Culture,  Ethics,  Theology

Socialism and the Bible

Image of money signifying socialism

Socialism is becoming popular in the United States, especially among the younger generations. One poll noted that 61% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 thought positively of socialism. Another poll said that 43% of Americans thought some form of socialism would be a good thing for the United States. The popularity of socialism in the United States is due in part to the political popularity of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but it is also clear that many young people embrace socialism without really understanding what socialism is.

Socialism is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” Although there are different variants of socialism, the governmental control over production and distribution is the common denominator in most cases. Thus, the heart of socialism is the control and ownership of means of production and their distribution by the government.

Historically, socialism has been viewed as a complete and abysmal failure. Thomas Sowell, famed Stanford economist has the following famous statement, “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.” Similarly, Margaret Thatcher famously noted that socialism was doomed to fail because, “eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

The most recent example of socialism’s failure is the country of Venezuela. Venezuela was once the richest country in South America, now it on the brink of financial collapse. Socialism has always left behind it ruin and catastrophe. But why doesn’t it work? And in the face of it not working, why is it that people continue to want it?

Socialism is attractive to the masses because it appeals to the inherent sin nature and anti-God mindset. Socialism promises to fulfill your desires while promising to never let someone else get ahead of you. As such, socialism is an anti-God, anti-creation, anti-biblical system. This can be demonstrated in at least the following ways.

Socialism advocates communal property, but the Bible advocates private property.

Built into creation is the mandate that humans work (Gen 2:15). Work is a pre-Fall, good gift from the Creator. Although work was made more difficult by the Fall (Gen 3:17-19), personal effort will still lead to one’s own bread (Gen 3:19). Work inherently produces a positive benefit, either in the form of compensation or else in the accomplishment of the task itself. The biblical notion of work carries with it the important idea of private property.

Laws like Exodus 22:1-4 assume that individuals own personal property and that any violation of that property much be restored to the individual owner plus additional restitution. Some laws forbade taking some personal property as collateral for a loan because it was the livelihood of that family (Deut 24:6). Additionally, New Testament texts like Matthew 6:1-4 and 1 Timothy 6:17-19 assume helping the needy from one’s personal wealth, not government intervention.

Socialism advocates forced redistribution, the Bible prohibits theft.

The thing about socialism is that it can’t work without taking away the liberty and freedom of citizens. Socialism only works if the government can force individuals to give up their property (money or assets) to the whims or desires of the state. If even a few prominent citizens did not want to give up their assets, the system couldn’t get off the ground. Thus, the system of socialism necessitates forced redistribution.

On the other hand, the Bible prohibits theft (Exod 20:15; Deut 5:19), which can be defined simply as “taking what belongs to another.” This of course assumes the importance of private property, and the importance of individual freedom to use that property how one chooses. Although some would rationalize the “steal from the rich and give to the poor” Robin Hood mindset, this is incongruent with a biblical worldview.

Socialism promotes laziness, the Bible promotes discipline and hard word.

One of the fatal flaws of socialism is the disregard for the production of the individual. This is why it has often been observed that, if an individual will receive the same compensation regardless of work output, most individuals will choose to work less. Or, to put it in a personal setting, if I do 100% of the work, but have to share 50% of my earnings with others, then I become extremely unmotivated to work as hard anymore. I will be content in receiving the compensation from others who work hard while I sweat less. This is human nature (see last point).  

In contrast, in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Paul speaks strongly against the idea of laziness. He even commands in verse 10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” As Paul says elsewhere, “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Tim 5:18). The biblical worldview understands there is an important relationship between effort and compensation. Compensation should be commensurate to the work of the individual—this promotes a good work ethic and is the way God intended.

Socialism assumes the goodness of mankind, the Bible assumes the sinfulness of mankind.

This is perhaps the foundational error of socialism. Socialism assumes that even though the self-centered incentives for hard work are removed, individuals will keep working hard in order to provide for their fellow man out of decency. In other words, socialism assumes the goodness of man to be utilitarian.

The truth is that humanity is dead in their sins (Eph 2:1) and they actively suppress the truth of God (Rom 1:20-21). As sinners, mankind consistently seeks after their own (sinful) desires (Rom 8:5; cf. Gal 5:19-21). This is of course why socialism can never work—because since Genesis 3 each individual is tainted with a selfishness that only the new life in Christ can remedy.

Conclusion

Although there could definitely be more said about the practical or historical problems with socialism, I chose to address socialism strictly from a biblical perspective. Socialism is extremely dangerous given its anti-Scripture worldview. When the rhetoric of the 2020 elections comes around, remember that there is a reason that socialism never works—it is a worldview which denies the truth of Scripture.

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

2 Comments

  • Ruthlyn White

    God Word is truth

    1 John 3:17-18 – But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels [of compassion] from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
    Proverbs 14:31 – He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.
    John 6:35 – And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

    Matthew 25:37-40 – Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed [thee]? or thirsty, and gave [thee] drink?
    Proverbs 31:20 – She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

    Proverbs 22:9 – He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.

    Proverbs 19:17 – He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.

    Matthew 14:15-21 – And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. (Read More…)

    Deuteronomy 15:7 – If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:

    Matthew 25:34-46 – Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world
    Matthew 25:35
    For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

    Isaiah 58:10
    If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

    James 2:14-18
    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

    Proverbs 28:27
    Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.

    1 John 3:17-
    But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

    Luke 3:11
    And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
    Proverbs 14:31
    Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
    Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

    Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:21-23)
    Man does not have the authority to change the will of God on any subject. We have been given severe warnings in several places in the Bible concerning any changes that we try to make to God’s word. As we have already seen in Galatians 1:6-9, if we pervert the gospel by changing it, we will be accursed.

    Another such warning comes in the closing verses of the Bible. Revelation 22:18-19 says, “For I testify unto everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, and from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” These are very stern warnings that should get our undivided attention

    • John

      Some of those verses are taken out of context. But all of them refer to the individual’s action. How can I depend upon the leading of the Spirit to decide who to give my resources to, if the government takes it from me? None of those verses say the government (that arguably does believe in God) should feed the poor or help the sick etc. The government has failed catastrophically at helping the poor, we’ve spent trillions of dollars since the great society began and there are still poor people. Christians left to manage their resources have accomplished so much more. I could run a successful Christian school on 1% of the budget of a public school, for example.

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