A black and white image capturing a worn Bible resting on a stack of money, symbolizing the juxtaposition of capitalist wealth and the moral teachings of the scriptures.

What Does The Bible Say About Capitalism?

Capitalism has shaped economies and societies around the world for centuries. Its proponents argue it promotes innovation and economic freedom, while critics say it leads to inequality and exploitation. So what guidance does the Bible offer on this controversial economic system?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible does not explicitly endorse or condemn capitalism. However, it provides principles and examples that can inform a Christian perspective on issues related to capitalism like private property, labor rights, wealth distribution, and economic justice.

Private Property in the Bible

Old Testament Endorses Private Property

The Old Testament clearly endorses the right of individuals to own private property. Passages like the Ten Commandments state “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15), implying that individuals have ownership rights over possessions.

Stories about buying lands, houses, or other goods indicate that private property was a accepted concept (Genesis 23, Jeremiah 32). God gave the Promised Land to the 12 tribes as “an inheritance of private property” forever (Ezekiel 46:16-18).

There’s no suggestion that eliminating private property was God’s intent in ancient Israelite society.

New Testament Respects Private Property with Responsibilities

While the New Testament doesn’t reject the legitimacy private property rights, it does teach that material wealth comes with spiritual responsibilities. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give to the poor if he wished salvation (Luke 18:22).

His parables suggest that God judges those who hoard wealth without aiding others in need (Luke 12:16-21). The early Christians willingly shared possessions to meet everyone’s needs (Acts 4:32-35). So the New Testament respects ownership rights but emphasizes selfless generosity in using private property to bless others.

Wealth and Economic Inequality in Biblical Texts

Warnings Against Loving Wealth

The Bible contains numerous warnings against loving money and wealth. For example, 1 Timothy 6:10 states, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Jesus also warned, “No one can serve two masters.

Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). He cautioned against storing up treasures on earth instead of in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

Several Old Testament prophets also warned against greed, oppression, and failing to care for the poor. For instance, Amos cried out against those who “trample on the poor” and “push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:7), while Ezekiel rebuked rulers who failed to care for widows and orphans (Ezekiel 22:7).

Calls to Help the Poor and Vulnerable

The Bible frequently calls believers to generously help the poor and vulnerable. For example, Galatians 2:10 states that caring for the poor was a key priority for the early church. James calls true religion to “look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).

Old Testament laws instituted practices like leaving grain in the fields for the poor to harvest (Leviticus 19:9-10). The Year of Jubilee was to prevent permanent inequality and poverty by having land returned to original owners every 50 years (Leviticus 25:8-17).

The prophets repeatedly reminded Israel that God requires compassion and justice for the oppressed.

Biblical Principles for Fair Labor Practices

Proper Treatment of Laborers

The Bible speaks often about the proper treatment of laborers. God calls employers to treat their workers justly and with compassion. Some key principles include:

  • Pay workers promptly and fairly (Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Withholding wages is unjust.
  • Provide rest from labor (Exodus 20:8-11). Employees should have appropriate breaks and time off.
  • Treat employees with dignity as human beings made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). They are not objects or expenses on a budget spreadsheet.
  • Do not take advantage of or oppress laborers (Malachi 3:5). Seek their good in all policies and practices.
  • Listen to employee grievances (James 5:4). Be open and seek to understand their perspectives.

Upholding these principles in the workplace can go a long way towards ethical and fair treatment of employees.

Paying Just Wages on Time

Paying workers justly and on time is a clear biblical principle. Leviticus 19:13 declares plainly: “Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.” Similarly, Deuteronomy 24 instructs employers to pay wages due to a laborer each day before sunset.

Withholding or delaying due payment to workers is strictly condemned. The Bible views it as a grievous sin akin to oppression. James 5:4 speaks of unpaid wages actually “crying out” against unjust employers. God hears their cry and promises to act on their behalf to see proper justice done.

Percentage of US workers living paycheck to paycheck in 2022 64%
Average extra days wages are withheld from low-wage earners per month 3 days

Sadly, a 2022 CNBC report showed 64% of US workers live paycheck to paycheck. For low-income families especially, even slightly delayed payment can mean inability to pay for basic needs. Studies show wages are withheld on average 3 extra days per month for low-wage hourly employees.

