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Poverty and Corruption in the New Testament Perspective

DOI: 10.4236/oalib.1102965    1,863 Downloads   2,540 Views  
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ABSTRACT

In recent times, scholars have engaged themselves with these two words “poverty” and “corruption” most especially in relation to what Africans experience on their way to economic emancipation e.g. Nigeria and Kenya. There had been a struggle between poverty and corruption. The bible also is not left out in this struggle. Poverty and corruption as we know the two today are not only African problems. They are universal phenomena. It is generally true to say that whenever there are extreme poverty and corruption everywhere, all the miseries that come with poverty and corruption, majority of the cases show a black face, an indigenous person, a caste, an orphan, a widow, woman or young person who is jobless and so on. The two cuts across all races, religion and cultures. By implication they are described as endemic in any human existence. The greatest evidence of poor people in Africa is lack of opportunities, lack of political power and voice to be global player in the world where economics defines success. Hence, this paper examines how poverty is related to corruption and vice versa. It also examines the New Testament perspective and assesses poverty and corruption in the contemporary experiences in Africa. This paper also suggests some ways out of the woods to ameliorate these challenges that almost cripple the dignity of humans which confront Africa in the 21stCentury.

Subject Areas: Economics, Sociology

1. Introduction

In recent times these two words “poverty and corruption” have become more frequently used in relation to what Africans experience on their way to economic emancipation. In the 3rd world continent, there had been a struggle between poverty and corruption either within the individuals, or in any given society. The issue is: Is it that one leads to the other? Or the two are twin monsters that are consequences of the situations we find ourselves, in terms of politics, social environment, religious affiliation, cultural milieu or economic down turn? Or Are they endemic in the nature of Africans? This paper attempts to examine the vulnerability of Africans to these two issues and the damage they have done to the survival of African countries so far. The paper therefore examines these issues from the perspective of New Testament.

According to Ogujiuba Kanayo,

The issue of poverty is prevalent and has posed serious challenges especially to the Nigerian government over the years with the attendant effects of deprivation of the basic necessities of life [1] .

Examining Nigeria as the giant of Africa, the issue of poverty cannot be over-emphasized. It cuts across the spectrum of all humans whatever culture one belongs. The Nigerian experience is representative of what happens in Africa.

As mentioned earlier, poverty and inequality are global phenomenon; in fact the rates in Nigeria are higher than most countries in the world.

For example, the Nigeria’s national Bureau of Statistics put the figure of the poor in Nigeria at 112.47 million as at 2010 and 112.519 million at 2012 [2] .

It can be stated here that several governments in Nigeria have made frantic efforts to reduce the poverty level but all these have not made appreciable impact in the country.

This experience has made Adejuwon and Tijani to opine that poverty pervades the Nigeria population and makes its eradication a daunting task for the government [3] .

Judging from the Nigerian situation, one can imagine what the contemporary experiences in other countries of Africa would be. Hence, it is the concern of inquiring minds to probe into contemporary issues relating to poverty and corruption and how the New Testament has addressed them.

In any human institution, one tends to come across issues relating to poverty caused either by natural laws or by corruption. In most cases, corruption can cause poverty while poverty can cause corruption as the case may be.

If this is so, what role then has man played in making poverty and corruption to thrive in Africa and what efforts are being put in place either by individuals or human institutions to eradicate these two endemic monsters from African soil? What perspective has the New Testament taken to address the impact on human lives and the kind of solutions being offered to eradicate these two endemic diseases from the lives of humans so that the God given destiny can be attained? This paper hopes to discuss these issues and offer possible solutions that can alleviate poverty and eradicate corruption in our contemporary experiences.

2. What Is Poverty?

The Hebrew words for the “poor” and “poverty” is an extensive vocabulary for the concept of poverty in the Old Testament. These words give us an insight into the state of the person who lives in any society without material resources. לאף in Hebrew, which appears about fifty times in the Old Testament is often translated “poor” describing the one “who is low”.

As a social term, it refers to the lower class within a society made up of those who lack the material wealth of the upper class. The word האלאף means “poorest” in another context it could mean spiritual poverty, but when the word is used in the Hebrew context, it refers to spiritual poverty especially in (II Sam. 3: 1; 13: 3; Zephaniah 3: 12).

