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1 Timothy 6:10 says, in the Authorized Version that the "love of money is the root of all evil." Other translations say that it is "a" root. Which rendering is correct, and what does this passage mean?

It is true that many translations say that the “love of money is a root of all evil” (compare the New King James Bible; the New International Version; the Living Bible; the New Revised Standard Version; and the Amplified Bible). Other translations, besides the Authorized Version, maintain that it should say that “the love of money is THE root of all evil” (compare the Revised Standard Version; the Revised English Bible; the New American Bible; the New Jerusalem Bible; Moffat; Scofield; and Lamsa).

The Interlinear Literal Translation states that the original says, “For a root of all evils is the love of money,” but it continues to render the phrase as: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

From a practical standpoint, the difference between the two alternate renderings is slight, because in each case, it says that the love of money is the root or a root of ALL evil. (Some, like the New King James Version, render this as, “all kinds of evil.” They add the words “all kinds of,” but these words are not in the original.) The point is, whether the love of money is a root or the root, it leads to ALL evil or ALL evils.

What did Paul mean by that?

To fully understand, we need to read the passage in context. Paul states in 1 Timothy 6:6-12:

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a [or: the] root of all… evil [or evils], for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Paul is describing here two ways of life–the spiritual way of godliness, contentment, righteousness, love of God and faith; and the physical way of greediness, the desire to become rich, and the love of money.

Christ warned us that we cannot serve two masters–God and mammon. He explained that we must not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth (living a way of life which is manifested by our love of money, riches and physical possessions), but that we are to lay up spiritual treasures in heaven. He continued: “For where your treasure is, there your HEART will be also… No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24).

Christ makes the same point that Paul is making: Either we love God and His way of life with all our heart, including our desire to be spiritually rich before God, or we love foremost mammon or material possessions, including our desire to be physically rich in this world. Christ continued to explain the incongruity between both ways in Matthew 6:25-34, when He compared the physical worries in this life with what must be our main priority: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (verse 33).

As Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:11, we must “flee” the physical desires to be rich, which are so important in this world, and rather “pursue righteousness.” John explained that the love of God is not in us when we love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17).

But how and why is the love of money THE ROOT or A (most important) ROOT of ALL evil? How does it lead to temptation and a snare, foolish and harmful lusts, many sorrows, perdition and destruction (compare 1 Timothy 6:9-10)?

Consider man’s first sin. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve was tempted by Satan to do this. She looked at the tree and saw that it was good for food, pleasant to the eye and desirable to make one wise (Genesis 3:6). In other words, the love of something physical motivated her to give in to the temptation of eating from that tree; it produced greed and the harmful lust to do so, and it resulted in her destruction. Adam followed Eve’s lead, and both were punished with many sorrows and death.

The Nelson Study Bible states to 1 Timothy 6:10:

“Greediness may cause a believer even to stray from the faith. Christians may be blinded by greed and materialism to such a degree that they break away from their faith… A life focused on material things produces only pain…”

The Life Application Bible adds: “Greed leads to … marriage problems, robbery, blowups in partnerships. To master greed, you must control it at its root. Get rid of the desire to be rich.”

There are reasons why Christ warned us that it would be very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24). The main problem is that a rich person may love his riches too much, and he may be unwilling to give them up, if necessary, in order to follow Christ without reservation.

Because of the refusal to follow God whole-heartedly, Mary said about rich people that God “filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53). Christ spoke this timeless warning: “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).

James adds that the rich man “also will fade away in his pursuits” (James 1:11), continuing, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasures in the last days” (James 5:1-3).

Notice! James’ warning is for our time–the “last days.” When our worldwide economic troubles increase–and especially in the United States of America–all our wealth, riches and money will be useless and without value. None of them will help us–people will throw their gold (which some today are desperate of acquiring, because of its high temporary and artificial value) as well as their silver into the streets, treating it as refuse, because it will be totally worthless (Isaiah 2:7, 20; Ezekiel 7:19).

Then it will be too late. Proverbs 28:20, 22 says: “A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished… A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, And does not consider that poverty will come upon him.”

Again and again, the Bible tells us not to give in to the love of “money” or materialism, and not to work for, as our main focus, the physical riches or possessions in this life. Proverbs 23:4-5 says: “Do not overwork [or: “wear yourself out”] to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.”

In the parable of the rich fool, Christ warned all of us: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). After telling the rich fool who had heaped up treasures for himself that he would die that very night, He concluded, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (verse 21).

And so, Paul admonishes us today–and especially those who are rich in this world–to get our priorities straight:

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor TRUST in UNCERTAIN riches but in the living GOD, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do GOOD, that they be rich in good works, READY TO GIVE, WILLING TO SHARE, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Rather than pursuing the love of money, wanting to become rich, or perhaps glorying in our riches (Jeremiah 9:23) and parading a cocky attitude of self-contentment and -sufficiency (Revelation 3:17), we are to “buy” the true spiritual riches from God (Revelation 3:18), and to pursue God’s love of helping others and sharing with them our physical and spiritual riches.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link