Is the love of money the root of all evil?

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Is the love of money the cause of every evil? Or is the love of money the cause of many, but not all, evils? This question arises, at least in part, due to the different ways that English translations translate 1 Timothy 6.10.

Some, most notably the King James Version (KJV) translate it as: “For the love of money is the root of all evil…” Others, like the ESV translate it as: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” The difference in meaning is significant.

First, let’s remember that what we are talking about here is the love of money (φιλαργυρία, philargyria). Money in itself is not bad. It is also not bad or a sin to be wealthy. Money is something that is necessary for our daily existence. We need it to buy food and clothing. To pay rent or mortgages. And many other things. What is in view in this verse is the love of money. It is the valuing of money as the highest good in life and pursuing the accumulation of it at any and all costs. When you move from viewing money as a necessity and making sure that you have enough of it to meet your needs to viewing money as something that you need more of just so you can have more of it is when you have crossed the line.

Now, there are two main “problems” that need to be sorted out in regards to this verse: 1) How should we understand “root” (ῥίζα, rhiza)? 2) How should we understand “all” (πάντων, pantōn)?

“Root” can be understood to be definite, indefinite, or qualitative.

  • If “root” is definite it means that it refers to a specific root, so we would usually translate it with “the root…” and it would be understood to be the only root or the greatest root.
  • If “root’ is indefinite it means that it does not refer to a specific root, so we would usually translate it with “a root…” and it would be understood to be one of several possible roots.
  • If “root” is qualitative it means that it is ascribing the quality of being a root to “the love of money.” More on this option later.

Logically it is difficult to accept that root is definite because there are certainly other sources of evil in the world besides the love of money. It is also difficult to accept on a logical basis that the love of money is even the greatest source of evil since determining the greatest source of evil would be a subjective exercise. You could take this option and read it as a case of hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), but I think there are better options.

Grammatically it is difficult to take root as being indefinite due to the way the verse is constructed in Greek. Not impossible mind you, just difficult.

The most likely option, gramatically, is that “root” is qualitative. But what does this actually mean? As mentioned above the qualitative idea basically means that a quality is being ascribed to something. In this case the quality of a “root” is being ascribed to “love of money.” What qualities then do roots have? Well roots are generally associated with plants and have 2 main functions: 1) provide the plant with water and nutrients from the soil; and 2) anchor the plant to the ground and keep it steady and firm. In short, they basically help the plant survive.

So, if we apply these qualities of a root to the love of money what are we saying? We are saying that the love of money nourishes, or sustains, or keeps something alive, in this case “all (kinds of) evil(s).” So we should, I think, translate this part of the verse something like: “The love of money motivates…”

Now, before moving on, I will also mention that the qualitative idea also says nothing about other possible causes or motivators evil; it just says that the love of money does produce evil without including or excluding other possible sources. It might be the only cause, but it also might not be.

Getting back on topic… We can now move on to discuss how we should understand “all.”

“All” can be understood to mean “all without exception” or “all without distinction.”

  • If “all” means “all without exception” it means that every evil that exists is caused by the love of money, so we would translate usually with: “…all evils.”
  • If “all” means “all without distinction” it means that the different types of evil that are caused by the love of money are not being distinguished between, so we would usually translate with: “all kinds of evil.”

This one is a little more difficult to figure out, but it is also (I think) less important compared to “root.” Personally I favor that here “all” means “all without exception” (all evils). For one, I think if you were to somehow make an exhaustive and definitive list of all the evils that exist, the love of money could be a cause of all of them. This also fits with taking “root” as qualitative because it would allow for other causes of those evils. However, the main reason why is because I think that Paul does not have in mind every evil that exists, but the specific evils that he mentioned earlier. So “all” is limited to a specified set of evils. Take a look at the beginning of the chapter:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

-1 Timothy 6.3-5

Paul is warning against people who imagine that godliness is a means of financial gain. He warns that these people will say and do whatever in order to advance themselves and make money. Their efforts will cause envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction. The evils that Paul has in mind, I think, are these specific evils, not every evil that exists on the planet. So “all,” I think, really refers to all the evils that were previously mentioned, not every single evil in existence.

So putting this together the overall idea is: “The reason why those who try to use preaching or teaching in the Church as the means to fulfill their desire to be rich fall into all sorts of ruin, harm, and destruction is because the love of money produces all the evils I mentioned earlier, which in turn bring ruin, harm, and destruction upon people.”

Most of the time most English translations do a good job of translating the underlying Greek or Hebrew. This is one of the few cases in which I think almost all of them completely miss the mark.

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Tom Ferguson ThM 2018, Dallas Theological Seminary