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)

Every fifty years, most real estate reverts to the original (ancestral) family of owners. (Lev 25:8-34)

– 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!

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70 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been asking this sincere question of any and all Torah scholars I can. Torah has many statues on tithing, leaving the corners of the fields, taking care of the widows, orphans and poor, etc…

    What enforcement mechanism was prescribed by God in his Torah? Was there a Levitical tithing police the measured your crop output and compared it to the amount tithed making sure the correct percentage or someone measured the field corners for a certain measurement?

    • This is a very interesting question, Luis, and hard to answer in a few words. The Torah is addressed to the nation of Israel — but also to individuals. Some provisions cannot really be enforced by any human authority (e.g., “You shall not hate your brother in your heart”; Lev 19:17). The same verse continues to urge dialogue among individuals as one way of avoiding transgression. If people had further complaints, they could go before local judges and elders. If someone withheld what was legally due the poor or Levites, for example, they could be brought to such a trial. Even in cases of other serious crimes like murder, the local community was to be involved (not just some separate policing force). There is another question about whether this system was ever fully implemented in practice or not.

      • I agree Dr Yeshaya Gruber, that the Torah was addressed to the nation of Israel, but Israel was to be an example to all the other people living in the world, then and now! It was never fully implemented because Israel could never follow through with anything!!

        • Interesting: Throughout the middle ages Europe was a theocracy. As commanded in the Torah, you could lend money to whomever had need but were forbidden to charge interest (called usury). Unfortunately, Jews felt not obligated to obey and under their presure, one farm after another went bankrupt, contributing to antisemitism.

          • Karin, there are many thorny questions to be asked about the practice of lending money, including in medieval and modern times. However, if you are referring to Jewish moneylending in medieval Europe, the picture is more complicated than what you suggest. Jews were not forbidden by the Torah from lending money at interest to non-Jews (only to fellow citizens of Israel). And though in theory medieval Christianity also adopted this prohibition on lending money at interest (at least to one’s own group), in practice it was frequently ignored by church officials and other Christians.

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        • Peter, I think that is a somewhat extreme way of putting things. While my nation certainly has failings, can you point to others that have done better? All humanity has both good and bad tendencies.

    • Tithing and generosity towards the needy are part of our relationship with HaShem. He will be our judge, and His measurements are indisputable. All of Torah is not about “Laws” that need policing. It is His instructions to us in living holy lives. This is what is meant by “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Phil 2:12. How well we implement these things in our own lives is between us and our Maker and final Judge. Amongst ourselves, it is an indicator of each others spiritual condition. And yes, you are your brothers keeper. There is a national judgement as well as the personal one.

  2. It seems the economic system of a generous being is what is being commanded. The reverse is also implicit; being able to receive with gratitude and humility, the latter being the most difficult of the two for me. Sowing and reaping is the economic system used in HIS kingdom with one judging and policing all circumstances; Hos 10:12, Mat 6:26, Isa 24:1-3, Jer 25:11 (policing), etc. This system of sowing and reaping, economically speaking, is just a shadow or example for us to conduct ourselves within as we store treasure where moth and rust do not have any effect.
    J.

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  3. It would appear that God’s ideas about stewardship include a strong reminder that human beings are not owners but caretakers, and that the original caretakers ultimately are responsible for the resources and land assigned to them and their progeny. God owns it all. We merely are responsible to partner with Him in best practices and our generous giving of what we have been entrusted to care for.

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    • Really outstanding view of Elizabeth! Almighty is Omni-Present and OWNER of his universes including this mother Earth. Narrative of entire Holy and Pious Books is: Almighty loves its garden wherein we are little lovely plants. How can a plant hate another plant? Love the humanity and World.

      • We are all plants in God’s garden (earth) especially in areas we are not gifted. We need tending. We are all tenders in those areas we are gifted. We need to tend others. I find the prescribed economic principles in Torah the missing link between modern capitalism and socialism.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  4. Thanks for the post, very enlightening. To digress a bit, is political activism (championing the policies of a political party) frowned upon by the Torah, or is it an individual’s right to choose? How about voting?

    • Thank you, Thandu! Like capitalism and socialism, modern democratic politics developed long after the Torah. In ancient times life was less segmented — religion, economics, politics, etc. all formed part of a more holistic lifestyle. The Torah emphasizes choosing and pursuing the right or just way of living in society (e.g., Deut 16:20). Even in ancient times, that may have had some elements we would call “democratic” (e.g., a couple verses earlier, 16:18). Personally, I think equivalent behavior today could include political activism (though not slavish conformity to any party or group) together with pursuing justice/goodness in other areas, too.

  5. The Testament say much more than that. A superficial survey just of the Psalms alone reveals that God has a very clear bias towards the poor and the destitute. This is confirm by many other verses in the rest of the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. See for example the economic system of the early Christians in the Book of Acts. All of that leads me to conclude that the Bible favours an economic system based on the principles of socialism.

    • Thank you, Nosey! This article mentions only a few of the principles in the Hebrew Torah, but do stay tuned for potential further discussion on similar themes in other writings. I don’t know if “bias” is exactly the right word, but in the Biblical portrayal God is clearly very concerned that the poor should be treated justly.

