The Bible is Very Supportive of an Economic System Based on Private Property, the Work Ethic, and Personal Responsibility

By Brannon S. Howse

When the Biblical principles on which the free enterprise system is based are put into practice, capitalism produces success for all that choose to participate. However, those who do not adopt Biblical principles of conduct and character will not reap the rewards of this system, because it is based on personal responsibility.  

When Biblical principles are ignored—or thwarted—the free enterprise system suffers and can even break down. Just as socialism will not function in the long run because of mankind’s sin nature, the free enterprise system can be hindered if people do not check their sinful tendencies. Unlike socialism, however, the free enterprise system offers such great rewards that people are encouraged to apply the principles that make the system effective. 

Free enterprise works best when people are honest, moral, hard-working, responsible, conscientious, and selfless. When selfishness and pride come into play, greed and dishonesty follow. But people do not want to do business with those they cannot trust, and therein lies the self-correcting nature of the system. People with whom others do not want to do business go out of business. 

On the other hand, when people are honest and serve their customers, their honesty and quality of service establish a reputation, and their business grows. The Bible teaches that a good name is to be preferred over great riches. A good reputation facilitates a person’s ability to make more money because of the opportunities that come his or her way. Those who seek to get rich quickly often succumb to dishonesty and acquire a reputation which causes them to lose out on opportunities for business deals and projects that otherwise would have made them a good deal of money. Our system continues to work because more people are honest than dishonest in most of their financial and business relationships. 

In addition to honesty, free enterprise is built on the Biblical principle of working hard. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Paul tells us to follow his example of working so as not to rely on others to provide for him as he was invoved in ministry work. He admonishes those who are lazy to get to work or starve. Under socialism, where everyone is guaranteed an income, the government taxes citizens at exorbitant rates to support lazy people as well as the lavish lifestyles of the elite ruling class. As a result, there is no incentive to work, to risk, to be an entrepreneur, to invest, save, serve others, or to start a business.   

The free enterprise system rewards healthy self-interest. It is not only acceptable  but Biblical to pursue what is in your best interest as long as you don’t look after yourself at the expense or harm of someone else. For instance, it is in my best interest to have a job, to make money, to pay my bills, to save for the future, to purchase goods and services at the best possible price, and to sell goods and services at the highest, fair price the market allows. It is also in my best interest to read my Bible, to pray, to go to church, and to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. These aspects of self-interest also have benefits to the others with whom I have relationships—my family, friends, co-workers, business acquaintances, and customers.

There are many things we do based on our best interests, and the free enterprise system rewards the individual that rejects laziness in deference to working hard at a job, serving customers, and providing for his or her family. Honesty, hard work, a good reputation, and the promise of material blessings for following God’s commands are the basis of the free enterprise system. It is not by chance that America became the wealthiest nation in the world. Biblical principles work—for Christians and non-Christians alike. 

Unfortunately, free enterprise is naturally offensive to most humanists. Humanists do not want to be accountable to God or God’s laws and as a result always seek ways to thwart God’s laws. If humanists want to benefit financially without following God’s laws, they are left with no choice but to turn to the state and relativism. Socialistic control is always the consequence. 

Some humanists believe that for now the free enterprise system has to be tolerated until a workable plan for socialism can be implemented. Humanist Sidney Hook, for example, laments that “until some way can be found to organize a society in which everyone’s way of earning a living is at the same time a satisfactory way of living his or her life, there will always be a problem of incentive.”113 

While there are pitfalls in the free enterprise system, they are exaggerated when man’s sinful nature or big government encroaches on or manipulates the free market. Kerby Anderson addresses some of the benefits of the free enterprise system as well as the arguments liberals make against it:


