki 15:19), which was made up by the exaction of 50 shekels from each rich man. Hezekiah paid the war indemnity to Sennacherib with 300 talents of silver and 30 of gold (2Ki 18:14). The Assyrian account gives 800 talents of silver, and the discrepancy may not be an error in the Hebrew text, as some would explain it, but probably a different kind of talent (see Madden, Coins of the Jews, 4). Solomon's revenue is stated in talents (1Ki 10:14), and the amount (666 of gold) indicates that money was abundant, for this was in addition to what he obtained from the vassal states and by trade. His partnership with the Phoenicians in commerce brought him large amounts of the precious metals, so that silver was said to have been as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones (1Ki 10:27).
Besides the forms of rings and bars, in which the precious metals were cast for commercial use, some other forms were perhaps current. Thus, the term qesiTah has been referred to as used for money, and the Septuagint translation has “lambs.” It is used in Ge 33:19; Jos 24:32; Job 42:11, and the Septuagint rendering is supposed to indicate a piece in the form of a lamb or stamped with a lamb, used at first as a weight, later the same weight of the precious metals being used for money. We are familiar with lion weights and weights in the form of bulls and geese from the monuments, and it would not be strange to find them in the form of sheep. QesiTah is cognate with the Arabic qasaT, which means, “to divide exactly” or “justly,” and the noun qist means “a portion” or “a measure. H. Porter” (1)
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, an abbreviated entry on Weights:
“wāt (Measure of quantity) משׁקל, mishḳāl, (משׁקל, mshḳōl (Ezekiel 4:10), from קל, shāḳkal, “to weigh” אבן, 'ebhen, “a stone” used for weighing in the balance): Weights were commonly of stone or bronze (or of lead, Zechariah 5:7, Zechariah 5:8). They were of various forms, such as the lion-shaped weights of Babylonia and Assyria, or in the form of birds and other animals. The Hebrew and Phoenician weights, when made of stone, were barrel-shaped or spindle-shaped, but in bronze, they were often cubical or octagonal or with numerous faces (see illustration under WEIGHTS AND MEASURES). Hemispherical or dome-shaped stone weights have been found in Palestine (PEFS, 1902, p. 344; 1903, p. 117; 1904, p. 209).
Figurative: The phrase “without weight” (2Kings 25:16) signifies a quantity too great to be estimated. “Weight of glory” (2Corinthians 4:17, βάρος, báros) has a similar meaning, but with a spiritual reference. “Weighty,” “weightier” (Matthew 23:23; 2Corinthians 10:10, βαρύς, barús, βαρύτερος, barúteros), signify what is important. The Greek (ὄγκος, ógkos) (Hebrews 12:1), is used in the sense of burden, hindrance, as is also the Hebrew nēṭel (Proverbs 27:3). H. Porter” (2)
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, an abbreviated entry on MEASURES:
“mezh'-ur, Several different words in the Hebrew and Greek are rendered by “measure” in English Versions of the Bible. In Job 11:9 and Jeremiah 13:25 it stands for madh, middah, and it is the usual rendering of the verb madhadh, “to measure,” i.e. “stretch out,” “extend,” “spread.” It is often used to render the words representing particular measures, such as ['ephah] (Deuteronomy 25:14,15; Proverbs 20:10; Micah 6:10); or kor (1Kings 4:22; 5:11 (1Ki 5:2, 5:25 Hebrew text); 2Chronicles 2:10 (Hebrew text 2:9) 27:5; Ezra 7:22); or seah (Genesis 18:6; 1Samuel 25:18; 1Kings 18:32; 2Kings 7:1,16,18); or batos, “bath” (Luke 16:6). For these terms, see WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. It also renders middah, “measure of length” (Exodus 26:2); mesurah, a liquid measure (Leviticus 19:35; 1Chronicles 23:29; Ezekiel 4:11,16); mishpaT, “judgment” (Jeremiah 30:11; 46:28); ca'ce'ah, a word of uncertain meaning, perhaps derived from seah (Isaiah 27:8); shalish, “threefold, large measure” (Psalms 80:5 (Hebrew text Psalms 80:6); Isaiah 40:12); tokhen, and mathkoneth, “weight” and that which is weighed, taken as measure (Ezekiel 45:11). In Isaiah 5:14 it stands for choq, “limit.” In the New Testament, besides being the usual rendering of the verb metreo, and of the noun metron, it is used for choinix, a dry measure containing about a quart (Revelation 6:6). H. Porter” (3)
Thus far, from the material covered, money in biblical times was in some metal such as silver or gold.
Was this system perfect?
Warnings against unjust weights and balances are for everyone, even political rulers:
“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in the measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:35-36 NASB)
“You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (Deuteronomy 25:13-16 NASB)
“Thus says the Lord GOD, enough, you princes of Israel; put away violence and destruction, and practice justice and righteousness stop your expropriations from my people, declares the Lord GOD. You shall have just balances, a just ephah and a just bath.” (Ezekiel 45:9-10 NASB)
“Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, saying, when will the new moon be over, so that we may sell grain, and the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, to make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, and to cheat with dishonest scales, so as to buy the helpless for money and the needy for a pair of sandals, and that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?” (Amos 8:4-6 NASB)
“A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. And Ephraim said, surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they will find in me No iniquity, which would be sin.” (Hosea 12:7-8 NASB)
“Is there yet a man in the wicked house, Along with treasures of wickedness and a short measure that is cursed? Can I justify wicked scales and a bag of deceptive weights? For the rich men of the city are full of violence, her residents speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.” (Micah 6:10-14 NASB)
“A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.” (Proverbs 11:1 NASB)
From the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on this warning from Proverbs 11:
1. (Compare Margin). The Hebrews used stones for weights.
just—complete in measure. A false balance, the use of all false weights and measures in commerce, is abomination, i.e. highly abominable, as the abstract signifies; which is opposed to the false opinion of men, who account it a fineness of wit, or, at worst, but a trivial fault.
