“Money is the root of all evil.”

1 Timothy 6.10.

This is rather well-known out-of-context scripture. So well known in fact, your average Christian already knows it’s taken out of context, and many a pagan likewise knows better. It’s the common proverb “Money is the root of all evil,” and it’s a misquote of something Paul wrote to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6.10 KJV
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.

It’s the love of money. Not money itself. Money is morally neutral. But loving money—especially when people love it more than God, their neighbors, their own lives and health and reputation and integrity—certainly produces evil.

Now yeah, many a Christian (especially when they’re really kinda Mammonist) read the King James Version and balk: “All evil? I don’t think every evil in the world is based on the love of money. I can think of a few evils which had nothing to do with money. Like adultery; that’s more about loving nooky.” So as a result we got other translations of the bible which don’t say all.

1 Timothy 6.10 NKJV
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

But notice the words “kind of” have to be in gray (or, in other editions, in italics) because they have to be added to the text. ’Cause the original Greek has ῥίζα γὰρ πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἐστιν ἡ φιλαργυρία/rhídza gar pánton ton kakón estin i filaryiría, “For the root of all the evil is money-love.”

So no, Paul didn’t say money-love is the root of many kinds of evil. He flat-out wrote it’s the root of all the evil.

But hold up: Neither did he say money-love is the root of all evil. It’s the root of all the evil. All which evil?

Um… all the evil he was just writing about in the previous verse. Which you probably didn’t read, ’cause we just pulled this verse straight out of its context. In context, you’ll see Paul was writing about people who wanna be rich—and the root of all their evil, is the love of money. Not the root of humanity’s evil. He didn’t write this verse to be universally applied to everybody. (Not even if you add the words “all kinds” to make it sound like it’s universally applicable. Bad translators! No doughnut for you.)

1 Timothy 6.9-10 KJV
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 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.

The pursuit of Mammon, the worship of Mammon, trips people into all sorts of failings and compromises and corruptions. And the root of all this evil is the love of Mammon. It’s not safe to love money!

Back to the bad interpretations, and bad bible translations. Poke around and you’ll find a lot of translations have compromised this verse by making it read, “all kinds of evil”—as if not every failing of a Mammonist stems from money-worship. Bible Gateway has a bigger list.

AMPLIFIED. For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil…
CSV, NRSV. 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.
GOOD NEWS. For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil.
ISV, NIV, WEB For the love of money is a root 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.

It blurs Paul’s obvious intent in writing what he did to Timothy. All so we don’t leap to the conclusion—based on an out-of-context reading of the verse—that every evil in humanity stems from money. Of course not every evil does. The serpent didn’t tempt Eve with the fruit’s cash value! But that’s not even what the verse is about.

Money-lovers.

Here’s the ironic bit. Back to the original misquote, “Money is the root of all evil.” Those who love to correct the misquote—“It’s not money; it’s the love of money”—are largely doing it ’cause they want to defend their own behaviors with money.

Including, no surprise, their love of money.

Yep, verse 9 is totally about them. They wanna get rich. They’re not necessarily rich already; they don’t necessarily have a pile and want to make more. I know plenty of people who have none, and dabble in dozens of get-rich schemes, or play the state lottery, or visit the casinos every weekend, ’cause they’re hoping to get more. They want to amass a comfortable pile. Kinda like the dragons in fairy tales, sleeping on their cavern full of gold: Something they can rest easy on.

And they want all the comforts which go with a big pile of money. A large house, an expensive car, an impressive multimedia system, all the video games they can eat, vacations in every expensive destination, nice clothes and shoes and jewelry and gadgets.

And they’re eager to defend why they’re so materialistic. It’s not that they love money, they claim—they swear! Money’s just a tool. There’s nothing wrong with using tools for a greater purpose. “It’s not that I love money: I’m just trying to be a responsible steward with what God gave me.”

As all of us should be. But okay, lemme take that claim at face value. So… how’s your family’s devotional life going? How much have you spent on growing closer to God? Any missions trips planned? Any useful bible dictionaries and commentaries and devotional books on your bookshelf? Any prayer props? How are the ministries, to both your church and to the needy, that you support financially? Have you used your home and car to help anyone lately? Your phone? Your pantry? Have you given of any of the abundant time God’s given you? Have you been a good stewardship of these resources?

