“Give a man a fish,” the saying goes, “and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will always eat.” The problem with this saying, we in South Africa have discovered, is that even when you teach a man to fish, there are still signs that say, “NO FISHING.” So, in addition to teaching a man to fish, we also need to take down the “NO FISHING” signs! There are systems in place that prevent people from fishing, whether they know how to fish or not. Furthermore, my use of gendered language, which is deliberate, is a reminder that there are multiple systems, not just one. We in South Africa are particularly sensitive to identifying systemic signs because under apartheid we were surrounded by such signs. There were signs designating which racial group could sit on which bench, use which toilet, travel on which train, attend which school, be eligible for which job, marry which wife/husband, live in which neighbourhood, and be buried in which cemetery. From the cradle to the grave, our lives were regulated by a racially based system. So when we “read the signs of the times,” as Jesus instructed his followers to do (Matthew 16: 1-2, Luke 12:54-57), we have learned to discern and identify the systems that control our lives.

Structural Sin

Perhaps the clearest account of structural sin can be found in Albert Nolan’s book, God in South Africa: The Challenge of The Gospel (Nolan 1988). It is worth quoting him at length here:

Sin in the Bible means something more than individual acts of wrongdoing. There is another dimension to the whole experience of sin. In very general terms we could say that it is the corporate or social dimension of sin (Durand 1978: 89). We have only to think of how the prophets condemned not merely the individual sins of individual people but also, and much more frequently, the sin of whole nations and empires including the sin of Israel itself as a nation. In fact the social dimension of sin is the major concern of all the Biblical writers. This is not immediately obvious to the reader today because of the way the Bible speaks about this dimension. It does not speak about it in terms of social, corporate, or collective sins or in terms of structures or systems, but in terms of false gods, demons, devils, evil spirits, principalities, powers, and the law (Nolan 1988: 42).

As I will argue a little later, I think there are fairly clear cases where the Bible does indeed speak of corporate sin; however, though overstated, Nolan’s point is an important one, namely that structural sin is pervasive in the Bible and the ways in which it is described are various.

Nolan continues his analysis of structural sin by arguing, “The personal and the social are two dimensions that are present in every sin. All sin is both personal and social at the same time” (Nolan 1988: 43). He elaborates by saying, “All sin is personal in the sense that only individuals can commit sin, only individuals can be guilty, only individuals can be sinners. However,” he continues, “all sins also have a social dimension because sins have social consequences” (Nolan 1988: 43). In this sense, then, “sins become institutionalised and systematised in the structures, laws and customs of a society” (Nolan 1988: 43). Nolan continues:

Is to say that personal sins are objectified or embodied in social structures through which our sins cause suffering in people and through which others are influenced to become sinners. In this sense, apartheid can be called sin although it cannot be called a sinner. The distinction is between the subjective (personal) and objective (social) dimensions of sin (Brown 1981: 75-81) (Nolan 1988: 44).

Again, Nolan may be overstating the separation between the individual and the corporate, concerned as he is to avoid the dangers of both fatalism and materialism (see Nolan 1988: 33). In my view, the individual and the systemic are closer than Nolan likes to acknowledge. Surely, he asks, systemic sin cannot mean that a person sins merely by being born into a particular nation, society, class or race (Nolan 1988:43)? If such were the case, he continues, “That would make one’s guilt involuntary and involuntary guilt is a contradiction in terms” (Nolan 1988: 43). I am not so sure that it is! And in the very next sentence, Nolan seems to backtrack on this clear distinction between personal and systemic sin, saying “We can only become guilty by actively and passively participating with others in the same sin” (Nolan 1988: 43). If Nolan implies by the adverb ‘passively’ a conscious refusal of action, then his distinction between individual sin and social sin remains a fairly clear one. But what if we adopt a more passive understanding of the adverb ‘passively’? What if we are unaware of participating in social sin? Does this make the system any less sinful and us any less sinners?

