To read other parts of the series, go here.
I always get confused when some Christians argue that Jesus was rich, since it is like claiming that Donald Trump is poor. How can you think that a homeless, jobless foot-walking preacher was wealthy? Have they found a hidden Bible verse that states that Jesus had a mansion somewhere, despite saying that “the Son of Man has no place to put his head” (Mt 8:20)? Have they found an ancient document that shows that He actually owned a jet plane? My Bible says that he was totally aid-dependent, recieving His support from women and sharing everything with His disciples, practicing community of goods (Lk 8:1-3, Jn 13:29).
But the main argument for the rich Jesus is His seemless garment. John 19:23-24 says:
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”
I’ve seen countless articles and heard many sermons that use this passage to prove that Jesus was rich, since they claim that a seemless garment must have been the clothing of the wealthy. I’m not sure if I would call a homeless, jobless, foot-walking guy who didn’t have anything but a shirt rich though. And more importantly, I can’t find any evidence that only rich people had seemless garments. The Bible sure never says it. And it isn’t hard to create seemless clothing. All you really need to do is to cut a hole in a blanket and ta daa – you got a seemless poncho.
More importantly, the seemless garment Jesus was wearing was His tunic, or “undergarment” as NIV puts it. His underwear. If you wanted to show status and wealth, you didn’t do it through the underwear, but through the mantle. The Bible often talks about purple mantles being symbols for wealth and kingship. So when the soldiers mocked Jesus before His crucifixion through putting a purple mantle on Him and a crown of thorns, He was probably wearing something much more expensive than His seemless underwear. Really, using underwear as an argument for wealth shows how silly it is to try to prove the impossible – that Jesus was rich.
How about Paul, then? He says:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:11-13).
Rich Christians often highlights the parts about living in plenty rather than the hungry, needy stuff, and claims that this shows that it’s perfectly fine for a Christian to be rich. But that is of course not Paul’s point. He is writing this after being in a very critical and dangerous situation caused by poverty that the Philippians rescued him from through giving him money. However, in this thank you letter he says that he has learned to be content with poverty as if he had been wealthy. This is really radical – Paul is saying that he doesn’t need wealth at all, because poverty is content for him!
But doesn’t he say that he “know what it is to have plenty”? Yes, but he used to be a pharisee, and pharisees love money (Lk 16:14). Now, as a Christian, he is saying that we should be content with food and clothing (1 Tim 6:8) and that if we want to be rich we bring ourselves into harmful desires and ruin and destruction. That’s not the words of a man who thinks it’s perfectly fine to be rich. That’s the words of a man who despises wealth and is content with poverty.
Don’t forget to check out part 9!