The Biblical Argument for Social Justice

Tyson asked me to comment on a post on his blog wayfaring stranger (but not lost) entitled The Basis for Social Justice in the Bible. The following is based on my comments there. It also provides some background material for my criticism of the Westminster 2010 Declaration.

It seems to me that Tyson made an indisputable case that God’s people in the Old Testament were expected to practise social justice and care for the poor, and that that was enforced by the Law of Moses. There are clear provisions in that Law requiring all Israelites to make adequate provisions for the poor, for widows and orphans, and for destitute foreigners. And there are clear if sometimes implicit sanctions against those who do not do this.

Tyson also argues from Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The position is perhaps even more clear in Amos and Micah, especially Amos 2:6-7, 5:11-12,24, 8:4-6 and Micah 6:8-16.

But there is a weakness in Tyson’s argument which is clear in his last sentence:

Christians today do not live in a theocracy like the Israelites did when given the law of Moses, but we can apply biblical principles to government in regard to social justice the same way we advocate on behalf of the unborn and to protect families.

Ancient Israel was a theocracy in which divine commands were enforced by the government. But we live, for the most part, in secular states. And it may well be wrong for Christians to expect secular states to enforce on the general population rules intended for the people of God – on social justice issues just as much as on moral ones. If it is not wrong, a careful theological case needs to be made for this – and Tyson omitted this step.

So perhaps the Old Testament is not the place to look for the principles we should apply. At least we should be looking to the books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and parts of Genesis and Exodus, where Israelite believers lived under pagan governments. Or we should be looking at the New Testament where the same applies. In Matthew 23:23 for example we find a clear endorsement of the principle of social justice – but at an individual and community level, not a governmental one.

There is of course a democratic argument that if the majority of the people, or their representatives, are in favour of (for example) social justice, an elected government has the right to impose this. However, we also accept that the government does not have the right to go against certain fundamental human rights even of a minority, and that might include the right to enjoy one’s property without excessive taxation etc. But that is not really a biblical way of arguing.

Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah are perhaps the only biblical believers to hold high government office outside the theocratic state of Israel. So it is valid for us, living outside a theocracy, to look to them as examples on these issues.

Consider for example how Joseph dealt with the famine in Egypt, in Genesis 42 and 47. For seven years he taxed those who had an abundance by taking a share of their grain. And then when the famine came he sold this grain back to the people in exchange for their money, their livestock and their land – thus in effect nationalising these. He then (47:26) imposed a lasting 20% tax on agricultural produce. This sounds remarkably like state imposed socialism to me. And, although this is implicit, it seems to have had God’s blessing.

Now I’m not suggesting that anyone uses this as a biblical argument for something like communism. But it does show how state intervention to provide for the poor is highly biblical, even outside a theocratic state. Therefore it gives a justification and an encouragement for believers like us, Christians with significant influence in democratic societies, to seek to persuade secular states to impose on their countries, and on the world, social justice according to the biblical principles laid out in the Old and New Testaments. So let’s go ahead and do that.

0 thoughts on “The Biblical Argument for Social Justice

  1. Hi Peter,

    I’m glad that you’ve brought this up on your blog so this issue can get a thorough going over. You’re commenters are a pretty astute bunch, in my opinion. I’m interested to see what people have to say.

    For myself, I agree with your final point. Government intervention is biblical, and it’s reasonable for Christians in democratic societies to advocate for government intervention (or non-intervention, if that truly is more helpful as some would believe) on behalf of vulnerable groups.

    Moreover, I believe Christians have a God-given responsibility to stand up for the rights of the oppressed on behalf of their land–they should be at the forefront of those fights, leading the way. To me, that’s what Ezekiel 22:30 is about when God says He’s looking for someone to “stand in the gap.” I’ve heard that often applied to intercessory prayer, but if you read in context, I think it’s more likely refering to those believers who will stand up against injustice in the land and thereby restrain God’s wrath.

    Again, thank you for posting this here. I want this discussion to have more visibility.

  2. Ancient Israel was a theocracy in which divine commands were enforced by the government. But we live, for the most part, in secular states. And it may well be wrong for Christians to expect secular states to enforce on the general population rules intended for the people of God – on social justice issues just as much as on moral ones.

    From the point of view of garnering support from other Christians, there is significantly more bibilical justification for social justice measures than there is for anti-abortion measures.

