Today we are making available the second installment of our new online video series for Economics in the Gospels.
Kingdoms have largely been tamed nowadays. They were not particularly effective economic systems compared to mixed economies so the patrician classes throughout the world have been set aside – economically and politically speaking anyway. Monarchies still exist, the Royals in Britain for instance, but the Magna Carta changed the directory of the world’s economic systems leading to worldwide capitalism and its concomitant institutions.So, what about Kingdoms in the Gospels? In Jesus’ world we have in fact several layers of authoritarian government, beginning with Caesar and the Patricians representing Rome, Herod representing the kings of Israel, and, in some ways, the priestly class with the Pharisees on top. All of whom are well represented in this installment from the Economics in the Gospels video course and study.
Even though the chapter on Kingdoms is one of the shortest it also has the most mentions (126). Most of these are of the heavenly variety, e.g. the “Kingdom of Heaven”; but there are several mentions of actual kingdoms, which is what we are mostly interested in for our economics study of that ancient world of Christ’s. Interestingly, Jesus seemed to have only one system in mind: Kingdoms - in heaven of course. And once again we don’t see a very promising capitalist in Him.
Many jobs are seen in the Gospels (50+) including all those ruling class roles already mentioned. Many are iconic jobs like: fishermen, carpenter, and shepherd, all of which instantly bring to mind stories and characters from the Gospels. For our purposes these aren’t of just passing interest but convey a great deal about the economy in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s world.
Add to the mix Roman figures like Centurions and officers, soldiers, and guards, all of whom must be paid and provided for and not so different from today. Where would the Gospel stories be without these characters? They are central, vital, and relatable some 2,000 years later.
There is a well-represented clergy of course, though the picture we have is of a vilified profession. The Pharisees and the rest of the priestly class are usually antagonists in the stories, and they paint a picture of a powerful clerical sphere. Not surprising for a theocracy-based authoritarianism – a mixed economy that produces most of the things it takes to live, but in a way that is abhorrent to us today in our Capitalist/Socialist stew.
Moving on we find the lawyers (Experts in the Law) and a thriving judicial system with judges, magistrates, wardens and, as we will see later in the study: courts and prisons. Then there are the truly despised jobs: tax collector and money changer. Not sure which is worse.
Fortunately, I guess, for finance guys like me we see many folks in business doing managerial functions, especially in the Parables. Often these jobs are being done by those referred to as slaves and servants (more on this in the next installment: Labor (Part2). Why do I guess it’s fortunate? Because often these guys are not seen in the best light. But we are all promised love and forgiveness so what’s to worry, right? A particularly intriguing passage is that of the Business Partner, a phrase mentioned just once in the Gospels:
Luke 5:10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
Apparently, businesspeople are exactly the kinds of people Christ chooses…so long as they give up their business and follow Him – in this example anyway.
At a point in time where we have so many unemployed we can perhaps find it reassuring to know that so many jobs have been here for so long, including the jobs I think Jesus would like to be thought of Himself: teacher and physician. Not that he wasn’t proud to be a carpenter, we just never see Him carpentering.
Next up: Labor (Part 2)
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For the most part in this book the spiritual/metaphysical is given back seat status. Economics is largely on the opposite end of the spectrum in that it deals with the physical world of factors of production, goods and services, capital, labor, rent, etc. That being said, Adam Smith referred to the “invisible hand” as a manifestation of market forces, in and of itself, a kind of nod to an unseen, if not metaphysical, force. Kingdoms in the Gospels exist in both contexts.
It is difficult to write about kingdoms in the Gospels and write so little as there are so many mentions of the Kingdom of Heaven, etc.
Kingdom – 126; Realm - 1
Kingdom is almost always mentioned in the context of the “Kingdom of Heaven” as so famously alluded to in the Lord’s Prayer:
Matthew 6:10 may your kingdom come,
However, there are mentions of kingdoms in the Gospels that do refer to the economic and political and are the most often mentioned economic/political system discussed.
Matthew 24:7 For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
Kingdoms were also offered as the ultimate prize and temptation of power and wealth.
Luke 4:5 Then the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. 4:6 And he said to him, “To you I will grant this whole realm – and the glory that goes along with it, for it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish.
Additionally, kingdoms were used as metaphor…
Luke 11:17 But Jesus, realizing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and a divided household falls.
The following parable intriguingly uses many rich economic metaphors to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like…
Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field. 13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 13:46 When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it. 13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. 13:48 When it was full, they pulled it ashore, sat down, and put the good fish into containers and threw the bad away. 13:49 It will be this way at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous 13:50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13:51 “Have you understood all these things?” They replied, “Yes.” 13:52 Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.”
The Gospels contain a rich assortment of various professions with close to fifty counted, ranging from the most recognized, like fishermen, to the most despised, the Pharisees, to the lowest on the ladder, slaves, to the top, governors, rulers and the like.
This panoply allows most people in today’s economy to find some job they can relate to – something analogous. Lawyers are well represented as “Experts in the Law”, bankers might see themselves as the money changers, and tax collectors, well, are tax collectors. Certainly there are still prostitutes, carpenters, teachers, soldiers, physicians, servants, flute players, businessmen, the list goes on. Below are a list of most of the identifiable jobs mentioned.
While not the most mentioned it would be hard to find a more important job in the Gospels. Fishing and fish are very common throughout.
Probably the most recognizable “respectable” jobs in the New Testament are those of the Fishermen, Carpenter, and the Shepherd. Jesus’ first disciple was a fishermen; Jesus himself was reportedly a carpenter; and the shepherds were among the first to see the baby Jesus and the principal analogy to Christ himself.
Matthew 4:18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen).