According to Richard Lawrence the word לאף emphasizes the pain of the oppressed poor. It portrays a person who is socially powerless and thus unable to resist the socially powerful [4] . The root “verb” from which the word comes out האגף is translated “to afflict” or “to oppress”, i.e. being forced into submission that involves great pain. At times it is used in the sense of humility. “Spiritual distress” is also the meaning in some other passages like Ex. 22: 25, Lev. 19: 10, Deut. 24: 12, John 24: 9. The word has been the primary meaning of financial distress with accompanying social impotence [4] , [5] . The combined image that these words give of poverty refers to the “poor” the needy, those lacking basic necessities of life.

Poverty assumes a low social status and a terrible vulnerability to the abuses of those with power [4] [5] .

Poor lack of resources makes them to be defenseless against those who are in power therefore facing a challenge of unfair treatment in courts (Deut. 15: 1 - 4). They have little spiritual insight (Jer. 5: 4). When they are defrauded by the rich they have no recourse but to appeal to God because, they are powerless. The poor becomes the most easily robbed in any society, (Ps. 35: 10) Poverty strips the individual of his rights, respect as a human being, lowers his dignity and denies a place in the society.

Paradoxically, what contributes to the vulnerability of the poor in Africa is the level of suffering that the poor people go through in the midst of plenty. In the view of Olubiyi Adewale, the church in Nigeria is stupendously rich especially in the way some Pentecostals lavish church resources to the detriment of their members.

According to him, Onuma, quoting a renowned Pentecostal pastor, notes that the annual revenue of a Nigerian Church is over 3 billion naira, which is very close to the national budget of 4.69 trillion naira for the same year [6] . They have gigantic buildings, exotic cars and private jets. They are richer than some states or even some countries in Africa. Some even acquire private jets costing 2.3 billion naira (Lear Jet) to 6.4 billion naira (Gulfstream G550) with an estimated cost of 8.4 billion naira in maintenance including the salaries of expatriate pilots [6] .

The irony is that, in the midst of this “affluent life”, there are thousands of members of the church who are poor, unemployed and struggling to survive life. The pertinent issue is “Are those acquisitions from the stipend missionaries are entitled to as monthly allowance? Is it doubtful to think that most of this material wealth are acquired through diversion of Church resources for self comfort which is nothing less than corruption?” Most of these categories of pastors are the founders of their churches or General Overseers whose authorities cannot be questioned. The concern of this paper is to explore how such a situation continues to persist while within the same environment poor people are dying of malnutrition in quantum.

The social responsibility for the poor is exemplified in the relationship of God to Israel. God chose the Israelite and instructed them in a way that they can be formidable as a nation; this is revealed in the law given through Moses. In it, there are a number of interwoven social mechanisms provided to care for the poor and the needy which demonstrates God’s love and concern for his creation whatever category one belongs.

Hence, the issue of poverty is as old as man. This paper explores the endemic nature of poverty in the life of humans, the acknowledgment given to it in the bible and the relationship to what we experience today in the 3rd World Countries e.g. Nigeria.

In David Freedman’s view, he categorizes those who are poor into three groups ? the widows, orphans and strangers. He says:

In a society structured upon the male as the worker, the widow and orphan struggled to survive, they depended upon the good will of others (Deut. 24: 17) the strangers as ones who did not belong, had no bonds in their new society. These groups shared a common poverty, lack of status whereby the powerful and the unscrupulous took advantage [7] .

From this statement, one discovers that poverty relates to inability to take care of self financially and socially which calls for help for survival from those who are well to do.

This statement also confirms the fact that poverty refers to those who suffer from relative deprivation. A greater percentage of these groups are found in the grass root mostly in villages and local settlements of the 3rd World Countries.

In the New Testament the two Greek words are πενες, πтωχος and πενες. πενιχωρος indicating those who were poor in relation to the well to do. These poor people were unable to make a living from any property they owned, and so they had to work for a wage, or as apprentices. The New Testament uses words for this group in Lk. 21: 2 and II Cor. 9: 9. πтωχος occurs thirty four times in the New Testament [4] [5] .