    Yet, there is a huge amount of popular resistance to the biblical approach, since most Christians are committed to a secular political system that uses non-biblical justification for policies that are explicitly prescribed in the Bible. That is to say, some Christians want certain policies without the Bible, and others want the Bible without certain policies, but neither group wants a biblical theocracy. (I say this as a provocation to both liberal and conservative Christians.) So, really, any talk about a biblical Christian theocracy in America is irrelevant.

    A digression would be to ask whether it matters what Christians expect of secular states. In a secular state which cannot formally establish a state religion and which interprets this as a mandate to acknowledge every religion as valid, the biblical Christian perspective carries no special political authority. No law passed by such a state can possibly be “biblical” or “Christian,” and as long as the democratic process is functional, no one can claim that Christians are enforcing on the general population rules intended for the people of God. The Christian citizen is just another voter whose opinions are weighed statistically by politicians along with everyone else’s. Therefore, the Christian is not individually responsible for the actions or inactions of such a government, except insofar as he wields secular power.

  3. Dave, thank you for your thoughts. Clearly if Christians are to affect the actions of a secular state they need to do that through channels acceptable to that state, such as standing for democratic election or lobbying, and not by using arguments from the Bible which that state cannot accept. But first the Christians need to examine the arguments from the Bible to check whether what they are lobbying or standing for election for is truly Christian, and not just something which they have taken from their presuppositions (whether conservative, liberal or socialist) and “baptised”.

  4. I’m speaking from memory here, w/o looking up any of the references. However, I believe that the OT references to “social justice” deal with (a) the responsibility of individuals (esp. the powerful and wealthy) to not cheat the vulnerable members of society (the poor, widows, etc.), (b) the responsibility of kings to ensure justice for these same groups by dealing with economic cheating (“false scales”), the moving boundary lines, etc., and (c) the instruction for all to give to the poor. All of these instructions are based on the Israelites common brotherhood under the covenant with YHWH, and on faithfulness to show YHWH’s character by their actions.

    What I do not see in Scripture is any command or permission for governmental power to be used to take from the wealthy and forcibly transfer wealth to the poor, nor any idea that poverty can be eliminated by state force.

    Any body disagree?

  5. Barry,

    I think biblical justice precludes preference for the poor, as shown in Exodus 23:3 and Leviticus 19:15.

    In Peter’s example, Joseph actually does not provide for the poor in a post-industrial, idealized, liberal democratic sense. Joseph’s plan comes directly from God, and the purpose is first to save the “land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:36) and secondarily to bless the people of all the earth (Gen. 41:57). After Joseph takes the people’s money, livestock, and land in exchange for food (except for the priests), he eventually makes them all slaves to Pharaoh, at their own request (Gen. 47:19, 25). The result of the people voluntarily selling their land and their freedom is that Joseph is able to resettle them (Gen. 47:21) and impose a perpetual 20% tribute to Pharaoh (Gen. 47:26), along with completely eliminating private ownership of land (except for priests).

    Truly, the example of Joseph reads like a Machiavellian primer for national socialism. (I hesitate to apply the label of “communism”, since that is primarily an ideological bait-and-switch aimed at the gullible 19th/20th century man.) Like a lot of passages in the OT, I see it as an example of God’s acute sense of irony; I can just imagine later Israelites listening to this story and roaring with laughter at how their ancestor took advantage of the Egyptians. This directly parallels Jacob’s relationship with Esau.

    The flip side of that, of course, is that the Hebrews became slaves to the Egyptians; but God faithfully redeemed His people. Hence, Joseph’s government of Egypt is not presented as a template for governing God’s people. Rather, it is an example of how God may lead rulers of pagan states to implement policies that objectively seem quite harsh, yet nevertheless bless them and ultimately fulfill His plan.

  6. Barry and Dave, thanks for your comments.

    Barry, there is more than that to social justice in the OT, at least among the covenant people of Israel. There is also the Jubilee, which was an enforced transfer of wealth from those who had acquired more of it to those who had less. There was also the tithe used to feed the poor. I accept that the OT does not envisage the complete abolition of poverty, but it does envisage it no longer being a problem because the rich were fulfilling their obligation under the law to provide for the poor. And it was certainly the king’s responsibility to enforce the obligations of the law including that one.

