“Did you know Jesus preached about money more than anything else? That’s right! He taught about money in 11 of his 39 parables. Finances are Jesus’ most talked about topic.”
Ever heard something like this before?
Did it surprise you?
It did me.
But as I kept hearing it over the years, I finally thought to myself, “Man, I’ve read the gospel accounts many times over, and I’ve never come away saying, ‘Wow, Jesus spoke on finances more than any other topic!’” In fact, I’d argue that the vast majority of Christians who have read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would say the same thing.
Unfortunately, many likely think the claim is true because they hear pastors and financial ministries cite it when teaching on money and just assume they are correct.
But don’t despair, if you were as surprised by this claim as I was, know your alarm is warranted because the Jesus-taught-more-about-finances-than-anything-else angle is an urban legend. Christ didn’t teach on finances more than any other topic. Once you actually look at his teachings, frankly, it’s not even close.
It’s an urban legend because it mishandles the data by only seeking to discover where Jesus talks about money but not, and this is critical, how money is talked about. There is a big difference between teaching on the topic of finances and using financial terms to illustrate a completely different topic. A cursory reading of Jesus’ teachings will confirm he did the latter much more than the former.¹ And that oft-quoted stat that 11 of Jesus’ 39 parables were about finances? It doesn’t hold water because in many of those parables Jesus used money to illustrate a different topic than money.
For example, in Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells a story about the payment of vineyard workers. But, Christ isn’t teaching about good business practices. Instead, he’s illustrating how those who enter into God’s kingdom do so by sheer grace. That’s the point.² No one finishes that parable and concludes that Jesus is teaching on the topic of horticulture simply because he referred to a vineyard or that he’s addressing how Christian business owners do payroll simply because he talked about wages. Those details and references serve the main point of the parable: the grace of the kingdom of God. Jesus even tells us the point at the end: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Yup, it’s clearly not about finances. Jesus merely uses money (and a vineyard, workers, etc.) to teach a different topic than money.
Here’s a challenge: take the other ten parables which reference money (e.g., Two Debtors of Luke 7, Hidden Treasure of Matthew 13, Lost Coin of Luke 15)³ and see how many of them have Jesus using money in a similar way to the parable of the vineyard workers. Don’t be surprised if you find that the number of teachings where Jesus uses finances to actually teach about finances begins to shrink.
However, don’t think this gets us off the hook from having our financial life submitted to the lordship of Christ.
On the contrary, how we handle money is important for people of faith, especially so for North American Christians who struggle with cultural idols like materialism and individualism. Simply put, money is a gospel issue! Jesus definitely taught on money as well as the rest of the New Testament. Yet, it’s simply inaccurate (and inappropriate) to say Jesus spoke more about finances than anything else. It’s just not true. If anything, he spoke more about the kingdom of God than other topics. It’s pretty clear. Just read the gospel accounts. You can’t miss it.
A good practice for Christians would be to stop spreading this urban legend. We don’t need it in order to teach about how followers of Jesus should handle their finances. We have more than enough pertinent passages in the Scripture to appropriately and accurately teach us about honoring Christ with our money.
¹ In a Relevant magazine article, Jeffery Poor (ironic last name) writes, “Eleven of Jesus’ parables do mention money. Eighteen of Jesus’ parables also mention food, but that doesn’t make it the point of the stories.”
² Generally speaking, parables only have one idea behind them. Find that one idea and you’ve gotten the point of the parable.
³ Unfortunately, whoever first gave this statistic didn’t tell us exactly which of those parables made up the eleven.