To the Lord; partly because this wickedness is acted under a colour of justice; and partly because it is destructive to human society, and especially to the poor, whose patron the Lord owneth himself to be.” (4)
More warnings against unjust weights and balances:
“A just balance and scales belong to the LORD; all the weights of the bag are His concern.” (Proverbs 16:11 NASB)
“Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD.” (Proverbs 20:10 NASB)
“Differing weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false scale is not good.” (Proverbs 20:23 NASB)
Comments on monetary manipulation:
There have always been people that have schemed to get an advantage over other people in business or commercial transactions. This is particularly true of rulers or politicians. Politicians like to tax endlessly. Eventually, people have enough with endless taxation. A dream come true for politicians and tyrants is the modern printing press and electronic money creation in which the true value of a monetary currency is diluted. Dilution of the currency is a crafty form of hidden taxation. Most economists call it inflation, and almost no one knows how it happens. Every time there is a new printing run, the paper notes are further diluted. Advocates of biblical money call this is inflation.
From the online KJV Dictionary’s definition of money:
“money, n. plu. moneys.
1. Coin; stamped metal; any piece of metal, usually gold, silver or copper, stamped by public authority, and used as the medium of commerce. We sometimes give the name of money to other coined metals, and to any other material which rude nations use a medium of trade. But among modern commercial nations, gold, silver and copper are the only metals used for this purpose. Gold and silver, containing great value in small compass, and being therefore of easy conveyance, and being also durable and little liable to diminution by use, are the most convenient metals for coin or money, which is the representative of commodities of all kinds, of lands, and of everything that is capable of being transferred in commerce.
2. Bank notes or bills of credit issued by authority and exchangeable for coin or redeemable, are also called money; as such notes in modern times represent coin, and are used as a substitute for it. If a man pays in hand for goods in bank notes, which are current, he is said to pay in ready money.
3. Wealth; affluence.
Money can neither open new avenues to pleasure, nor block up the passages of anguish.
moneyed, a. Rich in money; having money; able to command money; used often in opposition to such as have their wealth in real estate.
Invite moneyed men to lend to the merchants.
1. Consisting in money, as moneyed capital.”
Definition of Barter from the online Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary:
“1. (v. i.) To traffic or trade, by exchanging one commodity for another, in distinction from a sale and purchase, in which money is paid for the commodities transferred; to truck.
2. (v. t.) To trade or exchange in the way of barter; to exchange (frequently for an unworthy consideration); to traffic; to truck; -- sometimes followed by away; as, to barter away goods or honor.
3. (n.) The act or practice of trafficking by exchange of commodities; an exchange of goods.
4. (n.) The thing given in exchange.”
Real money is a tangible, instrumental object, metal, or commodities, which serves as a medium of exchange for the purchase of goods, and services and a tangible financial instrument is a way to store value. To illustrate this last point about storage value consider; in the 1920s if one put 10 thousand dollars of paper notes in a suitcase under the bed and pulled it out today, what happened?
An ounce of gold coined in biblical times would still be an ounce of gold today. A hundred dollars printed today is much different in value than $100 printed 100 years ago. Since 1913, the dollar has plummeted in value. At that time, a person with $100 could buy the same amount of food, clothing, and other necessities, as $2,529 would buy today.
To borrow an illustration from a friend; historically, an ounce of gold has consistently bought a good man's suit. It does today, and it did back in 1913 when gold was $20. Today, an ounce of gold is close to $1500, and a good man's suit is about the same.
The constant running of the government printing presses diluted the value of the paper notes. The suitcase under the bed is not a way to keep value. On the other hand, 10 thousand dollars in gold or silver coins at today’s cost would make one a hefty profit, which could be leveraged for other items of intrinsic value.
As seen from the illustrations, modern-day paper notes have no intrinsic value or storage worth. At one time U.S. paper notes were redeemable in silver or gold. Today this system of paper notes only has the backing of the good faith of the government printing these notes.
In contrast, gold, silver, using various weights and measures, as seen in the Bible did have intrinsic value. The advantage of biblical money is that it is less easily manipulated and cannot be inflated. Contrary to popular knowledge, it is a misnomer to call paper notes money. In and of itself, paper notes have no value.
The present system of paper notes as an exchange is somewhat precarious. A return to a medium of exchange that has intrinsic value would be more than prudent.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) And “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
1. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, Entry for Money, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 2076.
2. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, Entry for Weights, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 3079.
3. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, Entry for MEASURE; MEASURES, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 2016.
4. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 464-465.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For More Study:
Definition on barter is from Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828.
Obtain a copy Gary North’s book Honest Money at Amazon.com