    Dave, I accept that there is room for disagreement and argument over how normative Joseph’s government of Egypt might be. But we do see a plan which you admit was from God involving wealth being taken from the wealthy by government power. So it is hard to argue that such policies go against God’s standards. Yes, the wealthy people who were fleeced were pagans. It is of course entirely unnecessary for governments to take anything from rich people who call themselves Christians, because there is no doubt that every one of them joyfully and generously gives more to the poor of their own land and of the whole world than any government would dare to extract by taxing them. See, I have a sense of irony too.

  7. What I do not see in Scripture is any command or permission for governmental power to be used to take from the wealthy and forcibly transfer wealth to the poor, nor any idea that poverty can be eliminated by state force.

    That’s correct – and so it would be wrong to try and paint a program of this sort as redemptive or biblical. That said; a lot of times this argument (along with guidelines in Romans 13) is used in an attempt to frame the alternate policy as Biblical – i.e low taxes ‘justly gathered’ (however you want to define that) and minimal government.

    There are two problems with this; firstly Romans 13 is written in the context of a system where tax was legalised extortion backed by the threat of violence, and yet the injunction to Christians in Rome is still to pay their taxes. The other is that it only works if we assume that Romans 13 is exhaustive in its principles for government (and generally Christians believe that scripture is exhaustive truth only in the areas of salvation, faith and the will of God).

    So it would seem that this should be an area where Christian liberty carries the day.

  8. I think biblical justice precludes preference for the poor, as shown in Exodus 23:3 and Leviticus 19:15.

    Though these verses are basically just stating that justice shouldn’t be bought or sold for any currency. This is somewhat orthogonal to the question of how the poor are to be provided for.

  9. Chris, you clearly didn’t read my comment just before your two, as the Jubilee is exactly what you say is not biblical, at least within the context of Israel. Indeed Romans 13 should not be considered exhaustive – and there is also 1 Timothy 2:2 to consider. But your response on Exodus 23:3 and Leviticus 19:15 is good.

  10. Peter –

    Your comment went in while I was still typing my first comment and so I didn’t see it.

    Chris, you clearly didn’t read my comment just before your two, as the Jubilee is exactly what you say is not biblical

    I wasn’t quite saying that. Let me try and explain. I agree that there are a number of injunctions in the Mosaic Law that involve collective action to help the poor. I’d stop short of describing them as ‘forcible government action” (taking Barry’s words) though. The Jubilee depended on the initial distribution of land in Israel and it would be fairly hard to map to contemporary circumstances. In any case I assume Barry was talking about contemporary programs of redistributive taxation. Such things aren’t ‘Biblical’ in the sense that the Bible doesn’t mandate them as a means to help the poor (neither does it rule them out).

    I think that the Mosaic economy clearly shows that we should be concerned for the plight of the poor and attempt to help them – I think it is a matter of Christian liberty as to how we do this – I think from the Jubilee we can take the principle that all our possessions are on trust from God. What I don’t think we can do is state “All Christians should support higher taxes otherwise they aren’t helping the poor” or “All Christians should support low taxes as to do otherwise is to support godless socialism”.

  11. Chris, I accept that the Jubilee (Leviticus 25) is not a practical specific model for social justice action in today’s world. But this is clearly part of the Law which was to be enforced not only by God (Leviticus 26) but also by the community (compare 24:13-16). This is not just good advice, it is the command of God.

  12. Peter –

    I am not sure what you think I disagree with, or where you disagree with me – could you explain please?

  13. Chris, what I am disagreeing with is

    I’d stop short of describing them as ‘forcible government action” (taking Barry’s words) though.

    I am arguing that the Jubilee was, or was supposed to be, enforced by the government – at least by the community and the king. I would also hold that it is a model in principle for “contemporary programs of redistributive taxation”, although obviously differing from them in detail. That doesn’t make such programs mandatory, but it does give good biblical precedent for them – as does Joseph’s action in Egypt.

  14. Peter,

    I think you are overlooking an essential part of Joseph’s program. I know it isn’t pretty, but there it is. Shall we implement the whole program as approved by God, or only the part of it that appeals to our modern sensibilities?

  15. I would also hold that it is a model in principle for “contemporary programs of redistributive taxation”, although obviously differing from them in detail.

    I’m not sure how it serves as a model beyond what I said already “that all our possessions are on trust from God.”.

    That doesn’t make such programs mandatory, but it does give good biblical precedent for them – as does Joseph’s action in Egypt.

