Insights from the Bible on the Redistribution of Wealth

redistribution of wealthThere are, it seems, two sides to this question:

  1. what is the responsibility of the individual, and
  2. what is the responsibility of the state?

I don’t think anyone would argue the idea that, as individuals, we have a responsibility to take care of the less fortunateâ”the Bible, both Old and New Testamentsâ”make it clear that we do. Strictly speaking though, this is about sharing wealth, not about redistributing it according to some formula. So let’s say that the question of redistribution of wealth as an individual responsibility is a moot point. We’re required to provide for the less fortunate, but it isn’t redistribution in any sense of the term.

That leaves us with one open question: does the Bible call us to engage in the redistribution of wealth through the apparatus of the state?

This is actually a more complex question than it seems at first glance, and I’ll tip my hand up front and make the following assertions:

  1. There is no directive in the Bible for the state to engage in redistribution of wealth (other than, loosely, the titheâ”which we’ll get to shortly), BUT
  2. We are required to do what the authorities (a.k.a., the state) command of us.

This makes the answer yes AND noâ”but mostly yes. Why do I feel this way?

Let’s tackle the no❠portion of my assumption, just to get it out of the way.


Biblical directives to Israel were for Israel, not the modern nation-state

There’s a wide division among Christians on this point. Some believe that the commands God gave to Biblical Israel are immutable for all nations for all times, while othersâ”like meâ”don’t believe this to be true.

Biblical Israel was established by God to eventually carry out his plan of salvation for all the world through Jesus Christ. This gave Biblical Israel a special status, but not a universal one. Israel was not only a nation, but it also functioned as a theocracy where there was no separation between the clergy (Levites) and the political class. That hardly describes modern, pluralistic nations such as the United States or Canada.

In any event, the closest we come to redistribution of wealth by the state❠is the Old Testament tithe. In Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we have the tithe established by God to fund three purposes: an income for the clergy, funding for religious festivals and for â¦the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.ââ”Deuteronomy 26:12.

We can take that last part and say that it justifies redistribution of wealth by the state, but that’s a real stretch. The tithe was commanded for the purpose of glorifying God, and it was food–the most basic provisionâ”that was to be provided to the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow❠who were in the midst of the people of God. This is vastly different than the modern welfare state that redistributes wealth in the form of direct cash (to be spent at the discretion of the recipient).

Also, consider that the political-type redistribution of today is facilitated by modern states which go to some length to separate themselves from God. In case there’s any question as to the transferability of the things of God to the secular state, Jesus provides a clear separation:

âRender therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.ââ”Luke 20:25

There’s no conclusive Biblical support for redistribution of wealth as it’s practiced by modern governments that are divorced from God.

But that’s not the end of the story; here’s where we clarify the ambiguous, but all-important, no, but yes❠part of the equationâ¦


We are SPECIFICALLY directed to obey the civil authorities

Take another look at Luke 20:25 above. Note that Jesus doesn’t tell us to do one and neglect the other–he tells us to render to both God and Caesar what is due each! Thus we have a personal, God-given responsibility to the less fortunate, PLUS that which is required by the civil authorities.

Want more proof?

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by Godâ¦Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.ââ”Romans 13:1 & 5

Peter gives even more specific guidance.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.ââ”1 Peter 2:13-14

If we’re looking for Biblical permission to resist the governing authorities, we’re not going to find it, not at least as it relates to redistribution of wealth.

Government has largely taken over what we might loosely call charity❠and turned it into the wholesale redistribution of wealth, no argument there. But this is a civil, social, philosophical, legal and political debate for sureâ”but it isn’t a faith based argument. If it is to be changed, that must happen at the voting booth, through the legislative process or through the courts, and until that happens we’re commanded to comply.


Personal observations and thoughtsâ¦

Technically speaking, any transfer of money from productive populations to non-productive ones is redistribution of wealth. The argument then should also extend to Social Security, Medicare, corporate welfare, industry subsidies, tax breaks, foreign aidâ”virtually anywhere money is taken from one person or entity and given to others. It’s clear that current government redistribution has moved well beyond caring for widows and orphans❠and shows unmistakable signs of political preference.

We can try to bring about change through the political and legal systems we have, but as for looking to Biblical justification to say that participating somehow puts us at odds with Biblical laws or doctrines isn’t supported.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t arrived at this conclusion lightly. I confess to being a Libertarian, and the whole idea of redistribution of wealth runs against everything I believe from a non-faith perspective. However, everything we believeâ”our personal preferences, our behavior and even our politicsâ”must be subject to our faith and not the other way around. Any time we try to wrap the faith around our preferred doctrines, we’re in danger of following a false gospel.

What are your thoughts? What do you think the Bible says about redistribution of wealth? Can you find Scripture that supports a different conclusion?