The word appears often in the Bible. The corresponding Heb. term is used in an expression tr. given to covetousness in Jer 6:13; 8:10 and used of those who rob and defraud others by extortion and oppression. The Gk. term pleonexia (covetousness, grasping selfishness) is used to describe the character and conduct of a greedy person. Hence covetousness is often the desire to gain at the expense of another.
Covetousness is often forbidden and condemned in the OT (Ex 20:17; Jos 7:21; Pr 21:26); to deprive a man of property was to deprive him of his God-given inheritance in the promised land.
Covetousness was recognized as a prominent vice by the Gks. in their ethical writings; it was counted one of the 3 most disgraceful vices.
Christ warned against covetousness Lk 12:15. He indicates that covetousness causes a man to center his life around possessions that become his god. Paul calls a covetous man an idolater and says that such a man has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph 5:15); he has no such inheritance because he is not a Christian. Paul also warns against assoc. with one called a brother if he is immoral or covetous (1 Co 5:11).
Some feel that the frequent assoc. of immorality with covetousness implies that covetousness overlaps with, or leads to, immorality. Some NT passages refer only to coveting material possessions; others include immorality, esp. in regard to another's spouse. The 9th and 10th Commandments reflect this dual meaning; the 9th forbids coveting a neighbor's possessions, the 10th esp. forbids coveting a neighbor's wife or any of his living possessions. There are many examples of covetousness leading to immorality, e.g., David and Bathsheba (2 Sm 11) and Herod and Herodias (Mt 14:34).
Luther describes the insidious ways of covetousness: Such is nature, that we all begrudge another's having as much as we have. Everyone acquires all he can and lets others look out for themselves. Yet we all pretend to be upright. We know how to put up a fine front to conceal our rascality. We think up artful dodges and sly tricks (better and better ones are being devised daily) under the guise of justice. We brazenly dare to boast of it, and insist that it should not be called rascality but shrewdness and business acumen. (LC I 297298)
See also Sins, Venial and Mortal.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuer Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th rev. and augmented ed., 1952, tr. and adapted by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich (Chicago, 1957), p. 673; S. D. F. Salmond on Eph 5:3, in The Expositor's Greek Testament, ed. W. R. Nicoll (London, New York, Toronto, 18971910), III, 351352; E. R. Achtemeier, Covetousness and Desire, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, various eds., I (New York, 1962), 724, 829830; A Theological Word Book of the Bible, ed. A. Richardson (London, 1950), p. 64. RC
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