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Moi Latu
Professor Cosmin Ritivoiu
English 102
27 April 2015
Biblical Culture and Capitalism
The American Dream has long been an idea which people everywhere have pursued.
Immigrants from every corner of the earth, driven by the desire for more opportunities and a
better standard of living, have left home and country in hope of securing a better future. Some
have endured trial and persecution, journeyed through storm and tribulation, and struggled
through poverty and injustice to get a glimpse of that dream. But just as essential to the American
Dream as democracy and the freedom it entails, is the economic system of capitalism upon
which it is built. Thus the thought is pondered, is this dream reachable to all who so choose, or is
it reserved for the elite capitalist few. Furthermore, alternative forms of economic systems must
be considered as to whether they are more ideal. The economic culture of the Bible is one that
must be examined and compared to the culture of capitalism. When examined thoroughly it can
be concluded as to what economic system is best. Although there is no perfect form of earthly
government or economic system, the culture given in the Bible is the most practical for the
Christian, and compatible with Biblical principles.
Before one can decide whether capitalism or the economic principles of Bible are more
ideal, the definition of capitalism must be clearly established. Capitalism entails more than the
buying and selling of goods. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines capitalism as:

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...a term used to denote the economic system that has been dominant in the
western world since the breakup of feudalism. Fundamental to any system called
capitalist are the relations between private owners of non-personal means of
production and free but capital-less workers, who sell their labor services to
employers (Capitalism).
Capitalism is the economic system which began in the western world and now exists in almost
all countries of the world. Under this system, a small minority, known as the capitalist class, own
the means to produce and distribute goods. The majority, known as the working class, then labor
in return for a wage or salary. The very essence of capitalism is not just to possess the necessities
to survive, but to produce goods and services for profit.
On the other hand, the economic system and culture taught in the Bible is not based upon
profit, but upon having enough to provide for ones needs and that of others. The system taught
in Scripture and used by the Jewish nation in Biblical times contains some characteristics of
capitalism, but it also contains aspects of another secular economic system that stands in stark
contrast to the capitalist ideas widely held today. This secular system is socialism, and some of
the fundamental principles upon which many of its teachings are built on, can be seen in the
system appointed to Gods people. The Encyclopedia Britannica states,
Socialism [is a] social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than
private ownership or control of property and natural resources. According to the
socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation
with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a

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social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is
entitled to a share in it (Socialism).
Unlike capitalism with its theme of a largely privately owned market, socialism teaches that
property and goods should be owned by the public (Nove 5). Socialists believe that one does not
work for the sole purpose of personal benefit, but that all goods belong to everyone and should
be consolidated and then apportioned fairly amongst the people that contributed (6).
This idea of consolidating all the goods of a group of people, ranging from a small group
to the population of an entire country, can be found all throughout the Bible. Some examples can
be seen in the giving of goods to the poor and needy outlined in the old Levitical Law and in the
New Testament Christian Church. In Leviticus God tells His people, And when ye reap the
harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou
reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the
poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God (23:22). The Israelites were not to reap their
entire harvest, but were to save a portion of what they grew to feed the poor. Similarly many
members in the New Testament Church:
were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged
to him was his own, but they had everything in common There was not a needy
person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and
brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was
distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:34, 35).
The Apostles and other members of the early Christian Church did not feel that what they owned
was only for their individual benefit. Instead, they either offered all of their possessions or sold

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them, and the funds were then consolidated and distributed as needed. The fundamental quality
of the economic system and culture taught in the Bible is that one should have the means to care
for ones basic needs and assist others; not live solely for gain and profit.
The question arises as to whether the idea of living solely for profit, which is contrary to
the teachings of Scripture, condemns the capitalistic economic system as a whole. It must first be
understood that not every idea of capitalism contradicts the Bible. In fact, what some would
consider capitalistic principles can also be found in Scripture (Farmer 10) . One such example
can be seen when Paul states, If any would not work, neither should he eat (1 Thessalonians
3:10). In this verse Paul is urging the people of Thessalonica to work hard and earn their basic
needs, specifically the necessity of food. If one does not work, than they should not eat. This
example shows that there are similar concepts taught in the Bible that many would consider
Not all ideas, however, in the Bible agree with the teachings of capitalism. For instance,
the Bible teaches, Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of
others (Philippians 2:4). The Apostle Paul is telling the members of the Church not to worry
only about their own problems and take care of themselves, but to always care for the needs of
others. This directly contradicts the basic idea of capitalism which is to make profit. If one will
do whatever it takes to make profit, the natural result is to focus solely on maintaining and
increasing ones own possessions rather than helping others. Another example of disagreements
between the ideals of capitalism and the teachings of the Bible can be found in 1 Timothy where
Paul states, For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they

