I recently appeared on Cornerstone Television Network to talk about my decades of research about the economic view of Jesus of Nazareth. Most Christians seems to think He didn't have any economic views, because they've been taught to think about religion and economics in different categories. Well, they might be different subjects in school, but they are not different subjects in life. In reality, Jesus talked about money more than he talked about any of the traditional church-y topics like heaven and hell. And why shouldn't He? He loved people and people are affected greatly by economics. So, sound economics are not in competition with sound theology: they reinforce one another quite well. Bad theology almost always leads to bad economics. And the bad theology which was in the air in the 1st century—for example, the legalism which was running rampant—served not just to rob men's souls of grace, but also to rob their bodies of bread. Legalism always leads to larceny of one form or another.
A close look at the text of the Gospels in the context of the economy of the 1st century reveals a Jesus who comes from the entrepreneurial culture of Galilee, an economy predominantly made up of free-hold farmers and small manufacturers, with a thriving fishing industry on the Sea of Galilee. But as you move south, which Jesus did in His missionary travels, you move towards gigantic farms with indentured workers, owned by politically well-connected absentee landlords. And as one moves closer to Jerusalem, one encounters economic actors who are more and more dependent on their connection with an elite which fused religious manipulation with political power. These were takers, not makers: people who lived by extracting wealth, via the threat of force, from ordinary Israelites.
As we see Jesus sojourn from Galilee into Judea, we see him confront the Rich Young Ruler (and it matters very much that he is both rich and a ruler), Zacchaeus the head tax collector, and then the money changers on the property of Herod's Temple.
While He was in the economically dynamic area of lower Galilee, the Jesus of the Gospels never confronted any individual over their wealth. But once he travels south to Jerusalem, over and over again, we see Him confront members of the Judaean ruling class, specifically over issues of economic exploitation.
In the end, they killed Him for that. Ruling elites might get a bit annoyed if you mess with their theology, but they get downright murderous when you mess with their money. The Gospels point to two specific events which triggered the plot to kill Him: the parable of the vineyard (which pointed to their economic exploitation of what belonged to God) and His confrontation with the money changers.
There is much to say about this topic, and I hope to do so in future columns, but for now, you can watch the video below for a brief overview of the teachings of Jesus in the light of historical context.