Biblical figures and wealth

James Jordan presents a case for the relative prosperity of many Biblical authors and leaders

…we have to bear in mind that  the original 12 apostles were wealthy enough to leave their businesses and homes and spend a lot of time roaming around with the Rabbi. It’s obvious  that Zebedee Fisheries was a prosperous “upper-middle class” concern. But  Peter and Andrew must have been involved in something no less prosperous.

Moreover, there is nothing rude about the literary quality of  Peter’s two epistles. These are not the products of some impulsive lumbering blunderbuss, which is the usual (and imbecilic) picture of Peter. Peter writes at the same level as Paul and as any of the trained scribes who wrote the OT.
Acts 4:13 does not mean that Peter and John were ignorant and untaught, which is how it sounds to us. The first word, agrammatoi, means they were not grammatoi, scribes. It does not mean they were illiterate — after all, how many synagogue-trained Jewish men were illiterate? — but that they were not in the caste-class of professional scribes and rhetors.

Similarly, the second word, idiotai, does not mean they were idiots (!) but that they were “private men,” not members of any school or academy of associates, priestly or Pharisaical.
But were they uneducated fishermen? No. They were highly educated fishermen.

There is a prejudice against wealth and class in American evangelical thought that blinds people to one of the most obvious facts in the Bible, which is that virtually all if not absolutely all the people God called to special service were very wealthy and prominent people. Abram had 318 warriors in his sheikhdom. Jacob had enough people under him to be given the whole land of Goshen to inhabit. Moses was highly educated and from the absolute uppermost crust of society. Job was king of the land of Edom. Boaz was one of the most prominent men in the Bethlehem area, and it is clear that David came from a wealthy family. Almost all the prophets came from priestly or Levitical families. And so it goes. The same was true of the apostles. The apostles came from upper middle class situations that
afforded them the leisure to become educated and to roam around with Jesus. They came from a functionally aristocratic, leisured class, in some ways.

Believe it: Zebedee was a prominent man in his community, a leader, and his sons were in line for it. Jesus called men who already had some standing, and had the background to become leaders.
But ever since the French Revolution, evangelicals have tried to pretend that this is not the case. Well, it’s time to get real.

2 thoughts on “Biblical figures and wealth”

  1. I was just talking about the topic in Sunday school yesterday (as a side comment). As you ponited out, Abraham had 318 “trained men” who had been born in his household. With wives, children, and older folk, he must have had an absolutely huge household. He was extremely wealthy.

    Hence, when Jesus said it’s harder for a came to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven, it’s no wonder that the apostles asked “who, then, can be saved?” After all, if THE patriarch was not saved, then how could anyone in Israel have any hope?

  2. I wish it was my insight, but it was James Jordan who wrote that.

    Yes, I think you are on to something as well. Viewing Abraham as a rich man (which he was) should change our perspective on a lot of things, including the teaching of Jesus.

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