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have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (6:10). Here the
apostle counsels Gods people to be careful with handling money and not to let it become the
focus of their lives. Once again, this contradicts the capitalistic idea that the purpose of
producing and distributing goods is to make as much profit as possible (Armstrong 8).
Capitalism is centered on making money by whatever necessary means (9). These are just a few
examples of similarities and differences between the fundamental teachings of capitalism and the
ideals of Biblical teaching. In order to reach a verdict as to which economic system is preferable,
we must first examine the pros and cons of both systems to better understand what the best
option is.
Pros and Cons of Capitalism
There are many pros in the argument for capitalism, which contains many positive
attributes that might convince one of its superiority. One positive aspect of capitalism is its
effectiveness in encouraging people to be more industrious (5). The idea of working hard in
order to provide for ones needs is one of the key values that facilitates Capitalism (Dorius 4).
Another beneficial facet of capitalism is that it leads to economic growth. With the competitive
nature of capitalism causing individuals to be more industrious, an environment of innovation
and economic growth is fostered. This climate of economic expansion leads to improved living
standards and increased wealth. In theory, those who obtain that higher standard of living can
help everyone else benefit from this increased wealth (Jameson 16). However, parsimony among
the wealthy and unwillingness to help the poor arises. Nevertheless, these are a few positive
aspects of capitalism that strengthen the argument for capitalism and support why many believe
it is the ideal economic system.

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However, though there are positive attributes of capitalism, there are many negative
aspects of the system. One such aspect is the tendency of capitalism to lead to greed and the
hording of wealth. The private ownership of capital allows people to gain a monopoly over a
product or the labor required to produce it (Seven Cardinal Sins 1). Then, the capitalist class,
which owns the monopoly power, often charge unreasonably high prices for goods. This
capitalist class can also take advantage of their workers and pay them lower wages (1). In most
capitalist societies, there is great inequality between the capitalist class and the working class.
Another issue with capitalism is that it can cause social benefit to be ignored (Sklair 34). For
example, a private owner of a factory, solely focused on profit, may not feel the need to take care
of the environment even though the factory may have a negative effect on the rest of the social
community. That is why even adamant supporters of capitalism admit that certain public goods
and public services need to be provided by or regulated by the government (13). Another
problem with capitalism is that it leads to inequality of wealth and income. It is argued that this is
what provides an incentive for hard work and economic expansion, and that it is still fair because
an individual gains the rewards of their own labor. However, often people are rich only because
they inherit wealth or are born into a more privileged class. Therefore, capitalist society creates
inequality of outcome, and inequality of opportunity. These are just some of the negative
consequences of the capitalist economic system that might lead one to consider an alternative.
Pros and Cons of Biblical Culture
One such alternative is the economic system and culture shown in the Bible. This system
has many positive attributes which result in profitable economic consequences, and the first of
which is a spirit of giving. The Israelites were commanded, Every man shall give as he is able,

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according to the blessing of the LORD your God which he has given you (Deuteronomy 16:17).
The children of Israel were to realize that what they owned was a blessing from the Lord to be
utilized to bless others. Though it may seem as if they were forced to give, the reality is that
giving to meet the needs of others was for their own benefit. All throughout the Bible we are
given evidence of the blessing of giving. The wise-man Solomon stated, He that giveth unto the
poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse (Proverbs 28:27). Here
Solomon shares that the one who gives to the poor will have all he needs, but the one that covers
his eyes or ignores the needs of others will be cursed. Again, in the New Testament were told,
it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). These examples all show the
important role that giving played in the society and culture of the Bible.
Another positive attribute that stems from Biblical culture is that it leads people to have
more faith in God to supply their needs and to depend more upon each other. Concerning faith
and trusting in God to provide, Jesus said this,
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap yet your
heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Consider the
lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin wherefore,
if God so clothe the grass of the field shall he not much more clothe you, O ye
of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat or, what shall
we drink or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your heavenly Father knoweth
that ye have need of all these things (Matthew 6:26-32).
Here Christ promises that the Father will take care of the needs of His children if they trust in
Him. If His eye is on the sparrow and He clothes the lily in the field, He will surely take care of

