Thursday, March 11, 2010

Did Jesus Live In Poverty At Nazareth?

A brother-in-Christ put up a link to Charles Spurgeon's sermon, "Christ's Poverty, Our Riches" ( and CS said "Being born, our blessed Lord lived, for many years, a life of poverty at Nazareth. Enough is recorded for us to see that He remained in poverty and obscurity at Nazareth for our sakes, because, dear Brothers and Sisters, during those 30 years He was preparing for His public work."

What was actually recorded in the bible "for us to see that He remained in poverty and obscurity at Nazareth" ? Let's see:

Luke 2:21-23
22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

What is "the days of her purification"? According to Lev 12:2-4, that is 41 days after the birth - "‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled."

Thus, from Lev 12:2-4, we can see that Jesus was presented at the temple when he was just a one-month plus old baby, and his parents offered a sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Were a pair of turtledoves or pigeons the standard offering? No, the standard is a lamb and a turtledove or pigeon BUT if one cannot afford a lamb, then a pair of turtledoves or pigeons will suffice - Lev 2:8 - "If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering."

Looking at the account of Luke 2, we can deduce that Jesus' parents were indeed poor at the time when he was born as they could not afford a lamb for the burnt offering. Yes, Jesus was born into a poor family but they did not remain poor for very long, probably less than 2 years. Let's see:

Matt 2: 1-2, 7-11
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

During Christmas time, it is common to see children's plays re-enacting the scene of the wise men from the East bowing down in front of baby Jesus in the manger.  However, when you analyze the above scripture passage carefully, you will realize that Jesus was NOT a baby when the wise men found him. Matt 2:11 says very clearly that when they entered the house (not stable), they saw the young Child (not baby).

In Matt 2:7, King Herod asked the wise men at what time they saw the star, and based on the time they saw the star and taking into account the amount of time the wise men traveled to arrive in Jerusalem, King Herod deduced that Jesus, at that time, was a young Child, not a baby (Matt 2:8).  This is confirmed in Matt 2:16 when King Herod ordered the massacre of children aged 2 and below in Bethlehem after the wise men departed without telling him the exact location of Jesus. However, Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt before the massacre happened.

Hence, from the passages in Matthew 2, we can deduce that Jesus was probably about 2 years old when the wise men presented him with their treasures - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Have you wondered why the gifts were mentioned in that order i.e. gold, frankincense and myrrh?  Yes, they were listed in ascending order of value.

I'm sure you know that gold is very valuable but do you know that frankincense is even more valuable than gold during ancient times and that myrrh is five times more valuable than frankincense? (source:  Do you think that the wise men traveled over such a long distance over such a long time just to bring a tiny amount of gold, frankincense and myrrh to worship Jesus, whom they believe to be the "King of the Jews"?  I don't think so.  

These wise men must have been very rich and powerful people, otherwise how could they, being foreigners, be granted a personal audience with King Herod himself?  Hence, they must have brought a fairly large amount; large enough to make poor Joseph and Mary suddenly very rich, large enough to finance Joseph and Mary's immediate escape to Egypt with Jesus, large enough to pay for their living expenses there until King Herod's death, large enough to finance their journey back to Nazareth where they eventually settled.

Did Jesus, like what Charles Spurgeon said, remain in poverty at Nazareth? Based on the evidence in the account of Matthew 2, I cannot agree with Charles.  



Malcolm Loh said...

Amen, bro!

The trouble with a lot of Christians today is that they read books or commentaries written by what they think are godly men, and then come to the wrong conclusion.

They should be like the Bereans who did not take Paul's words at face value but went back to search the scriptures.

Your readers may want to read what I blogged about this very topic at the link below...

Kaffein said...

Fantastic sharing! Indeed it confirmed my investigations that Jesus was a child and not a babe as many nativity scenes go. And Jesus brought wealth to his parents.

For those think it's not God's will to be rich both spiritually and in materials will be very disappointed in heaven because the streets are gold, not paved in gold.

Keep sharing the good news!


news said...

Hi Stanley,

I am from NCC and while I agree and affirm you for many of your blog posts, I am not sure what are the implications when you prove whether Jesus lived in poverty in Nazareth.

First, the opening context and example that Charles Spurgeon gave was enough to convince me that Jesus went through poverty:
"Firstly, it was poverty in Christ’s part to become a Man at all. God the Illimitable, the Infinite, veiled Himself in human flesh! God the Omnipotent, the Eternal, came here in the form of a Baby hanging in weakness at a woman’s breast. God, whom angels adore, before whom all Heaven bows with deepest solemnity of awe, was found where horned oxen fed—and in a manger was He laid. It was poverty for Him to take these rags of our poor humanity and clothe Him- self with them, for His own robe was the light, His chariot was a flame of fire, His palace the Heaven of God! Yet was He found at Bethlehem, a Child born, a Son given, that He might redeem His people from all iniquity! We cannot compre- hend the condescension of Christ half as much as the angels can—they have a far higher view of the Glory of God than we have..."