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  6. In Genesis 47, a socialist or even communist society is described. It is called slavery in the Bible. I do like your emphasis on a different kind of economic system. What we have today is not capitalism as Adam Smith would define it, but corporatism, which is a bridge to socialism.

    • Thank you for your comment, Ralph! I would take issue with the idea that Gen 47 depicts a socialist or communist society (and again, these theories were invented much later in any case). I do agree that the current so-called “capitalist” system does not actually match the ideal of capitalist theory (much like the Soviet Union did not at all match the ideal of socialist theory). I would also agree that the current form of postmodern corporatism is very problematic — but it can (and does) go with either “left-wing” or “right-wing” ideology.

      • Gen. 47 is extremely interesting. Three classes: 1)Pharaoh’s “family”/court, 2)priests, 3)servants/populace). So a state-supported “church”, a nation of sharecroppers, a 20% flat tax on production… but the Israelites sitting nearly at the top of it all, entirely supported by the labor of the Egyptians. Now, fast forward a few generations.

  7. God wants his children to become pure in heart, consecrated, emulate His love. God’s leads by gentle persuasion, not force. The ultimate example of God’s law was Enoch’s society. Man’s economic systems do not accomplish God’s purposes, but lead to pride and rebellion from God. Socialism is a Satan counterfeit that purports love, but does not purify man; and brutally enforced leads to poverty and enslavement, millions murdered to enforce this counterfeit. Socialism is a “tower of Babel” rebellion from God. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” {Psalm 127:1}.

    • Thank you for commenting, Paul. I think “the devil is in the details”! Some people live in a “socialist” way with true love and blessing for others, and some people live in a “capitalist” mode with selfishness and greed. People can choose good or evil under either system. What I’ve tried to suggest in the article is that the economic system in Torah, while it may overlap in some ways with modern socialism or capitalism, is not exactly one or the other. Rather, it seems to be based on a radical lifestyle of proclaiming and expressing love and concern for individuals and the whole society.

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    • That’s not Socialism, you’re describing – it’s a certain brand of corrupt Communism (like under Stalin) that has more in common with fascist dictatorships. Democratic Socialism has brought wonderful things like free education and free healthcare, giving people decent homes and money to live on if sick.

      • Torah laws are neither Communism nor Socialism or Capitalism. As Dr Gruber explains, God expects compassion for fellow humans, not a welfare society where people expect / live on handouts
        If you don’t know the references he gave, look them up and pray for revelation of his word for you

    • I agree, Satan tries to build something counterfeit to confuse us. The counterfeit seems to appear first then followed by God’s way.

  8. God is not biased towards the poor and destitute, everyone is equal before him, rich and poor. God is concerned for the poor, the stranger, the widow, the disadvantaged, the sick and infirm and others and if we are to be his true followers so should we be. The rich are especially called to take care of the poor Jer 22:13-16 shows what God requires of us.

    • This sounds like Prov 10:22, “The blessing of YHWH — that is what [truly] enriches, and one does not increase pain with it.” Looking at the translations, I see that some of them interpret this saying in a very strange way! In my reading, it goes along with others like 10:2, “The treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but just living saves from death.” (See also 1:19, 15:27, 23:4, etc.) In this article I mentioned only a few of the principles in the Hebrew Torah, but stay tuned for potential further discussion on similar themes in other writings.

  9. IMO: Free market capitalism with a huge safety net seems to be the plan. Nothing like today’s corporatism. Also included: the stewardship and care-taking of the environment. All men may be created equal, but due to free will, all are not equal. Therefore free choice determines each person’s lot in life and their inheritance

    • Thank you for these thoughts! I can certainly sympathize with some of these sentiments. But don’t you think that more than free choice determines a person’s lot in life (even in the kind of society you describe, let alone in less free ones)? We make some choices, certainly, but can’t choose most things about ourselves or our circumstances.

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  10. Thanks Dr Gruber for your answer to my questions. I read Deut 16:18-20. I also read 2 Timothy 2:4. How would you unpack this metaphor? Seems like Paul discourages Timothy from getting entangled in civilian matters.

    • Thanks, Thandu. The original question of course related to the Hebrew Torah. However, if we examine the first-century text you mentioned with its context, I think we see that it doesn’t actually address the question of political activism. Paul/Saul urges Timothy to “suffer together” (2:3). In typical manner, he then gives an analogy — actually three analogies in a row — to help flesh out this point. The analogies concern a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer (2:4-6). In my understanding, this text isn’t saying to imitate the specific actions of any of these three types, but rather their determination and perseverance through difficulty to reach a goal.

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  11. Dr Gruber, kindly direct me to any website, article, videos that will explain the correct meaning of “we are not under Torah, but under Grace”. To be under Torah, does it mean a Christ following Jew who is obliged to keep the entire Torah? And under Grace, does it mean Jews and non-Jews Christ believers being led by the Spirit to live righteously with non-Jews Christ believers, not really obligated to keep the entire Torah, but still keeping it? Lastly, any article or link that will explain Col 2:14-18 will be appreciated.

