Confused Expressions #10: Money is the Root of All Evil

There’s nothing inherently confused about the expression “money is the root of all evil.” I don’t happen to agree with it, but that’s a philosophical point that can be debated. The confusion comes in since most people who use the expression think they’re quoting the Bible (and often are trying to defend money against the charge). Those people are confused because the Bible never claims that money is the root of all evil, although something like those words does occur in something like that sequence. While giving his disciple Timothy advice on “fighting the good fight,” St. Paul writes:

[…] 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 root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

(Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

To claim that St. Paul—who certainly appreciated the need for money as much as anyone does who takes seriously Jesus’s call to feed the hungry, for example—to claim that he believes “money is the root of all evil” is in my mind the same as claiming that someone who says “I don’t want to date you” is rather interested because they used the words “I”, “want”, “to”, “date”, and “you—and all in the right sequence! Few people would make the error in the second case, which does make me wonder why so many intelligent, educated people make the error so often in the first case.

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