From this passage, I am convinced that even if Jesus received a vast amount of frankincense and myrrh, it is still nothing compared and relative to leaving His heavenly places to come as Man for us.

Second, I think we need to align our meanings of "poverty", "provision" and "riches". I have seen many of your discussions with others who do not believe that Christ is here to enrich us but with due respect Stanley, at times, I do think that you are talking past one another because of the differing definitions of poverty, provision and riches. I hope you see where I am coming from.

Suppose, a man is earning SGD$600 a month and struggling to survive and make ends meet for his family but after he receives salvation, Jesus turns around his situation and provides him with a job that pays SGD$4000 a month, and with other things turns all the negative situations in his life around. Is he enriched? Yes - both materially and spiritually. Does he have any lack? Not any more. But is he "rich" in everyone's definition? No, he is considered having a pretty modest salary in Singapore. In his life, he may never ever become a millionaire, but his life is full of content because God has provided for him, far exceedingly above all that he thinks, continues to provide for him and his family throughout their lives and they have no lack. God is the God of "more than enough" for them. Once again, God is their provision, God has enriched them, but they may never be "rich", or not everyone who may define them as "rich".

I agree with you that through the scriptures, wherever Jesus is, there is no lack. There is always provision. He multiplied the bread, He caused Peter to have that net breaking boat sinking load of fish, He caused the wise men to come with gold and riches. Provision is always there with Jesus. That we are agreed on.

But compare him with the old testament "rich men". Abraham, David, Solomon. Should we call them "exceedingly rich" and Jesus was "moderately (and secretly) rich"? There is no doubt that Jesus in all his wisdom, being the creator of this world and having a host of angels, could have enriched himself to that point, but He chose not to. He lived this life of obscurity, a simple life - albeit a life that is always provided for - there is no lack.

Hence to me, the only thing that you are disagreeing with Charles is a matter of definition. In his context he is right, Jesus did live a life of poverty (relative to both His original position and also relative to the old testament patriarchs) and obscurity.

Stanley Wong said...

Hi news,
I agree with you that riches is relative and as shown in the context of the passage of Spurgeon's sermon which you quoted, it is correct that relative to His riches in heaven, Jesus' life on earth would be deemed poverty.

However, Spurgeon did not merely compare Jesus' life on earth vs heaven but also compared Jesus against His fellow man - "Being born, our blessed Lord lived, for many years, a life of poverty at Nazareth. He was a carpenter, the reputed son of the village carpenter." - i.e. implying that Jesus was very poor since He was a carpenter, the son of a carpenter.

If we were to compare Jesus' life on earth with His fellow man's, then Jesus definitely was not living in poverty by any measure even though He was a carpenter because as a child, He received gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which were very very valuable. While compared to Abraham and Solomon, He might not be exceedingly rich, Jesus was definitely not living in poverty.

Many Christians argue that as Jesus was very poor, it is therefore unbiblical for us Christians to even think about about getting rich (although I suspect those who think this way are ironically rather well-provided themselves). Since I have proven that Jesus was not poor, then their argument naturally fall flat.

Many Christians also like to quote the views of great preachers and theologians to support their arguments, with the implication that the great preachers and theologians must be correct (especially compared to a layman like me). That is also why I wanted to show that while great preachers are to be respected, we should not simply accept as correct wholesale everything they say but test them against the scriptures as I have done in this post.

news said...

Hi Stanley, thanks for clarifying your position and I can now understand better the impetus and intention behind this post.

I definitely agree with you that Jesus is not only not poor, but in His life, there is no lack, and it is always a case of "more than enough".

I think in our discussions with other Christians about "Jesus prospering us", there is more common ground than we think. Somehow I realized that when we talk about "prosperity gospel", people are out there to prove that Jesus or the disciples are poor (and i truly believe it is the issue of language and definition. when we talk about "rich", people are fixated on the assumption of being excessively rich). But when we talk about God's heart is to provide our needs, and Jesus fulfilled every need be it disease or bondage or lack, there is a greater platform for agreement.

Perhaps to add on to this post, you can clarify on the position of whether the disciples were poor? Because honestly, I get the impression that the disciples lived a life of suffering, pain and poverty.

Kaffein said...

"Perhaps to add on to this post, you can clarify on the position of whether the disciples were poor? Because honestly, I get the impression that the disciples lived a life of suffering, pain and poverty."

- Peter had people working for him. He had quite a number of boats.
- Matthew was a tax collector. Most tax collectors are rich during that time.
- Judas managed the purse. That means they had a treasurer, which also means there was enough money for them. For Judas to constantly dip into the purse, they must have had quite a lot of money.
- Lydia (in Acts) was a purple cloth merchant. Definitely wealthy.

I am also sure some of the disciples were poor. But stick around with Jesus and they will never lack.


mike20 said...

