Sunday Verse 2: Root of Evil

(Well, not exactly “Sunday” by the time I got this posted.)

As noted last Sunday, I’ve been given the “Food for Thought Award” (nominated by Citizen Tom)— and it has some obligations.  Among them are these writings, on seven Biblical verses that have been significant or inspirational to me.  This is the second.  There are nominations involved as well, and a few sprang immediately to mind.  My old friend the extraordinary SeraphimSigrist would be an ideal candidate, for one — his thoughtful writings reflect his beneficent doings in his travels far and wide spreading his faith and helping his fellow man. I always learn something interesting from him and enjoy his deep, compassionate mind.

Versions of 1 Timothy 6

This is the source of the much quoted, and it seems misquoted, verse about money and evil.  I tend to favor Young’s Literal Translation (YLT), which was a well-regarded attempt in the late 1800s to preserve as much of the intent of the original languages as possible.  But in the case of this particular line, the rendering has subtle differences which are significant:

New International Version (©1984)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

King James Version (Cambridge Ed.)
For the love of money is the root of all evil:

International Standard Version (©2008)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010)
But the root of all these evils is the love of money,

Darby Bible Translation
For the love of money is the root of every evil;

Weymouth New Testament
For from love of money all sorts of evils arise;

Young’s Literal Translation
for a root of all the evils is the love of money,

More versions can be seen here.

Money and evil

Note, for example, the important difference between the first and last; others are variations of them. The King James Version (KJV, the Bible I originally read) has it in the popular fashion: “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

But the YLT version is not so definite: “a root of all these evils…”  That distinction means that the speaker (here, Paul, writing to Timothy), is warning of the love of money as one of the roots of evil things. And not all evils, but “all these” evils, as the previous lines had contained a list.  Certain evils/bad habits/sins are not much affected by money, and that was apparently recognized here.  More specifically, this was apparently a charge against Christians who were using their faith as a source of financial gain, so the admonition was rather specific to this purpose.

Money is not, in and of itself, an evil thing.  I’d mentioned recently the “Money Speech” from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and it explicitly addresses this point:

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Aconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.”

The speech is just getting started, and I recommend the audiobook version of this is on YouTube here with the second part here. The text is on-screen as well.

The Utility of Money

I agree with Francisco. Money is not inherently bad, and is in essence the mechanism that makes barter simple. You don’t have to struggle to figure out how many hours of programming work you must do for a week’s groceries, and in fact those propositions are complicated by the fact that your employer is probably not the source of the groceries.  So, some sort of portable standard was devised to simplify things.  Early on, these were commodities themselves. Wheat was commonly used, and salt was so common in the Roman Empire that many expressions of the salt standard still survive in our language. A man “worth his salt” is worth the money (originally, salt) that he was paid. In fact, the word “salary” has its roots in the Latin word for salt.

In my novel Age of Octans, they use delicately carved obsidian chips; these needed to be stable underwater, and there are not too many goods among the octans that would make logical sense. But obsidian was relatively rare, very useful for cutting, and the coins were carved with a skill level few octans possessed. It worked well enough for them. And they don’t have any such “root of all evil” expression — but their economy is rather different from ours as well, using a sort of tribe/clan/siblings hierarchy that does not match anything in Western human culture. I had fun with it, and wrote some brief treatises on their economics.

Money and Evil and Politics

I dug into this verse years ago, revisiting it from time to time, because it is the sort of thing that those on the left have used to suggest that merely acquiring money is itself sinful.  The current president attacks financially successful people at every opportunity, despite being one himself. These folks are, I think, quite wrong.

Moreover, the “income inequality” which they so complain about seems, to me, to actually be a good measure of the prosperity of a country overall. I’d make a distinction of “voluntary income inequality”; in other words, a slave economy provides no chance for the slaves to become successful, so that income inequality is not just high, it keeps the same people in their relative positions.

The US is different in this regard; a surprisingly large portion of the top few percent are people that have just made it to that level, and others (perhaps losing their edge or their drive) drop out of the list. It is quite fluid — and we have no trace of a peerage or caste system that would prevent someone from succeeding.

In a sense, the more that people who strive can make — and are allowed to make — the better off all of society is. And the more you restrict high income earners, the more you create a society of equal misery and not equal opportunity.

It seems counterintuitive to some, but proves out in the world — perhaps in much the same way that fossil fuels are a solution to the problem of overpopulation. By that I mean that in general, the more energy intense a country is (and is allowed to be!) the less their birthrate.  Again, the voluntary aspect is critical — slave societies don’t work this way.

The Comment on Slaves

But speaking of slave societies, this is another aspect of 1 Timothy 6: It opens with a discussion of slavery, and has been used to justification of it. In defense of this, the Bible was a tool heavily used by those in the US who sought to abolish slavery, and these people were ultimately successful. I wrote about this struggle some time back, and the comments were quite interesting.

Timothy’s exhortation to, while you’re a slave, perform your work well, is not unreasonable — and other passages address the issue of injustice involved. Here is the first part of the section, beginning and ending with the areas discussed:

6 As many as are servants under a yoke, their own masters worthy of all honour let them reckon, that the name of God and the teaching may not be evil spoken of;

and those having believing masters, let them not slight [them], because they are brethren, but rather let them serve, because they are stedfast and beloved, who of the benefit are partaking. These things be teaching and exhorting;

if any one be teaching otherwise, and do not consent to sound words — those of our Lord Jesus Christ — and to the teaching according to piety,

he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and word-striving, out of which doth come envy, strife, evil-speakings, evil-surmisings,

wranglings of men wholly corrupted in mind, and destitute of the truth, supposing the piety to be gain; depart from such;

but it is great gain — the piety with contentment;

for nothing did we bring into the world — [it is] manifest that we are able to carry nothing out;

but having food and raiment — with these we shall suffice ourselves;

and those wishing to be rich, do fall into temptation and a snare, and many desires, foolish and hurtful, that sink men into ruin and destruction,

10 for a root of all the evils is the love of money, which certain longing for did go astray from the faith, and themselves did pierce through with many sorrows;

Click the link above to see more, if you wish.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle