Question: "What is mammon?"
Answer: The word mammon comes from the Greek word mammonas. Similar root words exist in Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, Chaldean, and Syriac. They all translate to “money, wealth, and material possessions.”
In biblical culture the word mammon often carried a negative connotation. It was sometimes used to describe all lusts and excesses: gluttony, greed, and dishonest worldly gain. Ultimately, mammon described an idol of materialism, which many trusted as a foundation for their world and philosophy. While the King James Version retains the term Mammon in Matthew 6:24, other versions translate the Greek as “money,” “wealth,” or “riches.”
The city of Babylon (Revelation 18), with all its avarice and greed, is a description of a world given over to the spirit of Mammon. Some scholars cite Mammon as the name of a Syrian and Chaldean god, similar to the Greek god of wealth, Plutus.
Just as Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 1:21–33, Mammon is personified in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13. Jesus’ words here show a powerful contrast between the worship of the material world and the worship of God. Later, writers such as Augustine, Danté (The Divine Comedy), Milton (Paradise Lost), and Spenser (The Faerie Queene) used personifications of Mammon to show the insidious nature of materialism and its seduction of humanity.
Worship of mammon can show up in many ways. It isn’t always through a continual lust for more money. When we envy others’ wealth, are anxious over potentially unmet needs, disobey God’s directives about the use of wealth, or fail to trust God’s love and faithfulness, our thinking is out of balance concerning material wealth.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about our relationship to material goods. He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. . . . But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money [mammon]” (Matthew 6:19–24).
The apostle Paul writes of the godly perspective toward mammon: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6: 6–10).
Solomon writes of the futility of chasing after mammon: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Lust of any kind is insatiable, no matter how much time or effort is poured into the pursuit of the object of lust.
In Luke 16:14–15, Jesus rebukes those who refused to hear His admonition to choose God over mammon: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.’”
The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13–21) is the story of a man who lives to increase his wealth yet in the end he loses his soul because he “is not rich toward God” (verse 21). Mark 4:19 warns of the deceitfulness of mammon and its ability to “choke the Word, making it unfruitful.”
Mammon cannot produce peace in us, and it certainly cannot produce righteousness. A love of money shows we are out of balance in our relationship to God. Proverbs 8:18 speaks of true, lasting riches: “With me [Wisdom] are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.” Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:19–34 to not worry about our physical needs, about houses or clothes or food, but to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (verse 33).