[quote] Historically, capitalism has had a number of advantages. It has liberated economic potential. It has also provided the foundation for a great deal of political and economic freedom. When government is not controlling markets, then there is economic freedom to be involved in a whole array of entrepreneurial activities. Capitalism has led to a great deal of political freedom, because once you limit the role of government in economics, you limit the scope of government in other areas. It is no accident that most of the countries with the greatest political freedom usually have a great deal of economic freedom. The first economic criticism is that capitalism leads to monopolies. These develop for two reasons: too little government and too much government. Monopolies have occurred in the past because government has not been willing to exercise its God-given authority. Government finally stepped in and broke up the big trusts that were not allowing the free enterprise system to function correctly. But in recent decades, the reason for monopolies has often been too much government. Many of the largest monopolies today are government sanctioned or sponsored monopolies that prevent true competition from taking place. The solution is for government to allow a freer market where competition can take place. Let me add that many people often call markets with limited competition monopolies when the term is not appropriate. For example, the three major U.S. car companies may seem like a monopoly or oligopoly until you realize that in the market of consumer durables the true market is the entire western world. Capitalism is a system in which bad people can do the least harm, and good people have the freedom to do good works. Capitalism works well if you have completely moral individuals. But it also functions adequately when you have selfish and greedy people. [end quote] 


The Bible offers more than 2,000 verses on the subject of money and wealth. It discusses private property, private contracts, caring for the poor, laziness, staying out of debt, not being greedy, working for your food and investing for the future, leaving an inheritance to children, bribery, extortion, profit and loss, serving your customer, and much more. Here is a summary of the basic lessons from the Bible about money:


• Do not set your heart on riches, and especially be on your guard against oppression and robbery (Ps. 62:10; James 5:1-6).

• God calls us to be contented with what we have rather than coveting what others have (Ex. 20:17; Heb. 13:5).

• If we place so much importance on money that we start loving it, we are liable to unleash all kinds of evil and sorrow (Ps. 52:1-7; Matt. 13:22; 1 Tim. 6:6-10; Rev. 3:17).

• Give God praise and thanks for any and all resources that you have, and honor Him by giving freely to others (Deut. 8:11, 17-18; Prov. 3:9-10; Matt. 10:8; Acts 20:35).

• Building your reputation around money is false; it can lead to dangerous and devastating results, as was the case for one couple in the early church (Acts 5:1-11).

• Wealth is a gift from God and should be received with thanksgiving, generosity, and stewardship (1 Tim. 6:17-18; 2 Cor. 8-9). source: What Does the Bible Say About: The Ultimate A to Z Resource Fully Illustrated, Nelson's A to Z Series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001. p. 272.)

Socialism has been attempted many times in various ways and has always proven to be a complete failure. Whether it is an inheritance tax that punishes thrift by taxing the money saved during a lifetime, the progressive tax system that discourages work and investment, or restrictions and confiscation of private property through radical environmental policies, socialism does not work. 

While some Christians believe the New Testament church endorsed socialism through the shared living of the early Christians, that is a serious misunderstanding of the history revealed in Acts. First century believers fostered a voluntary system of interdependence—not a compulsory system enforced by the power of a government. 

The states of the former Soviet Union will spend decades—and perhaps longer— recovering from their seventy-year affair with socialism that kept them from modern levels of prosperity. Other societies have tried without any more success to make socialism a productive system by which to live and govern. 

The underlying cause of socialism’s failure is that it is based on a false belief about equality. It maintains that the outcome of everyone’s work can and should be equal, but that is contrary to the nature of the people who make up any society. Whenever government forcibly tries to equalize salaries, the standard of living, education, and productivity take a nosedive. 

Few people realize that socialism’s proclivity for failure was first evidenced in America’s colony established by the Pilgrims. When the Mayflower set sail on August 1, 1620, it carried 102 passengers, including 40 Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement that established laws for all members of their community, regardless of an individual’s religious beliefs. The Pilgrims were steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments and looked to the ancient Israelites for a model. Because of the precedents in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work. During the first winter, however, half the Pilgrims—including Bradford’s wife—died of starvation, sickness, or exposure. When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, how to fish for cod, and how to skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but still they did not yet prosper. The problem was that Bradford’s master plan was constrained by the original contract into which the Pilgrims had entered with their merchant-sponsors in London. That contract required that everything the Pilgrims produced go into a common store to which each member of the community was entitled one common share. The land they cleared and the houses they built also belonged to the community. 

Through the terrible first year, Bradford, who had become the governor of the colony, saw the fallacy in this form of collectivism and recognized it as the destructive force that had taken so many lives in the Pilgrim community. In a bold change, he assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus unleashing the power of the marketplace. His plan worked magnificently, turning around what had been dismal prospects for the small group. 