In what follows I will try to probe this complexity a little more deeply, drawing on some Bible studies I have done with a number of communities of the poor, the marginalized, and the working-class.

Mark and Structural Sin

Mark, in my opinion, offers us a sustained analysis of structural sin. However, because so much of Mark’s message is disguised – in order, perhaps, to hide it from the dominant forces of his day while at the same time allowing the oppressed to interpret the hidden transcript (see Scott 1990) – we do not easily ‘see’ his argument. By doing contextual Bible study with poor and marginalized sectors in our South African context (West 1993, West 2003), I have been taught – at least partially – to ‘read’ Mark’s hidden transcript.

A common literary device in Mark is juxtaposition, in which sections of text are placed alongside each other with no clear authorial connection. This literary technique requires the reader to make the connection between adjacent literary units, and so a great deal depends on the readers and their social location. Different readers may make different connections. This is a classic technique example of what James Scott refers to as infrapolitics: “a politics of disguise and anonymity that takes place in public view but is designed to have a double meaning or to shield the identity [and/or ideology] of the actors” (Scott 1990: 19). Mark’s gospel, I would argue, is just such a politics of disguise!

Perhaps the clearest account of structural sin in Mark is the temple in Jerusalem. Together with my colleagues in the Ujamaa Centre (formerly the Institute for the Study of the Bible), I have facilitated a number of Bible studies on Mark’s gospel, many of them designed to assist ordinary non-scholarly black South African ‘readers’ (whether literate or not) of the Bible from poor and marginalized sectors of society to ‘read’ the juxtapositions in Mark. The following Bible study is such an example.

A Bible study on Mark 12:41-44

Question 1: Read Mark 12:41 44. What is this text about?

The purpose of this question is to draw out the community-based knowledge of the participants, though we recognize that some participants may not yet trust us enough to share fully.

Typical responses from ordinary South African Christians (and their pastors, ministers, and priests) concerning what this passage is about include the following: faithful giving, sacrificial giving, the importance of the right motives in giving, how the poor tend to give more proportionally than the rich, and other similar responses.

Question 2: Now read Mark 12:38 40, the text that immediately precedes Mark 12:41 44. Are there connections between 12:41 44 and 12:38 40? If so, what are they?

The purpose of this question, and the next, is to encourage the participants to interpret the connections between juxtaposed sections of text.

All groups with which we have done this Bible study detect connections between 12:41-44 and 12:38-40. Some of the connections they identify are the following: in both texts Jesus contrasts the powerful and the powerless; in both texts Jesus points to a difference of perspective between what society generally sees and what he (Jesus) sees; in both texts there is judgement; in both texts Jesus takes sides; in the texts there is a connection between the scribes “who devour widows’ houses” (40) and the “poor widow” (42). These and other connections are reported and elaborated by the groups.

Initially, there may not appear to be much of a connection between 12:41-44 and those texts that precede and follow it. However, a careful reading reveals that there are a number of interesting connections between Mark 12:35-40 and Mark 12:41-44. In Mark 12:35-40 Jesus is arguing against the teaching (verses 35-37) and the practices (38-40) of the scribes. One of the practices of the scribes that Jesus warns his disciples and the crowd to beware of is that they “devour widows’ houses” (40; NRSV). While it is not quite clear from the text what this means, what is clear is that in the very next verse, as Jesus watches people putting money into the treasury, there among them is “a poor widow” (42)! The attentive reader can therefore make the connection: the scribes who devour widows’ houses are probably the reason this widow is poor! She is not simply a faithful giver; she is also a victim of the oppressive practices of the scribes. This connection shifts our focus from an individual (the widow) to an oppressive system (the practices by which the scribes devour widows’ houses). Of course, knowing now that her poverty is as a result of an oppressive system only makes her giving that much more remarkable. But in addition to portraying this widow’s sacrificial giving, Mark also wants us to notice the connection between the practices of the scribes and this woman’s poverty.

Question 3: Now read Mark 13:1 2, the text that immediately follows Mark 12:41 44. Are there connections between 13:1 2 and 12:38 44? If so, what are they?

Similarly, as with the previous question, all groups do find connections between 12:38-44 and 13:1-2. They find that Jesus again contrasts and compares differing perspectives – things are not what they seem! Furthermore, Jesus once again judges. And, as in 12:38-40, 12:41-44, here in 13:1-2 Jesus is dealing in and with the temple.

Unfortunately, however, there is a chapter division here, but disregarding it we find much that resonates. So when we ignore the chapter division and carry on with our reading we find that Jesus leaves the temple in 13:1 and then pronounces judgement on it (the temple) in 13:2. Clearly Jesus has been in the temple until this point in the story. Another connection now emerges: while in the temple Jesus criticizes the scribes; while in the temple Jesus watches a victim of the scribes, the poor widow, put her money into the temple treasury; and finally Jesus leaves the temple and predicts its destruction. The temple is common to each passage: 12:35-40, 12:41-44, and 13:1-2. Is there something about the temple that Jesus is opposed to? What is the relationship between the temple and the scribes? What is the relationship between the temple, the scribes, and the ordinary people that were “listening to Jesus with delight” as he denounced the scribes? Does the literary context provide us with some answers to these questions?

Question 4: Jesus comes into the temple at 11:27 and leaves the temple at 13:2. In this literary unit who are the main characters or groups of characters, what do we know about them, and what are the relationships between them? Draw a picture of the relationships between the characters in the temple. What does your picture say about the literary unit as a whole?

Question 4 gives us a literary context in which to explore these questions. Jesus leaves the temple in 13:2, and the scene then shifts to Jesus discussing the future with his disciples on the Mount of Olives (13:3). If the temple is a key issue in the passages we have read, and if Jesus leaves the temple in 13:2, then we will need to go back in Mark to find when Jesus entered the temple. Jesus enters the temple for the first time in Mark’s gospel in 11:11, but he does not stay long. Rather strangely, he goes to the temple, looks around, and then leaves the temple and Jerusalem, returning to Bethany. The next day he returns to Jerusalem and enters the temple again (11:15). This time Jesus acts: “he began to drive our those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (11:15-16). Having acted, Jesus then teaches, saying, “‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?” But you have made it a den of robbers’” (11:17). Immediately after this we read, “when the chief priests and the scribes heard it [all that had happened in the temple], they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching” (11:18). Once again, Jesus does not stay in Jerusalem; he leaves Jerusalem and returns to Bethany (11:19). The next day Jesus enters Jerusalem and the temple for the third time (11:27), and this time he does not leave the temple until 13:2! Given that the passage we began with, Mark 12:41-44, is a part of this section, it is important that we read the literary unit 11:27-13:2 carefully, in order to establish its main concerns.

The entire literary unit is located within the temple in Jerusalem; the temple is the setting in which all the action of the literary unit takes place. The literary unit 11:27-13:2 contain a number of smaller sections that have a number of common elements. The literary unit begins with Jesus being confronted by the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders as he enters the temple (11:27). In the first section of the literary unit (11:27-12:12) Jesus argues with the temple leadership – the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Conflict with the temple leadership characterizes each of the sections of the literary unit, as we will see. Moreover, when we read the literary unit as a whole, it is clear that Jesus is supported by the crowd (12:12). This is an important feature of the literary unit: that the crowd is on the side of Jesus and that Jesus is on the side of the crowd (see 11:32, 12:12, 12:37). It is Jesus’ support among the ordinary people that prevents the temple leadership from acting against him.

In the second section of the literary unit (12:13-17), we are introduced to more of the temple leadership, the Pharisees and Herodians. Once again, they attempt to trap Jesus, but he is able to counter their attempts at entrapment. And the situation is similar in the third section of the literary unit (12:18-27), where Jesus is confronted by some Sadducees, and in the fourth section (12:28-34), where one of the scribes engages Jesus in discussion. Jesus responds quite positively to this lone scribe, recognizing, perhaps, that he is genuinely interested in understanding who Jesus is and what he is doing. However, after this discussion, and having been confronted by the full array of temple leadership, Jesus turns to the crowd and begins to offer them his own analysis of the temple and its leadership.

