Life in Bible Times—Money
“He sat down with the treasury chests in view and began observing how the crowd was dropping money into the treasury chests; and many rich people were dropping in many coins. Now a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins, which have very little value.”—MARK 12:41, 42.
THE Bible often mentions money. As seen in the Gospel accounts, for instance, Jesus used different types of coins to teach vital principles. He drew a lesson from the widow’s donation of “two small coins,” referred to in the above quotation. On another occasion, he pointed to a type of coin known as a denarius to help his followers discern how they should view governmental authority.*—Matthew 22:17-21.
Why was money invented? How was it made in Bible times? How was it used? And what do we learn from the Bible about how we should view it?
From Bartering to Precious Metals
Before money was invented, people traded, using the barter system. They exchanged goods and services of equal value. But bartering could be inconvenient. For the system to work, each party had to desire the goods that the other was offering. In addition, traders had to carry or care for cumbersome trade items, such as animals or bags of grain.
Traders eventually saw the need for a more convenient commodity that could be used to buy and sell goods. The solution was to use precious metals, such as gold, silver, and copper. In the accompanying picture, you see a merchant using precious metals in the form of jewelry and ingots to buy some goods or services. Those metals were carefully weighed on sensitive scales before an exchange of goods took place. For example, when Abraham bought a burial site for his beloved wife, Sarah, he weighed out the required amount of silver.—Genesis 23:14-16.
At the time that Jehovah gave Israel the written Law, greedy merchants used faulty scales or inaccurate weights to cheat customers. Dishonesty is detestable to Jehovah God, so he told the Israelite merchants: “You should prove to have accurate scales, accurate weights.” (Leviticus 19:36; Proverbs 11:1) Today, those who sell goods do well to remember that Jehovah’s feelings about greed and dishonesty have not changed.—Malachi 3:6; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
How Coins Were First Made
The first coins were likely minted in Lydia (modern-day Turkey), sometime before 700 B.C.E. Metalworkers in various countries were soon mass-producing coins, and people throughout the lands mentioned in the Bible began using them.
How were the coins made? A worker would remove molten metal from a furnace (1) and pour it into hollow casts, producing blank discs known as flans (2). He would then insert the flans between metal dies that were engraved with symbols or pictures (3). Next came the hammer strike that imprinted the image onto the flan (4). The speed of the process often resulted in coins that were struck with the image off-center. Workers would sort the coins, weigh them to make sure that they were of a consistent value and, if needed, trim off any excess metal (5).
Money Changers, Tax Collectors, and Bankers
In the first century C.E., coins from various countries made their way into Palestine. For example, travelers to the temple in Jerusalem brought foreign coins with them. However, those caring for the temple would accept the temple tax only if it was paid with certain types of coins. Money changers set up their trade in the temple and often charged exorbitant fees to exchange foreign coins for acceptable currency. Jesus condemned those greedy men. Why? Because they were turning Jehovah’s house into “a house of merchandise” and “a cave of robbers.”—John 2:13-16; Matthew 21:12, 13.
Inhabitants of Palestine also had to pay various secular taxes. One was the “head tax” that Jesus’ opposers questioned him about. (Matthew 22:17) Other taxes included a toll tax and taxes on imported and exported goods. Government tax collectors in Palestine had a reputation for dishonesty, and the people despised them. (Mark 2:16) The tax collectors would amass personal fortunes by overcharging taxpayers and then keeping the excess. However, some tax collectors, such as Zacchaeus, responded to Jesus’ message and abandoned their dishonest practices. (Luke 19:1-10) Today, any who want to follow Christ must also be honest in all things, including their business dealings.—Hebrews 13:18.
Another group who handled money were the bankers. In addition to exchanging foreign currency, they devised savings systems, made loans, and paid out interest to those who invested with the bank. Jesus referred to these bankers in an illustration about slaves who were given various amounts of money with which to do business.—Matthew 25:26, 27.
The Proper View of Money
In most lands today, people must earn money to buy what they need. The statement that God inspired King Solomon to write centuries ago is still true: “Money is for a protection.” But Solomon also stated that wisdom is worth more than money because it “preserves alive its owners.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12) Such wisdom is found in the Bible.
Jesus helped his followers to gain a balanced view of money when he said: “Even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) Like Jesus’ first-century disciples, we display wisdom when we handle money responsibly and honestly and avoid developing a love for it.—1 Timothy 6:9, 10.
See the box “Facts About Coins, on page 26.”
[Box/Pictures on page 26]
Facts About Coins
● One of the smallest coins in circulation in first-century Palestine was the copper lepton, also known as a mite. A laborer would earn two lepta in just 15 minutes. It was likely two lepta that the widow dropped into the temple treasury chest.—Mark 12:42.
● The silver denarius was a Roman coin that bore the image of Caesar, so it was ideally suited to serve as “the tribute” coin exacted from every adult Jewish male during the Roman occupation. (Romans 13:7) An employer would pay a laborer one denarius for a 12-hour workday.—Matthew 20:2-14.
● A pure silver shekel made in the city of Tyre circulated in Palestine during the time Jesus was on earth. The 30 “silver pieces” that the chief priests paid to Judas Iscariot for his betrayal of Jesus may have been Tyrian shekels.—Matthew 26:14-16.
Coins shown actual size