Poverty in the New Testament is also associated with the vulnerability of the lower classes to the exploitation and oppression by those in social or political power as mentioned earlier. The New Testament shows deep sensitivity to the poor who are of special concern to God. This paper examines few passages in the New Testament that give the perspective of poverty and the Theological implications on the community concerned.

3. What Is Corruption?

The word “corruption” can be seen as relative word which means different things to different people and at different times. The root concept in both the Hebrew word תאהאם and the Greek ϕθειρω is that of destruction [4] [5] , [8] . The two are often used for moral corruption (Gen. 6: 11 - 12, Deut. 31: 29, Ps. 14: 1 Eph. 4: 22). The effect is powerful, it connotes ruin, decay. It has a great grip on individuals or on the society. This paper describes “corruption” as a monster, as a pest that destroys whatever it feeds on. It is a dangerous element in human experience that renders individual or the society incapacitated if it is allowed to eat deep into the fabric of social, religious or political life of humans.

The New Testament portrays corruption as something that affects every aspects of the personality (Eph. 4: 22, II Peter 1: 4). Corruption is expressed in the mind and conscience (I Tim 6: 5, Titus 1: 15) and also in character (I Cor. 15: 33). The New Testament identifies that the true Righteousness and Holiness of God can give solution to corruption. It is a common word used in every day to day human experience. It refers to a degenerate state, debased state, prevention, invalid state, putrid state, spoiled, fainted, vitiates and unsound experience. In David Freedman’s view corruption carries a moral or a cultic sense of violation of covenant that expects divine judgments [7] , [9] . The violation of God’s divine injunction leads to corruption. Hence, corruption is a violation of divine order.

Therefore, the theoretical framework of this research paper is hanged on the fact that, even though Poverty and Corruption seem to be a global issue, why should they thrive within any given human institutions made up of religionists who have their code of conduct strongly entrenched in their scriptures e.g. Bible for Christians and Quran for Muslims? Wherever Poverty and Corruption thrive, growth and development will be hindered. The two are inimical to progress. This is why this study is significant in modern scholarship.

4. The New Testament Perspective

4.1. The Gospels

In the gospels, we have some keys texts that recognize the “poor” in their needs. The New Testament concept of the poor is well explicated in the gospels and how to treat them. In fact, the gospel according to Luke has been described in recent New Testament scholarship as “the gospel to the poor”. In this section I wish to have brief exegetical study of selected texts that express the New Testament understanding of what poverty is? Who are the poor? And how do we respond to their needs?

1) Concern for the Poor (Matt. 26: 11): At the anointing of Jesus with perfume at Bethany by a woman in the house of Simon the Leper, the concern for the poor became the focus of Jesus disciples. They had the impression of wastage of the cost of anointing Oil not the Theological implication of the act in the life and ministry of Jesus. The recognition of the poor here means that among the Jews, the poor takes significant space in their culture of taking care of the less privileged in the community. Jesus Christ’s response shows that the poor must be cared for in all its ramifications. Here Jesus brought back to mind what we have in Deut. 15: 11:

There will always be poor people in the land, before I command you to be open handed towards your bro- thers and towards the poor and the needy in your land.

His response to his disciples’ observation in Matt. 26: 11 does not ignore the needs of the poor but that the poor are always around to be taken care of by the people around them. Doing this, is fulfilling divine injunctions committed to God’s people.

2) Ministry to the Poor (Mk. 10: 21): The rich young ruler wanted salvation, hence came to Jesus to ask what to do to be saved. He was reminded about the Decalogue which he confessed that he kept to the letter. Jesus discovered that one thing was left. Jesus said to the man “Go sell everything you have and give to the poor…” (Mk. 10: 21) This man became sad on Jesus’ command. Here Jesus’ love is demonstrated in two ways:

To the rich man for the salvation of his soul and to the poor who should be adequately provided for especially from those who are rich and well to do.

The love Jesus extended to the poor gives the picture of the New Testament teaching on what should be the response to those going through this psychological pain.

3) Relationship between the Rich and the Poor (Lk. 16: 20): Lazarus is someone who has been denied the right to make choices and the opportunity to live a tolerated life. This man was a beggar who had no means of survival. He was privileged to be around a rich man who ignored him in his deplorable condition of life.

