It is sometimes said that religion and politics should not be mixed. These are two things that when taken together, can offend and take people’s focus off of the Lord. Yet, the Bible gives us principles that help us determine whether our politics are in line with biblical principles or take us down a collective path toward marginalization or destruction. I am of the opinion that scripture gives us dynamic tools to help us make sound political choices.
In this article I want to present six practices of socialism and how the Bible teaches us why socialism in anti-biblical and destructive to societies. These six principles of socialism are:
1. Wealth confiscation and redistribution
2. Government ownership of private industry and property
3. Limits on income
4. High and oppressive taxation
6. Values are social creations, not immutable laws
The first argument that might be made about these six things is that the scripture appears to be silent on most of them. For instance, there doesn’t seem to be a direct command anywhere in the Bible that incomes should be limited or wealth confiscated and redistributed. If the Bible doesn’t command it, then we would seem to be free to pursue these things. However, this line of reasoning fails to the ground when we apply it to number 4; there seems to be no scripture that directly limits high levels of taxation. So, in this case, the argument might be a reversal. However, this is a bit simplistic.
The Bible’s commands on ordering a society were not specifically written for modern times. Many of the passages that might concern us were written by Moses in a culture influenced by Ancient Near East (ANE) ways of thinking. This is alien to our modern societies. However, knowing that behind the Laws of the Old Testament there are principles that are timeless, we can approach these passages and use them as guides. So, let’s take a brief look at each of these six thing and see where the scripture might run into them.
Wealth Confiscation & Redistribution
This is one of the most famous and argued about principles of socialism. The idea is that the wealth of the rich or well-to-do should be taxed at high rates for the purpose of using that wealth to help those less fortunate in our society. Now, in one sense there is something quite biblical about this. The Bible is replete with statements about taking care of the widow and the orphan (Deuteronomy 10:18, Zechariah 7:10, Isaiah 1:17). The Mosaic Law includes rules about farmers leaving some of their crops for the poor and widows to glean for their needs (Leviticus 23:22).
What should be noticed about these commands is that (1) the government did not take the crop portions and redistribute it. Rather, it was up to the farmer to leave the sheaves for the poor to gather it for himself. IE, even the poor man had to work to get the food he needed. (2) There was no policing organization to enforce this rule upon farmers.
Now, there is one instance in the Bible where the government procured crops from farmers at a high rate and held it for the use of the people. That was when Joseph was made Prime Minister in Egypt and he taxed the crops at 20% to save the grain for when the prophesied famine was to come (Genesis 41:34). However, this was a temporary measure to preserve the kingdom during famine. It was not a permanent policy enforced forever.
What we can conclude from these scriptures is that scripture considers the ideal situation that people earn their own wealth, be generous in helping the poor, and only enact drastic measures for drastic times. This is contrary to socialism’s idea of permanent wealth confiscation and redistribution.
Government Ownership Of Private Industry & Property
The concepts of private enterprise and private property are anathema to socialism. Socialism seeks to own and control major entities like power generation, major manufacturing, and distribution of goods and services. Everywhere where this is tried it presents major problems for community and economy. But what does the Bible have to say about this?
First, the land that Israel was given belonged to the Lord, not Israel. “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). Now, at first glance this might seem to be evidence in the Bible against private property. But this would be an error.
Under the Mosaic Law, the land of Israel was divided up between 11 tribes. No one was permitted to sell or bequeath any portion of their tribal land to other tribes or people outside of Israel (I Kings 21:3). The land had to always remain with the tribe. Selling land within the tribe was permitted but it didn’t need approval from the government.
Regarding industry, during Bible times there was no industry as we know it today. No power generation, no major manufacturing plants, etc. The Bible does not speak to this except by its silence. Therefore, what is not forbidden is permissible. I can think of no “industry” in scripture that was under the direct control of the government except for the construction of the temple and Solomon’s palace(s). This included the quarrying of stone and mining of precious metals for use in temple worship. However, these were temporary projects and there is no indication that these were under permanent government control. In fact, Deuteronomy 8:7-10 provides a context of private enterprise for the mining of copper. We can deduce this from the context where God says he will bless their water, crops, plantings, bread, iron, and copper. None of these things are stipulated as to be under the control of a kingdom. We, therefore, assume that the people may engage in these enterprises without government oversight.
