A close reading of the Gospels, taking history and archeology into account, demolishes the myth of a socialist Jesus.
Theologians virtually ignore the economic commentary in the Bible. In the few cases where it gets any attention, economic commentary in the Gospels and other New Testament writings tend to lapse into simplistic class warfare nostrums. Liberation theologians import Marxism wholesale (but they try to sell it retail) into theology. Academic historians of 1st Century Palestine/Judea have been pushing an account of a poor peasant Jesus leading a poor peasant's revolt based on the idea of mass displaced workers in Lower Galilee. The problem is the actual archeological findings paint a picture of an industrious and entrepreneurial economy during Jesus's time there. Reading the Gospels in light of archeology and history, which are now available to us, gives us a very different picture than the one you’ve been told regarding what Jesus taught about work and money.
Ignore the subtitle. This tiny book will be the best book on the Bible you will read this year. It's not perfect, but it's the book I needed and consciously knew I needed.
Conservative Evangelical Christianity has kind of schizophrenia when it comes to money and economics, a schizophrenia that I share. On the one hand, the moral majority threw in their lot with the GOP due to abortion, and due to the influence of William F. Buckley, Gary North, and others we have had a libertarian impulse. On the other hand, Evangelicals have always been activists and so charity and suspicions of big business have been as much a part of our history as free market economics. (In fact, Christian alliance with the free market is a recent accident of time and chance, though a good one in my opinion.) And behind a lot of that were the Bible verses. Jesus really lays it in on the money-lovers, and so do the prophets. I definitely have had impulses in both directions, because on the one hand, there are huge problems with our financial system as it stands, but on the other there is Jesus.
This book does not solve these tensions, but its greatest virtue is that it recognizes the tensions and says, "Yes, there's a lot here: so let's pay attention to the specifics of what the Bible is saying." Jerry Bowyer is a conservative, but he's a non-reactive conservative, and that's a big deal. Bowyer explained in an interview with a friend of mine that as a conservative he wanted to know what Jesus was talking about, and as someone who was clearly into James Jordan, N.T. Wright, and Nicholas Perrin, he did his research to find out about the historical context. And that's why you should read this book.
Many of us just go through the New Testament mentally blocking out all the geographical pointers. Bowyer convincingly shows that this is a bad way to read the Bible and that if we pay attention to the differences between the Judaean Temple economic system in the south and to the Galilean economic system in the north, we see two very very different economies and Jesus's words about money are pointed more at the southern economy. In short, Bowyer interprets much of Jesus's teaching about money as about the evils of money gained through political connection. It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a people-pleasing, compromised Senator to enter the kingdom of heaven. Obviously this leans fairly hard in a particular economic direction, but Bowyer has in fact said in interviews that he is not interested in dismissing more traditional concerns with greed and money-making, only that he wants us to be more careful exegetes and moralists.
So this book is for you. It's about the size of the wingspan of my hand and it's 130 pages and it's written in a very simple style. Bowyer may very well be the most accessible presentation of Biblical theology I have read in a LONG time. He does jump a little bit when he linguistically connects the serpent deceiving Eve to the word for debt, but even here there's some evidence in his favor. This book not only makes you pay attention to the historical setting of the Gospels, but also is a powerful trace of all Biblical history. I would love to see more books written as accessibly as this one. I intend to buy several copies for my family members and some of my friends.
It's not a flawless book: some of the early chapters are a little weaker and make you think that he is reading too much into certain verses, and his sources may in fact be over-reading certain pieces of archaeology. But so does N.T. Wright, and people still listen to him. So get this book today. You won't regret it because it will be worth your time.
2022: My husband picked this for us to listen on a road trip. If you have not read it listened to it, I recommend you do. The author’s arguments are carefully laid out and helpful to understand how Jesus was not a “socialist”.
2021: Really good. I would not have picked this book, but I am glad I did because I learned many new things.
This is a refreshing book that dares to take the teachings of the Bible, rooted in historical and Hebraic context, and apply them to life. I tire of modern evangelicals' monastic antinomianism and I recommend this book as a good antidote, at least in part.
I want to give this another go with a Bible and notes because I listened to it between naps on flights. Fascinating topic and research and gave more depth to the pattern of Jesus’ ministry and parables. I appreciated his approach to the topic and especially his conclusion.