He was deprived of knowledge, communication, robbed of human dignity, confidence and self respect [10] This is usually the state of those who are poverty striken. In this context, poverty means more than a lack of what is necessary for material well being. It Also means denial of opportunities and choices which are most basic to human development, that is, the opportunity to lead a long, healthy and creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem, and respect of others. The name “Lazarus” here is Latinized form of Eleazar which means “God is my help”. The issue of neglect of the poor “Lazarus” by that rich man confirms the New Testament view of the poor even though they are neglected on earth, by one way or the other, they have hope of after life.

4.2. The Acts of the Apostles

The Poor in the community of Possessions (Acts 4: 35): In the early church, part of the ministry to the poor was the inclusion of the poor in the distribution of possessions by those who had to those who did not have.

Here it does not suggest political communism but the spirit of unity which characterized the body of believers in the early church. Oneness of mind featured prominently among the people that time. The poor did not wallow in abject poverty but were provided what they needed to survive in the community. This text gives an example of the spirit of sharing.

Joseph, one of the apostles nicknamed Barnabas which means “Son of Encouragement” from the tribe of Levi came from the Island of Cyprus who sold a field which was his personal property and brought the proceeds to the Apostles for the poor and the needy.

This is the first mention of this person in the early church referred to as “Son of Consideration”. This is the translation of Hebrew word for “Barnabas” who came from Cyprus an Island in the Mediterranean. This attitude confirms the New Testament Theology of “poor” and “poverty”. By implication, no one should remain poor in the household of God. Those who are strong should strengthen the weak so that the body of Christ can grow together to maturity which Jesus purposed for his followers.

Issue of Corruption

Acts 24: 26 - 27―This text discusses Paul’s defense before Felix which portends an attempt to ask for bribe from Paul so that he could be released by Felix.

Felix was said to contend within himself on whether to take bribe from Paul or not. He had listened to the gospel message on righteousness, self-control and the judgment that would come on the disobedient including those who involve themselves in bribery and corruption. Felix sent for Paul quite often to converse with him expecting whether money would be given to him so that he could release Paul. But he wanted to do the Jews favour by keeping Paul in the Prison until Festus succeeded him.

The New Testament frowns at bribery and corruption; hence Felix as a result of messages of salvation which Paul preached became a challenge to him from taking money. Why? Because, of the consequence of what could happen to him and his family.

In II Tim. 3: 8, according to Pauline thought, people of corrupt minds are resisted by the Holy Spirit. The example of Jannes and Jambres is mentioned here who resisted Moses because they were people of corrupt minds.

To Paul, corruption is Godless behaviour which is one of the signs of “The Last Days”. The last days cover the entire period between the Pentecost event and the final return of Jesus. This period would witness self centeredness, self gain, resisting the truth and holding firm to falsehood. Paul’s point here is that, there have always been people with perverted minds like the two magicians, Jannes and Jambres who oppose the truth and held to corrupt ways of life. According to Paul, these people will become increasingly worse in their corrupt ways until the day when they face God’s judgment for their evil works which would publicly expose them.

The concern here in our contemporary world is that those who are involved in corrupt practices do not search their consciences to judge themselves that unless they repent, they can not escape God’s judgment. Hence, the New Testament’s view of corruption is emphatic and it exposes corrupt people to imminent judgment, here and hereafter.

4.3. The Epistles

The Poor in the Ministry of St. Paul (Gal. 2: 10)

In Pauline Theology on “riches and poverty” he laid much emphasis on remembering the poor in the agenda of God for humans. This is part of the key areas of his ministry.

The Galatians having launched their Christian experience by faith seemed to be contented to shift ground and that a new course based on works, which to Paul was disturbing. Hence his Epistle to them is a vigorous attack against the gospel of works but a strong defense of the gospel of faith. In his Theology he says the law declares men guilty and imprisoned them but faith sets men free to enjoy the liberty in Christ. Liberty is not a license but a special grace of God for those who are His. Freedom in Christ means freedom to produce the fruits of righteousness through a spirit-led life style that has concern and love for the poor and the needy.

The only requirement placed on Paul’s ministry was that he taught his converts the necessity of helping the poor who at that time were centred in the churches and around Jerusalem. This situation arose because the Jews who became Christians were socially and economically ostracized.