Ah, being the highly analytical person that I am I must point out a huge flaw in your reasoning. Applying the principle of charity, I can overlook some of the minor faults.
However, assuming that the wise men did bring enough gold, frankicense and myrrh for them to be rich does not confirm that Jesus would rely on riches for his entire lifetime. If He had, he would be acting out of accordance with His own teachings.
To conclude, then, that Jesus did not voluntarily live homeless would imply that He was hypocritical.

As Jesus said in Matthew 6:25 - "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body than clothing?"

He goes on to say in verse 32 -
"For after all of these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows you need all of these things."

And verse 33 -
"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things shall be added to you."

And then there's Luke 14:33, in which Jesus makes it known that "...whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple."
So to argue that Jesus held riches in secret or relied on worldly wealth to aid him in any way implies Jesus doing something that is fundamentally non-Christian while preaching to the masses that they must sell their possessions, donate the money to the poor and rely solely on God's providence. If we all agree on Jesus as being the saviour of mankind then this is a gross contradiction.

Stanley Wong said...

Hi mike20,
I'm sorry but I really cannot see any analysis in your comment.

I did not say that Jesus relied on his wealth but merely pointed out he was not poor but had wealth.

Please note that the wise men came when Jesus was about two years old but Jesus only started his ministry when he was thirty years old, so Jesus' family got to enjoy the wealth for quite a long time.

Jesus was not homeless; he had a home he could not return to as he was traveling all the time to preach to the masses.

By the way, if like what you said, Jesus really preached "to the masses that they must sell their possessions, donate the money to the poor and rely solely on God's providence", then isn't it hypocritical for us Christians to still be living comfortably in our homes and own a pc/notebook plus subscribe to a ISP and be able to comment on a blog early in the morning?

You quoted Matt6:32,33 - would a highly analytical person like you care to explain why Jesus said "all of these things shall be added to you" if he wanted us to sell our possessions? Isn't this a gross contradiction?

mike20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mike20 said...

I'm sorry that you cannot understand my analysis. Let me enlighten you one some key points.

Jesus warned that riches led to greed and corruption. It would be a contradiction for Him to own riches, because much of the way He lived served as an example for others to follow, Him being the Firstborn of God with the task of teaching others to become His brothers and sisters.

As for the wise men, you have shown no evidence to support your claim that they brought enough gold, frankincense and myrrh to support Christ's family. It could be that there was only enough given to them to fund their travels and keep them financially secure in Egypt. If this site is for "the logical Christian," logic should be used effectively. You are using bad logic, something you should be able to avoid assuming that you are educated on logic, fallacies, and rhetorical ploys.

Jesus was homeless; the home you refer to was His mother's and was used as a base on occasion, but was not owned by Him.

By the way, I do not have the comfort of a home. With no other choice at the moment, I must rely on God to provide for me. I'm living in a housing project that provides a free room with utilities for a year. In 8 months I will no longer be here, whether it's to a home or back to the streets. So for me, it isn't a contradiction at all. You should ask yourself whether it is one for you or not.

I quoted Matt6:32,33 - yes. And when He says "all these things will be added to you," do you really think He meant that we would have an equal amount of wealth returned to us? Jesus tells us in this verse that we must forget about our possessions, that they are unnecessary when God provides for us already.

I'm at the library now, waiting for my laundry to be done back at the Transitions building. I'll open up the dryer in about 20 minutes to fold my 5 t-shirts and 3 pairs of jeans, and my towel. Then I'll try to get some sleep, praying that the job market can expand here without people getting laid off, and that my mom can still support my stepdad and little sister on $8.15 an hour for another year until stepdad's heart gets better and he can work again. I'll wake up in the morning, praise God, light up a cigarette, get dressed, tie my shoes, and go to the job fair at the community college. I'm living by God's providence, and I can honestly say that I don't miss all of the luxuries I enjoyed until earlier this year. I don't know how bad you have it, that you will accuse me of being a hypocrite, but Jesus was serious about everything He said. He didn't want us to fall into greed or war with each other anymore. He came to teach God's new way. Dude, I'm gonna tell you something that you might not want to hear. Smoke some weed before the next time you open up your Bible, and see if it isn't easier to understand. What kind of "burning bush" do you think Moses was referring to? There has been extensive research done which suggests Cannabis was one of the most popular types of incense used by the Hebrews, even that Jesus prescribed it as a spiritual sacrament.
Here's an article you might want to read:
Now if that's too unorthodox for you, what do you think all Bibles were printed on up until 1935, two years before the Marijuana Tax Act was passed and Harry Anslinger began his famous "War on Drugs," hmm? In fact, most Bibles are printed on hemp paper even today.
But if it offends you, continue to discriminate with the Bible and choose which of Christ's teachings are parables and which aren't. And I will keep praying for "Christians" everywhere who have only seen the modernized, politically correct and capitalistic manifestations of Christianity that most Americans are taught in Churches that would not have allowed Jesus, unbathed and dressed as a pauper, to attend their Sunday services.