Long before Karl Marx was born, then, the Pilgrims had experimented with socialism. As Rush Limbaugh points out, “What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation!”

Writing about the experiences of the Pilgrims, Bradford himself observed: 

"By taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth…as if they were wiser than God.… For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense…that was thought injustice."


The question becomes obvious: If socialism has proven to be a detriment to every society that has tried it, why do we permit this philosophy to be taught in America’s schools? Socialism is consistent with the humanist worldview because humanists deny the sin nature of mankind and as a result believe socialism will work if people just try hard enough to implement its principles. In reality, people are sinful from birth, battling greed, selfishness, pride, anger, bitterness, envy, laziness, and dishonesty. All of these sinful human qualities prevent a system of economics based on equal work, equal income, and shared benefits from working. 

In his book The Battle for Truth, Dr. David Noebel recognizes this central problem:

"If one denies the inherent fallen nature of man, socialism becomes the most attractive economic system for creating a heaven on earth. For the Humanist, there is no original sin to stand in the way of creating a helping, sharing, co-operative community on earth. Therefore, the economic system best suited to promote the ethics of Humanism and amend the evils of capitalism is socialism."


John Dewey declared the imperative for socialism to succeed if liberalism and humanism (which I contend are one in the same) are to succeed. Dewey declared:

"But the cause of liberalism will be lost for a considerable period if it is not prepared to go further and socialize the forces of production, now at hand, so that the liberty of individuals will be supported by the very structure of economics organization."

John Dewey also proclaimed that “…social control of economic forces is…necessary if anything approaching economic equality and liberty is to be realized.”

John Kenneth Galbraith, a past Humanist of the Year, declared, “In an intelligently plural economy…a certain number of industries should be publicly owned.” Be clear that when Galbraith speaks of “publicly owned” he does not mean a public corporation that is traded on the stock market. He means owned by the government. Socialists want the government, not private industry, to own and control the means of production. 

Whereas free enterprise gives the individual control of his or her own earthly future, destiny, and income, socialism puts a relatively few, powerful elite in control of whether or not a person has a job and how much income any given person will make for the benefit of the all-powerful state and its ruling class.

John Dewey (wrongly) believed that in a capitalistic system the supply and demand that fuels the free enterprise system are artificially manipulated. He maintained that the reason there are poor people is that supplies of food, clothes, and other necessities are deliberately limited so as to drive up prices. The exceptionally strange part of his believing so is that such centralized control is not even remotely possible in a capitalist economy, only in a socialist one. Nevertheless, Dewey claimed:

"There is an undoubted objective clash of interests between finance-capitalism that controls the means production and whose profit is served by maintaining relative scarcity, and idle workers and hungry consumers."


The three different Humanist Manifestos have this to say concerning socialism and the redistribution of wealth and a guaranteed income: 

• Humanist Manifesto I: “A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible.”

• Humanist Manifesto II: “We need to democratize the economy and judge it by its responsiveness to human needs, testing results in terms of the common good.”…and… “World poverty must cease. Hence extreme disproportions in wealth, income, and economic growth should be reduced on a worldwide basis.”

• Humanist Manifesto 2000: “We should strive to provide economic security and adequate income for everyone.” 


While socialism is the economic system of choice for most humanists, not all are convinced the free enterprise system should be scrapped entirely. Marvin Zimmerman contends “that the evidence supports the view that democratic capitalism is more productive of human good than democratic socialism.”123 Robert Sheaffer adds that “[N]o intellectually honest person today can deny that the history of socialism is a sorry tale of economic failure and crimes against humanity.”

Dr. Noebel reveals in his book that some socialists want to have an “American” form of socialism that is incremental in its approach but reaches the same completely socialistic end:

[quote] [Corliss] Lamont believes that the United States Constitution must still be honored, so he recommends that the American government purchase the means of production from their rightful owners. He does not specify whether the government or the capitalists will dictate the price, or where the government will get the money to pay for everything it buys. Once the intermediate steps toward socialism in the United States are taken, the socialistic Humanists are largely in agreement regarding the means of assuring a more “equal” society. Lamont, Dewey, Fromm, and Sellars all call for a redistribution of wealth in the form of a “guaranteed income” for every person in the country. [quote]

No matter what they may wish for, though, if it is socialism, the system won’t work.


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