That time, they had hard time earning a living. Series of famine between A.D 30 and 50 made food prices rose. The poor people were adversely affected. The church at Jerusalem supported a large number of teachers. They also provided hospitality to all the Christian pilgrims who came to Jerusalem. Paul confirmed that he was eager to provide for those in need in his ministry so that they would be comfortable even as they discharge their Christian duties.

4.4. The Revelations

Poverty of Riches (Rev. 3: 17)

In the Apocalypse otherwise referred to as λποκαλιποтς̉׀ωαννων in Greek, the irony of riches is poverty in relation to how Laodiceans assessed themselves. The book Revelation is the only New Testament book that focuses primarily on prophetic events. The book is also described by Biblical Scholars as “an unveiling of the character and programme of God”. written by John in his exile on the Island of Patmos.

In this text Laodicea was a wealthy city and apparently the church was also a wealthy church. They might have been materially rich and assuming that riches were a sign of God’s blessing on them. They were materially secured and felt spiritually safe with no need of further growth. Regrettably, that attitude made them blind to their own state before God. John here emphasizes the fact that their riches was good but spiritually they were impoverished. While the city prided itself on extreme financial wealth, the church’s true spiritual condition left it poor, naked and blind.

Christ showed the Laodiceans that true value of riches is not in material possessions, but in a right relationship with God. The possessions and achievements were valueless compared with the everlasting future of Christ’s Kingdom. Poverty in this context is more of spirituality and not in material possession. Hence “poor” is symbolic here which refers to spiritual emptiness, life devoid of the Holy Spirit, is life that operates on “the flesh”. Poverty can be expressed in terms of lack of necessities of life as mentioned earlier and at the same time lack of spiritual growth where sustainability of life can manifest.

In summary the New Testament teaches clearly that what really matters is the attitude of the heart. It is quite possible to be poor yet grasping, or rich yet generous. It is not a curse to be poor in material wealth; it may be a blessing in disguise. God created the rich and the poor so that the haves would help the have-nots. But in the contemporary experience especially in politics, the rich continue to amass wealth and become richer while the poor continue to be poor.

This should be the concern of the church and the state to explore how this gap can be bridged so that the God given resources available to God’s people in the land will be evenly distributed.

The Contemporary Experience in Africa

In Dairo Olalekan’s words “Africa is a continent with a variety of cultures, such complexities make any meaningful study a bit difficult” [11] . This statement cannot be contented with the various challenges that confront African Continent.

Africa has always been described as a continent plagued with corruption, poverty and disease. The reason for poverty and corruption in Africa is more of economic than Religious. Most African countries did inherit economic challenges from the colonial period and because the prices for African products in the world market have been very low, the governments of the nations find it very difficult to fulfill the hopes and demands of their people [12] . At the time of independence, many African countries relied on a single crop or mineral to export for sale to other countries, a pattern that had been encouraged by the colonial powers. As a result, they were highly exposed to the fluctuations of international prices for African products. All these economic conditions have contributed immensely to poverty and corruption in Africa.

The inability of the African nations to meet up with the economic needs of their citizenry led to corruption. Today, corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of Africans even among the so called leaders who use their privileged positions to amass wealth at the expense of the people that voted them into power beyond imagination.

In recent times in Nigeria all the media both electronic and print report one form of corruption or the other. Most of these revelations are of high profile that people do wonder how could an individual steal such staggering amount from the national treasury with impunity.

The resultant effect is poverty across all sectors of national life of Nigerians. The sharp increase in the world price of oil that began in the 1970s created much economic problems for oil-importing African countries seeking to expand their industrial base. Now that the government of Nigeria has started to explore ways of diversifying her economic resources, there is hope that the magnitude of poverty and corruption we experience today could face out with time.

Worthy of note is the history of economic exploitation which has played a role in the poverty African countries experienced from the colonial masters that had adversely affected the growth of Africa. Down the ages from the history of emancipation of Africa, the bondage of colonialism and the exploitation of the West became one of the major reasons that led many African countries to embark on independence for “self government”.

