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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.

Mary’s Family

The Gospels tell us next to nothing about Mary’s family, but before her marriage, she travelled from Nazareth to the Judean hills to spend three months with her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were both from respected priestly families which in itself is not an indicator of wealth. However, the text seems to imply that it was relatively easy for Mary to suddenly leave home and travel, and this may indicate that money was not a problem for her  (Luke 1:39ff; 1:56). In the Magnificat, Mary doesn’t identify herself with the powerful, but she also doesn’t identify as living in (financial) poverty (Luke 1:46–55).[2]

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 that were 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 evidence in the ancient structures and artefacts of Nazareth that is consistent with an economic level that is higher than some scholars have previously imagined.[3]

It is unlikely that Jesus’ family was poor. Joseph and Jesus were carpenters. 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.[4] So Jesus’ family would have been neither very rich nor very poor, relative to the living standards of the day.[5]

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’s 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).[6]

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’s 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 also 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] When Mary says that the Lord “has been mindful of the lowly state of his doulē (‘slave, servant’),” she is using self-effacing diplomatic language (Luke 1:48 cf. 1 Sam. 1:18; 25:24ff). This kind of language is also used by Ruth when speaking to Boaz in Ruth 2:13, Hannah to Eli in 1 Sam. 1:18, Abigail to David in 1 Sam. 25:24ff; 25:41ff, the medium of Endor to Saul in 1 Sam. 28:21–22, the wise woman of Tekoa to David in 2 Sam. 14:6–7ff, and the prophet’s widow to Elisha in 2 Kings 4:2, 16, as just a few examples. And Mary is lowly compared with God.

Nothing in the Magnificat, however, suggests Mary was from a poor family. The same goes for Hannah who, in her prayer, uses similar language to Mary. (See 1 Sam. 2:1–10.) Furthermore, while both Mary and Hannah understood injustice, poverty, and powerlessness, and that their own situations and status were being raised, their hope-filled words are about God’s deliverance of Israel. They are not praying about themselves but about a large-scale reversal of fortune resulting in justice and equity for all including the poverty-stricken.

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

[4] 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.

[5] 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 and up until the time he began his ministry at around the age of 30.

[6] 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)

Explore more

Galilee in the First Century CE
Was Jesus 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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9 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.

    1. Jesus always always uses the word ptochos for the word poor . This means absolutely poverty stricken rather than the word Penes which is the word for a laborer. I think the reason Jesus was arrested was because he advocated for his followers to be ptochos to be perfect. This is just an opinion but Jesus was probably a lot less pro roman than the gospels let on. The thinking would have been that the only way you can get out of paying for your own subjugation by the occupying Roman army was to just not work. Any money you made would be taxed and be used to support the Romans. I think this is reflected in his dialogue where he is asked about paying taxes which he answers by saying if you owe them money then pay them. Remember the original name of the jewish christians was “the ebion”. I think his message was to not owe the romans anything by not working and this probably felt a little to close to rebellion to be tolerated. If his community convinced enough people to quit working and paying taxes to the romans, the tax base might get too low to support the army.

      Thats my guess. Crossan points out the difference between ptochos and penes in one of his books.

      1. Hi Jimmy, I’ve heard others also say that Jesus always used the word ptōchos for the absolute poverty-stricken, but I’m not so sure this is the case. I take it as a general word meaning “poor.”

        The word penēs doesn’t occur in the Gospels. It occurs once in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 9:9 which is a word-for-word quotation from Psalm 112:9a (111:9aLXX) in the Septuagint. Penēs occurs 71 times in the canonical books of the Septuagint.

        My observations from reading the words in different texts are that both ptōchos and penēs could be used for people who were experiencing different levels of poverty. For example, both words could be used for desperately poor people who were starving.

        I don’t think Jesus was at all pro-Roman. His focus was on another kingdom.

        Also, all the original, or first, Christians were Jewish. I strongly doubt they were all called “the Ebion” or identified with the teachings and practices of the Ebionites.

  5. Intriguing topic, indeed! Now I also wonder if Jesus is poor or rich, yet whatever the answer will be satisfactory. All that matter to me is How much Jesus loves us and the sacrifice he makes for us.

  6. It is nice to reread this. It’s like a stress reliever to me. Thank you again!

  7. […] Earlier in his Gospel, Luke had mentioned certain women who had accompanied Jesus and the Twelve during Jesus’ itinerant teaching and healing ministry.[5] In Luke 8:1–3, he wrote that women travelled with Jesus and provided for him out of their own resources. Here Luke again identifies just three of the women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, and Susanna—but adds that there were many other women (heterai pollai) in this group. […]

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