What is the best economic system for humanity? Is it individualistic “free enterprise”? Or a more community-oriented system that tries to limit inequality? These questions cause heated arguments in our societies all the time. But what does God think?
The modern theories of capitalism and socialism were invented a very long time after the Bible was written. Nevertheless, hundreds of books and articles attempt to prove that the Bible endorses one or the other of these economic theories. In actual fact, the Torah and subsequent books do give some recommendations for how humans should run an economy, but these do not fit neatly into our ideas of either “capitalism” or “socialism.” They make more sense in the context of the Ancient Near East, where other societies had some laws that were similar and others that differed.
Here are some of the fundamental principles of the economic system given in the Hebrew Torah (verses separated by slashes have different numbers in Hebrew and in English):
- If you have money, you are obligated to lend it at no interest to a fellow citizen who is in need. (Exod 22:24/25; Lev 25:35-38; Deut 15:7-10, 23:19-20/20-21)
- All debts of citizens are cancelled every seven years. (Deut 15:1-3)
- The "productive" citizenry must contribute to support the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. People who have produce must invite these potentially needy others to feast together with them. (Deut 14:22-29)
- Producers must intentionally leave some of their produce to be taken for free by the needy. (Lev 19:9-10, 23:22)
- Thieves must pay back 4-5 times the value of what they stole. (Exod 21:37/22:1)
- Poor and rich are equal before the law. (Lev 19:15)
All this amounts to neither capitalism nor socialism – but rather a vision of a completely different kind of world. The Torah does not argue about modern economic theory, but it does propose a radically different way to live as human beings in society!