What is meant by “prosperity”?

What is meant by 'prosperity'? Today, in the church, there is quite an emphasis on prosperity. Christians should prosper, we are told. How are we to understand this? Is prosperity part of the gospel?

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Transcript of “What is meant by 'prosperity'?”

The second verse of Psalm 127 ends with the phrase, God will “give to His beloved sleep”. That's how it reads in the King James Bible. That's how it reads translated from the original Hebrew text. But, that's not how it reads in the New American Standard Bible. The NASB reads, God will give “to His beloved even in his sleep”. Note that the words “even in his” are in italics. The italics indicate that those words have been added by the translators.

Words are often added in all English translations, to make the text readable. A straight word-for-word translation would be hard to follow. But words added by translators shouldn't change the meaning of the original writing. And that's what's been done by the NASB here in Psalm 127. God giving “to His beloved even in his sleep” is not the same as God giving “to His beloved sleep.”

In the original writing, sleep (rest) is received. In this text, something else is received. The idea of sleep or rest being a reward, is replaced with the idea of something received while asleep, and what's received apparently becomes the reward. You get an entirely different thought out of the NASB text.

Unless you're alert, you might take on board a belief that God's desire is to grant you material possessions. The idea is a modern-day intrusion into this Bible.

The NASB, published in 1995, is a revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901. But the ASV simply said: God will give “unto His beloved sleep”. The ASV was a revision of the King James Bible, published in 1611. The King James Version simply says: God will give “to His beloved sleep”. The original Hebrew text (translated) says: God will give “to His beloved sleep”.

There was a consistency from the Hebrew to the King James Version, to the American Standard Version, but leap ahead to 1995 and suddenly, in the New American Standard Bible, we must apparently expect something more than rest.

In general, the NASB is a good translation. Bible translation is not an easy task, but it is an important one. Bible translators are human. They have human weaknesses. All Bible translators are affected by cultural filters and theological biases. And this idea of material prosperity seems to be a bias for the translators of the NASB.

I have found five different Hebrew words, (none of which carry the meaning of money or possessions,) but the NASB has translated them as 'prosper' or 'prosperity'.

Some examples: Psalm 35:27 in the NASB reads: Let them shout for joy and rejoice, who favor my vindication; and let them say continually, “The LORD be magnified, Who delights in the prosperity of His servant.”

The word translated “prosperity” in the NASB is the Hebrew word שלום. Shalom means “peace”. Peace does not mean prosperity as we understand financial well-being these days.

Psalm 37:11 in the NASB reads: ... the humble will inherit the land, and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

Once again, the Hebrew word is שלום (shalom). It's a simple word. What's wrong with it? Apparently, some translators prefer the idea of material abundance over peace in the heart.

A second example of a changed word: Psalm 106:5 in the NASB reads: That I may see the prosperity of Your chosen ones ...

The word translated “prosperity” in the NASB is the Hebrew word בטובה. The root of the word is טוב which simply means “good”. The King James Version translates this verse: "That I may see the good of thy chosen ..." That's what טוב means: “good”.

A third example of a changed word: Psalm 118:25 in the NASB reads: O LORD, do save, we beseech You; O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity.

The word translated “prosperity” in the NASB is the Hebrew word הצל׳חה. The root of this word is צלח which means “success”. The appeal is for the LORD to grant a successful outcome. The context is salvation. “O LORD, do save us, we beseech You.” That's the success that's sought: salvation.

Salvation from the penalty of sin doesn't always come with financial well-being, as Paul and the apostles found out. There's peace in your heart. There's reconciliation with God. But often there was (and, in certain parts of the world, often there is) persecution and confiscation of possessions that goes along with salvation.

A fourth example of a changed word: Psalm 122:6 in the NASB reads: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you."

The word translated “prosper” in the NASB is the Hebrew word ישליו. It means to be at ease, to have rest. It carries the idea of security. And that's not the same as material prosperity.

A fifth example of a changed word: Proverbs 28:25 in the NASB reads: "... he who trusts in the LORD will prosper."

The word translated “prosper” in the NASB is the Hebrew word ידשן. It means to be made fat.

As I said before, these are examples out of the NASB, and the NASB is not alone in some of these slanted translations. But there seems to be a particular bias in the NASB. There seems to be a leaning toward a certain way of viewing what they suppose comes out of a life of faith. It's one thing to hold such views. It's another thing to change Scripture.

