Martin Hengel in his Property and Riches in the Early Church says that the “thesis that private property came into being as a result of the Fall had great influence on the history of the church”. For example fourth Century preacher John Chysostom, whom Hengel names as the “greatest Christian preacher of antiquity”, said “observe, that concerning things that are common [sun, air, earth, and water] there is no contention but all is peaceable. But when one attempts to possess himself of anything, to make it his own, then contention is introduced...”
The Old Testament story of Cain is in part a story of how greed turned a man into a liar and a murderer. The name Cain is thought to mean ‘be envious of possessions’ as it derives from two Hebrew words: qana which means acquire and qana’ which means to be envious.
Both Old and New Testaments tend to attack the rich, particularly those who exploit others to gain their wealth, rather than blame the poor. The Hebrew prophets “identified the rich and powerful with the wicked” and the poor as “holy and righteous.” Many were highly critical of the rich landlords who dispossessed the poor and exploited them. For example Isaiah states “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room...”
In Exodus the Jews were told “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him”. In Deuteronomy, it was stated that every seven years all debts were to be forgiven. There was also provision for a percentage of every person’s income (at least 2 or 3 percent and up to 20%) to be tithed for the poor.
Jesus saw wealth as a danger to the soul and a hindrance to righteousness: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” More well known, perhaps is his statement: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” Jesus also showed his contempt for commercialism in a well-known episode when he threw the money-changers and vendors from the outer court of the Temple, knocking over their tables.
And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; 13 and he saith unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer: but ye make it a den of robbers.
From all accounts Jesus himself had no possessions and required his followers to give up their possessions and he promised that this renunciation of worldly goods would be recognised by God. He told his disciples: “Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God... But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation” and “Sell that which ye have, and give alms; ... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
The Christian disciples followed this line. For example the Apostle Paul advised Christians to be content with food and clothing and to avoid the love of money. He warned that those who sought riches “fall into temptation... and into many foolish and hurtful lusts... For the love of money is the root of all evil.” This saying, about money being the source of evil, had precedents in popular Greek philosophy as well as Jewish philosophy.
The establishment of monasteries in earlier centuries resulted from Christian advice to live a communal life of voluntary poverty. Charging interest on loans of money was forbidden and consumption for pleasure was seen as sinful. Augustine stated that “Business is in itself an evil” and Jerome claimed that “A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God.”