    I don’t think there is a definitive case that the latter is prescriptive, and you may not want to argue that it was given how it practically worked out – as Dave describes above.

    To take it to a personal level; in this country we have a situation where we clearly need to cut spending, and if we are to avoid the consequences falling on the poorest in our society we would need to raise taxes. For me this meant that the principled thing to do was vote for higher taxes even if it would not benefit me personally. However, I could also understand if other Christians voted for a different solution, or decided that some other issue trumped this one. Futhermore, the appropriate level of taxation will differ over place and era – there will be even times – like that of the Roman Empire – when the ‘Jubilee’ equivalent is the product of individual actions not involving the state.

  16. Chris,

    “I think biblical justice precludes preference for the poor, as shown in Exodus 23:3 and Leviticus 19:15.”

    Though these verses are basically just stating that justice shouldn’t be bought or sold for any currency. This is somewhat orthogonal to the question of how the poor are to be provided for.

    Yes, if by ‘currency’ you include ‘moral currency.’ A secular claim is that we have a moral obligation to show preference to the poor, rather than providing for their needs out of our abundance. This is plainly contradicted by the two passages, which would preclude arbitrarily seizing the property of the wealthy and giving it to poor people (the year of Jubilee being a specified exception and not arbitrary).

    Hence, the Bible provides a safeguard against social justice descending into communism, as Barry suggests. The seizure of property must be kept distinct from taxation.

  17. Yes, if by ‘currency’ you include ‘moral currency.’

    I was implicitly including that – but again those verses are nothing more than the demand that justice be blind. [and like you I’d disagree with that secular claim].

  18. Readers of this thread might also be interested in what Clifford Longley has written on Ruth Gledhill’s blog about the Common Good in Roman Catholic social teaching.

    Dave, are you referring to the variant reading (Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint) in Genesis 47:21 that Joseph “reduced the people to servitude” (TNIV text)? The Masoretic Hebrew text has it that he “moved the people into the cities” (TNIV margin). I don’t know which is correct, but this textually dubious reference seems to be the only suggestion that the Egyptians in general, rather than just the foreigners in Egypt like the Israelites (and that was not Joseph’s doing), became slaves. The rest of this passage suggests that the Egyptians became sharecroppers, a very different system from slavery – indeed this was the system which in general replaced slavery in the southern USA.

  19. I would just like to clarify that I am not advocating “arbitrarily seizing the property of the wealthy and giving it to poor people”, and I don’t think anyone on this thread is. I am advocating reasonable taxation on rich people, in proportion to their resources and still allowing them to keep the majority of them (so probably not more than 40%), as decided by a democratic government and as imposed in an equitable way.

    As for justice being blind, oddly enough one of the most popular posts on this blog is popular for its picture of blind justice. This precise concept is a pagan one, as explained in that post, but the general idea that justice should not depend on the person is a biblical one.

  20. I think this is a fascinating and relatively unexplored Christian topic, and one that has profound implications for how Christians weight their political choices.

    I would also add that the most interesting thing about the Jubilee was not just “wealth redistribution” but rather “opportunity redistribution.” I can completely understand a distaste for welfare that leaves people trapped in poverty. What’s more compelling is fixing systemic imbalances that ensure the rich get richer while the poor stay poor. I think the Jubilee keeps away from the former while achieving the latter.

  21. Dave, are you referring to the variant reading (Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint) in Genesis 47:21 that Joseph “reduced the people to servitude” (TNIV text)?

    The Hebrew word in 47:19 and 47:25 is ebed, the same word used throughout Exodus and the rest of the OT for ‘slaves’. Of course, it could also mean ‘servants’, even though George Ricker Berry translates it as ‘slaves’ in his interlinear Hebrew edition of Genesis and Exodus. Also, the context has the people selling their bodies (47:18) and Joseph buying them (47:19, 23).

    The Masoretic Hebrew text has it that he “moved the people into the cities” (TNIV margin).

    This is, indeed, my reading of 47:21, which immediately follows the verse stating that the land became Pharaoh’s. He moved them into the cities because it was more efficient to feed them there from Pharaoh’s granaries, since they could not feed themselves.

    The rest of this passage suggests that the Egyptians became sharecroppers, a very different system from slavery – indeed this was the system which in general replaced slavery in the southern USA.