This short book deals with one central, and simple thesis. When Jesus rebuked people concerning money and wealth in the gospels, he was doing so in a particular context--namely, Judeans, not Galileans. This distinction helps readers to understand that money and wealth, even in the ministry of Jesus, is not an evil in itself, nor are his words of rebuke normative for all believers.
"Jesus never has a single confrontation about wealth while in Galilee. Every one of His confrontations over wealth occurs in or near Judea, and they grow in intensity as He comes closer to and finally enters Jerusalem, the seat of political power." p. 11
Bowyer uses close readings of the text to highlight his thesis--these portions of the book are the best. For example, he highlights The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 4-5) and compares it to The Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) and shows the significance of the differences. The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew, takes place in Galilee; whereas the Sermon on the Plain is given to Judeans. Jesus says in Matthew, "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." and in Luke, "Blessed are you who are poor..."
Bowyer goes on to examine many other biblical texts, non-biblical texts, and even archaeological evidence to bolster his argument. He essentially argues, and I think persuasively, that the Galilean economy was constructive, ergo, "the Makers;" while the Judean economy was, much like any modern-day capital--built on tax revenue and government largesse.
Once you've become familiar with Bowyer's thesis and his supporting evidence, it is hard to unsee it. You don't need to buy into every aspect of what Bowyer argues to profit from this book, indeed, if it were built only on archaeology, the case would be very weak. But it does serve as a good supplement to his line of argumentation.
This book is a good example of what a close reading of the biblical text, with great attention to detail and an inquisitive spirit will profit every reader. I highly recommend this book.
I expected this book to go in a different direction. I was anticipating more application to today's social issues, but the author kept his work clearly back in the era of the New Testament. As a whole, the author "dives deep" to show you what really went on in these Bible passages. In my opinion, sometimes he's right, sometimes he might be right, and sometimes he's clearly off. For instance, He spends a large portion of the book explaining that the wealth of those around Jerusalem was due to corruption and the measure of wealth of those in the northern region is due to work. This over-generalization may be somewhat true, but I truly wonder if Jesus' adjusted his message based on locality. Another example of his pushing the envelope is the story of the rich young ruler. According to the author, he was a Sanhedrin member whose wealth was deceitfully obtained. This is not certain, but is all theory. According to him, Jesus used parables to avoid pre-mature execution. In summary, I think the author desperately tried to prove his thesis, but he tried too hard. In so doing, he has manipulated or distended the meaning of the text.
This is an excellent little book. It’s point: “Jesus confronted the takers of wealth, not the makers of it” (xiii). Thus the title: “The Maker (Jesus) Versus the Takers.”
Bowyer’s basic assumption is the same you will hear in any sound seminary: we need to understand what Scripture meant to its original audience, before you can translate and apply it today. He hones in on Jesus’ sayings about wealth, and discovers something startling. “Jesus’ conversations about money take on a more and more adversarial tone the closer He gets to His version of [Washington] DC: Jerusalem” (3).
The author is not a trained theologian, but he takes on passage after passage, and knocks it out of the park 9 out of 10 times. Some examples:
1. “The poor you will always have with you.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 15, in which God promises Israel will not have any poor, if they follow His commands about debt forgiveness. Israel’s leaders were breaking that systematically in Jesus’ day, and Jesus’ words here were a rebuke to the greed behind it.
2. The promise in Isaiah 9:1-2 that Zebulun and Naphtali would be exalted, after being brought low before, points backward as well as forward to Jesus. Northern Galilee, where those tribes were located, was the first to suffer when the invasions came that led to Israel’s exile. They would be the first restored, with Jesus teaching and healing there first.
3. Part of Israel’s story was Jerusalem trying to exploit the rest of Israel. Think of Rehoboam, who planned to increase taxes. Israel killed the tax man he sent, and seceded! Bowyer points out, from trusted traditional sources like Edersheim and Josephus, that this same story was going on in Jesus’ day. The temple rulers concocted many ways to get as much money from the pious populace as possible. Jesus cleansed the temple of this “den of robbers.”
4. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus starts with the man who owes 10,000 talents. Pastors love to wow people with how big this is in modern terms, but miss Jesus’ main point. It’s roughly 6 times the size of Israel’s gross national product at the time! And this fits into Jesus telling Peter to forgive 70 times 7, just before. We think the number is just randomly crazy big, but 70 times 7 referred to Israel’s exile. The Bible makes a point that Israel will be in exile for 490 years – the time the land should have had its Sabbaths, but Israel never gave it. So the servant who owed all that money, is the whole nation, or its leaders! 6 years’ worth of productive economy, and in the 7th year, the law said the law should rest, and any debts should be forgiven. But the leaders used legal work arounds to avoid both. Jesus’ point is, you owed God big time, and He forgave you. But you squeeze every penny out of the people you can, with no mercy.
There’s a lot more. And you don’t have to wade through academic jargon. Bowyer is to the point, though slightly repetitive and disorganized at times.
There are a couple things he gets wrong, or that are a stretch. This is a common failing of those who draw from historical context. History isn’t an exact science, and we can try to make it such, to make our preferred point. Bowyer asserts that “forgive us our debts” should not be spiritualized, but taken literally. His point that we spiritualize the text too often is a good one, but not absolute. Many times that’s exactly what the text intends, and this is one. Besides, how would God forgive our financial debts to others? I’m also uncertain about the timing of Rome’s disturbance compared to the crucifixion. Bowyer (and Paul Meier in “Pontius Pilate”) makes the case that the economic crisis, and political downfall of Pilate’s Roman sponsor happen just before the crucifixion. So Pilate is politically vulnerable in Rome, and thus more willing to give the Jews what they want, when they demand Jesus’ death. Maybe. Bowyer’s point is a good one: God providentially uses national economic life, as much as anything else. But maybe not specifically in how Bowyer reads this case.
Even with those caveats, I highly recommend this book. It puts in fresh language the historical situation in Jesus’ day, and clearly sets forth what He said about it. The direct political implications are in the short conclusion. I won’t spoil it for you!
Good book. There are a few parts where I definitely disagreed with his interpretations of particular passages. However, that may be due to the fact that he has a hammer, and so everything looks like a nail. His overall thesis is solid and persuasive, and I would recommend this book to anyone trying to navigate the cultural context of Jesus's teachings on wealth. He does a good job of showing that the "Socialist Jesus" interpretation has no basis in Scripture.
It’s interesting, but I’m not sure how convinced I am of the central premise. Basically his thesis is that Jesus’ problem with wealth was because it was ill-gotten among those who exercised political power. He never critiques those who earned their wealth through hard work.
This appeals to me philosophically, and it certainly seems to be the case through the passages he quotes. However I am not sure he really sells it. It kinda revolves around an argument from silence. I think the argument could be bolstered by a more thorough look at the Old Testament’s teaching about wealth and trying to harmonize the Old with the New.
Let me be clear, I’m not sure he’s wrong, I’m just also not sure he’s right.
Later in the book he goes into great detail about debt, and that is by far the most rewarding part of the book. In that, he does harmonize the Old Testament, as well as the typological significance of debt forgiveness and sin forgiveness. This is really compelling stuff and deserves its own study.
Unfortunately, it kinda ends flatly, just generally condemning our culture for being greedy and evil. Not that he’s wrong, but I wish there’s been some: “and here’s how we can apply these lessons to our everyday life of the church”. Instead he seems to studiously avoid doing so. I can only assume it’s because he wants to try and avoid getting involved in controversy, but how can you write a book about Christ’s teachings on social justice and not be controversial?
Anyway, it is short which is always in a book’s favor when it’s presenting a challenging thesis in the meaning of various biblical passages. Short and to the point is more easily digestible. If it had been long I probably wouldn’t have gotten through it, since I was not thoroughly convinced of the thesis, and I would have missed out on the best part.
