22 Sep Some Thoughts on Socialism and the Bible
Published September 22, 2020
By Peter Goeman, PhD
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 also seems 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 the means of production and their distribution by the government.
Historically, one would be hard pressed to find an example of success in socialism. Thomas Sowell, famed Stanford economist made 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 of man and the resultant anti-God mindset. 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 (Genesis 2:15). Work is a pre-Fall, good gift from the Creator. Although work was made more difficult by the Fall (Genesis 3:17-19), personal effort will still lead to one’s own bread (Genesis 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 (Deuteronomy 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 could not be initiated. Thus, the system of socialism necessitates forced redistribution.
On the other hand, the Bible prohibits theft (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 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 to receive 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 Timothy 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 (Ephesians 2:1) and they actively suppress the truth of God (Romans 1:20-21). As sinners, mankind consistently seeks after their own (sinful) desires (Romans 8:5; cf. Galatians 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.
There could definitely be more said about the practical or historical problems with socialism. But from a biblical perspective, socialism is extremely dangerous given its anti-Scripture worldview. With the rhetoric of the 2020 elections, remember there is a reason why socialism never works—it is a worldview that denies the truth of Scripture.
This post was originally published here and titled “Socialism and the Bible.”
1 Felix Salmon, “Gen Z prefers ‘socialism’ to ‘capitalism’’’ posted on Axios.com, January 27, 2019. https://www.axios.com/socialism-capitalism-poll-generation-z-preference-1ffb8800-0ce5-4368-8a6f-de3b82662347.html
2 Mohamed Younis, “Four in 10 Americans Embrace Some Form of Socialism,” posted on Gallup News, May 20, 2019. https://news.gallup.com/poll/257639/four-americans-embrace-form-socialism.aspx
3 Thomas Sowell, “The survival of the left,” Forbes, September 7, 1997.
4 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Conservative Party Conference, Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England. October 10, 1975.
Dr. Peter Goeman is professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at Shepherds Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of The Master’s University and The Master’s Seminary (Ph.D) and is actively involved in a regular teaching ministry at an Adult Bible Fellowship of The Shepherd’s Church. He blogs regularly at his website, petergoeman.com.