    The people later returned to Pharaoh’s land to farm it, as indicated by the fact that they bargained for seed and were later required to give 20% of the crop to Pharaoh (47:19, 23). This is indeed sharecropping or serfdom, as regards their relation to the land. The fact is, the people gave up their birthright for food in the short term, and then Pharaoh owned all the land. Perhaps he later sold it back to them or granted it to his favored nobles.

    The comparison to American slavery is irrelevant, since slavery in the ancient world was nothing like American slavery.

  22. Tyson, I agree with you. I am not advocating “welfare that leaves people trapped in poverty”, although sadly there are some people who e.g. for medical or psychological reasons are unable to make good use of their opportunities in our modern society.

    Dave, yes, in 47:19,25 the people offered themselves as slaves of Pharaoh. But this may well have been only conventional language of submission to a monarch – this same word `ebed is commonly used by free Israelites addressing their king. The Egyptians may have accepted that Pharaoh had the right to enslave them, and in some sense Joseph did buy them (47:23), but he didn’t make them slaves but did something very different: he gave them food and then allowed them to plant the land under generous sharecropping terms.

    This is different from serfdom as there is no sign that anyone was forced to remain on the land, nor that there was a requirement to work for an owner other than to produce the crops. A comparison with mediaeval European serfdom is just as irrelevant as one with American slavery.

  23. Barry, thanks for the links. Sorry that your comment went to the spam box to start with – too many links. I have read quickly through Kevin’s material, and it is indeed helpful. Yes, biblical “social justice” is not always quite what modern liberals take it to be, but it does involve fair treatment rather than oppression for the poor.

  24. Dave, I accept that “social justice” is not quite the right word to describe what Joseph did for the poor. But it does seem clear from the context in Genesis that God deliberately set him in that position and led him to do what he did as a way to provide for the poor in Egypt, as well as for Jacob’s family. So I think it is a model, in general principles but not in detail, for how political leaders should deal with poverty in their countries.

  25. Pingback: Justice and Order « Brainbiter

  26. Why is it that many of the same people who preach (with biblical reverance and reference) state sponsored social justice deny prayerful and religeous expression in schools or secular events? Is there a problem with embracing both before God? Perhaps the social justice thing would have more energy with a free and multi-dimensional expression of our love, praise and reverence of God…just thinking.

  27. Good question, Alan. But is it actually the same people? Or is there an uneasy coalition between those Christians who “preach (with biblical reverance and reference) state sponsored social justice” and liberal secularists who “deny prayerful and religeous expression in schools or secular events”?

  28. While I understand the points being made I guess I am a bit put off by the overall tone. Yes, the Jubilee… and do not harvest to the edges….all lovely samples of social justice from the OT. How does that resolve in the daily life of he believer? I realize that this discussion is more about thinking rather than pushing the practical, but when I read comments about “social justice” in the OT and then hear about how Christians should thusly support higher taxes for the rich it just sounds a lot like do-gooderism. No mention of our national debt. No mention of a government that wastes more money than any of us can possibly fathom. My resistance to more taxes has very little to do with not wanting to help the truly poor and more to do with not wanting to send MORE money to a bloated bureaucracy that has NO discipline. Citizens and small business owners are cutting back, yet the government keeps spending more, adding more employees, and complains about spending cuts (which are really reductions in spending increases).
    As I read these comments the thought that came to me was that I rarely have any real interaction with a truly poor person. Paying more taxes is a poor substitute for direct involvement. Yet in all honesty, my personal involvements with truly poor people appeared to do very little other than provide for the immediate need. Although that is most of the point, it is somewhat discouraging.

  29. Al, thank you for your comment (which appeared OK when I saw it, sorry if that wasn’t immediate).

    I am certainly not advocating increased government spending on bureaucracy – although the current high spending in the USA seems to depend largely on programs from the Bush era.

    Direct involvement with the poor is certainly a good thing. But many rich people don’t have the opportunity or time for this involvement. After all, it is their time which enables them not only to earn their own riches but also to manage the companies etc that provide jobs for ordinary Americans. And they don’t live in the same areas as the majority of the poor. That lack of time or access to the poor should never be an excuse for ignoring the poor, as these people can help the poor with their finances.

  30. You had to bring up GW Bush?
    Bush’s last year was 2008. Total Federal Spending grew from $5.3T in 2008 to $6.1T in 2011.