Bowyer sheds light on the significance of economics details in the Gospels to our understanding of them and of Jesus. Three examples that I especially found helpful: - Regarding first century views of Bethlehem, "Contemporaries would probably have thought about sheep since that was the local industry. The town was known for sheep. Any particular kind of sheep? Yes, Bethlehem was where they bred lambs for export to Jerusalem to be used in temple sacrifices. That's right, Jesus was the lamb of God, who bears away the sins of the world, and He was born in the one city named by the rabbis as the place designated for the breeding of sacrificial lambs." (pp. 3-4) - Regarding the parable of the ungrateful servant (who's substantial debts are forgiven but then refuses to forgive another servant of his small debt), Bowyer highlights the magnitude of debt owed by the ungrateful servant. In general, whenever Jesus used specific values in his parables, their magnitudes were realistic for the situation being described. However, He departs from this pattern with this parable. The ungrateful servant owed "ten thousand talents." This was "roughly ten times the annual revenues of Herod the Great, the king of ancient Israel... the scale of that number is much larger than business or personal finance size - it's of macroeconomic magnitude. And that's actually the point: it is a macroeconomic-scale number because it is describing a macroeconomic reality, a nation's accumulated debt." (p. 81) Bowyer goes on to argue that given what we know about annual tax revenues and typical Roman rates of taxation, ten thousand talents was likely about six years worth of accumulated debt - the amount of debt that would have been forgiven if Israel had been living under God's Old Testament instructions to forgive all debts in the seventh year. Thus, Bowyer argues that the magnitude of Jesus' numbers was his way of signaling that his debt was an analogy about Israel and the disobedience of its rulers in not obeying the Old Testament law. - Regarding the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Bowyer points out contextual details that suggest listeners were to identify "the rich man" with Caiaphas, the chief priest of the day. These included: (i) the word used for the "gate" that Lazarus would beg outside of is the same word used for the gate of the temple; (ii) The "purple and fine linen" that the rich man wore matched Old Testament descriptions of the chief priests clothing; (iii) The rich man had "five brothers" and Caiaphas also had five brothers. Bowyer offers other details as evidence as well.
Altogether, good book! Knowledge of historical, cultural, and economic context can help provide a deeper understanding of Scripture and this book provides those things.
If this book was a meal, the taste was delicious but the presentation was pretty disappointing.
5 stars for Bowyer's fantastic and groundbreaking discoveries surrounding the importance of the economies of Galilee and Judea in Jesus' teachings, his thorough interpretations of some of Jesus' parables about wealth, and a well-argued point concerning the significance of debt remission in Israel (tying in Deuteronomy/Jeremiah/Daniel/etc.) and the part it eventually played in the destruction of the temple in AD70. Jesus' teaching isn't always about some inward, spiritual, "heart-thing" we need to learn. He's teaching in the context of the OT, and we forget that at our peril. Bowyer does an excellent job of reminding us of that. Great theology.
3 stars for the writing itself. I kept getting really frustrated when Bowyer asked a certain question and never satisfactorily returned to answer it, or brought up a significant point but then never really drove it home or summarized it well, leaving the reader wondering what the main point of the section was (was he arguing for this or that? Or maybe something in the middle? Or maybe something slightly different? Annoying). This could have been a MUCH more powerful and memorable book if he'd had a good editor. I'm assuming he wanted to keep it short (135 pages), but I think a few extra paragraphs here and there would have helped a lot. Also be warned: it's not about social justice/economics, even though those words are in the subtitle. It's a solid biblical theology of diligent wealth-creation vs. government mooching.
I had heard high praise of this book before reading it. I don't think it lived up to the hype, but it was still good. Bowyer's central thesis is that the Bible's many denunciations of the rich are not directed at the rich at large but at wealthy people who were manipulating the system at the time. Bowyer shows this especially by focusing on the geographical markers mentioned by the gospel writers--details that would seem superfluous otherwise. He makes many helpful observations, such as why the gospel writers mention that Jesus overturned the tables of the pigeon sellers in particular and why he called them "robbers," or why Pilate was so willing to hand over Barabbas instead of Jesus (it had to do with economic/political pressure he was facing). I found many of his observations insightful, although I occasionally felt like he was stretching or oversimplifying things. This is not really a book about the biblical case against socialism or social justice. It's more like a Bible commentary explaining the economic context of various Bible passages and rebutting some common misunderstandings about passages used to support socialism.
Very good. Bowyer shows that Jesus' confronts and condemns the wealthy, whose money is gained by taking and extracting wealth through taxation and other means economic extraction. Jesus does not condemn wealth that is gained through positive economic activity - the making of wealth.