Another reason was racism i.e. racism and cultural superiority of the West. The colonial powers attempted to convince Africans that effective participation in the modern world required them to discard their own identities, cultures and become more like Europeans. Schools in colonial African taught African children about European History and European literature while neglecting the rich history and cultural heritage of Africa itself. This also played significant role in the magnitude of poverty in Africa. The way out of the woods is the redirection from oil to cash crops-cocoa, coffee and food crops e.g. cassava, beans etc. If our government can be faithful to what they say through the media, there is hope that Nigeria will take her place in the committee of nations.

Whatever one says of Africa without addressing poverty does not hold water [13] . Poverty as we know it today is not only an African problem, it is generally true to say that whenever there is extreme poverty, all the miseries that come with it, majority of cases will show a black face, an indigenous person, a caste, an orphan, a widow, woman or young person who is jobless [13] , [13] . By implication, every indigenous African is a poor person.

As mentioned earlier in this paper poverty is not just lack of material means but also lack of opportunities. The greatest mark of poor people in African is lack of opportunities, power and voice to be global player in the world where economics defines success.

Poor people are extremely vulnerable to sickness, violence and natural disasters. They live with crime, low quality education, and the lack of opportunities for the youth, a toxic environment and loss of political power and influence [13] . This truly is the African experience which the international community should have concern for. Even though the life of the poor is painted with moral laxity such as neglect of parental duties, loose marital ties and sexual abuse, dishonesty, warfare, fraud, corruption, bribe, vices, drug addiction, alcoholism, criminality, youth hooliganism, theft, smuggling, robbery, pick pocketing, in recent time kidnapping. We found out that this experience is not limited to Africa. Developed countries e.g. UK, USA, China do experience such criminal tendencies. In conclusion, to offer suggestions that could be put in place to eradicate or reduce the level of poverty which in my own point of view has contributed immensely to the magnitude of corruption we have in Africa.

The following recommendations are being offered:

1) Creation of economic opportunities for the youth by the government in power. This will invariably enhance growth and development.

2) Financial support from international community to finance revenue yielding projects especially at the grass root where we have the highest percentage of poor people. This will definitely reduce their rate of migration, which depopulates the rural area and over populates the big cities in search of greener pasture.

3) Institution of faith-based voluntary agencies whose policies are based on humanitarian concerns.

4) Establishment of social institutions by philanthropists to take care of the needy, the aged, the widows, the orphans, the unemployed and the like.

5) Utilization of natural resources like vast farm lands to produce food items at least for the immediate family. Africa is blessed with virgin lands unutilized due to lack of mechanized tools for small scale farming; local tools can be employed up to a reasonable level.

5. Conclusions

The attitude of the world generally about poverty and corruption make the realities of poverty and corruption less visible, in the sense that rich countries who often give financial assistance do what they do in solidarity but the questions are: What is the percentage of what they give to the resources available to them? What do the countries who receive such financial supports do with what is received? Is what given used for the purpose for which it was given? Are such receiving countries faithful to the giver countries by being accountable to them on what they have received?

These are the questions that agitate the minds of modern day inquirers within or outside the country concerned. In my own view, lack of adequate accountability is corruption in disguise. Africans need a re-orientation of their world-view on the purpose of creation and what it means to fulfill God purpose in life as to achieve God-given destiny within the limited resources available. When a huge shunk of the nation’s resources is diverted to personal account by an individual as we discover almost on daily basis, it becomes a dis-service to the nation one serves as a political leader in whatever sector or level of the leadership one finds himself. This paper is a wake-up call to all our leaders both in the church and in the state to shun greed. Greed is the root cause of corruption while corruption produces poverty.

According to Delanyo Adedavoh he recommends personal life Transformation for all who are leaders in Africa either within the church or in the state [14] . When the life of a leader is totally transformed, corruption would disappear in his agenda. In engaging biblical perspective on authority and accountability both cultures need to experience transformation. The Africans need to appreciate the responsibility to maximize God-given talents for multiplying impact in the light of the principles in Jesus Christ parable of the talents in Matt. 25 [14] .

The issue here is making use of one’s position in a more responsible manner. This will definitely affect the people around positively, poverty and corruption will reduce to the bearest minimum and this will enhance growth and development in the church and the state.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Cite this paper

Igbari, O. (2016) Poverty and Corruption in the New Testament Perspective. Open Access Library Journal, 3, 1-8. doi: 10.4236/oalib.1102965.

References

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