When Jews of 2,000 years ago wrote about any topic, they almost always interacted with the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) on a deep level. Whether addressing market trading or Temple singing, community issues or legal matters, the thoughts of these authors ran naturally in Hebraic channels – even when writing in a different language such as Greek. But how can we tell that this was the case even when it came to things like financial status and social position?
One of the most striking commandments in the Hebrew Torah reads: “You shall not do injustice in judgment: you shall not lift up the face of the weak, nor shall you exalt the face of the great. You shall judge your fellow in justice.” (Lev 19:15) This is a forceful declaration that poor and rich are to be equal before the law. Since the time of the Bible, many societies have recognized and proclaimed this principle. Sadly, few (if any) have ever lived up to it.
In the first century, a Jew of Jerusalem called Jacob wrote a letter “to the Twelve Tribes in Diaspora” (i.e., to people of Israel who were living in other lands; Jam 1:1). He asked his readers and hearers to think about a scenario in which a rich person and a poor person both came into the συναγωγή (sunagōgē), i.e., “community gathering.” (This Greek word is the origin of English “synagogue.”) Jacob argued that if anyone were to treat the rich attendant better than the poor one, that would be a criminal violation of the “law” (or torah, “teaching”) of the king and of liberty (Jam 2:1-12). On what basis did he make this astonishing claim?
Remarkably, Jacob’s text uses specific “key words” which refer us directly back to the Torah’s commandment about equality between rich and poor! In the first century, the Jewish-Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible was widely used throughout the Mediterranean world. Its version of Lev 19:15 (like the original Hebrew text) speaks twice of preferring someone’s “face” (πρόσωπον; prosōpon). Similarly, Jacob speaks twice of “accepting a face” (προσωποληψία; prosōpolēpsia in 2:1 and προσωποληπτέω; prosōpolēpteō in 2:9). The Septuagint of Lev 19:15 mentions “judgment” (κρίσις; krisis) and “judging” (κρίνω; krinō). Jacob mentions “judging between” (διακρίνω; diakrinō in 2:4) and being a “judge” (κριτής; kritēs in 2:4).
The choice of all these closely related words (and others) can hardly be a coincidence. And if there were any doubt, Jacob explicitly frames his discussion as a question of “law/torah according to the Scripture” (2:8, 10-12). What this first-century Jewish author tries to drive home is that treating rich and poor as equals is not only a theoretical matter for the law courts. Rather, the Torah’s commandment of radical equality penetrates as deep as every single individual’s attitude and behavior toward all of his or her “fellow” human beings!
Load more comments
It almost seems like idol worship to place a person of wealth above a person of modest or low income. If we are created equal that speaks of our physical make up not our personal prosperity. So equal we are in Gods eyes so should we be in our fellow human families eyes. Money doesn’t make one better or above anyone. It is often chains that drag you down. The word is always the right way. Praise The Lord Thank you for the comment, Deborah! Amen The Bible says it and I believe it - God’s word is always correct, but that’s not how the world operates. The rich has a constant greed for the dollar and the officials in gov’t make it all possible. Rich should help the poor, if I was I certainly would help some people. Before God we are all the same - giving preference is like idol worship, so let's be careful how we treat and attend to fellow humans. Truth.. Jacob is pinpoint correct and it includes all bases of personal judgement, the most topical of which today is racism of which there is a wide spectrum, not just color. What people don’t realize is that by judging another in this way they debase themselves and that is Scriptural. However no space here... Thank you for these serious points, Peter. This article about the poor and rich being equal before the law is false. At least not in America. We have seen it everyday. It also falls along political lines. The Democrats get away with crimes while the rest of us get arrested. Gary, it sounds like you actually agree with the article: "Many societies have recognized and proclaimed this principle; sadly, few (if any) have ever lived up to it"! I didn't write about American Republicans and Democrats because neither was in vogue 2,000 years ago. However, being humans, both groups are susceptible to bias and perverting justice... I don’t think he was speaking about the voting demographics, but as an independent I have noticed that Mr. Trump is the only one that hasn’t been tried for his crimes ONLY because he is sitting President. He’s rich but he worked undocumented immigrants and fired them after becoming President. I have always believed that we are equal when looked upon by Yashua. He died for All sins and all people. Is this the equality the Torah is speaking about? Thank you, Christine. I think the Torah and Jacob are both speaking of how each person should look at others; i.e., everyone should treat rich and poor as equals. I think it's interesting to note how, contrary to much of the church's modern teaching, the early believers in Jesus the Messiah taught that Torah was to be obeyed. Not that it was no longer relevant because of God's grace through the cross. Thank you, Elizabeth. Hopefully here at IBC we can help to present a more historical understanding of these texts. Recognizing the differences between first-century Jewish views and later Christian theologies can be an important part of that. We are glad that you are finding our articles enlightening. You’ve already started your path into Scripture, but there’s so much more that awaits you! Consider enrolling in our immersive online courses: The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. We guarantee that they will deepen your understanding of Scripture and enrich your faith experience. Not just the rich and poor but also the wise and fool; Ecclesiastes 2:15-16 (Living Bible) '... just as the fool will die, so will I...For the wise and fool both die and in the days to come both will be long forgotten.' Death is the great equalizer of all. It's hard to argue with that last point, Randal! But what about equality in this life? We are glad that you are finding our articles enlightening. You’ve already started your path into Scripture, but there’s so much more that awaits you! Consider enrolling in our immersive online courses: The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. We guarantee that they will deepen your understanding of Scripture and enrich your faith experience. God so loved the world that he gave his only son that WHOSOEVER. We are all bought with this unbelievable price. There should be no prejudice. God didn't judge one according to one's status and wealth. We are equal in the eye of God. Equally poor and rich are entitled to equal justice and protection in the court of law. But in private people treat one on the status and richness of a person . EXCELLENT message - GOD is good. It is a powerful message. The outward appearance or action of a person is a tricky thing for even the most "righteous" or noble human being (like ancient Samuel) to judge. God is our maker and ultimate judge, and God judges the thoughts and intentions of "the heart" (or mind) (1 Samuel 16:7). Thankfully!!!!
+ More answers (1)
+ More answers (2)
+ More answers (2)