What do God’s commands and teachings – as seen in Scripture – reveal about the outcome(s) God intends for our commercial interactions with one another? That is, what do these economic commands and teachings reveal about how God wants us to live together?
During these challenging times that we are facing, it may be good to look at the greater shifts in our system and values, than to focus on the latest news. There may possibly be discussions going on about what type of economic system we would like to embrace as we progress into the foreseeable future.
Political analysis is not one of my personal fortes. However, the Bible is not silent regarding ethics and economics.
on economic teachings
We certainly cannot expect to require the systems of the world to adhere to our Judeo-Christian values, but we can certainly discuss how the Word influences our opinion on such matters. To this end, I submit this article from research on the above question on Scripture that speaks to the issue.
In the creation story, two words that seem to speak to the question are image and dominion. In God’s image all humans have a basic equality, not to be confused with egalitarianism.
We bear the imprint of God. Sharing His dominion, we are co-regents, tending to the created order with sacred vocation (Genesis 1.26-28).
Exodus offers commands that underscore these truths, i.e. justice for humans, slaves, women, neighbors, and foreigners. Many of these commands are more than ethical ideals, but spiritual laws that undergird our commitment to each other and to community (Exodus 20.22-23.19).
Leviticus adds the great command, “love your neighbor as yourself” (19.18). The laws include the sanctity of human interactions, but expand to protect the land as well.
My grandparents ran over 160 acres of land with cattle, forests, fields, etc. The government often paid them to do nothing with a field for a year.
In a similar way Levitical laws protect creation as well as humans. The laws also deal with the ancestral inheritances. What is the importance of heritage, legacy, tradition (Leviticus 19.1-18; 25)?
In Numbers, those who honor God and His people receive the inheritance, while those who turn to other gods, and who deceive, do not (i.e. Korah). Tribes receive their allotments, but Levites are set apart as a priestly class (Numbers 26).
Deuteronomy teaches us to honor the good land. We give tithes and give generously to those in need with an open hand. Familial relationships can develop with slaves, who commit to serve a lifetime in the house. Kings neither hoard nor exalt themselves.
Special considerations are made for the poor and oppressed, remembering the slavery in Egypt. The tithe ceremony is explained with a recitation of the wanderings and Egypt. Our history with God, and our deliverance, should always be kept in view (Deuteronomy 8; 14.22-15.18; 17.14-20; 24.14-22; 26).
After the Israelites conquer Canaan, 7 tribes have not yet taken their inheritance. Joshua sends them out to chart the territory and appoints them an inheritance (Joshua 18-19).
1 Samuel 8 shares the shift from the era of the judges to the kings. Samuel grieves before God as the people cry out for a king, yet his own sons are not righteous enough to replace him as a judge. Nonetheless, the Lord grants Israel’s request.
1 Kings 21 shows the worse-case scenario, what Samuel fears, as Ahab and Jezebel murder Naboth for his inheritance, a small vineyard. God punishes, and Ahab briefly repents.
The passages in Psalms show God’s direct intervention with the poor, needy, and those without help; how He takes up their cause (12.5; 41.4; 72.12; 112.9; 140.12).
The Major Prophets denounce injustice, stating that sacrifices are not acceptable if the behavior does not change. The land will no longer yield a great harvest.
The renowned passage on fasting requires not a laying aside of food as much as a laying aside of self-interest, to give to and free the oppressed (Isaiah 1.10-17; 5.8-10; 58.1-9).
Rulers who take advantage of people for the sake of gaining land receive punishment directly from God (Ezekiel 45.1-9).
Matthew reveals a unique judgment based on works, whereas other judgments emphasize other aspects of Christianity. The case can be made that our righteousness must be lived out in community (25.31-46).
Luke reveals teachings of Christ to support the Matthean judgment, including a judgment account of a rich man and a poor beggar.
Luke offers the only account of Christ’s first sermon from Isaiah, which seems to focus more on Christ’s practical mission than His overall plan of salvation (4.16-21; 12.16-21; 16.13-31).
In Acts, Luke reports that Christians share a common life with no needs – combined resources – economic koinonia (4.32-37). Many of these passages focus on action.
Paul takes time to reveal the heart of a giver, who seeks a balance between excess and need in the church (2 Corinthians 8.12-15).
Bloomberg considers James and Acts
Craig Blomberg, in Neither Poverty Nor Riches, looks at social justice in the earliest Christian writings of James and early Acts.
Charity for orphans and widows, seating for rich and poor, relations of patrons and clients, wealthy traveling merchants, and businessmen hoarding wealth, are all addressed by James with his firm belief in a Christian faith that works its way out in righteous living.
Blomberg looks at the earliest characteristics of the church in Acts, which he sees as normative and formative for community development. He answers an age old question very succinctly – what makes the communal ideals and practices of the Primitive Church any different than Communism?
Marx, of course, attempted to create by legislation, by a totalitarian regime, and by a crusade against religion, what arguably could have been accomplished only in a voluntary religious community such as is described in the book of Acts.
With neither human volition nor God, Marxist ideals eventually become subject to fallen human nature.
Blomberg makes a case for financial koinonia at the thin line between fellowship and sharing life and resources.
Justice is a theme, but Bloomberg also shows from Acts that Godly rich people are benefactors (i.e. share their home for congregations, support ministers, etc.). This should be noted as a unique voice in the Text, that the rich are not asked to give up their riches, but the language shows that they give as needs arise.
Sider on economic koinonia
Ronald Sider, like Blomberg, discusses economic koinonia. In contrast to Blomberg, he fleshes out a lot of terminology and context from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
This is a good study involving many areas of common life. I like a couple of unique aspects of his work.
- Sider draws a line between the promise of God to the Israelites that there will be no one needy (Deuteronomy 15.4), and its fulfillment in the common life of the Primitive Church (Acts 4.34-35)!
- Sider makes clear his belief that judgment at Eucharist is reserved for those who are perpetuating inequality between the wealthy and poor.
Although I personally believe there are many inequalities leading up to the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 10-11 (i.e. relational discussions from chapter 7 onward), like Sider I believe Paul is indeed addressing inequality at the table.
Also, Paul addresses the fact that the Lord’s Supper has become a common meal, with no regard for the sacred.
These two interpretations help us to understand the judgment passage in 1 Corinthians 11 as something greater than the typical way we apply it to personal sins, in our day.
Chrysostom redefines rich and poor
I sincerely appreciate the study on Chrysostom, as presented by Fitzgerald. One pervading theme is righteous living. I am not sure how much of the theme is from Chrysostom’s writings, or Fitzgerald’s paraphrases. However, we often need a good reminder of virtue, almsgiving, and concrete examples of active righteousness.
Furthermore, Chrysostom uses the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to beg the question, who is truly rich and poor? John Chrysostom’s voice echoes through the ages:
The rich man is not the one who has collected many possessions but the one who needs few possessions; and the poor man is not the one who has no possessions but the one who has many desires.
notes: Jared Ingle, adapted from research conducted for Jason Vickers and Kevin Kinghorn, “Theology and Ethics of Work: Engagement with the Readings” (research paper, Asbury Theological Seminary, 2017).
 Craig L. Blomberg, “Earliest Christianity,” in Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1999), 162.
 Ronald J. Sider, “Economic Fellowship and Economic Justice,” in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1997).
 Brian Ephrem Fitzgerald, “St. John Chrysostom on Wealth and Poverty: A Thematic Study of St. John Chrysostom’s Sermons on Luke 16:19-31” (presented at St. Philip’s Antiochian Orthodox Church, Souderton, Pennsylvania, March 3, 10, 17, 24, 2002).