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those who trust in His mighty hand. Christ is telling His disciples not to worry about the details
of their futures, but to place their faith and trust in Him. Furthermore, concerning faith, Paul tells
us this, But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus
(Philippians 4:19). Again, Paul reaffirms that those who have faith in God will have all of their
needs supplied. It is key that Christians learn to have faith and trust in God, and the economic
culture presented in the Bible fosters that growth. The examples of learning to give and have
faith are just a few of the beneficial aspects of the Biblical economic culture.
However, there are a few dangers in the economic system of Biblical times if taken to an
extreme. One danger is that it can cause one to fall into idleness. Though the Biblical idea of
taking care of the poor and the needy is a noble one, there will always be those who seek to take
advantage of the system. It can be easy for one to become unproductive and lazy if they know
their needs will be met regardless of what they do. In the example of the Israelites, there was the
possibility of those who would abuse the system meant to take care of those who were
circumstantially in need, by choosing to live off of the resources of others even if they could
work for themselves. However, the Bible does not promote this type of behavior; on the contrary,
it adamantly opposes it. In the book of Proverbs it reads, The soul of the sluggard desireth, and
hath nothing (13:4). Solomon tells us here that a lazy person may desire after something, but
because they are not willing to work, they will have nothing. The economic culture of the Bible
does not support idle behavior, but it can be a dangerous consequence if people try to take
advantage of the system. These negative consequences stem from a misunderstanding and
misapplication of the principles communicated in the Bible. This is why many members of the
Church feel that Capitalism is the most ideal economic system.

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Capitalism in the Church
Capitalism has grown to become the prominent economic system in the world and has
thus become prominent in the Church. Many members of the Church, especially in North
America, feel that the pros of capitalism outweigh the cons, and that it is the best form of
economy for the Christian. However, the principles outlined in the Bible and the example set
forth in the life of Christ show otherwise. The main goal of capitalism is to gain and store up
ones wealth in order to reach a higher standard of living or more luxurious life. The Christian is
to live a life of service to others and to use what means given them to bless others. Capitalists in
the Church believe in giving to help others, but usually only once their needs are met. This
directly contradicts the words of Christ to His disciples, And whosoever of you will be the
chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to
minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:44, 45). Here Christ is telling His
followers, then and now, to live a lifestyle of service and ministry to others just as He lived a life
of service to others. Another problem with capitalism that challenges Christian principles is the
idea of only giving out of ones abundance. There was an experience in the life of Christ that
shows the spirit of giving that God desires us to obtain. Luke tells us,
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And
he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said this
poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance
cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living
that she had (21:1-4).

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In this story Christ sees the capitalist class of His time casting large sums of money and gifts into
the treasury. But He also observes a poor widow cast in the equivalent of two pennies. His
disciples also observed this scene, and probably thought nothing of it. However, Christ told them
that she had given more than the rich men because she gave everything to the Lord. Today, as
Christians in a capitalist society, many are inclined to do the same as the rich men of Christs
day, and give only their excess to the work of God. But Christ desires to instill in His followers a
spirit of giving that transcends desire for profit and wealth and calls for a people who are willing
to give of their time, money, and resources to help others as He has.
If Christians desire to pattern the life of Christ, His way of handling money and resources
must also be examined and duplicated. The prevalent economic system in society today is
capitalism, and its main goal is to gain profit and wealth. There are both positive and negative
aspects of capitalism, but its core beliefs contradict the principles of the economic teachings set
forth in the Bible. This system, given to the Israelites, teaches that wealth and resources are given
as a tool to bless others. There are similarities and differences between both economic ideas, but
they are fundamentally polar as Christ has called His followers to live to serve others rather than
themselves. The economic system presented in the Bible is not perfect, but is the most ideal for
the Christian and harmonious with the teachings and example set for the in the life of Christ.

Works Cited Page

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Armstrong, Ari. "The fruits of capitalism are all around us." The Objective Standard Summer 2013:
65+. General OneFile. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Ashmore, Harry S. Encyclopedia Britanica ;. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britanica, 1962. Print.

Farmer, Brian. "Capitalism, & Socialism, Christianity: many Christians believe that 'capitalism' is immoral. But
such a belief represents a misunderstanding of both capitalism and Christian teachings." The New
American 9 Jan. 2012: 35+. General OneFile. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

James, King. Authorized King James Version Bible. London, Great Britain: King James Publishing. 1611. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991. Print.

Nove, Alec, "socialism", "The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics", Eds. Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence
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Peters, Charles. "The Me-First Era." Washington Monthly Sept.-Oct. 2012: 15. General OneFile. Web. 11 Mar.

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2011. General OneFile. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Sklair, Leslie. Globalization: Capitalism and Its Alternatives. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.

Sollner, Albrecht. "Globalization, greed, and exploitation. How to break the baleful path?" Journal of Business
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Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Scribner, 1958. Print.