    Government waste is out of control. During the recession businesses laid people off, but the federal government ADDED jobs. Taxes pay for these jobs and the average government job pays MORE than the same job in the marketplace. AND these government workers have Cadillac healthcare plans and Cadillac pension plans….all paid by our taxes.

    When tax payers called for government to lay people off the reply was “we can’t lay people off during the recession; it would only make unemployment worse.” So we are borrowing to pay for jobs so we can keep from laying gov workers off.

    My father was a government worker and his pension and healthcare were unbelievable. Back in the late 50’s when he started his government career it was known that gov jobs paid LESS, but the benefits made up for it. Now gov jobs pay more AND come with Cadillac benefits…all paid by taxes.

    Government waste. It is estimated that contractors bilked the Defense Dept out of over $60B over the last decade. Welfare fraud is reported to be 2-3% which runs about $21B. “Discretionary” spending is right at $20B per year – these are programs like $15M for a Gun Range in Las Vegas. Unemployment benefit fraud, $17B. It is easy to see that at least 10% of federal spending is waste and fraud.

    Social Justice?
    It is immoral to keep squeezing more tax from the citizens with this kind of abuse, fraud and waste.

  31. Al, your figures show a 4.8% annual growth in spending under Obama. Maybe higher than ideal, but not out of control.

    Where did you get your figures from? Looks like it might have been here. From the same source, 2004 spending was $4.1T. From that to $5.3T in 2008 is a 6.6% annual growth rate for the last four Bush years.

    Now I agree that the situation is not good. But which President should get the blame?

  32. The percentage increase in spending, as anyone who must adhere to a budget would know, should depend on the levels on income.

    During the Bush time period our spending as a percentage of GDP was in the mid-30% range. Beginning in 2009 government spending as a percent of GDP went over 40%. As I said in my previous post, growing government in a Recession is bad economics. My household cannot spend more than my income (especially if I lose my job), yours cannot, and our government should not. They only get away with it by borrowing more and printing money which is also not good economics.

    My position is not to blame Bush or Obama. I think you revealed some of your motivations when you brought Bush into the discussion. As you know, a President is bound by his Congress. Bush had a Democratic controlled Congress and yes our spending went up. Bush wanted to fund the war in Iraq/Afghanistan and the Democratic Congress used that to leverage all kinds of ridiculous spending. Obama had a Democratic Congress and spending continued to go crazy.

    But to stay on topic rather than pointing blame, our government wastes billions of dollars…our tax dollars. THAT is immoral. Yes, we should have a safety net for the truly poor, but when we spend way beyond our means, borrowing from China and other nations, we are basically cutting our financial legs out from under us. At some point Welfare will begin to dry up. The poor will be truly poor, third-world poor, if we do not reign in our spending. We need to pay attention to what has happened in EU – that is where we are headed.

    So when I hear well meaning Christians in favor of raising taxes in order to put more people into the bondage of welfare I am distressed.

  33. So, Al, now you are saying it is Congress’s fault, not the President’s. In that case, change Congress, not the President. But that discussion is getting too far from the topic of the post.

    I would not agree that “growing government in a Recession is bad economics”. It is widely recognised that Roosevelt’s New Deal public spending helped to lift the USA out of the Great Depression. Keynesian economics has its problems but it certainly can help to smooth out the destabilising boom/bust economic cycle.

  34. I was not the one who invoked either President first….you did. Other than responding to your references, I refer to “government,” as the culprit. And yes, Congress must always bear much of the blame for spending. They are the branch with the designated task of approving budgets, passing tax laws, and spending. No President can do any of this on his own.

    My beef is with pushing for more taxes by using OT texts. I think ALL Christians agree that “it is better to give than to receive,” and that we “should remember the poor.” But to use these texts to push for our government to tax more so we can expand our already bloated government is poor exegesis. Jesus did not say “it is better to pay your taxes than to receive.” I like to GIVE. Taxes TAKE.

    There are many examples of strange behavior in the OT that were apparently approved of by God in the narrative, but we do not point to these for our guidance. My guess is that many who push the “social justice” OT texts would rightly scoff if a Republican tried used the battle of Jericho to justify or explain our prior involvement in Iraq. Yet military killing is easy to find in the OT.

