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!

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

33 COMMENTS

  1. 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

  2. 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…

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Name of God and Exploring Jewish Interpretation. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Name of God and Exploring Jewish Interpretation. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Name of God and Exploring Jewish Interpretation. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

      • There is not equality in this life. “The poor will be with you, always.” We are fallen human beings, and we are full of flaws and self-deception. Attempts to cure the ills of society will always fail. Do not place your hope in this world.

        • Hi Matt, don’t you think that we should try to ameliorate the ills of this life to the extent possible? Or is it better to throw up one’s hands and allow injustice and oppression to flourish, since there is no complete “cure”?

  7. 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.

  8. 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 .

  9. 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!!!!

  10. Hi Dr. I do agree that you guys at IBC do not only present the fair, but also treat ones fair. Thank you for that. I at the other hand have a huge problem with the rich, have a inner battle to not discrimenate and get into conflict with…..

  11. ….the rich. How can a christian claim saved in YESHUA but let poor people battle and struggle to survive. GOD raised a humbleness in my heart and can not stop living a sacrifice life in out giving myself. Except Luk.16:19- we will not know at what degree they get saved

  12. The Teachings say Love your Neighbor as you Love your self, but above all Love Adonai with all your strength and with all your heart.

    Shalom

  13. God is no respecter of persons. Paul said that about meeting James, and Peter. One can’t help but think there was a little one upmanship going on there. Somewhere between time and chance happeneth to them all and all the world is a stage and we but actors on it. Truth will be found by those who seek it. Yeshua rules

  14. Win or sin? Now that equality is not reality in the eyes of men,what are we going to do to let leaders understand the mind and heart of the sovereign authority-God? Should we sit back and lament / keep silent or do something?

  15. It is interesting that in Deuteronomy ,every 3 years it was a requirement that 10% of a person’s produce should be given to foreigners,the fatherless & widows. Leviticus farmers were to were to leave corners of the field so that the needy would have access to food. I read a commentery once that “Helping the poor” was a way of paying rent to God,because the earth is His to begin with.In fact every 7th year,during sabbatical year,all debts were forgiven & everything that grew in the land was made freely available for all people.So,God taught people to treat each other as equals & to help each other out. During Christ’s time he was an example of treating people equally,as he went out into the streets talking to people of all walks of life,not to mention helping the sick,the poor,etc. My guess is that as populations grew,other cultures had some inflence. Slowly judging,greed, & elevating an upper class of the “important people” like rulers,businessmen,& rich started.Sometimes people don’t allow themselves to see what happens so it becomes “the norm” of life. Power corrupts .Wealth can go to peoples heads so to speak ,especially when God is being left out of the picture.

  16. That is a dymanite article. So close to the relevant conversations in my head. It seems to me that the Biblical Hebrew does a great job of distinguishing the essences of the differences between the rich and poor, mean and mighty, high and low, when the two words, Adam and Ish are faced together. Right? The terrific tensions between these two words for man combine to tell us a comprehensive story of human evolution, to my mind. We who are born of the flesh are Ish. Genesis 4:1. Those of us who have received the breath of God are Adam. Nikodemus might have known this after his discussion with Jesus. Personally, I think everyone with a body and breath are the commandments of God. If I continue to break these commandments with body and breath, then I sin against the ones written on paper for our collective benefit. Is that a fair assumotion and summary of scripture, as I see it?

  17. I mean, as you see it? Of course, all I have are ideas, and I can be wrong about all of this. But I am trying my best to come to strict terms with Jesus’s words. I can’t help it.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your name here
Words left: 50
Please enter your comment!