  12. I appreciate Scriptures you shared, especially this “Producers must intentionally leave some of their produce to be taken for free by the needy. (Lev 19:9-10, 23:22).”
    Here’s my thought on this: we should be capitalist in having an income (being producers) and socialist in our expenditures (helping the needy).

  13. For sometime now I have become convinced that the form of government is immaterial. Whether a government is Democratic, a Republic, Socialist, Communist, has a Dictator, or whatever is not the important factor. What is important is the character of the leader(s). I’m waiting for a truly Righteous Dictator!

  14. Socialism and capitalism are two words that make hypocrites of nearly half of our Christian brothers and sisters. Money is the root of all evil, and selfishness enjoys rank in today’s churches. People, in my point of view, want to be Christians and drive expensive cars, and ………….

  15. ………ignore ten hungry persons and then smooth the conscience by helping the eleventh guy with maybe half a loaf of bread. And Christians like to debate the tithe, because they are selfish. I know the OT tithe system was = grain. But today it changed into money because of our western way of living, etc.

    • Thanks for the comments, Pepler. Regarding the “tithe(s)” in Torah, there were very many elements that modern Jews and Christians might not recognize today. In fact, some of the “tenths” could be converted to money even then. However, other differences existed with regard to recipients, purpose, etc.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

      • Thank you for the reply Dr. As soon as I have enrolled I will definitely learn more, I do have a teachable spirit and am looking forward to these courses.

      • re converted to money. I do know if the way be long but that money was used by the farmers for feasting. The temple tax was money and the same amount to all. Have not found any scripture to say that it was on foods but now on wages

  16. We are given so that we must give, and not be policed to do wat God expect us to do. As children of God we must do without questioning, else we are just like another selfish person belonging to ungodly world.

  17. Nosey Pieterse, G_d is not “biased to the poor and needy”, nor does he support socialism or any wordly system, nor does he give people the right to quote or twist the Word to demonstrate their ungodly revolutionary beliefs.”Come out of her my Beloved”

  18. Love reading these posts and the many responses! I have responded to economic issues over the years with many of these same references. These concepts really require a God centered society to work. Socialism never had a chance because God was thrown out! Capitalism with God kind of works.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Tom! There are actually many religious (and other non-atheist) socialists as well; for instance, Christian socialist political parties in Europe and South America. (You may be thinking of atheistic communism.)

    • We are glad that you are finding our articles enlightening. You’ve already started your path into Scripture, but there’s so much more that awaits you! Consider enrolling in our immersive online courses: The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. We guarantee that they will deepen your understanding of Scripture and enrich your faith experience.

  19. Just think if our ever so great grandparents, Adam and Eve hadn’t gotten kicked out of the (Womb) Garden of Eden, we wouldn’t have had to wonder about Capitalism or Socialism as God would have supplied ALL our needs. We lost out because of disobedience from our elders.

  20. Hi, I don’t view Socialism or Capitalism as being good or bad. It all depends on how we are using these systems. Are we using them out of brotherly love, or are we using them to push our agenda. That is the real question.

  21. So most of these laws from the Torah pertain to individual relations with your neighbors. As the New Testament states we are to love and care for our neighbors. In other words this is a “personal” thing and a “personal” responsibility.

  22. The problem with the question (Capitalism vs Socialism) is that it pertains to a form of government and Jesus was not interested in political issue, only personal responsibility. He is not interested in what politicians do but what we as individuals do.

    • Thanks for the comment, Russ! Wouldn’t you say that politicians are also individuals? (And of course there are many readers who would make the case that the words and actions of Yeshua/Jesus were in fact extremely political in their context…)

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  23. This seems to me to be a narrow consideration. I would much rather it had been framed in terms of “Does the Bible oppose the ownership of private property (as the socialists do) or does it support it? Would you consider Isa. 65:21-23 to be socialistic or capitalistic?

    • Phil, thank you for reading and commenting! The article clearly states that the Biblical view is neither “capitalism” nor “socialism” — hence it’s necessary to get out of our modern frameworks to understand it better. That’s the main point here. 🙂 As for Isaiah 65, I’d definitely say the same thing! It’s worth noting, by the way, that not all socialists favor abolishing private property (today most don’t, in fact).

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  24. How about when Yeshua was asked by the scribes about the Greatest Commandment. Yeshua said ” to love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul and strength and the second is like it, to love your brothers and sisters as yourself, from these hang the Laws and the

  25. the prophets”. IF we can do this two we can fulfill the Torah. WE make things SO HARD! Father God made it simple for us, IT is OUR hard hearts that cause the problems.

  26. i am formarly general manager of state bank of india. presently pastoring a few village churches with very poor back ground . In my openion bible , thas jesus now and in the past as johava advocates equality rather true communism with social equqlity with out coerceive or violence

    • We are glad that you are finding our articles enlightening. You’ve already started your path into Scripture, but there’s so much more that awaits you! Consider enrolling in our immersive online courses: The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. We guarantee that they will deepen your understanding of Scripture and enrich your faith experience.

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