Beware of the ‘Poverty and Justice Bible’

The liberal folks at Sojourners have put together a Poverty and Justice Bible that’s being published by World Vision and Bible Society:

“The publishers of the Poverty and Justice Bible went looking and highlighted almost 3,000 verses in the scriptures to show that God has something to say about injustice and oppression. With bright orange highlighting, a quick glance is all you need to see that God cares about the poor — a lot.”

True enough, the Bible has a great deal to say about poverty and justice. Unfortunately for the folks who put this Bible together, there isn’t a single verse that says that civil governments should tax the prosperous so the money collected can be given to the poor.

The Bible does not support the idea of a welfare State. This is not to say that the Bible is indifferent to the poor. Not at all. It’s just that there is nothing to support the transfer of wealth through confiscatory taxing policies.

There are biblical gleaning laws, but gleaning required work, hard work:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:22).

Private charity is the biblical model. The modern-day welfare State has made more poor people and made those who are poor even poorer, and this doesn’t say anything about what government anti-poverty programs have done to everybody else.

Biblical justice means equality before the law.

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15).

Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell all he had to give to the poor (Matt. 19:16-22). Jesus did not tell him to vote for Caesar to tax the rich to redistribute their income to the poor. Notice that Jesus told the rich man that one of the commandments was “You shall not steal” (v. 18). That includes voters who elect people to tax the prosperous so poor people can get some of their income.

If a person has made an idol out of money, like the Rich Young Ruler, then that’s a sin problem not a political problem.

The Bible has a lot to say about idols, and money can be an idol. But so can power, sex, war, fame, and prestige. The apostle Paul has something to say about the worship of money:

  • “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10).
  • “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (v. 17).
  • “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (vv. 18-19).

Money in and of itself isn’t the root of all sorts of evils; it’s the “love” of money. We could also include sex, war, fame, prestige, and power. There is no instruction given to Timothy to petition Caesar to raise taxes on the wealthy. Turning one idol (money) into another idol (government) is neither a solution for the person who has a problem worshiping money or for the poor who are often the victims of government interference.

Notice that the apostle Paul encouraged personal giving to help those in need:

“Near the end of Paul’s ministry he took up a collection for the poor of the Jerusalem church. Why the Jerusalem church had so much poverty is not clear. The Jews in Jerusalem may have isolated Christian Jews from the economic system. Paul and Barnabas promised to help (Galatians 2:1-10 ). This money was collected by Paul from the Gentile churches which he administered. These included churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Galatia. He mentioned this offering on three occasions in his letters. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 , Paul indicated that he wanted the church to put something aside on the first day of each week. In 2 Corinthians 8-9 , Paul wrote that the churches of Macedonia had given liberally and Titus would oversee the completion of the offering in Corinth. Finally, in Romans 15:25 , Paul stated that at the present time he was going to Jerusalem to deliver the gift.”1

There was no petitioning of the government; no appeal to Caesar.

The Poverty and Justice Bible will only increase poverty and pervert biblical justice if the justification of the highlighting of certain biblical texts is designed to empower the State.

  1. Terence B. Ellis and Lynn Jones, “Collection for the Poor Saints,” Holman Bible Dictionary. []