Even more famous perhaps, though mentioned even less, is the carpenter. A very popular profession one can surmise given the large number of houses and other structures mentioned in the Gospels, as we’ll see further on.
Matthew 13:55 Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?
Herding sheep is one of the first jobs mentioned.
Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Luke 2:8 Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night.
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 10:12 The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them.
Hired Hand (2)
The comparison of the shepherd to the hired hand on the other hand demonstrates a well-worn economic reality. Presumably the shepherd is an owner or in some way cares much more about the sheep than the hired hand.
John 10:13 Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away.
The centurion was a high-level career soldier in the Roman army and holds a special place in the Gospels.
Matthew 8:13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour.
There are many instances in the Gospels of Roman soldiers doing the “dirty work” of the “powers that be” and rarely shown in a good light.
Luke 23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,
As contrasted to the centurion the officers mentioned in the Gospels also “do the dirty work” leading the soldiers.
John 18:12 Then the squad of soldiers with their commanding officer and the officers of the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus and tied him up.
And then there are the guards.
John 18:18 (Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire they had made, warming themselves because it was cold. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.)
In the Gospels we are constantly struck by references to the Kingdom of God, and to Jesus and God in their capacity as kings of that realm. We try to stay away from such uses of the terms except in passages where it is overly difficult to do so and there are several passages with earthly and physical kings.
Matthew 2:9 After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was.
Similarly, the use of the term ruler is frequent in the Gospels both in the physical and heavenly.
John 7:50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of the rulers, said, 7:51 “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?”
Governor (20) / Pilate (56)
The Governor/Pilate is often featured in the Gospels, principally as the reluctant judge of Jesus.
Matthew 27:14 But he did not answer even one accusation, so that the governor was quite amazed.
The ultimate king of the earthly realm (Roman Empire) was Caesar. The Gospels don’t argue this point; they just point to a higher authority.
John 19:15 Then they shouted out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” The high priests replied, “We have no king except Caesar!”
Pharisees (79)/Jewish Leaders (29)
As the primary recipients of Jesus’ rebukes, the foremost antagonists in the Gospels are the Pharisees, followed closely by the “experts in the law” who they frequently ran with.
The Pharisees have a complex role throughout the Gospels.
Matthew 9:11 When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
John 9:22 (His parents said these things because they were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders. For the Jewish leaders had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.
They clearly saw Jesus as their enemy…
Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, as to how they could assassinate him.
Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words.
John 5:16 Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him. 5:17 So he told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.”
John 7:32 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things about Jesus, so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.
John 18:3 So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons.
Though there are a few instances where the Pharisees are seen in a positive light, such as with Nicodemus.
Luke 13:31 At that time, some Pharisees came up and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
John 3:1 Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, 3:2 came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
The Sadducees are usually found with the Pharisees when mentioned in the Gospels, with similar disdain.
Matthew 16:1 Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
High Priest (33)
The High Priest is seen in the Gospels almost exclusively as the chief persecutor of Jesus, during his end days.
Matthew 26:62 So the high priest stood up and said to him, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?”
Chief Priest (53)
Again, the priests are the arch villains of the Gospels.
Matthew 26:14 Then one of the twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests
John 12:10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too,
Experts in the Law (55)
Poor lawyers - they are mentioned in the Gospels with great frequency but with little affection. Not much seems to have changed over the past 2,000 years. In the Gospels they are almost always mentioned in the company of the high priests and the Pharisees. They were at the top of the food chain, so to speak, and a major target of the Gospels’ narrative.
Mark 12:38 In his teaching Jesus also said, “Watch out for the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, 12:39 and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 12:40 They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. These men will receive a more severe punishment.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Luke 10:25 Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” 10:27 The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 10:28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:29 But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. 10:32 So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 10:33 But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. 10:34 He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 10:35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’ 10:36 Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 10:37 The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
Judge (9) / Magistrate (1) / Warden (1)
The legal profession overall is well represented in the Gospels with several mentions of judges and their ilk. In fact, Pilate himself is largely remembered as Jesus’ judge.
Luke 12:58 As you are going with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, so that he will not drag you before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.
Tax Collector (22)
Tax collectors, though apparently hated more than just about anybody back in the Gospels’ times, are spoken of affectionately, with Matthew a tax collector himself. They and other despised professions were often chosen by Jesus to be his closest associates, in juxtaposition to the “well-healed” leaders of society, from which Jesus largely kept his distance.
Mark 2:15 As Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s home, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 2:16 When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector
Luke 18:9 Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. 18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 18:13 The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ 18:14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Given Jesus’ penchant for heeling people one might say he was first and foremost a physician himself. As today, the ability to heal is highly regarded. Physicians are mentioned metaphorically as in the oft quoted phrase: “Physician heal thy self” - Luke 4:23. Interestingly, Luke himself was purportedly a physician.
Matthew 9:12 When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do.
Matthew 9:35 Then Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness.
Maybe the job that Jesus most liked for himself was that of teacher. It is arguably the most respected job of all in the Gospels.
Luke 2:46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
Money Changers (4)
At the other end of the “respect” range of professions, maybe the most notorious job in the Gospels is that of the money changer. The ancient equivalent of a currency exchange bank or kiosk at an airport, these “bankers” would exchange Greek or Roman money into money that could be used in the temple to buy a sacrificial animal for temple sacrifices.
Mark 11:15 Then they came to Jerusalem. Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves,
Business was apparently as much a part of the Gospels’ time as today. The next passage makes clear that Simon (Peter) was a businessman, at least before he became an apostle.
Luke 5:10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
Then, as now, managerial skills were esteemed.
Luke 12:42 The Lord replied, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his household servants, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time?
At the top of the labor force were the masters, mentioned frequently in the Gospels.
John 15:15 I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father.