This represents a major hardship and practical example of unjust treatment of laborers.

The principles are clear. Workers deserve honest pay for honest work. Employers do well to adopt prompt payroll practices, rather than defaulting to maximizing their own short-term cash flows at the expense of vulnerable employees.

Usury and Interest in the Bible

Old Testament Prohibitions on Interest

The Old Testament contains several prohibitions against charging interest on loans. Exodus 22:25 states, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.”

Deuteronomy 23:19-20 says, “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest.”

Ezekiel 18:8 declares that a righteous person “does not lend at interest or take any profit.” These verses establish that charging interest on loans made to fellow Israelites was forbidden under Mosaic law.

The prohibition on interest served multiple purposes. First, it aimed to prevent the poor from being exploited through exorbitant interest rates. Second, it encouraged charity and sharing with those in need. Third, it reflected God’s care and provision for His people.

Some believe the interest ban only applied to loans made to the destitute, not commercial loans. But the blanket Biblical statements suggest God opposed the very concept of earning income from interest.

Shift in New Testament Teachings

The New Testament takes a different approach to interest and loans. Jesus told the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30, positively portraying a master who was repaid with interest on his money by profitable servants.

In Luke 19:11-27, a similar parable praises servants who earn a return for their master. Neither parable condemns the earning of interest itself.

Furthermore, in Matthew 25:27 the master scolds a servant who failed to earn interest, saying “you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” This presumes that earning interest through a bank would have been sensible.

Thus, Jesus implicitly accepted banking practices that involved interest, without any condemnation.

Biblical Examples of Economic Justice

Jubilee Law Provides Debt Relief

The Old Testament describes several economic regulations that God commanded the Israelites to follow, including the Jubilee law. According to Leviticus 25, every 50 years debts were to be canceled, slaves were to be freed, and land that was sold was to be returned to its original owner.

This provided a regular “reset button” for the economy, preventing excessive debt and economic inequality from accumulating over generations. The Jubilee law promoted economic justice by giving the poor a fresh start and restricting the wealthy from exploiting the vulnerable.

Some scholars believe the Jubilee was intended to remind the Israelites that God was the true owner of the land they lived on. By returning land to its original owners and freeing slaves every 50 years, the Jubilee law limited the control any individual could exert through wealth or status.

It kept the economy equitable and gave everyone an equal chance to thrive. The Jubilee’s emphasis on releasing debts and restoring land shows that God cares about economic fairness.

Views are mixed on whether ancient Israel ever fully practiced the Jubilee law. But its principles deeply influenced Jewish and Christian thought about social justice. Many modern Christian groups reference Jubilee as they call for reducing international debt burdens on developing nations.

The Jubilee law reveals God’s heart for economic freedom and equality.

Early Christians Share Resources

The book of Acts describes how the early Christian church practiced economic sharing and generosity. Acts 2:44-45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

And Acts 4:32 states, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

Rather than asserting individual property rights, these first believers willingly gave up their possessions to meet each other’s needs. This was motivated by their love for one another and desire for economic equity within the church.

Their radical sharing stood out from the individualism and materialism of the surrounding culture.

While this passage doesn’t mandate communism for all Christians, it does illustrate priorities of economic justice and collective care early in church history. In contrast to selfishness and hoarding, the believers joyfully relinquished their belongings to provide for struggling members of their community.

Their example calls us to generously share our time, talents and treasures with those who have less.


In summary, while the Bible does not directly address capitalism, it provides wisdom that can guide perspectives on private property, labor rights, wealth distribution, and economic justice. Careful study of scriptural principles can help Christians thoughtfully engage with or critique elements of capitalism today.

The Bible upholds private property rights but also responsibilities to those in need. It warns about the corrupting power of wealth but does not forbid it entirely. Biblical texts advocate for fair treatment and payment of workers.

And while teachings on finance shifted over time, the goal remained curbing exploitation. In the end, the Bible calls people of faith to an economy centered on justice, sharing, and human dignity.

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