  35. Peter,
    I would love to leave a comment. I want to make a request of you first. When/If you decide to put my comment on this blog would you please put a smiley face next to my comment, not a monstrous angry face.
    John Gibson
    Maidson, Alabama

  36. Peter, your use of FDR’s program to help the USA get out of the Great Depression is not a good comparison to what we are doing now. FDR’s program was mainly “shovel-ready projects,” not welfare. People actually worked rather than simply getting a handout.
    I am sure you would reject my argument if I were to use our entrance into WWII as rationale for going into Iraq. This is the same kind of comparison you are using with FDR.
    Our current welfare of food stamps, SSI (disability), unemployment benefits (now 99 weeks), college grants, mortgage assistance, Medicaid, Section 8 housing, LIEAP (paying your utility bills), SafeLink (cell phones with minutes provided) and the Free school lunch program is a FAR cry from FDR’s New Deal where people could get a job OR stood in line for a bowl of soup and a piece of bread.

  37. Now that I have the smiley picture of my ugly old face, I will make my comment. Also, I misspelled my hometown. I live in Madison, Alabama.
    I am an evangelical Christian who has happened to have worked in Alabama’s public welfare system (now called Department of Human Resources) for over 30 years. I have worked about 2 years in the AFDC (Aid to Families of Dependent Children), now referred to as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Families). I then worked about 6 years in the Child Support Program. Finally, I worked my last 22 years in full time employment as a supervisor in the Food Stamp Program, now know as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Then last year I was called back to work as a part-time retiree with SNAP here in Madison County, Alabama. I merely interview clients and determine their eligibility for food assistance. I work now on the average of 24 hours per week and interview between 10 and 25 people per week, depending on the number of days I work per week.
    I doubt if anyone else on this BLOG has dealt with as many poor people as much as I have. Obviously, I have talked with and dealt with the case situations of thousands of poor people here in Alabama.
    I know that the percentage of cases that I deal with, that have at least some fraud involved, is closer to 20% than to 3 or 4%. I also know that at least 40% of those single individuals without children and not disabled, who are receiving food assistance benefits for more than a year,
    have no desire, because they show no desire, for working at all. Most of the individuals that I interview are single and without children.
    My point is that at least 40% of single individuals without children (and there are a high percentage of those on food assistance), are exploiting the government welfare system.
    Also, among those single women (my second largest percentage of interviewees) with children over 6 years old, and on food assistance for more than a year, show no desire to go to work. They, likewise, are exploiting the governmental welfare system.
    We are issuing a record amount of food assistance in dollars with a record number of households and individuals in Madison County today. Also, those numbers increased greatly under these last 2 presidential administrations. The last presidential administration that the food assistance roles decreased was under the Clinton administration through the welfare reform act of 1996.
    I only have one other thing to add to this BLOG. The welfare “systems” in the Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) were to be totally voluntary. There was no governmental tax for welfare under the law of Moses. Even when monies were raised to build the temple under Solomon, it was all voluntary.
    In the New Testament, it was stressed in Romans 13 and in I Peter 2:13-17 to be obedient to governmental authorities. It is never commanded in either testament for the needs of the poor to be met by the government. If no one else does, maybe it is a good thing. But from a Christian point of view, we should give liberally to the poor, II Corinthians 9:6 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
    In conclusion to my epistle (and I apologize for its length), governmental welfare, like most if not all governmental programs (I also spent 4 years in the Air Force in my youth), is inefficient and easily exploited. Personal giving to private agencies (like most private enterprise) is much more efficient and is not as easily exploited. It is also much more personal and effective. It is not my duty to tell Donald Trump (I just chose him randomly) or any other individual that he or she should be giving to the poor through his or her taxes. It is my duty to give generously to the poor myself.
    John Gibson
    Madison, Alabama

  38. John, the monstrous angry faces are generated by the system and are not used for those who have avatars set up, as you have. But I agree in not liking those faces, so I have just changed to another setting.

    I will reply separately to your new comment.

  39. Al, perhaps the country, indeed many countries, should be investing in more “shovel-ready projects” to get people off welfare. They may start off looking more expensive but they also generate jobs down the line, and bring long term prosperity to areas where the infrastructure has been improved. But this is getting well off topic.

  40. John, thank you for sharing out of your long experience. I am not surprised at the figures you give. But they imply that 60% of those who claim welfare are in genuine need, and have tried to find work but are unable to do so. Should their needs be ignored because of abuse of the system by a minority, albeit a large one?

