The Bible and Income Inequality

300px-day_3_occupy_wall_street_2011_shankbone_5During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders built his platform on the promise of reducing economic inequality. He repeatedly proclaimed his belief that “the issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time.”

While “income inequality” is a favorite rallying cry for socialists everywhere, the Bible doesn’t denounce wealth or material possessions, nor does it indicate that economic inequality is somehow morally wrong.

Many of the Bible’s great men came from considerable wealth. Instead of condemning these men for their affluence, the Bible seems to laud their riches. For example, Abraham “was very rich in livestock, silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2, NKJV). Similarly, King Solomon’s treasures were unequaled. After Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge to rule over Israel rightly, God promised to give him “riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like” (2 Chronicles 1:12, NKJV). Likewise, before the devastating events of Job’s namesake book unfolded, he was more prosperous than anyone else in the East. Furthermore, God doubled Job’s wealth after his period of tribulation (Job 42:12).

We can use our resources and property for many moral purposes. These moral purposes include providing for our family’s needs (1 Timothy 5:8), investing and saving for the future (Ecclesiastes 11:2; Proverbs 21:20), voluntarily giving to those in need (Hebrews 13:16; Proverbs 21:13), and providing for the work of the church (Proverbs 3:9; Philippians 4:15-18). But it is also morally good for us to use our material possessions for our own enjoyment, offering thanksgiving to God for all He has provided. Paul tells us as much, writing that God “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Yet many people criticize those who live in abundance as if it is morally wrong to have more material things than others.

The Parables of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27) and the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) serve as relevant biblical case studies. In these parables, a master who is leaving town gives talents or minas (denominations of money) to each of his servants, telling them to “engage in business until I return.” When the master returns, he finds that two of his servants invested his money and made a profit, but one of his servants unwisely refused to invest his money and failed to make a return. The servant who made the greatest return on investment is given the greatest reward, whereas the servant who declined to invest his money has his property taken from him. Through the means of divine providence and the laws of economics, God acts the same as the master in the parable. God has given larger tasks to some people that require many resources, and He has also given smaller tasks to others that need fewer resources. Our responsibility is to be faithful stewards of the resources and opportunities God has given us, trusting in His sovereignty without envying those who have been given more.

What causes inequality? Assuming there is no fraud or theft, inequality results from only three things:

First, inequality often results from some people working more hours than others. King Solomon affirmed this truth: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread” (Proverbs 12:11, ESV). Conversely, those who work fewer hours live in less abundance since laziness leads to poverty (Proverbs 6:10-12). Unsurprisingly, a study by the Brookings Institution found that the poverty rate would decrease by 42% if all poor families had one full-time worker earning the same hourly rate he or she makes now.

Second, inequality arises when one person is more productive, and uses resources more efficiently, than another. The person who can produce 50 units per hour will receive a bigger reward than the person who can produce only ten units per hour. Like the servant in the Parable of the Talents who doubled his master’s money through prudent investing and being more productive than the others, those who exhibit greater industry receive a larger reward.

Third, inequality develops when one person produces goods or services that are more highly valued. Engineering and medicine pay more than many other vocations because there is greater demand for engineering and medical services. Using another example, Tony Award-winning actors get paid more money than those working in local musical theaters because society is willing to pay more to watch them perform.

Economic inequality reflects God’s design for the world. Not only has God unequally distributed aptitudes, abilities, and opportunities to men, but he has also structured the laws of economics to reward those who produce goods and services that are highly valued by others, as well as those who use their resources productively and efficiently.

This inequality also provides us with many opportunities to glorify God. Those who have been entrusted with “one talent” can glorify God by faithfully stewarding the resources He has given them, relying upon God’s provision without complaining or envying others who have more. On the other hand, those who have been entrusted with “ten talents” can glorify God by using their resources to build wealth, give generously to the church and the poor, and offer thanksgiving to God for the blessings He has provided.

Contrary to the arguments of Bernie Sanders and others, wealth and income inequality is not “the great moral issue of our time.” Economic inequality reflects God’s design for society, not a moral aberration needing to be eradicated.


This article was originally published by Baptists for Liberty.

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