Global food prices reached a new record high recently; causing the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization to recently voice its concern about an impending global food crisis. The rapid increase in the price of food is a significant since we are all impacted by it (after all, we need to eat in order to survive). In addition, the rapid increase in the price of food is significant because it can serve as a factor that destabilizes regimes in many developing countries around the world.
I’ve spent a lot of time these past few days attempting to estimate how much more expensive food items like wheat would become during the End Times. I think it is useful to have some idea of how much more expensive food items like wheat may cost at that time because it may provide us some indication of what conditions on Earth will be like during that time and it may give us some idea of the kind of price shocks we’ll experience in the future.
Today I want to share some of what I’ve found so far about the End Times cost of wheat and the famine of Revelation 6:5-6.
Revelation 6:5-6 are the key verses to focus on when attempting to estimate the End Times cost of food because they provide information about the price of food items like wheat.
(5) And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. (6) And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5-6)
The Greek word for “measure” is choenix, which is equivalent to a dry quart. A dry quart of wheat is approximately enough to make 1.5 to 1.875 loaves of one-pound bread or approximately the average amount of bread a person living in the Roman Empire ate per day.1 Meanwhile, the Greek word for “penny” is denarius, which was a coin that was used during the time of the Roman Empire.
The first century A.D. was a time when one denarius was approximately the amount of money some workers were paid for a full day of work. For instance, Matthew 20:2-9 suggests workers were paid one denarius (penny) for 8 hours of labor or a full work day:
(2) And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. (3) And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, (4) And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. (5) Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. (6) And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? (7) They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. (8) So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. (9) And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.” (Matthew 20:2-9)
Some commentators use this detail to state that Revelation 6:5-6 implies that a dry quart of wheat will cost a person an entire day’s worth of wages. Some Bible versions go as far as to change the words “A measure of wheat for a penny” (KJV) to “a quart of wheat for a day’s wages” (NIV) in Revelation 6:6. A few Bible versions and some commentators go as far as to say that a loaf of bread will cost a person an entire day’s worth of wages.
- Since I prefer to use the King James Bible I’ll work under the assumption that Revelation 6:6 states “a measure of wheat for a penny” instead of a “quart of wheat (or a loaf of bread) for a day’s wages”.
The Value of a Denarius During Christ’s Time
We can get some idea of the significance of Revelation 6:6’s wheat price by examining how much bread a denarius could buy during Christ’s time.
We can figure out how much a loaf of bread cost back in the time of Christ by examining Mark 6:35-6:44. Before Christ performed a miracle to feed at least five thousand people His disciples asked Him whether they should go buy 200 pennyworth (denarri-the plural for denarius) of bread to feed the people.
(35) And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: (36) Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. (37) He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? (38) He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. (39) And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. (40) And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. (41) And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. (42) And they did all eat, and were filled. (43) And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. (44) And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.” (Mark 6:35-44)
If we divide 5000 loaves of bread by 200 denarri, we’ll find that one denarius bought 25 loaves of bread in Christ’s time.
- I analyzed some data I found about 1st century A.D. Roman Empire food prices to see if the data matched up with the Bible. The data confirmed that one denarius did buy 25 loaves of bread during the 1st century A.D. in the part of the empire where Christ’s ministry took place.
Conversely, if we divide 200 denarri by 5000 loaves of bread, we’ll find that 0.04 denarius bought 1 loaf of bread.
- Therefore, a worker could afford to buy 25 loaves of bread after an 8 hour work day in the time of Christ.
- The typical loaf of bread weighed approximately one-pound during the Roman Empire, so we’ll assume that these loaves of bread weighted one-pound each. 2
Why Do People Say There is Famine in Revelation 6:5-6?
Many commentators say that the third seal describes a great famine on Earth. When I was younger I wondered why many commentators stated this when the text described how food was priced. After doing the research to write this article there’s no doubt in my mind that these commentators were correct…
If you consider the context of the first century A.D., it is clear that John predicted a very dramatic increase in the price of wheat. A person reading Revelation 6:5-6 in the first century A.D. would have read that a denarius would buy only enough wheat to make 1.5 to 1.875 one-pound loaves of bread instead of 25 loaves of bread in the future. This would represent between a 1333% and 1667% increase in price!
- Other commentators I’ve read estimate that the wheat price increase that John described amounted to between 8 and 16 times (or 800% and 1600%) the prices normally found in the first century A.D.
The very dramatic increase in the price of wheat that John described is indicative of a tremendous shortage of food because prices generally do not increase this much without a major supply shortage. The shortage could be caused by natural conditions, man-made conditions, or both. Here are a couple of potential factors-natural and man-made-that could limit the supply of food available:
- The weather on Earth at that time may be even more uncooperative than it is now when it comes to growing crops…
- The wars following the opening of the second seal could lead to significant crop destruction…
A Day of Work for a Loaf of Bread?
I want to address the idea that Revelation 6:5-6 implies that a day’s wages will only be enough to buy a choenix of wheat or a loaf of bread before I conclude this part of the study…
I’m not completely comfortable yet with the idea that an entire day’s wages will only be enough to purchase a choenix of wheat or a loaf of bread during the End Times. Revelation 6:5-6 focuses on the price of items in terms of money instead of labor (prices are quoted in denarius instead of time worked).
- One could argue that John tried to convey the idea that an entire day’s wages would only be enough to buy a choenix of wheat. However, why did John choose to quote the price of food in terms of money instead of time worked?
- Saying that an entire day’s wages will only be enough to buy a choenix of wheat or a loaf of bread implies that everyone will earn the same amount of money/credits during the End Times-whether they are a doctor or a janitor. This idea seems unlikely to me at the moment unless pure Communism is prevalent throughout the world…
- Feel free to share you opinion about whether we should view the cost of wheat in terms of a day’s wages or not.
Nevertheless, I’ve calculated how much a choenix of wheat would likely cost at the minimum in the United States today if a day’s wages could only buy one choenix of wheat in case anyone was curious.
- The federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 an hour (each state has their own minimum wage laws, so I’ll use the federal minimum wage to make a generalization about the entire country).
- The typical work day in the United States is around 8 hours.
- A choenix of wheat would theoretically cost $58 ($7.25 x 8) today if the conditions associated with the opening of the third seal were prevalent on Earth right now and we assume a day’s wages could only buy a choenix of wheat. Right now a choenix of wheat costs approximately $0.27 given a $8.76 wheat price per bushel, so prices would need to increase by an astronomical amount.3
Please let me know if you found any shortcomings or errors in what I have so far. It’s good to identify any problems as soon as possible so these mistakes don’t compound in the future.
- Wheat was ultimately measured in modii in the Roman Empire. A modii of wheat could produce between 16 and 20 one-pound loaves of bread. A choenix was 3/32 of a modii. If you multiply 3/32 by 16 you get 1.5 If you multiply 3/32 by 20 you get 1.875. ↩
- “Rome in 200 AD, Essential Guide to Rome Ancient Rome on Five Denarri A Day”. World Archeology Issue 23. 2007. 8 Feb. 2011. http://www.world-archaeology.com/great-civilizations/roman-empire/article/340-.html ↩
- A choenix of wheat is approximately 1.843 lbs. A bushel of wheat is approximately 59.74 lbs. The price of a bushel of wheat is $8.76 at the time of this writing, so the price of a lbs of wheat is approximately $0.15 (8.76 divided by 59.74). The cost of a choenix would be found by multiplying $0.15 by 1.843 which equals approximately $0.27. ↩