Some of Bowyer's details seem to be a stretch, but the overall argument was solid and convincing.
A simply engaging read (or listen, in my case) by an author who has dug more into economic history and language than I ever thought to. I don't feel like all of his points land perfectly for me, but it might be because I need to do more research of them. Those points that do land, land solidly.
I’ve appreciated Bowyer for a number of years now and he has written a very helpful book. It’s tight and concise and drills down into a very specific topic - but greatly needed in our popular Bible studies. “What you will see is Jesus confronting the takers of wealth, not the makers of it.”
To that end, it’s quite accessible and would make a good gift for those friends in your life who typically begin their scripture meditations with “What does this mean to me?”
The freshest book I've read on the Bible in a while. Great insights into the life and teachings of Jesus. Very helpful in resolving apparant paradoxes in the NT's teaching on money and wealth. Also a quick, easy read.
Excellent treatment of how Jesus talked about wealth and social justice. This is a very relevant topic. Bowyer uses excellent scholarship and hermeneutics to delve into pertinent passages of the OT and NT to discuss this topic. This is not a long book and is very readable. I recommend it to anyone who cares about this topic (which hopefully is all of us.)
A fine little book, indeed. Written to debunk those who'd portray Jesus as a proponent of socialism. Bowyer's economic expertise undergirds his historical and geographical analysis of the gospels to give us a gem.
The chief priests delivered Jesus to death because of envy, and that envy was all about power, influence, and their economic security. Bowyer contrasts the rich elites of Judea who confiscated the money off other regions like Galilee, which accounts for where Jesus went and how He taught. He identifies the rich young ruler as a member of the Council who made all of his money unjustly through the system, and therefore he had to give it all away. I had not encountered the explanation for the differences between the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke due to the economic situation of the audiences--two sermons for two different crowds that faced different temptations. Bowyer has numerous insights that I'll be weighing further.
This was surely the most illuminating book I've read this year. My interlibrary loan (it's hard to find if you don't care to buy it, probably due to a limited print run) isn't due for about another two weeks, so I ought to just re-read it while I have the chance. It's a short book, only about 135-140 pages.
Author's thesis: Most Christians don't understand how Jesus Christ's sermons in the Gospels explicitly address financial issues, mostly debt--how the ruling class exploited the poor by refusing to give them debt relief as commanded by God. That the debt being preached about was not only spiritual but financial.
Or how the contemporaneous Roman economic and political issues played a great role in Jesus' crucifixion: its temporal basis was a Roman economic crisis, and also a political problem involving Pontius Pilate, which the ruling class exploited to blackmail and threaten Pilate (possible because his political patron had been executed for treason).
An eye-opening book. One of the most important and satisfying things I've read in a long time. Here's the review Doug Wilson wrote that piqued my curiosity, a review I can now vouch for: https://dougwils.com/books-and-cultur...
My only substantial criticism is that I think the author overextends his argument a bit at times archeologically. I don't know much about Middle Eastern archeology, but I know enough to be skeptical of overly precise and confident claims about a given time and era (e.g., Galilee had an economy like such and such). Thankfully his overall thesis doesn't really depend on those overextended archeological claims, so it's not a big deal. I still think this book deserves a solid 5 stars.
Drop whatever Bible commentary you are reading and read this one now. Bowyer concisely and simply states an argument for what Chris thought about money both from the text and the cultural context. If you are a capitalist who has ever worried about the socialisty passages or a socialist who needs a better perspective, then read this.
Critics of the Bible attempt to turn Jesus into a socialist, but in The Maker Versus the Takers Jerry Bowyer puts forth a compelling argument that a close examination of the evidence actually conveys the exact opposite. With a title like this, one would expect more of an aggressive argumentative approach to this topic, but this book is surprisingly quite academic. Bowyer does a fantastic job of stating the facts, using Biblical context clues we often overlook, and citing other historical sources like Josephus to bolster his claims. I found the evidence very strong on some of his points and a bit far-fetched for others, but appreciated the fact that if the evidence was weaker Bowyer was not afraid to admit it.
