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Ethics

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Q Is it true that the Bible endorses free enterprise capitalism? I read that this is because it assumes private property and rewards a good work ethic.

A I would hesitate to suggest that the Bible “endorses” any economic system. It is true that the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” for instance, as well as Old Testament laws regarding property (such as Ex. 22:1-15) assume private ownership. However, God also stated, “The land must not be sold permanently because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants” (Lev. 25:23). The land was the most important resource in an ancient agricultural economy.

Private ownership of land in ancient Israel, therefore, may be closer to lease-holding from God, for “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1). In fact, every 50th year, the year of Jubilee, all lands sold were to be restored to their original families, and every Israelite slave freed (Lev. 25:8-55). Jubilee was essentially an economic reset button. It ensured that families who were poor never stayed poor forever by allowing them to regain their homesteads. It also prevented wealthy landowners from accumulating ever more property.

God’s command to keep the year of Jubilee alone should give us real pause from any wholesale endorsement of capitalism. We must be careful not to cherry-pick biblical teachings to endorse either capitalism or socialism. Instead, we need to study the Bible’s teachings as a whole and gain a biblical worldview with which to humbly approach economic issues, knowing we may never arrive at a perfect economic system.

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