Sept. 14, 2011
Dr. David Berman
Just what is the position of scripture concerning economics? Does the bible teach Marxist, Socialist economic principles? Is there a mandate for the state to feed the poor? We hear a lot about compassion being defined as the government “helping” people. What is the theology of economics?
Let us first examine the issue from an emotional perspective. For those whose main motivation is emotion, it is not hard to understand why they would feel that the government should “do something” whenever there is a crisis. Those who are emotional tend to want two things. 1) They desire that something be done. 2) They want someone else to do what needs to be done. This is why they want government to take care of it by taking resources from “rich people” who they say must pay “their fair share.” I am not saying no liberals ever give of their own money or time however the statistics are very clear that Conservatives give much more than liberals. Church goers particularly give more than any. In fact, it is well-established that rich people pay the largest amount of taxes and that around 50% of Americans do not pay any federal income taxes at all. I have even heard liberals who want nothing to do with God’s word say that Jesus wants us to help the poor. The “us” in their statement means the federal government.
What does the bible say? What is the economic system of the bible? I think it is important that we know what God’s system is. Socialism is the idea of redistribution of wealth through confiscation of wealth that is filtered through the bureaucracy of centralized government power. The idea is Marxist in its foundation:
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” –Karl Marx
We know that has never worked, It is something that stops creativity, and ruins incentive. I will not spend time in this article explaining that more because this is specifically about the theology question. Let’s simply see what the bible teaches about it:
Exodus 20:17 “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.”
The Hebrew word that is translated “covet” specifically means to lust after, desire, to delight in. The idea of the passage is that no one has a right to anything that belongs to another no matter how much one may be jealous of what another has.
In Micah chapter two we see God is angry with those who plan evil upon another thinking they can covet because they have power:
Micah 2:1 “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.”
In the next verse we see clearly what their evil plans are:
Micah 2:2 “And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.”
Here God is angry because those who have the power to act on the evil covetous hearts do so with violence and take a man’s field (his living), oppress his house (his security and authority) destroy his heritage (his legacy and right to pass it to his children). This is forbidden in the Word of God. There is no right given to take what belongs to another person no matter how much the other person has. The idea that one has a right to another’s property is against the principle of the tenth commandment “Thou shalt not covet.” Not only does God demand that we do not take what belongs to another, God commands that we do not even take what belongs to another in our hearts. We are not to even think that we have a right to anything that is not ours.
From this principle alone we must understand that the theology of economics simply does not allow Socialist/Marxist economic systems. Those systems are totally against the principle of “Thou shalt not covet.”
The obvious question would be what about those who are hurting, needy, and poor? Let’s go to the bible for answers. There are numerous passages in the bible that deal with the poor. In the Old Testament there is a theocratic decree by God to Israel in the form of a law:
Leviticus 19:10 “And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.”
Here God expresses the law that those who own vineyards were not to totally gather all the fruit but rather were to leave some for those who are poor, or strangers without food. They were to leave some and allow those who were in need to gather what was left. We see two things here. 1) God wanted provision for those in need. 2) Those is need had to work at the gathering themselves. It was not done for them. Some might say “see there should be laws forcing those who have to give to those who do not.” If America was a theocracy, I would agree. We are not a theocracy and I doubt that liberals would want us to be one since there are many laws that would be necessary in a theocracy.
Now let’s look at the way liberals would institute the above verse. Liberals would say if you have a vineyard we must place massive amounts of regulations on you, tell you want to pay your workers, force you to have massive amounts of insurance to defend against frivolous law suits, and have a large agency looking over your shoulder at everything you do. Liberals would go on to say that there is need to protect the public and make sure that the fruit is distributed properly so a certain percentage would be confiscated by the government under penalty of law. The fruit would then be used to support the government bureaucracy which continues to hire unnecessary paper pushers. Once the government agency is taken care of the small amount left will be distributed to those who have babies out of wedlock, are drug addicts, have criminal records, refuse to work, and who drop out of school. Oh yes a small percentage of hard working honest poor people would get help but the majority would be simply promoting and perpetuating irresponsible behavior. There must be personal responsibility as the scripture attests:
2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.”
There is nowhere in the bible that teaches government should confiscate what belongs to one person, feed their own agency, and take the rest and give it to those who are irresponsible. The following passage is also important in this discussion:
Exodus 23:1-3 “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.”
