The Bible seems to provide contradictory assessments about wealth, says David Kotter and Dr. Joshua Greever. To see if this were truly the case they examined every case in the Bible where an individual was identified as having substantial material possessions and the means of acquiring these goods was disclosed. They found that in the 21 cases meeting these criteria, the means of acquisition was a reliable indicator of whether a person received approval or disapproval:
On one hand, riches were condemned if one party gained at the expense of another, a situation economists call a “zero-sum game.” On the other hand, wealth was commended if it was accumulated through “positive-sum games,” which economists describe as mutually beneficial, voluntary transactions. Though stewardship and orientation of the heart are also biblically significant, a focus on the means of acquisition can lead to helpful insights in an exponentially changing economic environment.
In a biblical context, farming grain would be a quintessential example of a positive-sum game.
A farmer uses only seeds, sunlight, land and labor to harvest a wealth of wheat in a way that does not directly harm other farmers. Shepherding sheep was likewise a common positive-sum game in the ancient world. Mining, digging wells, crafting leather and engaging in voluntary trade were further examples of mutually beneficial activities.