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Friday, December 18, 2015

"Paul and Money" (Verlyn Verbrugge and Keith R. Krell)

TITLE: Paul and Money: A Biblical and Theological Analysis of the Apostle's Teachings and Practices
AUTHOR: Verlyn Verbrugge and Keith R. Krell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (320 pages).

What has Paul got to say about money? A lot. If we were to comb the New Testament epistles written by this famous apostle, we would see Paul's bi-vocational ministry; his reluctance to receive support from willing churches; his rebuke of churches that seem to take ministry workers for granted; fund raising matters; taxes, tithing, and various financial management issues. Though he did not have an MBA or a diploma in accounting or management accounting,  he has lots of biblical wisdom and theological insights into how money ought to be seen.

The authors are inspired by Ben Witherington III's book, "Jesus and Money," which spoke into the global recession climate of 2008-2010. In it, the section on Paul's view of money seems to be too limited, so the authors come together to expand on Paul's life, writings, and legacy. The sources used are the thirteen Pauline epistles in the New Testament, and how other issues are drawn into the perspectives surrounding financial matters. Divided into three main parts, Part One is about Paul encountering the issue of money pertaining to himself. He tackles basic living expenses and the support for his own ministry. He sets out a framework on which ministry workers ought to be getting from supporters. Growing up in a middle class neighbourhood (remember he was a top Pharisee?), he obviously know what it means to be in that upper echelon of society.  His need for financial help became more acute when he became a Christian. Out of this shift of spiritual priorities from Judaism to Christianity, he aims at self-support while making the argument that it is not wrong to ask for support in the first place. When he did ask for support, he would ensure that the money would go to basic needs like food, lodging, and reasonable expenses. The authors look at why Paul insists on self-support even when he knows he is entitled to Church support. Surely, as a Pharisee, he would have known that a man's work deserves his fair wages. Moreover, would he not be receiving some financial compensation as a Pharisee teaching the Torah in the first place? He could even have access to a common fund for all the disciples. Remember how the Early Church in Act shared with one another all who are in need?

If Part One is about how Paul views financial matters on a personal scale, Part Two draws the circle of influence wider to include the ministry to others. It deals with fund-raising concerns and how collection of money contributes to the ministry of the gospel. There are instructions on giving and charity. He wants to identify with the poor. The authors suggest that Paul could have been hard on himself because of his past persecution of Christians. This is an interesting take on penance and self-imposed punishment. He is wise about how money can influence relationships, which is why he wants to maintain a freedom to preach the gospel without becoming unnecessarily beholden to benefactors wanting to use him for ulterior motives. Paul is also a champion for the poor, often taking to task the rich, like the Corinth Church (1 Cor 11:17-34). He even fund-raise for the poorer Church.

Part Three highlights a host of other miscellaneous issues, on freeloaders; rich-poor divide; how wealth is to be used;  how taxes are treated; and the economics of monetary use. In understanding Paul's use of money, one can catch a glimpse at the Graeco-Roman financial world in which money is often used as a way to bind favours to the giver. Apparently, Paul is sensitive to such cultural behaviour and his views of money were shaped according to this context. He is aware of the different cultures of both Jews and Gentiles. For instance, in the Thessalonian Church, there were plenty of freeloaders who take advantage of the Church's generosity. To such people, Paul reprimands them in 2 Thess 3:10 by saying: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat." It is a tricky path to tread, as one is expected to give to the needy and at the same time, one is also expected to steward one's ability to work. He instructs the Corinthians on how to give. He sees the use of money as a key attribute of leadership in the Church. He has lots of wisdom to share with regards to the use of money in Church and obligations to society. On tithing, Paul does not give specific instructions on the amount, choosing to stick to the giving out of a willing heart as a guideline.

So What?
Money is one of the biggest topics in the Bible. Jesus taught a lot of things about money using parables, stories, sermons, and teaching moments to share with hearers how we should view money. Likewise, Paul has a lot of things to say about money and Verbrugge and Krell have together brought out lots of practical and theological considerations for us to learn. Though the book is rather academic, there is a lot to be gained for the diligent student who works through the book. For the casual reader, a slow read may bring relevant insights over time.

Money is huge not only in terms of the emphasis but also in terms of the many applications that can be learned from this book. I appreciate how the authors in this book do such a comprehensive job in expanding the perspectives of Paul with regard to money, something that affects our world in so many ways. From personal ethics to community concerns; charitable giving to Church offerings; warnings for the rich as well as compassion for the poor; relations to government as well as to Church; and many more. The part about fund-raising is something not many people talk about. In fact, not many people even ask about how Paul manages to support his own ministry. People say he is a tent-maker but what exactly does that mean? The background offered by the authors help to shed light on the reasons why Paul did what he did.

Overall, I am very pleased with this book and would recommend this not only for specialized studies in Church education and theological concerns, but also for everyday living for the layperson. There is also a decent bibliography for the serious student to do advanced studies. This book will rank among the must-reads for 2015.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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