Limits On Income
Nowhere in scripture do we read rules or examples about government empowered to limit the personal income of its people. On this the scripture is completely silent. To this we might also say that if it’s not forbidden, then it is permissible. But I don’t think this is the case, because private enterprise in scripture is actually encouraged. There are moral rules about free exchange (Leviticus 19:11, 36, 25:14), but no limits on income. That being so, forcibly limiting income would work against a free enterprise system that enables a person to financially prosper for himself, his family, and his descendants.
High & Oppressive Taxation
The Bible has a lot to say about taxation. Jesus commanded that we give to the government what is rightly due (Matthew 22:21). The Apostle Paul echoed the same when he said, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7).
In the Mosaic Law there were a series of taxes levied on the people relative to the cult worship. There were taxes to construct the tabernacle/temple and maintain it. There were taxes on income and taxes of crops and animals. We do read about “tithes” but these tithes are essentially a tax, but dedicated to the cult and not the government. The catch is that government excised tax from people. God warned about this in I Samuel 8:10-18 telling the people that the ruling king would take a tenth of their crops, animals, and even people to perform kingly services. What is interesting about this is that God warned them and said, “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (I Samuel 8:18). The implication is that the taxing of these things would be too high, difficult to afford and the people would seek relief. This is a clear example of God warning the people that what they may be required to pay will be too much. IE, God is warning them against oppressive taxation with this example.
If socialism is anything, it is anti-capitalistic. And while the exact theory of capitalism isn’t specifically named in scripture, we can see that the core elements of capitalism are encouraged or permitted in scripture. We’ve already seen this earlier in this article. Taxation must be fair, income should have no arbitrary limits, government does not own industry, wealth should not be confiscated (beyond forcibly requiring someone to pay a debt or punishment in a suit).
The Old Testament model would seem to favor free-enterprise, exercised by a moral compass and forbidding certain practices that other nations engaged in, such as kidnapping for slavery. Slavery of a kind was permitted in the Mosaic system, but was more of a way for people to retire their debts. It was, essentially a debt relief system. However, by the days of the Apostle Paul, he was encouraging slaves to become free, if they were able, “If you are able also to become free, rather do that” (I Corinthians 7:21-23).
There are no restrictions in the Bible on trade beyond the standard application of ethics and honesty. In fact, most of the Bible’s main figures actually become wealthy to a degree (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Saul, David, Solomon, etc). Wealth is never criticized except for greed (wealth and greed are not the same), or using it to gain power or position over another person (James 2:6). Jesus’ ministry was actually supported by a wealthy woman (Luke 8:3).
The Bible is not anti-capitalism, rather, it is pro free-enterprise.
Values Are Social Creations, Not Immutable Laws
Socialism tends to be atheistic. As such, there are no immutable laws under socialism. Yes, socialism has laws, but they are arbitrary laws enacted by the system. They have no immutable traits because they are not based on something outside of itself, with the possible exception of nature. But even this is not a clear way to arrive at a moral law.
In the Bible, laws are made as a reflection of being created in God’s image. Violating that image, and the stated laws, are worthy or punishment because the laws are based upon God’s character, a character that he shares with us in his communicable attributes. Therefore, under socialism, one year the law might say one thing, then another year another thing. Since we’ve seen what the Bible says about the topics we’ve already discussed we can see that these rules or practices of socialism are a violation of God’s law, even his character.
As Christians, we are cut from a different cloth than the socialist or socialist government. We believe in immutable laws because we know that God himself is immutable. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Also, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Therefore, values are not social creations, they are existent for all time just as God is, because they come from God and cannot be wrong. And these laws help guide our society to become free, productive, and endearing. If we lose this perspective of the law through socialism, then we lose one of the cornerstones of the American experiment.
In every way, socialism fails the biblical test for a righteous and just system of governance. Wherever socialism is tried it brings poverty and misery. Some may say that socialism makes all persons equal. That is true, in that it makes everyone equally poor. From the Mosaic Law on, God desires that we walk with him in integrity and be blessed in what we do in freedom. But the key to that is that we serve God, not our own desires. We seek God’s face and not his hand.