Is Money Evil?
By Rodney D. Chrisman
“Money is the root of all evil.” This distortion of 1Timothy 6:10 is often heard, particularly in times of financial distress such as the recent global financial crisis. The Apostle Paul actually wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (NASB) Thus, rightly understood, money is neither the root of all evil nor is it fundamentally evil in and of itself. Greed is evil—the concept of money is not.
It should be noted that this article does not address some of the risks associated with the concept of money. Virtually no good gift from God has gone uncorrupted by the enemy, and money is certainly no exception. For example, money can easily become the focus of greed, covetousness, and idolatry. Further, certain types of money, such as the fiat money systems that persist in the vast majority of nations around the world, including the United States and Canada, are pernicious perversions of the good gift of money. A description of the dangers of a fiat money system is beyond the scope of this short article.
Money is really nothing more than a medium of exchange, i.e., something that has a recognized value within a group of people, which therefore can be traded for goods and services. Contemporary societies typically use a combination of paper money and coinage. However, that combination is not inherent to the idea of money. Primitive peoples have used various items such as sea shells, beads, and colored stones as mediums of exchange and therefore as money. Hollywood tells us that cigarettes are used as a medium of exchange in prison. Accordingly, if Hollywood can be believed in this matter, it would be fair to say that in prison cigarettes are money. Finally, the nations of Western Civilization, for much of their history, have used precious metals (gold, silver, or bronze) or paper currency whose value is tied to these precious metals, as their mediums of exchange.
This idea of money—an agreed upon medium of exchange—is essential to the function of a market economy. A market economy, in turn, is essential to specialization in the pursuit of our various callings. Specialization in pursuit of our callings allows us to more effectively and efficiently fulfill the original mission statement given to humanity by our Creator God, namely that we “[b]e fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 (NASB)) Therefore, since it enables us to do more efficiently and effectively the very things God made us to do, I argue that the concept of money is a human invention that should be viewed as a good gift from God.
Consider for a moment a world without money. In a world without even the concept of a medium of exchange of any kind, one would be left with only bartering—the trading of goods and services directly for other goods and services. An example of a bartering transaction would be a lawyer preparing a will for a painter in exchange for the painter painting the lawyer’s office. An economy based only upon bartering would drive nearly everyone to subsistence farming and make specialization nearly impossible.
Let’s take this simple example: I am a law professor. I believe God has called me to join Him in the work He is doing in His earth by the study and teaching of law. I practice this vocation as an employee of Liberty University School of Law. Students who want to be taught law come to Liberty and pay the school money in exchange for a legal education. Liberty then takes that money and pays its various expenses, including my salary. I then take this money and use it to, among other things, purchase various goods and services to meet the needs of my family.
Without the concept of money, these transactions would have to be conducted through bartering only and would look very different. For example, using some of the money Liberty pays me for working as a law professor, I recently purchased several gallons of milk and other grocery items. Without money, I would have had to barter for that milk and other groceries. I would need to find someone who owns a cow (or many cows), who has surplus milk, and who desires to be taught in the law. I could then trade him law teaching for milk. I would also need to find someone who has surplus vegetables, fruits, pasta, hamburger, tuna, and the various other items I purchased, and, again, each of these people would have to be willing to trade me their goods for my law teaching.
Obviously, this would be enormously time consuming and inefficient. I would have to travel about to my various neighbors giving lessons in the law in exchange for their goods and services that I need. And, what if the farmer with the milk does not want my law teaching services? What am I to do then? What if the vegetable farmer does not want to be instructed in the law either? In fact, discouraged by these complications, I might eventually conclude that it is not possible to feed my family this way, and that it would therefore be better for me to get my own cows and raise my own fruits and vegetables. This choice would naturally lead to my having less time to spend on what God has called and equipped me to do—study and teach the law—and more time on providing for the simple needs of my family by farming, which, by assumption, I will do less efficiently and effectively than the person God has called and equipped to be a farmer. Therefore, under a system of bartering, I, along with most everyone else in society, would be less able to glorify God by doing what He made me to do.
This would be an unfortunate state of affairs. All of the parties in the previous example are willing to engage in voluntary transactions to trade what goods and services they have for other goods and services they want but do not have—they just can’t because of the high transaction costs associated with the bartering system! Money as a medium of exchange operates to alleviate this inefficiency and reduce transaction costs thereby facilitating voluntary commercial transactions. Why? Because money is the one thing that everyone is willing to accept in exchange for his goods and services precisely because it is the one thing that everyone else is willing to accept in exchange for their goods and services.
Without this concept of money, a market economy would be impossible. The system of bartering, as described above, would cause most everyone in society to become essentially subsistence farmers. Markets would be limited to local affairs where people would attempt to trade their surplus items for other surplus items that they need. As noted, no one would have time to specialize in his God-given vocation because he would need to spend the vast majority of his time securing the simple necessities of life. On the other hand, with money, a market economy is possible. Everyone has the opportunity to focus on his calling and trade the fruits of his calling in the market for money, and then take that money and trade it in the market for the necessities of life.
Thus, the idea of money makes a market economy possible, which in turn makes specialization possible. Both the market economy and specialization allow humankind to more efficiently and effectively fulfill our original God-given mission to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. Accordingly, I would submit that money is a fundamentally good thing. Christians should not view money as evil, but rather we should view money as a good gift from God, be thankful for it, and seek to use ever how much He chooses to entrust to us for His glory.
Professor Rodney Chrisman teaches in the area of business law at Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia. For more information, visit law.liberty.edu.
This article was published in the April/May 2010 issue of Evangelical Christian, a Canadian magazine, at pages 8-9. You can go to the edition that it appears in at: http://www.evangelicalchristian.ca/online-editions/2010-04