In the fifth section of the literary unit (12:35-40) Jesus provides a devastating critique of the scribes. As we have seen, he analyses both their teaching (12:35-37) and their practices (12:38-40), much to the delight of the large crowd that is now listening to him (12:37). Without a pause in the narrative, Jesus then sits down opposite the temple treasury and watches the victims of the teaching and practices of the scribes – and of the whole temple system – making their offerings. In this penultimate section of the literary unit, Jesus attempts to demonstrate to his disciples how the temple system exploits and oppressors – he shows them one of its victims, the poor widow. But the disciples are slow to understand, as they often are in Mark’s gospel, and so when they leave the temple in the final scene of the literary unit (13:1-2) they admire the beautiful temple building. But Jesus does not see a beautiful building, he sees an oppressive institution that is administered by corrupt and oppressive officials. This institution, this system, Jesus says, and all those whose teachings and practices sustain it “will be thrown down” (13:2); God will not tolerate such an abomination.

We now have a quite different reading of Mark 12:41-44 than the one we began with! A careful reading of this passage in its literary context has generated a reading that alerts us to the system dimensions of this text.

The request for socio-historical information which always comes in a Bible study such as this, and which we offer when asked, enhances the emerging picture of systemic injustice. For example, a socio-historical understanding of the temple recognises that the temple ordered the religious, social, political, and economic life of Israel. The temple was not a religious institution only. First, the temple ordered each person’s status in the social order. The outer walls of the temple identified the holy people, Israel, setting this people aside from all others. Within the temple there was a separate court for women, men, priests, and then the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year. Significantly, the sick, the maimed and mutilated, the mentally and physically disabled, and ‘unclean’ women were excluded from temple worship. Second, the temple ordered time through its annual cycle of festivals, including, for example, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Booths, Passover, Pentecost, and many more. Third, the temple ordered the political life of Israel. After the Roman procurator, the High Priest was the most powerful individual in Roman occupied Palestine. The High Priest controlled the governing body of the temple and the high council of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin (a sort of parliament under the Roman procurators) were drawn largely from the chief priests, Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes – all of whom were closely connected with the temple and all of whom are encountered in the Mark text. Members of the Sanhedrin were also drawn from the Jewish secular aristocracy – the elders and the Herodians. So the groups mentioned in Mark are not just religious figures, they are clearly political figures too. Furthermore, there are additional political dimensions to the relationships between the temple and its leadership and Roman imperial power. The Roman procurators, when resident in Jerusalem, were quartered, together their military troops, in the fortress of Antonia, which looked down on the temple court from the north-west corner; furthermore, the fortress Antonia also housed the high priestly vestments, a sign of Rome’s control and the subjection and collaboration entailed in the appointment of the High Priest.

Finally, and most importantly for our focus on matters of the poor, the working class, and the marginalized, the temple ordered the economic life of Israel (see Mathew 1999). In fact, the only groups that were hostile to the temple, the Essenes and the Jesus movement,[1] focused on the economic dimension of the temple system. The Essenes, for example, rebelled against what they saw as a corrupted temple, mainly because it compromised “for the sake of riches,” and piled up “money and wealth by plundering the people” (Damascus Document, CD 6:11-14, CD 7:21-8:10). Jesus, as our reading has already suggested and as we will see more clearly below, had similar reasons for acting prophetically against the temple. A historical perspective on the development of the temple will make the position of the Essenes and the Jesus movement clearer.