Hope so. But for most folks, they never thought of their resources. They think of their money—and they don’t give a red cent more than a tenth of their net income. If that. And only to their churches; never to charities. Never to the homeless guys sitting outside Walmart asking for spare change; those guys will only spend it on gin.

Properly, “stewardship” has to do with all the resources we have. Not just the money.

How Christians tend to define stewardship, only addresses the money. We imagine it’s about getting our financial house in order: We sort out our budgets, pay down our debts, and generally get ourselves free of want and worry. Only once that’s done can we minister: Me and mine first, then others. Then generosity. Then storing up treasures in heaven.

The problem with this scenario is how it takes us forever to get our houses in order. There always seem to be unexpected expenses! And there never seems to be enough of a surplus at the end of each paycheck, so we can never really afford to minister with any generosity. Heck, the only reason so many Christians bother to give to our churches, is our churches like to claim, “Your tithe comes before anything else in your budget; off the top of your paycheck.” If we didn’t put that contribution first, we’d never bother to make it.

The way most Christians practice “stewardship,” turns it into pure hypocrisy. We use it to make our stinginess sound sacred.

Learning to not love money.

Human nature hasn’t changed between Paul’s day and ours. Quite a few Ephesians used the church to network—to create business contacts, to attract customers who figured a merchant who acted religious was less likely to cheat them. (How many times have we Christians been burned by that myth?)

Then as now, there’s also been people who believe when God blesses, he does it financially. He doesn’t bless us with fruit of the Spirit—not with greater love, patience, peace, kindness, and all that jazz—but with better stuff. Larger income. Bigger harvests. Nicer possessions. We presume God’ll act like other humans and give us a monetary bonus. Prosperity gospel preachers teach little else.

Others claim God wants every last Christian debt-free, mortgage-free, credit-card-free, and freed from every form of economic bondage. And largely it’s true: The economic system in God’s Law was rigged to get everyone out of debt on regular intervals, so no one could be indebted forever. But capitalism doesn’t work that way at all, and lenders try their darnedest to indebt everybody. Christian financial counselors encourage us to avoid debt… but not always so we can use our newfound freedom to further God’s kingdom. Usually it’s so we can be comfortable.

One thing you oughta notice—I sure do!—is how many get-rich schemes, multi-level marketing campaigns, and even Ponzi schemes, run by folks who claim to be Christian. Part of their pitch is they started their businesses to enrich themselves, and now they wish to enrich fellow believers—so why don’t you fellow believers get on board? After all, they’re Christians, so you can trust ’em. Sell their products! Sell their vitamins, their jewelry, their long-distance service, their cleaning supplies, their books, and make a bunch of money! And supposedly this’ll grow God’s kingdom… in some kind of trickle-down way. We’ll have more money to tithe, right? That grows the kingdom, kinda.

None of this stuff is what Paul taught. Time for the whole passage:

1 Timothy 6.6-11 KWL
6 Independent piety is greatly profitable:
7 We brought nothing into the world, and can’t take it with us!
8 We will be content to have food and clothing;
9 those who want wealth fall into tests and traps,
and many foolish and harmful urges which drown people in destruction and ruin.
10 The root of all their evil is money-love,
and those with such desires wander away from trusting God
and pierce themselves with many pains.
11 You, God’s person: Flee these things!
Pursue rightness, piety, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

People who can’t be content with what they have, who gotta have more, are gonna get wrecked. Not necessarily bankrupt or dead; here we’re talking about gaining the whole world at the expense of our souls. Mk 8.36 It’s about getting rich—and ignoring how hard it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus said it’s easier to put a camel through a needle, Mk 10.25 and the most powerful meat grinder on the market might be able to do it, but no guarantees.

Y’see, for the wealth-seeker, for the money-lover, material gain will always take priority over spiritual gain. It’s okay for them to put aside Jesus for the sake of money: They promise—they swear to God!—they’ll do so much for Jesus once they finally have the money. It’s okay for them to defraud their friends, because they’ll do so much to make up for it once they have the money. It’s okay for them to set aside family and friends and church, because once they’re comfortable, they’ll have time. These are some of the many lies we tell ourselves when our priorities are askew. Some of them used to be on my own lips.

Yeah, it’s the love of money at the root of such evil. Now let’s be honest with whether we’ve fallen into this evil. And endeavor to put God before Mammon wherever we discover things have gone otherwise.