Is Love of Money Really the Root of All Evils?
Is the love of money the “root of all evils” or only the “root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)? “All evils” is the formal English equivalent of the original Greek (pantōn tōn kakōn).
It is remarkable that all older versions of the Bible translate 1 Timothy 6:10 in the more literal way: “The love of money is the root of all evils” (or all evil). This includes the Wycliffe Bible, Luther Bibel, Geneva Bible, King James Version, Douay-Rheims, Darby Bible, and Revised Standard Version.
But almost all modern versions use the interpretive paraphrase: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” These include the NCV, NIV, NASB, ASV, ESV, NKJV, HCSB, NLT, NRSV, and GNT.
One exception among the modern translations is the NET Bible: “For the love of money is the root of all evils.” The NET note on “all evils” reads:
Many translations render this “of all kinds of evil.” . . . But there is no parallel for taking a construction like this to mean “all kinds of” or “every kind of.” The normal sense is “all evils.”
Why Do Modern Versions Paraphrase?
So what changed in the last sixty years that caused a uniformly literal translation (“root of all evils”) to give way to a uniform paraphrase (“root of all kinds of evil”)? One thing we know did not change: the meaning of the text. The Greek words of 1 Timothy 6:10 carried Paul’s intention in Luther’s day, and they carry the same intention today.
Another thing we know did not change: It is no more difficult or easy for the love of money to be the root of all evils today than it was five hundred years ago. If modern translators see a problem, so did the translators five hundred years ago. All translators have had the thought expressed in the notes of the NET Bible — that saying the love of money is the root of all evils “seems to be not entirely true to life (some evils are unrelated to love of money).” So they say.
“Modern translators feel freer to depart from clear, intelligible formal equivalence in favor of explanatory paraphrases.”
What has changed in the last sixty years is that translators today feel freer to depart from clear and intelligible formal equivalence in favor of explanatory paraphrases. There is nothing linguistically or grammatically obscure about the literal translation, “The love of money is the root of all evils.” What is unclear is how the love of money can actually be the root of all evils.
All translators have felt this, not just modern ones. Why, then, did none of the older translators translate the text as “all kinds of evil”? My guess is that their thinking went something like this:
I may not be able to see how the love of money is the root of all evils, but I should not let my inability decide whether there may indeed be a way that money is the root of all evils. So, I will leave it as Paul wrote it. Perhaps people more insightful than I will penetrate to Paul’s meaning.
That seems to be exactly the right attitude to have in translating a text that claims divine inspiration and carries absolute authority. The modern assumption seems to be:
If we can’t see how Paul could mean, “The love of money is the root of all evils,” then we have the right and the wisdom to change the wording to suggest a more plausible meaning.
Preserving Original Ambiguity
Let me try to preempt a criticism. I am aware that formal equivalence is not always possible. Sometimes there is no construction in English corresponding to the Greek and Hebrew. Sometimes formal equivalency would be so awkward that all readers would stumble over the English.
But in the case of 1 Timothy 6:10, the Greek structure in question is straightforward (pantōn tōn kakōn) and has an exact English counterpart (“of all evils”). Both are equally clear and equally puzzling. There is no hidden clue in the Greek phrase or the English phrase that would make things any clearer or more obscure. Which means that nothing is lost in clarity when a simple equivalent phrase is used to translate the Greek, like “root of all evils.” No clarity is lost, because the same ambiguity is preserved.
This preservation of formal similarity is a great gain. It is what I long for in all translation, wherever possible. The gain is that now the average reader, and the pastor whose Greek is rusty, has the chance to think deeply and contextually about how Paul saw the love of money as the root of all evils. The reader is not robbed of his own possible exegetical discoveries simply because the translators decided for him that no plausible meaning could be given to the words as Paul wrote them.
In my opinion, this text is a clear case where translators should humble themselves and admit that their inability to see a plausible meaning for Paul’s words (“root of all evils”) does not mean there isn’t one. If “all kinds of evil” is the best interpretation of the puzzling words, let the reader discover and decide that.
How Is Love of Money the Root of All Evils?
It is possible that when Paul wrote these words, he was fully aware how challenging they would be, and that he left them just as he wrote them because he saw a sense in which the love of money is indeed the root of all evils — all evils! — and he wanted Timothy (and us) to think down deep enough to see it.
I think that was, in fact, the case. I’ll give my very brief suggestion for how the love of money is the root of all evils. But even if you think I am wrong, the main point about translation stands, because someone else may find the key, even if I haven’t.