Early Israelite society in the pre monarchic period was based on an egalitarian association of tribal/clan groups. The land was distributed equally among the people, with periodic reallocations of land. Extended families worked together for labour intensive tasks and the community owned all of its produce. Warfare was largely defensive, and each tribe provided resources (human and material) in the event of having to form an army. However, under the threat of Philistine domination a centralised monarchy developed (see 1 Samuel 8), following the Canaanite model of kingship. The Canaanite system was based around a central temple, seen as the home of the god. The king was seen as the son of the god, whose duty it was to collect the agricultural produce of the peasants on behalf of the god. The agricultural surplus of the peasants was gathered in as their due to the god. This enabled the king to pay a standing army, administrators, and priests. The king was also entitled to conscript for military service and labour (see Gottwald 1979, 1985; Pixley 1991).

Similarly, during the time of the united monarchy, under Solomon, one of the functions of the temple was to gather the surplus from the peasant farmers in order to maintain the military, administrative, and religious structures of centralised government (see Chaney 1993). This economic (and political) function of the temple continued into the New Testament period.

For centuries the temple … functioned as the control center of the tributary mode of production that appropriated the agricultural surplus of the peasant cultivators and shepherds of the rural countryside and redistributed it among its priests, Levites, and lay officials. In time it became the hub of all commercial enterprise and activity – at least in the province of Judea – although it was always subject to the imperial power that dominated the country and drew off much of its profits in the form of taxes and tribute. Additionally the temple received a vast income from the temple tax which the law required every Jew to pay annually, gifts from the wealthy individuals, revenues from its land-holdings, and profits from the sale of sacrificial animals and money exchange. In effect, it served as the central bank of worldwide Judaism, and all of its assets and dispersements were controlled and administered by the priestly aristocracy (Waetjen 1989:183).

The temple, then, was not merely a religious institution, but economic and political as well. “Indeed, the religious dimension served to legitimate the political-economic aspects of the Temple and high priesthood. The Torah provided both the divinely given ‘constitution’ of the political-economic-religious rule of the Temple and the high priesthood along with the fundamental traditions through which the people were governed.” Because it was understood that the ultimate head of the society was God, and because the Torah taught that the people owed tithes and offerings to God, it was relatively easy for the high priests to legitimate a system that served their interests and “in which the peasant producers supported the Temple apparatus and priestly aristocracy.” Furthermore, “It was this religiously sanctioned economic support from the people’s tithes and offerings that enabled the high priests to exert political power over the peasant producers” (Horsley 1994:73). It is no wonder that Jesus devoted so much of his ministry to undermining the biblical interpretations of the dominant sectors of this system.[2]

In summary, during the time of Jesus the temple was the hub of all commercial activity in Jerusalem and Judea. Jesus’ actions in the temple (Mark 11:11-13:2) can therefore be seen as a prophetic and symbolic rejection of this central religious, economic, and political system of Judaism (and Roman occupation). However, Jesus was not only standing against the injustice of the temple system, he was also standing with the Jewish masses who were being oppressed and dispossessed by this system.

Obviously the negation of this central systemic structure of Judaism, which Jesus symbolically enacts, marks the termination of its power and privilege but especially its oppression and dispossession of the Jewish masses. … Consequently, it is no surprise that the sacred aristocracy, specifically the chief priests and the scribes, whose guardianship of the temple has been self-serving, begin to pursue the same objectives sought earlier by the Pharisees and the Herodians in Galilee (3:6): they were seeking how they might destroy him (Waetjen 1989:183).

By now the participants’ excitement is tinged with awe; they are amazed that the Bible can be such a rich resource and that they have been empowered to make sense of a complex text for themselves. The next phase of the Bible study enhances their sense of contribution, for it shifts now into how the text speaks to their contexts.

Questions 6 and 7: How does this text speak to our respective contexts? What actions will you plan in response to this Bible study?

The final two questions are again answered together in groups. The responses to these questions are as various as the groups that come together to discuss them. All participants find resonances between their corporate reading of the Bible and their context. With respect to Question 6 some South African groups have argued that our government’s new economic policy actually results in increased unemployment, though it is designed, we are told, to create more jobs. Others argue that there are structures and systems in their churches and/or cultures that exploit and exclude the powerless (whether they be women or people who are living with HIV/AIDS) when they should be protecting and providing for them.

