Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Poor" in the Greek Scriputures

With the recent release by the Pope and the Vatican that focused on the subject of "the poor" among us, and the resulting debate over these economic issues, perhaps it would be a good time to review the Greek scriptures to see how the actual word of God refers to and uses this human cohort that is termed the "poor ones".

First principles:  What is this word and what does it mean?

The Greek word commonly translated into the English word "poor" is ptochos, which is best translated in personal form as a person "lacking means of subsistence", lacking economic flow, rather than a person who is lacking an economic stock measure of wealth or possessions.

Human subsistence requires flow.  Even a person with great stock measures of wealth or possessions will have to, as we would term it today "liquidate" these economic stocks in order to create a flow that can then sustain a human being.   For instance you can't eat property, common stock certificates, or precious metals (although some do try RIP).

With this definition of a human being termed ptochos, or a "poor-one", as one of our fellow human beings being cut-off or separated from this sustaining flow, here are all of the occurrences of this word in the Greek scriptures in some local context in the scripture:

The word "poor" appears 5 times in Matthew:

1 And, at His being seated, His disciples came to Him.2 And opening His mouth, He taught them, saying,3 "Happy, in spirit, are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.  Mat 5
Jesus said to them, "Go, report to John what you are hearing and observing:5 The blind are receiving sight, and the lame are walking; lepers are being cleansed, and the deaf are hearing, and the dead are being roused, and to the poor the evangel is being brought.  Mat 11
20 The youth is saying to Him, "These all I maintain. In what am I still deficient?"21 Jesus averred to him, "If you are wanting to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and be giving to the poor, and you will be having treasure in the heavens. And hither! Follow Me."22 Now, hearing this word, the youth came away sorrowing, for he had many acquisitions.  Mat 19
6 Now at Jesus' coming to be in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster vase of attar, very precious, and she pours it down on His head at His lying back at table.8 Now perceiving it, His disciples resent it, saying, "Why this destruction?9 For this could be disposed of for much and given to the poor."10 Now, knowing it, Jesus said to them, "Why are you affording the woman weariness? For she works an ideal work for Me.11 For you always have the poor with you, yet Me you have not always.  Mat 26

5 times in Mark:

19 With the precepts you are acquainted: You should not be murdering. You should not be committing adultery. You should not be stealing. You should not be testifying falsely. You should not be cheating. 'Be honoring your father and mother.'"
20 Now he averred to Him, "Teacher, all these I maintain from my youth."
21 Now Jesus, looking at him, loves him, and said to him, "Still one thing you are wanting. Go. Whatever you have, sell, and be giving to the poor, and you will be having treasure in heaven. And hither! Follow Me, picking up the cross."  Mark 10 
41 And Jesus, being seated facing the treasury, beheld how the throng is casting the coppers into the treasury. And many rich cast in much.
42 And one woman, a poor widow, coming, cast in two mites, which is a quadrans.
43 And, calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Verily, I am saying to you that this poor widow casts in more than all who are casting into the treasury.
44 For all cast out of their superfluity, yet she, out of her want, cast in all, as much as she had -- her whole livelihood."  Mark 12 
"For what has this destruction of the attar occurred?
5 For this attar could have been disposed of for over three hundred denarii, and given to the poor." And they muttered against her.
6 Yet Jesus said, "Leave her! Why are you affording her weariness? For it is an ideal work she works in Me.
7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you may be wanting, you can always do well to them, yet Me you have not always.  Mark 

(I have to provide some commentary here to point out that with the Lord's words here:  "and whenever you may be wanting, you can always do well to them"  He is letting His disciples know that we humans have been granted ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY to be correcting these flows at any time we are led to so decide. This economic adjustment is not the most important take away from the lesson about what has occurred before them.  It should be a minor issue for us, an after thought really. "Helping the poor" is NOT the priority take away here and really never is in any of these scriptures I am excerpting, it is implied that the real issue the Lord is teaching about is BIGGER than just helping these "poor ones".)