Here’s the context of 1 Timothy 6:6–10:
Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. It is through this love of money that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Notice that the first part of verse 10 (“For the love of money is a root of all evils”) functions as a ground, or a cause, both backward for verse 9 and forward for the rest of verse 10. Let’s take these one at a time.
How is verse 10a a ground for verse 9?
Verse 9 says that those who desire to be rich fall into “many senseless and harmful desires.” Notice that the desire to be rich does not produce just one desire, but many. Then Paul says the desire to be rich has this effect “because the love of money is the root of all evils.” The “desire to be rich” in verse 9 corresponds to “the love of money” in verse 10a. And the “many desires” of verse 9 corresponds to “all evils” in verse 10.
Paul is tracing the cause of these “many desires” back to the love of money as the root of “all evils.” Why does the desire to be rich not just result in one desire for money but “many desires”? Because the love of money is the root of vastly more than we usually think it is. It is the root of all evils that men do. Paul is tracing the multiplicity of desires that flow from the desire to be rich down deep to a root that accounts for “many” because it accounts for “all.”
“The love of money is the root of vastly more than we usually think it is.”
How does the love of money do that? Here is one way: Because “money” is of no value in itself (the paper or the metal). It is desirable only because it is a cultural symbol which can be traded for the “many desires” that we have. But it cannot be traded for God or godliness. Therefore, the love of money in Paul’s mind corresponds to the root longing for the things money can buy minus God. That is why all these many desires “plunge people into ruin and destruction” (verse 9).
Good desires don’t destroy. Only desires for anything minus God destroy. That is what the love of money represents. Therefore, this love is the root of all evils that men commit. Because all evils come from that root desire — the desire for anything minus God. No exceptions.
This is the essence of sin and the root of all sinning — falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Or, to put it another way, sin is “exchanging God for the creation” (see Romans 1:23, 25). In other words, at root, sin is preferring anything above God. “All evils” come from this preferring, or this desiring. If something is desired for God’s sake, that desire is not sin. If anything is desired not for God’s sake, that desire is sin. Therefore, all sin, “all evils,” come from this desire, this love — represented in 1 Timothy 6:10 by love for the currency of satisfaction minus God.
How is verse 10a related to the rest of verse 10?
Now we look in the other direction from verse 10a — forward to the rest of the verse. “For the love of money is a root of all evils. It is through this love of money that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Just as in verse 9 the “many senseless and harmful desires plunge people into ruin and destruction,” so here in verse 10 the love of money leads people to “pierce themselves with many pangs.”
“If you love money, you cannot serve God. And if you cannot serve God, then everything you do is evil.”
How? “Through this love of money some have wandered away from the faith.” The love of money works its destruction by luring the soul to forsake faith. Faith is the contented trust in Christ that Paul referred to in verse 6: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Faith says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Faith has contentment in all circumstances because it has Christ, and Christ makes up for every loss: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
All true virtue grows from this root of resting in Christ. Without it, we perform our deeds not as an expression of Christ’s all-sufficiency, but in order to make up for some deficiency we feel, for lack of faith. But that is not true virtue, and it doesn’t honor Christ. Only what is done from faith is truly virtuous. Thus Paul wrote, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
Which means, “all evils” — to use the words of 1 Timothy 6:10 — rise from the soul that has been lured away from faith. And that, Paul says, is what the love of money does. Through this love of money “some have wandered away from the faith.” But “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Only evil comes from faithlessness — all evil.
You Can’t Love God and Money
So, whether we focus on the way 1 Timothy 6:10a relates backward to verse 9, or forward to the rest of verse 10, the conclusion is the same: It is not nonsense to speak of the love of money being the root of all evils. Changing this in translation to “all kinds of evil” is unnecessary (and when you think about it, “all kinds” is probably just as problematic as “all evils”).
Perhaps the simplest way to illustrate this is to quote Jesus when he said,
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Jesus uses the term “love” to describe the choice: We either love God, or we love money. He attaches the idea of “serving” to this idea of loving: “You cannot serve God and money.” From this I infer that, if you love money, you cannot serve God. And if you cannot serve God, then everything you do is evil. Because that is what evil is: any act not done out of loving service to God. Therefore, the love of money is the root of all evils, not just some evils.
Perhaps you are not persuaded that I have seen a plausible meaning in 1 Timothy 6:10 for the words, “The love of money is the root of all evils.” If not, I hope you have at least seen that someone given more insight than I surely might see such a meaning. Therefore, translators should not preempt that effort by presuming to know such a meaning did not exist.