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02 October 2019

Money the root of all evil?

1 Timothy 6.10.

Most Christians, and a fair number of pagans, already know “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. Properly the verse goes,

1 Timothy 6.9-10 KWL
9 Those who want to be wealthy fall into temptations, traps, many stupid desires, and injuries—
whatever sinks people into destruction and ruin:
10 The root of all this evil is money-love, which leads those who desire it away from faith.
They poked themselves with many sorrows.

It’s the love of money, not money in and of itself. Money’s a tool, useful for getting and supporting things. The problem becomes when people pursue that tool instead of God, who can get and support things even better than money can—and who isn’t morally neutral like money, which can get and support evil just as well as good. The problem is when people’s allegiance shifts from God to money and Mammon, and it has their worship instead of him. Or, just as bad, they only worship God because they think he’ll give ’em money.

Here’s the ironic bit. A lot of the people who are quick to correct others—“It’s the love of money; money itself isn’t evil”—are often saying this because they wanna justify their money. And their use of money. And their pile of money. And their love of money.

Exactly like guns, money’s not the problem: Money nuts are. People who can’t prioritize Jesus over their money. People who wanna harmonize the two, so they can worship both Jesus and money, on the grounds he gave them the money, or they’re being “good stewards” of “his” money. People who, as a result, can’t be charitable, and have a big problem with anyone else being charitable—especially their churches, or their governments. That’s the sort of “stewardship” they practice… but I already dealt with them in my Mammonism article.

The root of all evil?

The KJV is probably the most familiar form of verse 10, and the way it renders it begins “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

To which various commentators balk: Money-love surely isn’t the root of all evil, is it? After all, when the serpent got Eve to eat from the wrong tree, money-love wasn‘t the serpent’s motive, nor was money-love Eve’s motive. When Cain murdered Abel, we don’t see any money-love behind his rage. We don’t see it as a motive for lots of sins. If anything’s a universal motive, it’d be selfishness, not Mammon.

And they’d be right. ’Cause in context it doesn’t mean that either.

Paul wrote, Ῥίζα γὰρ πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἐστιν φιλαργυρία/rídza gar pánton ton kakón estin i filargyría, “For a root of all the evil is money-love.” All what evil? All the evil he just mentioned in the previous verse. The temptations, the traps, the many stupid desires, the injuries. The disasters people fall into because they wanna be wealthy, remember? 1Ti 6.9 In context, Paul wasn’t talking about every evil in the cosmos: He meant all of four specific evils. So to make that obvious, my translation went, “The root of all this evil is money-love.” This evil referring to the evils of the previous verse.

Other translations don’t bother to refer back to those four specific evils, and instead go for vague:

  • CSB, ISV, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, WEB. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”
  • ESV. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.”
  • GNT. “For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil.”
  • NASB. “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…”
  • NLT. “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

Yeah, but which kinds of evil? Which evils? Well hopefully you read the verse before, but you know how people are with reading favorite verses in context: They don’t.

Likewise those folks who insist the wooden, literal translation of the KJV is how we properly should understand this verse: All evil—seriously, all of it—stems from money-love. Then they’ll go through these weird convolutions in order to show how greed’s at the back of every evil decision. Satan was greedy for worship. Eve was greedy for knowledge of good and evil. Cain was greedy for approval. And yeah, each of these people coveted something that wasn’t appropriate to them… but it’s a big stretch to claim there was any money-love in their greed.

Y’gotta read the context! The love of money leads to temptations, traps, stupid desires, and injuries. And worst of all, it can lead people away from faith in God. ’Cause when your faith’s in your money, of course it’s not gonna be in God. Don’t need him when you can buy your way out of any jam.

Destruction and ruin.

These four kinds of evil sink people into destruction and ruin. By which Paul didn’t necessarily mean financial destruction or financial ruin. It‘s more about gaining the whole world at the expense of our souls. Mt 8.36 Y’might be successful in your pursuit of wealth… but how hard it is for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom! Jesus compared it to putting a camel through a needle’s eye, Mk 10.25 which let’s face it, is only possible with the most powerful meat grinder.

Yeah, you think that’s a joke. The wealthy are gonna likewise require a certain amount of grinding before they’ll be ready for the kingdom. Y’see, for most of them the search for economic gain always takes priority over the search for spiritual gain—and they regularly compromise the spiritual gain for the economic gain. And it’s okay, they tell themselves, to set Jesus aside to make money: It’s ultimately for Jesus, ’cause once they have the money, they can afford to do so much for him. They’ll fund missionaries and ministries. They’ll retire so they can minister. So it’s okay for them to set aside family, friends, and church, because once they finally hit a comfortable dollar amount, they’ll be done; they’ll have time.

Such are the lies we tell ourselves when our priorities are askew. Some of them used to always be on my own lips.

Yep, it’s the love of money at the core of many people’s temptations, traps, stupid desires, and injuries. They’re Mammonists in denial, hypocritically hiding just how much they’re not following Jesus, hypocritically justifying it by future plans that may never come to anything. So let’s be honest with ourselves, and how much love we actually have for money. Then endeavor to truly put God first.

Context.