The Bible and Capitalism

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, sounded off recently on why capitalism is the most biblically compatible economic system. Although his article was short on biblical verses and reasoning, he made the most important point early on. Communism and socialism appear to work on paper, but they always fail to take the most important factor into consideration: the sinful heart of man.

Leftists and redistributionists will often point to Acts 4 for biblical proof that the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, teaches socialism. Nothing could be farther from the truth of course, but since it is such a common argument, it would be a good idea to discover why it is not teaching redistribution when so many believe it is. The relevant verses are 32-35:

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need.

Notice the last phrase, “according as any one had need.” This sounds like it was taken verbatim from Marx’s famous dictum about each working to his ability and receiving according to his need. And this may very well be from where Marx took inspiration for his views, but what is most glaringly absent in the biblical passage is a central government controlling all of the redistribution of wealth. Nowhere is there found a compulsion whereby the “multitude” was commanded to bring forth of their possessions; it was completely of their own volition.

In fact, if we read to the next chapter in Acts, we encounter the story of Ananias and Sapphira, an apparently wealthy couple who conspired to sell a piece of land and give only a portion of the proceeds to the church. These two were struck dead for their sin and buried immediately. But what exactly was their sin? The redistribution crowd wants us to believe it was stealing, since they did not give the whole amount of the sale to the church. However, this interpretation does not stand, as the apostle Peter’s admonition to Ananias makes clear: “While it remained [unsold], did it not remain thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thy power? How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy heart? Thou has not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4).

Notice that Peter does not accuse Ananias of stealing, but of lying. Ananias and his wife had decided to sell the land and give a portion of the sale to the church. So far, so good. But where their demise began, was when they wanted to have a reputation, like Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37), for extreme generosity. When Ananias and Sapphira brought the amount of money to the church, they pretended as if they had kept nothing back in order to make themselves look better. This was the sin, not theft. If anything, when read and understood correctly, this passage reinforces the Bible’s high view of private property, rather than communal property.

By “lying unto God,” Ananias and Sapphira proved that they were more concerned about their reputation with men, than they were about their reputation with God. They were more than welcome to keep back as much as they wanted from the sale of their land, but they believed that their “political capital” with the church was worth more than their honesty before God. They were convicted by Barnabas’ act of generosity, yet did not have they moral capital to follow through with it.

Redistributionists know this moral weakness of men all too well. Marx knew it too, which is why he had to devise a system that included “takers” (by force if necessary) because the heart of man in inclined to selfishness. Richard Land is correct; capitalism is the most compatible economic system with the Bible, but even capitalism can lead to excess. The problem, however, is not with the system, but with the men in the system, and no central government or planning commission or human law can compensate for this, try as they might. It takes a divine law and a god/man to replace the heart of stone with a heart of flesh: one given to extreme acts of generosity, as evidenced by Barnabas, the son of encouragement.