When it comes to their action plans, groups are very creative. In some cases groups have decided to design a liturgy that can be incorporated into the worship of their church which calls the church to be a safe place for people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Other groups have planned more politically and have begun to lobby our government for a Basic Income Grant to provide for and protect the poor.

The Individual and the System

It should now be clear that Mark is dealing with structural sin. The temple system in Jerusalem clearly benefited the ruling elite, including those we encounter in Mark: the chief priests, elders, scribes, Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees (see Mathew 1999: 34-75). Equally clearly, the peasant masses, like the poor widow and the crowd that eagerly listened to Jesus, were exploited by this system (see Mathew 1999: 46-51). The history of the development of this structure has been touched on briefly, but what of the individual’s role in this? Fortunately, Mark offers us his perspective.

Mark portrays an individual being oppressed and exploited by the temple system – the poor widow, and an individual who is an active part of the temple system – the lone scribe who addresses Jesus in 12:28. Deliberately, I think, Jesus reminds this lone scribe that love of neighbour cannot be separated from love of God, and in so doing forces the scribe to see the structural dimensions of the temple. From the scribe’s reply (32-33) it appears as if he begins to ‘see’ that the temple’s system of “burnt offerings and sacrifices” (the mechanism of religious control and economic exploitation) is problematic. This recognition prompts Jesus to say in response that he is “not far from the kingdom of God” (34). This silences his antagonists and creates the space for Jesus to teach the disciples and the crowds (and perhaps the lone scribe) about the temple system and to demonstrate to them one of its victims – the poor widow.

The lone scribe is part of the system, even though he begins to recognize its oppressive dimensions. We do not know how he responded. Was he able to betray the system that sustained his privilege? We do not know. But what we do know is that another privileged individual who came to Jesus earlier was not able to do so. I speak here of the rich man who approaches Jesus in Mark 10:17-22, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Here is someone, I have argued (West 2003:5-13), who is unable to give up the benefits of structural sin. Jesus reminds him, not of the God-directed commandments, but of the human-directed commandments. He may not have murdered anyone personally, but he is part of a system that murders people; he may not have committed adultery personally, but he is part of a system that causes people to commit adultery; he may not have stolen personally, but he is part of a system that steals; he may not have borne false witness personally, but he is part of a system that witnesses falsely; he may not have defrauded anyone personally, but he is part of a system that defrauds; he may not have dishonoured his father or his mother, but he is part of a system that does this.

In my book Academy of the Poor (2003) I show how apartheid was a system that did all these things, and that we whites benefited from this system. Jesus is not that overt here, but earlier in Mark, he is. In Mark 7:1-13 Jesus explicitly analyses the system of Corban/Korban (verse 11), a system directly related to the temple! Confronted by Pharisees and scribes who had come from Jerusalem (7:1), Jesus responds to their accusations by showing how they disregard the commandment to honour ones’ father and mother. “You,” says Jesus, “have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition [or system]!” (9) Korban was a system whereby a person could dedicate an asset to God (usually via the temple) (Mathew 1999: 133). According to E.P. Sanders (cited in Mathew 1999: 134) “when a man made a korban vow, it means either that his property was vowed to the Temple or that his parents had to treat it as if it were. In neither case could anyone make use of it. Whatever be the reasons for declaring korban, the man just kept his parents from using his property.” The impact of this was that “The korban declaration not only deprived the parents of the material support but also all the others things a son might do to a father, e.g. help in the performance of religious duties, care in sickness, etc.” (Mathew 1999: 134). In effect, Sam P. Mathew (an Indian scholar sensitive to structural sin) argues, “the notion of the holiness of the Temple was used to deny goods or services to others, resulting in the impoverishment of many, especially the parents dependent on their children.” (Mathew 1999: 134)

By reminding the rich man (10:19) about this commandment, Jesus may have been pointing out the structural dimensions of his wealth; perhaps he was part of a system that robbed and dishonoured his parents. Perhaps too, the poor widow (12:42) was a victim of the same system. More likely, however, as Sam P. Mathew points out, she was the victim of another system, the Jewish inheritance laws. “According to the Jewish law, in the case of widows and orphans, the estate could be administered by a trustee. The expression ‘devouring widows’ houses’ then would refer to the misappropriation of the estate funds by the scribes who acted as trustees” (Mathew 1999: 169).