10 times in Luke:

17 And handed to Him was a scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and, opening the scroll, He found the place where it was written,
18 "The spirit of the Lord is on Me, On account of which He anoints Me to bring the evangel to the poor. He has commissioned Me to heal the crushed heart, To herald to captives a pardon, And to the blind the receiving of sight; To dispatch the oppressed with a pardon.
19 To herald an acceptable year of the Lord..."  Luke 4 
19 And the entire throng sought to touch Him, for power came out of Him, and He healed all.
20 And He, lifting up His eyes to His disciples, said "Happy are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Luke 6 
21 In that hour He cures many of diseases and scourges and wicked spirits, and to many blind He graciously grants sight.
22 And answering, Jesus said to them, "Go, report to John what you perceived and hear: that the blind are receiving sight, the lame are walking, lepers are being cleansed, and the deaf are hearing, the dead are being roused, and to the poor the evangel is being brought.  Luke 7 
12 Now He said to him also who has invited Him, "Whenever you may be making a luncheon or a dinner, do not be summoning your friends, nor yet your brothers, nor yet your relatives, nor yet rich neighbors, lest at some time they also should be inviting you in return, and repayment may come to you.
13 But, whenever you may be making a reception, invite the poor, the cripples, the lame, the blind,
14 and happy will you be, for they have nothing to repay you, for it will be repaid you in the resurrection of the just."  Luke 14 
21 "And, coming along, the slave reports these things to his lord. Then being indignant, the householder said to his slave, 'Come out quickly into the squares and streets of the city, and lead in here the poor, and cripples, and blind, and lame.'  Luke 14
19 "Now a certain man was rich and he dressed in purple and cambric, daily making merry splendidly.
20 Now there was a certain poor man named Lazarus, who had been cast at his portal, having ulcers,
21 and yearning to be satisfied from the scraps which are falling from the rich man's table. But the curs also, coming, licked his ulcers.
22 Now the poor man came to die and he is carried away by the messengers into Abraham's bosom.  Luke 17 
22 Now hearing this, Jesus said to him, "Still one thing you are lacking. All, whatever you have, sell, and distribute to the poor, and you will be having treasure in the heavens. And hither! Follow Me."  Luke 18 
7 And perceiving it, all grumbled, saying that with a man who is a sinner He entered to put up for the night.
8 Now standing, Zaccheus said to the Lord, "Lo! the half of my possessions, Lord, I am giving to the poor! And if from anyone I get anything by blackmail, I am giving back fourfold."
9 Now Jesus said to him that "Today salvation came to this home, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of Mankind came to seek and to save the lost."  Luke 19 
2 Yet He perceived a certain widow also, a drudge, casting there two mites.
3 And He said, "Truly, I am saying to you that this poor widow casts in more than all.
4 For all these cast out of their superfluity into the approach presents of God, yet this woman, out of her want, casts in all the livelihood which she had."  Luke 21

4 times in John:

4 Now Judas of Simon Iscariot, one of His disciples (who is about to give Him up) is saying,5 "Wherefore was not this attar disposed of for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?"6 Now this he said, not that he cared concerning the poor, but that he was a thief, having the coffer also, and bore what is cast into it.7 Jesus, then, said, "Let her be, that she should be keeping it for the day of My burial.8 For the poor you have always with you, yet Me you have not always."  John 12 

26 Jesus, then, is answering and saying, "He it is to whom I, dipping in the morsel, shall be handing it." Dipping in the morsel, then, He is taking it and giving it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot.27 And after the morsel, then, Satan entered into that man. Jesus, then, is saying to him, "What you are doing, do more quickly."28 Now no one of those lying back at table knew to what purpose He said this to him.29 For some supposed, since Judas had the coffer, that Jesus is saying to him, "Buy what we have need of for the festival," or, that he may be giving something to the poor.30 Getting the morsel, then, that man came out straightway.   John 13

The word "poor" does not appear in Acts of the Apostles

One time in Paul's letter to the Roman's:

25 yet now I am going to Jerusalem, dispensing to the saints.26 For it delights Macedonia and Achaia to make some contribution for the poor of the saints who are in Jerusalem.27 For they are delighted, and they are their debtors, for if the nations participate in their spiritual things, they ought to minister to them in fleshly things also.  Romans 15

The word "poor" does not appear in 1 Corinthians.