One of the primary undertones of the book actually is summarized very well in the book's conclusions, when Bowyer describes proper exegesis must first include the context of the first century Christians to whom Jesus addressed. Jesus did a magnificent job in using society's cultural identity and indebtedness to intelligently speak to his audience. While Jesus speaks concerning salvation in many of his sermons, He does so in a context his audience would understand. Our twenty-first century interpretation of Scripture with salvation in mind is not always the first thing that Jesus's original hearers would have thought when they heard the same sermon. This is not to downplay the most important theological atoning work Jesus came to fulfill, but when we inquire about "what this passage means to us" we must first do so after answering the inquiry of "what this passage meant to the original hearers".
For example, Bowyer comments that the sermon on the mount as described in Matthew is not the same as the sermon on the plain as described in Luke, but rather these were two distinct sermons given in two different geographical regions to two very distinct audiences. Jesus uniquely catered a very similar sermon that would prick the hearts and minds of the hearers differently, even though at first glance the sermons seem the same. One of the primary themes running through these sermons is that the ruling class had become self serving, rather than serving of others, and this becomes apparent with a close examination of the two sermons.
The ruling class of Jesus's day stipulated certain social norms all in the guise of serving the greater good and helping the poor. But Jesus came and called the Pharisees out for their sin, and pointed out that the poor were the class that they were actually manipulating for their own selfish gain. At one point Bowyer even emphatically claimed that "maybe this is why God allowed His temple to be torn down". The similarity of the ruling class of Jesus's day to the ruling class of the 21st century is stunning when viewed with this lens, and Bowyer does a great job of pointing out these facts without overtly pointing the finger at the growing trend of American socialism. He simply gives the facts and allows the reader to decide.
One of the most interesting commentaries in the book that came as new knowledge to me described the economic state of the union, so to speak, of the Galilean area during Jesus's time. During His adolescence for example, there was an economic boom and residential housing explosion by which a carpenter like Joseph and Son would have benefitted. Conversely, during 32 AD, just prior to His death, an economic recession occurred that put a lot of pressure on the ruling class, and would have set the stage for the lust of the crowd's insurrectionist cries for Jesus's crucifixion. Pontius Pilate would have no political choice but to comply despite trying to pawn the responsibility off on another.
Any biblical critic that promotes Jesus advocated socialism has not studied the times in which He lived and consequently is way off base, and The Maker Versus the Takers provides solid arguments combating this naivete. Likewise, unless we are truly doomed to repeat it, history has provided us great lessons on how socialist enterprises eventually fare. It is amazing to me yet again that the Bible is so educational - that it has this much to say and more.
I really enjoyed this book on Audible. Jerry Bowyer places Christ in His context in some fascinating ways, revealing what He, His mother and those in their area had to say about economics, political power, etc. Jerry goes into lots of detail to place what we call economics within the story of salvation. For a few examples, he contrasts Judea with Galilee as largely centralised and decentralised respectively and shows that Christ was against unjust taxes and the order that sustained them. In contrast, Christ supported the makers in an economy and their industry. The Maker Versus the Takers also reveals the local impressions people had of places like Bethlehem and why this place- dedicated to providing priests with sacrificial lambs- is so significant in relation to Christ, the Lamb of God, and illumines various typological features and prophesies from the Old Testament fulfilled in the New.
We see with fresh eyes Christ's parables, including the one about the rich man, who had property, and misappropriated his wealth in some ways, etc so was tied to a certain corrupt social order- hence he would find it hard to convert and enter the kingdom of God. Such teachings by Christ have been misinterpreted to refer to heaven and the afterlife, but at least refer more to His kingdom and have their place within a complex historical milieu which we must take into account to understand the meaning. Bowyer overturns our hallmark assumption that Christ spoke using Parables because they were easy to understand. Arguing that the opposite is true and they were and are meant to be subversive- economically, politically, theologically, etc all together. Our radical Lord was turning the whole social order of Judea, Rome and the world upside down.
This is all refreshingly radical and exposes many simplistic banal myths that seek to present Christ as either meek and mild spiritual guru or a kind of Che Guevara figure. No! Bowyer, like the scriptures, correctly paints a picture of Christ as one who brings a life of flourishing economically and otherwise, convicting us of our plethora of sins and failures and mercifully reveals a higher way the restores order to the creation at all levels, including the economic. Our Lord is history's true revolutionary and this was a surprisingly great read for this time in particular, coming up to Christmas.