The Bible Favors Capitalism and Not Socialism

While the Bible does not use the terms capitalism or socialism, I believe it strongly favors capitalism. Clearly, the Bible does not sanction everything that goes on under the name of capitalism. But the Bible does seem to present a relational and economic system that more closely resembles capitalism than socialism and Marxism. Scripture emphasizes giving from one’s earnings, hard work correlates to income, dealing with others in financial honesty, personal responsibility, voluntarily caring for the needy, and sharing, which all, at least, imply ownership. We are also commanded not to steal or covet, which necessitates private ownership rather than collective ownership. Then there are explicit commands that indicate capitalism in trade.

Scripture is replete with evidence of capitalism. For example, two of the Ten Commandments demonstrate private ownership and capitalism. The eighth and tenth commandments are “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet” (Exod 20:15, 17, respectively). These directly unveil a system in which one person wrongly wants and often seeks to seize what belongs to another. These are the sins of taking or sinfully desiring another person’s property. The Bible speaks clearly about rewarding merit; it can also be expressed as paying a person or rewarding for work done.

Scripture says, “You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning” (Lev 19:13). Again, the law says, “You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the Lord and it become sin in you” (Deut 24:15). James says, “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (Jas 5:4).

These Scriptures clearly teach private ownership and an employer/employee relationship between individuals. The Jew’s business dealings were to be characterized by honesty, which is often portrayed by using accurate scales to weigh things such as grain. Moses wrote, “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt” (Lev19:35–36).

In the parable of the landowner, we have an example of a landowner paying wages to those who worked for him. He offered to pay, and they all agreed to a denarius for their labor. But at pay time, some grumbled because they worked many hours, and they received the same amount as those who worked one hour. Speaking of the landowner, it says, “But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'” (Matt 20:1–15).

That is capitalism; he hired people to work his land, and they voluntarily took the job, which made them responsible for working and him responsible for paying them. Notice that when they grumbled about those who worked only a few hours receiving as much as those who worked many hours, he said, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'” (Matt 20:15, emphasis added). He called the money he paid them “my own” and then said, “I am generous.” He alone decided what to pay and to be more generous with some than others, which he could do because what he paid them with was “his own.” Also, the pay went to the person who agreed to work for an agreed amount after he had done the work. Neither the government nor a collective ruling body governed the landowner’s use of his money or his desire to be generous. This illustrates pure capitalism. Someone offers a service or product for which another is willing to pay because he desires the service or product more than he desires to keep his money.

Now, the employer expects to receive labor for his money, and the worker expects to receive money for his work. The hirer is not to keep the wages of the person he hired but pay him when the work is completed. It is an agreement between the employer (contractor) and the employee. James 5:4 reminds us if the employer acts greedily and does not keep his word to pay the employee, the pay he keeps “cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (Jas 5:4).

God even uses working animals to illustrate just dealings between people who provide a service or product and those who benefit. Paul uses the Old Testament teaching from Deuteronomy 25:4 to teach that pastors are to be paid, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and this same sentiment is found in Paul’s words, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18).

Resultantly, we see all the necessary components of capitalism: private ownership, agreements for exchanging one’s money for another person’s service, and instruction that the agreement must be honored on both sides. Another component of capitalism is that if able-bodied men were unwilling to work, God, through the Apostle Paul, says, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess 3:10). The acquirement of what is needed for life such as food, which may be used here as a synecdoche,[1] is brought about by work. If a person chooses to be lazy and not work, he must suffer the consequences of laziness.

The Bible also makes provision for those who cannot work or are going through difficult times. They could beg for alms, and God’s people should share some of their blessings with the truly needy (Luke 18:35; John 9:8; Acts 3:2; 10:2). For those who did not have enough money to live but were not immobile because of a handicap, God made another provision, known as gleaning the fields. God commanded the farmers and winegrowers to harvest so that there was food left behind that could be gathered and eaten by the poor (Lev 19:10; Deut 24:20–21; Ruth 2:2–3).

Although we no longer live in an agrarian society, some principles still apply. Deuteronomy says, “When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.'” (Deut 24:20–22). This practice is a counter against greediness, a call to show love and compassion, a way to share with the less fortunate, and a means to allow for planned giving. It also allows the poor to maintain their dignity as a human created in the image of God and not become lazy.

We no longer live in a society dominated by agriculture. Instead of working to create produce, most of us use our labor to produce goods and services in exchange for money. Because of our type of economic system, it isn’t always easy to see work we can leave for others. But by thinking creatively, we can find a way to let the poor use their labor to provide for their needs. For example, while we might be capable of mowing the lawns of our homes, paying someone less fortunate to do the work can be a viable way of applying the gleaning principle. As we learn about gleaning (Lev 19:9–10) and giving alms (Prov 19:17), we are reminded to share our wealth–capital.

[1] A synecdoche is a manner of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole.

Ronnie W. Rogers