Two times in 2 Corinthians:
the word of truth, in the power of God, through the implements of righteousness of the right hand and of the left,8 through glory and dishonor, through defamation and renown, as deceivers and true,9 as unknown and recognized, as dying, and lo! we are living, as disciplined and not put to death,10 as sorrowing, yet ever rejoicing, as poor, yet enriching many, as having nothing, and retaining all.2 Cor 6
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, being rich, because of you He became poor, that you, by His poverty, should be rich.  2 Cor 8

Two times in Paul's "Galatians":

9 and, knowing the grace which is being given to me, James and Cephas and John, who are supposed to be pillars, give to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we, indeed, are to be for the nations, yet they for the Circumcision-
10 only that we may be remembering the poor, which same thing I endeavor also to do.  Gal 2
9 Yet now, knowing God, yet rather being known by God, how are you turning back again to the infirm and poor elements for which you want to slave again anew? Gal 4

The word "poor" does not appear in Paul's "Ephesians".

The word "poor" does not appear in Paul's "Philippians".

The word "poor" does not appear in Paul's "Colossians".

The word "poor" does not appear in either of Paul's letters to "Thessalonians".

The word "poor" does not appear in either of Paul's letters to "Timothy".

The word "poor" does not appear in of Paul's letter to "Titus" or "Philemon".

The word "poor" does not appear in the epistle to "Hebrews".

4 times in the letter from James to the 12 tribes in the dispersion:

2 For if there should be entering into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in splendid attire, yet there should be entering a poor man also, in filthy attire,
3 and you should be looking on the one wearing the splendid attire and be saying, "You sit ideally here," and to the poor one be saying, "You stand there," or, "Sit here under my footstool,"
4 were you not discriminating among yourselves, and did you not become judges with wicked reasonings?
5 Hear, my beloved brethren! Does not God choose the poor in the world, rich in faith and enjoyers of the allotment of the kingdom which He promises to those who are loving Him?
6 Yet you dishonor the poor one. Are not the rich tyrannizing over you? And they are drawing you to tribunals.
7 Are not they blaspheming the ideal name which is being invoked over you?  James 2

The word "poor" does not appear in either of the 2 letters from Peter to the dispersion.

The word "poor" does not appear in any of the 3 epistles of John or the epistle of Jude.

2 times in the book of "Revelation" or "Unveiling":

17 Seeing that you are saying that 'Rich am I!' and 'Rich have I become, and of nothing have I need!' and you are not aware that you are wretched and forlorn and poor and blind and naked,
18 I am advising you to buy of Me gold refined by the fire, that you should be rich, and white garments, that you may be clothed and the shame of your nakedness may not be made manifest, and eye-salve to anoint your eyes, that you may be observing.  Rev 3 
16 And it is causing all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, that they may be giving them an emblem on their right hand, or on their forehead,
17 and that no one may be able to buy or sell except the one having the emblem of the wild beast, or its name, or the number of its name.  Rev 13

That is all the occurrences of the the word "poor" or ptochos in the Greek scriptures.

Generally, the context of the use of this word "poor" to identify a cohort of our fellow members of mankind is NOT to inform us that these "the poor" among us should be receiving a conscience soothing, self-aggrandizing, one-time economic adjustment or 'redistibution' to help these "the poor" among us, i.e. those among us who are prevented access to a robust "means of subsistence"; but rather, the poor should be receiving a continuous economic justice, a sustained economic flow, for other, more glorious purposes.