I don't believe the NASB isn't setting out to deliberately deceive. The translators and the publisher must be so persuaded of their theological view that their emphasis flows naturally into their Bible translation. And multitudes of Christians get carried along.

There's a problem with the idea that God wants Christians to have financial and material abundance. We don't have to go into deep Bible analysis and complex theology to define the problem. We only have to look to the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ rebukes the idea of a chasing after material prosperity. The cross is an ugly, slow suffocation of this life.

Paul, and the other apostles, threw away their lives for the sake of the gospel. They never sought wealth. They dressed in ragged clothes. And they died the death of martyrs. They were rich spiritually. That's very different to being rich in material terms. In the course of their natural lives, they were despised and rejected and persecuted. They raised no fine buildings, gathered no great followings, had no homes of their own. They prospered. But not as we understand prosperity. Because, we have to see, the word “prosperity” is a word where the meaning (the way it is understood) has changed over time.

Today, the word “prosper” carries the thought of success in material terms; to be financially successful. But the word “prosper” came to us from Latin, and in its original meaning was simply to flourish. When it was first used by the men who translated the Bible into English, it didn't carry the thought of material or financial success.But today, when people see the words prosper, or prosperity, in the Bible, they do think of money.

Even dictionary definitions have changed. In 1989, the Oxford Dictionary defined “prosper” as: “to succeed; to do well”, with no emphasis on money. But, the definition changed. In 2010 the primary definition in the Oxford Dictionary became: “to succeed in material terms; to be financially successful”

And the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of 2018 puts the emphasis as: “to achieve economic success.”

Why do Christians seek prosperity ... when the Bible says simply, "be content with whatever you have ..." (Luke 3:14, Philippians 4:11, 1 Timothy 6:8, Hebrews 13:5).Well, they follow their leaders, so perhaps a better question is, why do certain preachers encourage God's people to “prosper” ... to seek financial abundance?

A common expression these days (and it doesn't come from the Bible) is that you should want to “be blessed, to be a blessing.” Get, so you are able to give! You should do well in every way, some say, and monetary success is part of that, they say. It sounds reasonable! Out of your abundance you will be able to support the ministry, so that there may be an expansion of the work of God. Missionary outreach to the nations. Facilities and resources. Surely that's good?

There may be ministers who appear to live the high life, out of the expenses of their ministry, but surely no one would suggest their motives (in preaching “prosperity”) are to serve their own interests! Because the Bible rebukes those who think “that godliness is a means of financial gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5). And the passage goes on to say that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a trap, and into senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9).

No ... the exhortation to work hard and to achieve financial success is to help God out, they're saying. Which raises the question : Does God need help? If He doesn't need help, then we have nothing to do; no responsibilities. Well, that's not right! Christianity isn't something that's done to us. Christianity is a life we participate in.

However, let's consider ... Psalm 127 verse 1 says: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” It's clear that it's either the LORD building, or the effort is futile ... wasted. It will be undone.

That doesn't mean that we have nothing to do. It means that the LORD (Jesus) must be in charge. It must be about His timing, His goals, done in His way ... out of humility, and dependence on Him.

It doesn't mean that I come up with a good idea (a ministry idea. say a church plant or a charity ... a project that may make me look good) and then ask God to bless my idea.

It doesn't mean that my excellent idea, and my hard work, will get the stamp of approval of God if I bathe the work in prayer, beseeching God to make it successful.

Personal ambition, and self-interest, lurks in the heart of every individual. The Bible says: “All effort and all achievement springs from man's envy of his fellow man.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4).

That's what the Bible says is the horrible truth of the matter. We easily deceive ourselves into believing that our motives are pure. And the trouble with being deceived is that we don't know that we are deceived. If I understand Psalm 127 verse 1 correctly, then work done with the wrong motives, and done with the wrong methods, is not what God is going to use. If He did use such work, He'd be endorsing such motives and methods. Eternity will reveal the lasting outcome.

The cross announces God's plan, to bring an end to all human pride. What looks good to man is an abomination to God. And as to methods ... God wants grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, and love, and humility. That's His heart.

Ambitious work, where the end justifies the means, where whatever is done to achieve success (even if others are harmed), is also not the LORD's work. Why else would Jesus say: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it will bear much fruit.” (John 12:24).

Before God's glory can come forth, the pride of man has to die.