This passage teaches that we are not to judge things based on how much or how little a person has. Justice is justice, right is right, and wrong is wrong no matter what the economic standing of an individual. I simply have no natural right to what belongs to another person. If there is no natural right, then there can be no legal legislation before God that forces one man to give to another under penalty of law in a non-theocratic society.
The liberals often point to the following passage to make the case for socialism being biblical:
Acts 4:31-32 “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”
There is no doubt that the words “shared all things in common” means that they did just that. They shared as one family. The question is not did they do that but rather the question is twofold. 1) Why did they do that? 2) Were they forced by government to do that? The answer to why is quite simply if we understand the context. This was early in Christianity and Christians were severely persecuted. It makes total sense that they bound together to help one another in that situation. The answer to the second question is that since the Romans and Jewish counsel authority both were against the Christians there was no mandate to socialism given by the government. Some would say that indeed God made them be socialist due to the fact that Ananias and Sapphira were punished with death for holding back some of their own money. Let’s look at the verses:
Acts 5:3-4 “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
In this passage it is obvious what the sin was. The apostle expresses in the words “was it not thine own? And after it was sold was not in thine own power?” The apostle makes it clear that it belonged to them. He goes on to say “thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” This is the sin, that they lied by saying they gave it all when they had not. If they had simply said they gave a portion, there would have been no problem. It was the lie not how much they purposed to give that angered God.
Having said all the above one’s personal moral responsibility is another matter. We all have a moral responsibility to care for others individually. We have a moral responsibility to help others personally not under penalty of Law. I can ask you for help, you can offer help, but I have no right to what belongs to you. The bible teaches in the following passage that Christians have a moral obligation to help their brother:
James 2:15-17 “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
Christians should care for each other as acts of faith. That is a personal responsibility that each person has before God, not before government confiscation. Helping the poor is a spiritual matter as well as a natural matter:
Acts 10:4 “And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.”
God sees our giving and it clearly pleases him. Being forced to give is not giving; it is extortion by a government that takes under the guise of helping when its real motivation is supporting itself.
The bible in fact teaches buying and selling at profit, working hard to gain financial strength, and makes no argument against gaining wealth as long as a person has the proper perspective on what they possess. The bible speaks against being slack in work, not taking care of one’s family, and having an entitlement mind-set:
1 Timothy 5:8 “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
Proverbs 10:4 “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”
The theology of economics is personal property, personal work, enterprise, wealth creation through investment and return. Not socialist/Marxist extortion. The Prophet Samuel warned of what happens when the people desire to have a king over them (centralized concentrated power):
The prophet Samuel's warning when the Israelites ask God for a king:
1 Samuel 8:11-22 “And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.
I am a capitalist however I am what I call a biblically restrained capitalist. I believe each person must answer to God for how they conduct their personal business and finances. I believe it to be biblical for each person to freely give, not to be extorted. To be fair based on personal moral standards set by God’s word, not by big government over reaching regulations. Let me give an example of capitalism and explain what I mean by biblically restrained:
Let’s say I sell water for one dollar a bottle and there is a hurricane that wipes out the water supply to my area. Fortunate for me I just had a delivery so I have plenty of water for myself and to sell. If unrestrained by God, I could not charge one hundred dollars a bottle because people are in desperate need to survive so they must pay it or die of thirst. According to the law of supply and demand I can get that price. That, in my view is ungodly. I would sell the water for the same price in that situation because even though the market would bare one hundred dollars, it is immoral to take advantage of people in a dire situation like that. My faith restrains me from capitalism unbound by personal morality.
Biblically restrained free enterprise Capitalism is the only way to possibly have a society that works to the benefit of all. An individual caring for their fellow citizens is a necessary component of a healthy capitalist society. Capitalism takes into account the human nature of man in that it offers incentives for enterprise and at the same time is restrained by biblical principle. Capitalism without biblical restraint is like any human unrestrained power; destined to abuse. Therefore any system where individuals are not restrained by personal conviction of God’s Word will lead to abuse. But I do not believe in the government mandating business transactions between people. History teaches us that the more centralized power gets, the more abuse, and the more ungodly the economic system becomes.
To sum this up, the Theology of economics is free enterprise restrained by personal moral convictions as espoused by God’s Word. Yes we are called to help the poor privately but we are not called to being extorted by centralized government power to do so. Do not allow the leftists with their “liberation theology” to fool you. Marxism is not biblical and a destructive force to all humanity.