B. Nathaniel Sullivan
Lies about capitalism and socialism abound today. In addition to being fed the lines that capitalism breeds envy and that socialism is fair and compassionate, young people are hearing that the Bible affirms socialism. Even church kids are buying it, but young believers who espouse a biblical worldview are less likely to be sucked in.1 Both a fair reading of Scripture and a clear understanding of the free enterprise economic model will equip us to refute these lies.
For starters, all believers need to understand that “not a single reference [exists] in either the Old or New Testament in which God denies economic freedom to people, as in fascism, socialism, and communism.”2 Against the backdrop of this reality, let’s explore ten ways capitalism aligns with Scripture. The late Dr. Ronald Nash, who for many years was Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University, succinctly highlights numerous components of the free enterprise economic model that align with the Bible. He writes, “Capitalism is not economic anarchy. It recognizes several necessary conditions for the kinds of voluntary relationships it recommends. One of these presuppositions is the existence of inherent human rights, such as the right to make decisions, the right to be free, the right to hold property, and the right to exchange what one owns for something else. Capitalism also presupposes a system of morality. Capitalism should be thought of as a system of voluntary relationships within a framework of laws which protect peoples’ rights against force, fraud, theft, and violations of contracts. ‘Thou shalt not steal’ and ‘Thou shalt not lie’ are part of the underlying moral constraints of the system. Economic exchanges can hardly be voluntary if one participant is coerced, deceived, defrauded, or robbed.”3
First, Nash notes, “Capitalism is not . . . anarchy.” The freedom of free enterprise is purposeful and ordered. People can pursue their interests, develop their skills, use their talents, find satisfaction, and yes, even change their minds. When government fulfills its divinely ordained job to punish wrongdoers and commend those who do well,4 the societal order that results is fertile ground for economic freedom and prosperity.
Second, Nash observes that capitalism “recognizes several necessary conditions for the kinds of voluntary relationships it recommends.” We can celebrate that capitalism’s relationships are voluntary. People participate as they wish, not as they are coerced.
Third, Nash sees “the existence of inherent human rights” as essential. The Declaration of Independence calls these rights “unalienable.” God makes people in His image.5 This affirms the dignity of every person and an individual’s personal sovereignty within reality’s limits and the limits of God’s law.
Fourth, in Genesis 1:28, God told the first members of the human race, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This divine command has been called the cultural commission.6 Not accidentally, it can best be fulfilled, by believers and unbelievers alike, in the context of a free market economy.
Fifth, people have “the right to make decisions.” Scripture encourages people to avoid adverse consequences by making wise choices, but ultimately, they are free to act as they wish. Technically, the Bible doesn’t recommend the free market economic structure; it assumes it. Thus, it upholds the free market model over all others in the strongest possible way.7,8
Sixth, Nash affirms that “the right to be free” is essential to a free market economy. Significantly, in Matthew 20:15, in the parable of the vineyard workers, the hiring landowner asks an important rhetorical question: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” In the same parable, the workers and prospective workers also are free to agree to work or not work; and if they work, to agree to a designated wage (as did those hired early) or to trust the landowner to pay them fairly (as did those hired later in the day).
Seventh, capitalism cannot function without “the right to hold property.” The Eighth and Tenth Commandments against stealing and coveting unambiguously uphold property rights.
Eighth, “the right to exchange what one owns for something else” also is essential to free enterprise capitalism. We see evidence of this right in the Bible as early as Genesis 23:1-20. Sarah had passed away, and her widower, Abraham, was looking for a suitable place to bury her. He wanted to use “the cave of Machpelah” and negotiated a price acceptable to Ephron, its owner, even though Ephron was willing to give it to Abraham outright. Verses 16-18 tell us that “Abraham . . . weighed out for him [Ephron] the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver.” The land and the cave on it were “deeded to Abraham as his property.” Many other passages of Scripture, including passages from the New Testament, also affirm the right of exchange.9
Ninth, Dr. Nash observes, “Capitalism also presupposes a system of morality.” Yes, and the kind of morality it presupposes is exactly the kind Scripture commands. These passages10 talk about the importance of accurate weights and scales in economic transactions, as well as integrity in general.
Tenth, Dr. Nash declares, “Economic exchanges can hardly be voluntary if one participant is coerced, deceived, defrauded, or robbed.” While voluntary activities make free enterprise work, moral guidelines act to restrain abuses that would hinder personal freedom and productivity. The free market can work its “magic” only if the public respects moral restraints. Where do we find the right balance between order and liberty that is necessary for the free market to thrive? We find it in God’s Word.11
Recognizing genuine harmony between Scripture and free enterprise, Dr. Nash boldly declares that a fair representation of capitalism shows “that it, rather than socialism or interventionism, comes closer to matching the demands of the biblical ethic.”12
I’ll go even further than Dr. Nash. While it has imperfections, the free enterprise model as he describes it doesn’t merely align with biblical truth. It rests on it.
Visit discoverbedrocktruth.org/freemarketbiblestudy to access a six-session Bible study series: Principles of Economic Liberty: The Biblical Case for Free Enterprise.
B. Nathaniel Sullivan is a writer, Christian educator, and blogger at wordfoundations.com.
1. B. Nathaniel Sullivan, “Socialism Is More Attractive to Young People and Adults Who Do Not Embrace a Biblical Worldview,” Discover Bedrock Truth, 2021, https://bit.ly/3aSMytA.
2. Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 205.
3. Ronald H. Nash, “Socialism, Capitalism, and the Bible,” Hillsdale College, July 1985, https://bit.ly/3r87zGt.
4. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17.
5. Gen. 1:26-28; 5:3; 9:6.
6. B. Nathaniel Sullivan, “An Excerpt from ‘The Cultural Commission,’” Word Foundations, 2018, https://bit.ly/3q0ZfXG.
7. Prov. 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:14; 13:4; 14:23; 16:26; 22:29; 28:19; Eccles. 3:9-13; 2 Thess. 3:6-12. In these ten Bible passages, readers are encouraged, commanded, and warned to work diligently, avoid laziness, and act responsibly overall.
8. Luke 10:25-37; Matt. 13:44-46; 20:1-16; 24:45-51; 25:14-30; Mark 12:1-9. In these seven parables of Jesus, we not only observe economic activity within the context of a free market economy, but we also see expectations placed on workers and managers consistent with those employed in a free economic framework.
9. In the seven parables of Jesus cited in endnote eight, “the right to exchange what one owns for something else” is a given. It’s a given in these passages as well: Gen. 41:46-49, 53-57; 47:13-26; Prov. 31:16, 24; Jer. 32:6-10; Matt. 25:1-10; Acts 5:3-4.
10. Exod. 20:15-17; 23:1-9; Lev. 19:15, 35-37; 25:14; Deut. 1:17; 16:19-20; 19:14; 25:13-16; Prov. 11:1; 12:22; 16:11; 18:5; 20:10; 22:28; 23:10; 24:23; 26:18-19; 28:21; Jer. 22:3; Ezek. 45:10; Mic. 6:8-12; Titus 2:6-8.
11. Deut. 30:1-20; John 8:32; 2 Cor. 3:17.
Copyright © 2021. B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved. This article is condensed from a series of articles posted at wordfoundations.com. Both the series of articles and a parallel Bible study curriculum are available here.