Jesus was not a socialist, nor do his teachings fit into a socialist framework. Here’s why.According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, socialism is “A way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies.”
Some who favor socialism point to the Bible, noting that ancient kings, like David or Solomon effectively owned everything in the kingdom. But this is not true. In the Bible, only one king is said to own all the land and people in his kingdom. That was the Pharaoh under whom Joseph served (Genesis 47:15-22). But this was never true of biblical kings in Israel and Judah. God declared to Israel, “The land is mine” (Leviticus 25:23). Kings then were stewards and the kings themselves were bound by laws which were of higher authority than the kings (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). We even find one example where an Israelite king tried to buy a vineyard from a citizen, but was turned down and there was nothing he could do about it legally (I Kings 21:1-4).
The biblical pattern was that citizens owned and managed property, goods, and services, and distributed according to the needs and opportunities in the market. Nowhere in the Bible is there a prescription for governments to own and control the means and opportunities of the marketplace.
- Jesus never advocated government control over production, distribution, or exchange.
- Jesus never advocated community or government ownership of anything.
- Jesus never advocated the supremacy of the state.
- Jesus never condemned ownership, wealth, or so called income inequality.
- Jesus never advocated involuntary redistribution of wealth for any reason.
- Jesus never advocated collectivism in any form.
While it is true that there are Old Testament laws governing these things, in no way are those laws of a socialist nature. In fact, there is a bit of irony here in positions socialists take against the Bible. For instance, leftists like to claim that Old Testament laws against homosexuality aren’t valid while at the same time advocating socialism from the Bible. They say Jesus never condemned homosexuality. But the same can be said about capitalism—he never condemned it. Of course, socialist are interpreting the Bible through a politically liberal framework, which is foreign to the Bible’s authors.
Socialist sometimes cite stories in the Bible as examples of socialist ideals taught by Jesus. For instance, Jesus once instructed a rich man to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor (Luke 18:22). But Jesus was not speaking of government, nor was he giving an instruction for all to follow. He was, instead, dealing with a man who worshipped wealth more than God. It was a spiritual matter, not a political or economic matter.
Jesus healing the sick is sometimes cited as a reason for establishing universal free health care. But the reality is that there were many people in Jesus day who were never healed and he didn’t exercise his considerable power to heal the whole nation. Nor did his disciples heal everyone after Jesus empowered them.
The socialist construct is foreign to the pages of the Bible. To advocate socialism using the Bible is to misunderstand the Bible’s text and context within the history of which it was written. The socialist might refute my argument that since socialism isn’t condemned in the Bible it is therefore acceptable. But such a person forgets that the economic system most often modeled in the Bible is one of a free market which stands anathema to a socialist system. In fact, the case can be made that God prescribed a market system in the Mosaic Law in preparation for Israel to take control of the Promised Land. This defeats the claims to a so called biblical socialism and a socialist Jesus.