Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor

Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor

Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor

Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor


What are the origin and meaning of the words "greed is idolatry" found in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5? In what sense are the greedy guilty of idolatry? Many different answers have been given to this question throughout the history of interpretation. In fact, a consensus exists on only one score -- that the expression serves to vilify greed.

Brian Rosner ably takes on the challenge of interpretation by tackling the phrase as a metaphor, structuring his argument around an intriguing comparison to mountain climbing. From this vantage point, he offers a thorough history of interpretation of the phrase, including a study of the origin of the concept of idolatrous greed in biblical and Jewish sources. Rosner concludes that the comparison of greed with idolatry teaches that to desire to acquire and keep for oneself more money and material things is an attack on God's exclusive right to human love, trust, and obedience.

With this work comes a stunning, fresh understanding of familiar terms -- "greed," "idolatry," and even "God" -- challenging both the church as a whole and individual believers to consider the far-ranging implications of our materialistic world. The first full-length study of this intriguing Pauline expression, Greed as Idolatry has profound implications for theological ethics today.


The bulk of the research for this book was completed with the generous support of the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, Bonn, Germany, which provided a research fellowship to underwrite a year of study at the University of Tübingen. I am most grateful to them and to Prof. Dr. Peter Stuhlmacher, whose recommendation, warm hospitality, and invaluable help made the fellowship both possible and a pleasure to undertake. in addition, I wish to thank the University of Aberdeen, where I was a lecturer at the time, for granting me study leave. Moore Theological College, where I am now happily ensconced, provided the necessary support and encouragement to bring the project to completion. the editors of Themelios and Ex Auditu kindly gave permission to republish my articles “The Concept of Idolatry” and “Secret Idolatry” in revised and expanded form. Biblical quotations and citations from German secondary sources are my translations unless otherwise indicated.

Greed as Idolatry carries forward my main scholarly interests: the history of scriptural interpretation, Second Temple Judaism, biblical theology, Pauline studies, figurative language and the moral teaching of the New Testament. a whole book on just three words is not unusual in biblical studies. However, it is less common when the words carry a primarily ethical rather than doctrinal import. There is no shortage of monographs on justification, reconciliation, redemption, law, faith, grace, the names of . . .

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