Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Jesus poor nazareth doves sepphoris

For most of my Christian life, I have had the impression that Jesus lived on earth as a poor man. I’ve heard some use the following quotation from the Gospels as evidence that Jesus was poor and even homeless: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58).[1] But lately, a few verses and stories have come to mind that have made me think Jesus was not as poor as I have previously been led to believe.

The Offering of Two Doves

Some people say Mary and Joseph were poor because two doves were offered as sacrifices for Mary’s purification after giving birth to Jesus, and not a lamb and a dove (Luke 2:22-24 cf. Lev. 12:6, 8). Offering only doves, however, was completely within the Law for purification after childbirth. It was probably only the very wealthy who went to the extra expense of sacrificing a lamb for this particular rite.

The Gifts of the Magi

When Jesus was still an infant, he was presented with expensive gifts from the Magi, luxurious gifts usually given to royalty (Matt. 2:11). I wonder what Mary and Joseph did with the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. No doubt some of it would have come in useful to help fund their emergency trip to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15).

Life in Nazareth

It has been thought that Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth was a small village inhabited mostly by poorer people. Archaeologist Ken Dark, however, sees in the ancient structures and artefacts of Nazareth evidence that is consistent with an economic level that is higher than some scholars have previously imagined.[2]

It is unlikely that Jesus’ family was poor. Joseph and Jesus were builders. During the early reign of Herod Antipas, there seems to have been plenty of building work in Galilee, especially in the nearby town of Sepphoris.[3] So Jesus’ family would have been neither very rich nor very poor, relative to the living standards of the day.[4]

Patronage of Wealthy Women and Men

During his ministry years, Jesus freely associated with the sick and the poor; however, many of his friends were wealthy, including his more notorious friends such as the tax-collectors (Mark 2:15-16). Moreover, Jesus’ ministry was sponsored by many women who accompanied Jesus and ministered to him out of their own resources (Luke 8:2-3 cf. Matt. 27:55-56). This money was put into a communal purse (John 12:6 NRSV).[5]

Martha and Mary of Bethany were wealthy and hospitable women. Jesus was their friend and a welcome guest in their home (Luke 10:38). An example of their wealth was demonstrated when Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. The perfume was worth a year’s wages (John 12:4-8). Martha and Mary of Bethany were devoted to Jesus, as was Mary the Magdalene, Joanna, and others. No doubt there were many grateful women and men who opened their homes to Jesus and made sure he was well-provided for. The provision of the upper room and the Passover meal may have been a generous gift. (See Matt. 26:17-19; Luke 22:7-13.)

Jesus’ Seamless Tunic

When Jesus was being crucified, Roman soldiers took his clothes. The soldiers saw that Jesus’ tunic was well-made and had value: it was seamless and woven in one piece. Each soldier wanted to own the tunic. They did not want to tear it into smaller pieces of cloth. So, to settle the matter, they gambled for it (John 19:23-24). Had the tunic been a gift to Jesus? Had it been lovingly woven by one of his followers?

A Rich Man’s Tomb

When Jesus died, he was placed in a tomb that had been freshly hewn out of rock. The tomb was owned by a disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a rich man (Matt. 27:57-60).

From these stories, it appears that throughout his life on earth, from his infancy to his death, Jesus was amply provided for.

God’s Provision

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught his followers not to worry about food and clothes and material possessions. He had taught his followers that, instead of worrying, they should put their trust in God’s provision (Matt. 6:19-21, 25-34). We can safely assume that Jesus practised what he preached. And we have seen in the Gospels that God’s provision was not stingy.

Divine Provision that Uses People

There is really no reason to assume that Jesus was poor. The man who could produce a coin from the mouth of a fish (Matt. 17:27), or produce gallons of fine wine from six jars of water (John 2:6-10), or could multiply five loaves and two fish in order to feed thousands, was probably never in need of anything (Matt. 14:16-21). Despite Jesus’s supernatural ability, however, God mainly used people to make sure that Jesus was provided for. God is still using people, people like you and me, to share and to provide for those who are less well off (2 Cor. 8:7-15).

Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:34-39 make it clear that providing for people in need is a vital expression of following Jesus.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ~ Jesus in Matthew 25:34-39


[1] Compared with the glory of heaven, Jesus’ earthly life was poor (2 Cor. 8:17), but he was probably no poorer than the average Jewish person living in first-century Galilee. Jesus’s statement in Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58 merely refers to the nature of his itinerant ministry.

[2] Ken Dark, “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 41.2 (2015): 54-63.

[3] Nazareth was only 7kms from Sepphoris, the largest town in Galilee. “Sepphoris was rebuilt and fortified after Galilee came under the rule of Herod Antipas. He made Sepphoris his capital until he built Tiberias in 19 A.D. Some scholars believe that Joseph and Jesus may have helped in the reconstruction of Sepphoris.” (Source) Sepphoris (also known as Zippori) is never mentioned in the New Testament, however. It was a Hellenized city with Greco-Roman customs, and it is possible that devout Jews like Joseph and Jesus may have avoided it. [See also my essay “Galilee in the First Century CE“.]

Larry Hurtado, commenting on Ken Dark’s essay, “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?”, remarks about the differences between Nazareth and Sepphoris which are indicated by archaeological discoveries:

The pottery and other items found nearer to Nazareth suggest a more observant Jewish culture (e.g., stone vessels, which did not contract ritual uncleanness as did pottery ones), contrasting with the artefacts found closer to Sepphoris. This would mean perhaps an effort in Nazareth to maintain a cultural distinction from what may have been regarded as the too-accommodating posture of Sepphoris.

[4] Joseph died sometime when Jesus was between the ages of 12 and 30 (cf. Luke 2:41-42). Jesus was most likely a builder and would have supported the family after Joseph’s death, up until the time he began his ministry at around the age of 30.

[5] Judas Iscariot appears to have been in charge of the communal purse, and he stole from it! (John 12:4-6; 13:29).

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The Magi, Henry Siddons Mowbray, 1915 (Wikimedia Commons)

Related Articles

Galilee in the First Century CE
Christmas Cardology (4): Born in a Barn?
Martha, Mary and Lazarus of Bethany
Periods of purification after giving birth (Lev. 12)
Equality” in Paul’s Letters
Partnering with Jesus in his Plans and Purposes

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4 thoughts on “Was Jesus Poor?

  1. Awesome thoughts. Inspires me to be one of those generous women with the little that I have. 🙂

  2. Thanks TL. I am still learning about being generous. But it is a lesson, and way of life, I want to learn.

  3. We will never know the answer whether Jesus was poor or rich but keep in mind carpentry was a much more lucrative (and desired) trade before people could mass-produce tables, chairs, or any item made of wood.

  4. I don’t think there is any reason to think that Jesus was poor.

    And, yes, I imagine that there was a demand for builders/carpenters, especially as there was a thriving town, Sepphoris, being rebuilt near Nazareth.

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