Was Jesus a Socialist?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

Was Jesus a socialist?

Sincerely, Wayne


Dear Wayne,


First of all, Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ. His beliefs transcend any economic or governmental system. His kingdom was not of this world.


It occurs to me that the very question, “Was Jesus a Socialist?” implies our attempt to discern whether or not Jesus agrees with our own governmental and/or economic ideals. His backing would be powerful support for one side or another.


Remember, Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ. His beliefs transcend any economic or governmental system.


Now, let me address your question and offer my thoughts. It’s a great question, especially with the current governmental trend to take over control of the economy at the expense of the private ownership of goods and the free market enterprise!


The most obvious answer may well be, “Of course He was a socialist!” However, frankly, there is more Biblical evidence that He was a capitalist than a socialist.


Before we talk more about Jesus, let me share a simple description of both socialism and capitalism and how they differ.


The real difference between socialism and capitalist revolves around just who is going to be in charge of the money.


Socialism is system in which the ownership and control of production and the distribution of goods, land and capital is overseen and controlled by the government. Socialism attempts to distribute assets equally so that no one has more than anyone else while the needs of everyone in society are met. Unfortunately, socialism often reduces incentives to perform and often hastens a welfare mentality that believes that it is the government’s job to meet needs. Equality can never be obtained because those higher up in the system always end up with more than everyone else.


Capitalism is an economic system in which the ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is maintained chiefly by private individuals and/or corporations. Capitalists operate and manage their property for profit. Capitalism provides for the needs of society by creating jobs which allow people to meet their needs and to own their own things. Unfortunately, materialism and greed can destroy the goodness of any capitalistic society.


By the way, I have always found interesting those persons who use the story of Robin Hood to justify the taking of money from the rich and redistributing it to the poor. Robin Hood never took money from the rich; he stole money from a governmental system that was exorbitantly and unfairly overtaxing the poor. The Sheriff of Nottingham was the governmental authority who was stealing from the people.


Now, let’s talk about Jesus.


The most clearly defined picture of Jesus is as a capitalist. During the last week of His life the Pharisees were trying to trap Him as recorded in Luke 20:22-26:


“Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.


The Roman Empire was basically a capitalistic society. While the government controlled a portion of the wealth and occasionally doled out handouts and welfare checks to control certain segments of society, capitalism ruled. Businesses were privately owned and operated. Profits were made and lost under systems of free enterprise. In a sense Jesus put His stamp of approval on a capitalistic system.


As best as I can tell, Jesus never addressed the validity of a socialistic society. He was quite concerned with ministering to the needs of the “down and outs” of society. He fed the hungry 5,000 in John 6:1-15. In Matthew 25:34-46, He praised those who cared for the poor and needy. To answer your question, Wayne, I spent the last hour combing the gospels and I can find no passage where Jesus even remotely hinted at the concept of socialism.


Somewhat of a socialistic model is seen in the coming together of the early church Christians in Acts 4:32-35:


All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.


Within twenty years this form of church structure ceased to exist except for in some isolated cases. As best as I can tell, the concept of bringing all possessions together for equal ownership in order to meet needs and bring oneness and unity is never put forth as a definitive Christian model for society.


In Romans 13:1-7, while in the process of describing the reasons and importance of God-ordained governments, Paul clearly instructed Christians to pay taxes and revenue, respect and honor to support the Roman governmental system:


… This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.


I hesitate to declare Jesus a capitalist. Whether or not He had socialistic leanings we will never know. After all, His mission was to sacrifice Himself in order to forgive the sins of those who accepted His gift of salvation. His mind never wavered from His purpose. He rarely veered from discussing anything except His mission. Since He never made either capitalism or liberalism the focus of His work, we have no right to try to put Him in either camp.


When I think of Jesus’ approving socialism, capitalism—or not—I always think of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn was a Russian and Soviet novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his writings he helped to make the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Unions forced labor camp system. Ever since I read “The Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” about his incarceration and survival in the Hellish Soviet prison system, I have considered him a personal hero. By the way, he was a deeply committed Christian.


I was thrilled when he was released from the Gulag after his gulag was smuggled out and published in the West. He was declared “persona non grata” in the Soviet Union. He chose to relocate to Vermont in the United States. In June, 1978 he was invited to speak to an elite group at Harvard University on the insidious and destructive nature of the Soviet Socialistic System.


So, he did. But, no one was ready for what came next. He was expected to approve the achievements of Western society in contrast to Soviet communism. But, he didn’t.


Instead, he gave a scathing denunciation of the failings of Western society. He cited a decline in courage among American politicians; the moral degeneracy of Western citizens because they get most everything they want; a misguided legalistic system which leads to moral mediocrity; a freedom to justify any sort of moral behavior; and an unchecked freedom of the Press which is allowed to crucify individuals with impunity.


I’ll quote the paragraph from his Harvard speech which helps explain in a nut shell what he said:


There are meaningful warnings that history gives (to) a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.


The reason discussed Solzhenitsyn is that on one ever wanted to hear from Him again! He was never again asked to speak in any public forum of significance. The West closed its selective eyes and refused to hear what he had to say. Solzhenitsyn was Solzhenitsyn. His beliefs transcended both East and West.


Remember, Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ. His beliefs transcend any economic or governmental system.


Well, Wayne, great question. I feel like my answer is somewhat of a “rough draft” answer. Nevertheless, I hope it provides some good food for thought. I invite you to comment on the matter in the blog response below. I sure other responders have quite a lot to say on this subject as well.




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