Biblically, a payment or currency exchange started with when God killed a lamb to clothe Adam and Eve and they demanded that sacrifices be made for their sin so they could still be close to Him. The concept of needing to give something up in order to receive what you want or need is a basic calling as a follower Jesus, but it trickles down into the very simple and everyday survival tasks. Bartering systems and different currencies have been refined and changed, but today, we can swipe a small plastic card for a cup of coffee. Currency’s defining characteristics are the ability to exchange for a desired good or service, and money is a currency in in the form of coins or bank notes.
I think of prison currencies as an interesting example of people improvising with what they have. Historically, cigarettes were the most common prison currency. However, today prisons today have an entire informal economy centered around trading ramen noodles (Godoy, 2016). Inmates are incapable of giving real money to one another for goods and services, so ramen, rich in flavor and calories when an inmate is only given insufficient serving, ramen is as good as gold. “Prisoners use it to hire other inmates for services, like cleaning out their bunk or doing their laundry, or purchase goods on the black market, like fresh fruits or vegetables, which aren’t sold in the commissary but are sometimes smuggled from the kitchens, he says.” (Godoy, 2016).
Some might admit to being tripped up by greed and selfishness with their money. However, I know that my biggest flaw with my finances is my lack of good stewardship. I think of when Jesus told the story of servants taking care of their master’s money. “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (John 25:23, English Standard Version). When I read this, I feel a tug at my heart to use the resources God has given me to further His kingdom in the best way I can.
Godoy, Maria. “Ramen Noodles Are Now The Prison Currency Of Choice.” NPR, NPR, 26 Aug. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/26/491236253/ramen-noodles-are-now-the-prison-currency-of-choice.
Money has three basic functions according to Lee Coppock and Dirk Mateer (2018), authors of Principles of Macroeconomics: a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. As a medium of exchange money has created a more efficient system than bartering which creates a double coincidence of needs unless the two parties happen to have needs in common. As a unit of account money provides a standard for measuring the prices of goods and services that is easy for consumers to understand. As a store of value, money provides an opportunity for people to save for their future, provided the money holds its value into the future. In addition to these three functions of money, Donald Bourdeaux (2018) describes a fourth function of money in his article, “Modern Mercantilists Misunderstand Money.” Bordeaux further defines money as a, “standard of deferred payment” (para. 4), these are so-called “buy now, pay later” purchases especially common in the modern marketplace.
While money can take different forms, its important to note that currency specifically refers to coin and paper bills. Therefore, these terms cannot be used interchangeably. Money includes currency, but also includes checking and savings deposits, traveler’s checks, as well as stocks and bonds (Coppock & Mateer, 2018). While each of these can be used to serve the four functions of money mentioned early, currency is easy to carry, exchange, and understand.
Money has a long history that can be traced back at least as far as 9,000 B.C. (PBS.org, 2016). Even prior to this time, bartering was used as a form of money and is still in use today. In the article, “The History of Money,” PBS (2016) describes the earliest known form of money was cattle and sheep as well as other livestock. Since livestock was needed by all civilizations it was readily exchanged for other goods. Cowrie shells became a popular form of money around 1200 B.C, just two centuries before the first known metallic forms of money. Interestingly, China used metal imitations of cowrie coins around 1000 B.C, before coins were used. Modern coinage was developed around 500 B.C in the middle east as well as Greece and Macedonia. All of these are considered commodity money, or money that “involves the use of an actual good for money” (Coppock & Mateer, 2018, p. 543). According to PBS.org (2016), non-commodity money in the form of paper currency first appeared in China around 800 A.D. but disappeared from use in 1455. Still as recent at 1535 shells and beads, known as wampum, were used by North American Indians. The gold standard was introduced in 1816 in England and The Gold Standard Act was ratified in America in 1900 until the 1930s when both countries moved away from the gold standard.
Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, makes the following assertion about money, “Get it right, and money can grease the wheels of a prosperous economy. Get it wrong, and it becomes the poison that ruins the soup (Reed, 2019, para. 3). Reeds article provides a critical look at America’s monetary policy, in particular the introduction of Fiat paper and the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. As defined by Coppock and Mateer (2018) “Fiat money is money that has no value except as the medium of exchange; there is no intrinsic value to the currency” (p. 543). Scripture certainly affirms the value of gold as well as precious gems. Proverbs 25:11 compares the value of wise words to precious metals, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (NKJV). The Lord’s tabernacle was to be adorned with precious metals and stones; and the wealth accumulated by David and passed on to Solomon to build a temple for the Lord was represented by these commodities as well. The intrinsic value of commodity money creates a purity and honesty of trade that cannot be duplicated with government printed money. While Fiat money is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, we can infer from the importance placed on commodity money that it is a far wiser measure of value. Furthermore, Proverbs 20:23 says, “Diverse weights are an abomination to the Lord, and dishonest scales are not good” (NKJV). Certainly, printing money not backed by anything with inherent value may be considered a diverse weight.