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Jesus Was NOT a Socialist August 1, 2018

Posted by JP in Discussion.
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Lawrence W. Reed

President Foundation for Economic Education

 

I first heard “Jesus was a socialist” and “Jesus was a redistributionist” some forty years ago. I was puzzled. I had always understood Jesus’s message to be that the most important decision a person would make in his earthly lifetime was to accept or reject him as savior. That decision was clearly to be a very personal one — an individual and voluntary choice. He constantly stressed inner, spiritual renewal as far more critical to well-being than material things. I wondered, “How could the same Jesus advocate the use of force to take stuff from some and give it to others?” I just couldn’t imagine him supporting a fine or a jail sentence for people who don’t want to fork over their money for food-stamp programs.

“Wait a minute!” you say. “Didn’t Jesus answer, Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s when the Pharisees tried to trick him into denouncing a Roman-imposed tax?” Yes indeed, he did say that. It’s found first in the Gospel of Matthew, 22:15–22, and later in the Gospel of Mark, 12:13–17. But notice that everything depends on just what truly did belong to Caesar and what didn’t, which is actually a rather powerful endorsement of property rights. Jesus said nothing like “It belongs to Caesar if Caesar simply says it does, no matter how much he wants, how he gets it, or how he chooses to spend it.”

The fact is, one can scour the Scriptures with a fine-tooth comb and find nary a word from Jesus that endorses the forcible redistribution of wealth by political authorities. None, period.

“But didn’t Jesus say he came to uphold the law?” you ask. Yes, in Matthew 5:17–20 he declares, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”3 In Luke 24:44, he clarifies this when he says, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” He was not saying, “Whatever laws the government passes, I’m all for.” He was speaking specifically of the Mosaic law (primarily the Ten Commandments) and the prophecies of his own coming.

Consider the eighth of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not steal.” Note the period after the word “steal.” This admonition does not read, “You shall not steal unless the other guy has more than you do” or “You shall not steal unless you’re absolutely positive you can spend it better than the guy who earned it.” Nor does it say, “You shall not steal, but it’s OK to hire someone else, like a politician, to do it for you.”

In case people were still tempted to steal, the tenth commandment is aimed at nipping in the bud one of the principal motives for stealing (and for redistribution): “You shall not covet.” In other words, if it’s not yours, keep your fingers off of it.

In Luke 12:13–15, Jesus is confronted with a redistribution request. A man with a grievance approaches him and demands, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replies thusly: “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Wow! He could have equalized the wealth between two men with a wave of his hand, but he chose to denounce envy instead.

“What about the story of the Good Samaritan? Doesn’t that make a case for government welfare programs or redistribution?” you inquire. The answer is an emphatic “No!” Consider the details of the story, as recorded in Luke 10:29–37: A traveler comes upon a man at the side of a road. The man had been beaten and robbed and left half-dead. What did the traveler do? He helped the man himself, on the spot, with his own resources. He did not say, “Write a letter to the emperor” or “Go see your social worker” and walk on. If he had done that, he would more likely be known today as the “Good-for-nothing Samaritan” — if he were remembered at all.

The Good Samaritan story makes a case for helping a needy person voluntarily out of love and compassion. There’s no suggestion that the Samaritan “owed” anything to the man in need or that it was the duty of a distant politician to help out with other people’s money.

Moreover, Jesus never called for equality of material wealth, let alone the use of political force to accomplish it, even in situations of dire need. In his book, Biblical Economics, theologian R. C. Sproul, Jr., notes that Jesus “wants the poor to be helped” but not at gunpoint, which is essentially what government force is all about

https://fee.org/resources/rendering-unto-caesar-was-jesus-a-socialist/

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