The scribes were active participants in and beneficiaries of structural sin, just as whites under apartheid were, and just as most Europeans and Americans are under the global empire of neo-liberal capitalism (see Terreblanche 2002 and Legum 2002). Does not being fully aware of the system (like the lone scribe (12:28) and the rich man (10:17)) make that person any less a beneficiary of sin? I think not! Jesus makes it clear to the rich man that he must forsake the fruits of structural sin, return it to the poor from whom it was taken (by sinful structures) and then, and only then, follow Jesus (10:21). This particular person was unable to give up the wages of structural sin. Even the disciples of Jesus found it difficult to believe that Jesus was really condemning (and dismantling) the systemic sin of the temple.


The real danger of structural sin is that we usually do not recognize it. In order to see structural sin for what it is we need those who are the victims of particular structural sins to teach us. For example, women will teach us about the pervasive structural sin of patriarchy; black people will teach us about the enduring structural sin of racism; dalits will teach us about the structural sin of caste; and the poor will teach us about the structural sin of global capitalism.

If we are to detect and discern the structural sin of which we are a part and from which we benefit, the challenge for each of us is to ensure that such are our primary dialogue partners (see Frostin 1988: 6-11). When we do ‘see’ systemic sin, we will then hear the challenge of Jesus to renounce its benefits and to dismantle it.


[1]The Zealots, for example, a loose collection of various groups who were ‘zealous’ for Jewish identity and independence, were not opposed to the temple, only to Roman influence in the temple.
[2]The governing class or ruling group made up about 5% of the population and yet had a virtual monopoly on political-military power; they and their retainers and servants (another 5%) lived from the produce they took from the rural peasant communities who made up 90% of the population.


Chaney, Marvin L. 1993. Bitter bounty: the dynamics of political economy critiqued by the eighth-century prophets. In The Bible and liberation: political and social hermeneutics, edited by N. K. Gottwald and R. A. Horsley. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Frostin, Per. 1988. Liberation theology in Tanzania and South Africa: a First World interpretation. Lund: Lund University Press.

Gottwald, Norman K. 1979. The tribes of Yahweh: a sociology of the religion of liberated Israel, 1250-1050 B.C. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis.

———. 1985. The Hebrew Bible: a socio-literary introduction. Philadelphia: Fortress.

Horsley, Richard A. 1994. Sociology and the Jesus movement. Second Edition ed. New York: Continuum.

Kairos. 1986. The Kairos document: challenge to the church. Revised Second Edition ed. Braamfontein: Skotaville.

Legum, Margaret. 2002. It doesn’t have to be like this! A new economy for South Africa and the world. Kenilworth: Ampersand Press.

Mathew, Sam P. 1999. Temple-criticism in Mark’s gospel: the economic role of the Jerusalem Temple during the first century CE. Delhi: ISPCK.

Nolan, Albert. 1988. God in South Africa: the challenge of the gospel. Cape Town: David Philip.

Pixley, George V. 1991. A Latin American perspective: the option for the poor in the Old Testament. In Voices from the margin: interpreting the Bible in the Third World, edited by R. S. Sugirtharajah. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Scott, James C. 1990. Domination and the arts of resistance: hidden transcripts. New
Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Terreblanche, Sampie. 2002. A history of inequality in South Africa, 1652-2002. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.

Waetjen, Herman C. 1989. A reordering of power: a socio-political reading of Mark’s gospel. Minneapolis: Fortress.

West, Gerald O. 1993. Contextual Bible study. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications.

———. 2003. The academy of the poor: towards a dialogical reading of the Bible. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications. Original edition, Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.