Purposes that remain hidden and unrevealed in the present popular debate around this economic issue that we witness within the overwhelming majority of humanity that is blind to the authority that WE can see.

An authority of mankind that can guaranty access to a never ending, robust means of subsistence to all of our fellow man... but for HIS glory... NOT ours.


googleheim said...

This a lot justification, explanation, and energy not to help the poor. This is protestant refusal as usual. 700 club just a click away.

The pope is pointing out the obvious and getting splinted for what?

The typical run to the greek version by the german run up of things.

Matt Franko said...

Goog, these scriptures suggest (to me) that the more important point to keep in mind when we fix these flows is NOT the 'how' and not even the 'if' but rather the 'why'... Rsp

Unknown said...

"The Greek word commonly translated into the English word "poor" is ptochos, which is best translated in personal form as a person "lacking means of subsistence", lacking economic flow, rather than a person who is lacking an economic stock measure of wealth or possessions."

I don't think that makes sense. If you have a stock of wealth you have a means of subsistence, so long as you can sell parts of that stock for the things you need on a day to day basis.

As an extreme example, someone might inherit a million dollars and just hold it as a stock of wealth in an account. They could spend bits of it whenever they needed to, without ever having to worry about generating a flow of income to pay for their expenses.

Matt Franko said...


I think Lazarus was depicted as having a house or dwelling to live in, etc... but yet he is described as "poor" in the scriptures ... (Bill O'Reilly Christendumbs latest economic expert says "Lazarus was not poor he had a house" so right there is your tip-off)

Just like if you have US Treasury bonds (financial assets) you cant spend them to live... you have to first be able to find someone to take over your savings position in the bonds who has currency they can give you in exchange and then you can spend the currency on food, etc...

The Greeks had another word(s) for "rich", "great possessions", etc...

Even today there is the concept of being "house poor" to describe a household that buys too big/expensive of a house so the mortgage is so much that they end up with not much income (flow) leftover after the mortgage is paid to be able to spend (flow) on household provision...

Someone who inherits a million dollars would have to keep it in a liquid account to be able to spend from it for subsistence...

iow if they keep it in "the checking account" then I think you are correct they have "means of subsistence" but if they put it in anything else I would say they technically do not, they could still be termed "ptochos".

This is the power of a system of state currency (like our Greco/Roman ancestors were running at this time) ... as govt is the "monopolist", then by definition, govt can control the distribution to guaranty that NO ONE ever lacks a basic "means of subsistence" ... "the church" CANNOT do this Christendom has to get to a point of realization of this...

Look at all of these occurrences of this term above: NONE of the occurrences of this word is applied to ANYONE in Greece or Rome... or what is termed "the nations" in the Greek scriptures.

ALL of "the poor" are depicted OUTSIDE OF THE NATIONS (ie in or around Jerusalem/Judea/Gallilee)... the nations ran systems of state currency so there were no "poor" there according to the Greek scriptures... everyone in the nations had some sort of access to a "means of subsistence" so there were not any "ptochos" there.. this should be revealing to us imo...


Matt Franko said...


Look at the scripture, the Lord is often depicted as recommending that SOMEONE create economic flow...


Tom Hickey said...

In ancient time and still in many places today, people are "land-rich" but money poor, that is, illiquid. People are forced to either sell their land under duress, often at a disadvantage, or to borrowing against the asset by putting it up for collateral. This means one could be subsistent or even "middle class" one minute and impoverished the next.

The inner meaning of "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" is that internal renunciation of the worldly desire is necessary for spiritual enlightenment. Same teaching as Krishna in the Gita, Buddha in the Four Noble Truths, and many other spiritual luminaries.

The way I put it is, You can't "own" everything if you "own" anything. This has little if anything to do with physical title, although the wealthier one is the more difficult to achieve discrimination between the important and trivial and internal renunciation of desire for trivial pursuits.