    One answer to this is to tighten up on procedures to weed out those who don’t make genuine efforts to find work. That is what they are doing in the UK. But actually it doesn’t help much, except to increase bureaucracy, if the jobs aren’t there in the first place. The only real way to solve the problem is to generate more jobs, in one way or another.

    I disagree with your point that “There was no governmental tax for welfare under the law of Moses.” Payment of tithes was mandatory in Old Testament Israel and was enforced by authorities which cannot be separated from the government. Part of this tithe money was distributed to the poor according to their needs. I could find chapter and verse but don’t want to waste my independence day looking for them.

  41. There are many Americans like me who would be far more supportive of raising taxes IF we saw our government cutting back on spending. I think there are many who would be more supportive if we had a work for welfare system – our poor NEED to work. I think it would be better if the poor worked 20 hours per week on some kind of standard government job to receive $1600/month. Twenty bucks an hour. This would give the poor dignity AND cut down on fraud. If you are not willing to work, then you get FAR less support. Obviously those who are truly disabled would be exempt, but I am tired of people collecting disability, then working some job off the books because they are NOT really disabled. Tired of summer job workers collecting unemployment 7 months per year, every year and only working during the summer months.
    I will say it again: it is immoral to ask hard-working Americans to pay more taxes when billions are being wasted, fraudulently received and handed out like cell phone candy. The truly poor need help, but what we are doing now is not helping them. Our Congress is like a drug addict and taxes are the drug.

  42. Al, perhaps that makes more sense. I agree that taxes collected and wasted are immoral. The only problem with your idea would be people quitting their $8/hr proper jobs so they can earn $20/hr on the scheme you suggest!

  43. Yes, Peter. You are exactly correct and that is the problem we face with welfare and helping the poor – our culture has lost the integrity factor that existed when FDR implemented the New Deal. Back 60-80 years ago Americans (in general) were too proud to accept a handout, had the integrity to want to work rather than “game” the system. But you have just illustrated why people like me are opposed to raising taxes for more “social justice:” there is too much cheating to honestly call it “justice.” Like John said in a post earlier:
    “Personal giving to private agencies (like most private enterprise) is much more efficient and is not as easily exploited. It is also much more personal and effective.”
    Our system is broken. Dumping more money into a broken system is folly.

  44. Peter,
    Regarding your reply to my comment, now that it is July 5th, 2 things:
    1. Please give me chapter and verses where a portion of the tithe in the Hebrew Bible went to the poor.
    2. What was the governmental punishment to those who did not give their tithe? Please give chapter and verses for that also.
    John Gibson
    Madison, Alabama

  45. 1. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12, the parts about the fatherless and the widows – who were the main category of the poor. And there’s the part of this verse about foreigners, which doesn’t say anything about expelling them or denying them the right to earn a living or to receive charity.

    2. I accept that there is no explicit punishment listed for refusing to pay one’s tithe. They are certainly to be included among those who are cursed by God, Deuteronomy 27:26. But punishments are not the point. Payment of tithes was commanded by God, and so cannot be considered voluntary.

  46. 1. Tithing was commanded in the OT just like the 10th commandment not to covet. But there was no penalty given by the government if you were to covet or not tithe. Therefore, from a human government point of view, it is voluntary.
    2. The government under the Torah and prior to the monarchy was a theocracy. Ours is a secular democratic republic. If you absolutely refuse to pay taxes (wherein some of it goes to public welfare) you will be punished severely to the point of a stiff prison sentence.
    3. Is it for anyone else to say that Donald Trump should pay taxes that go to public welfare or go to prison?
    4. As Evangelical Christians we know that God will punish us in this life and/or the life to come if we disobey many of the New Testament teachings. For example, if I were to blatantly treat an innocent individual with contempt and disregard, I will ultimately be punished by God. But committing such a sin, is not punishable by our government in any way. It is completely voluntary for me to treat others with consideration and compassion, like giving to the poor.
    5. Even if the tithe money that went to feed the aliens, fatherless, and widows had a governmental punishment, it is somewhat less than the 20% or so that I am paying income tax (not to mention my 10% tithe that I give to my local church).
    6. The tithe money under Mosaic law was just to “feed” those in need, not to provide section 8 housing with A/C for the summer heat, free cell phones, LIEAP for free utilities, etc.
    7. The only members of society that received this free food in Deuteronomy 14 were the aliens, fatherless, and widow. They were the most vulnerable people in that society. Welfare today goes to (I know, I see it every day at work) anyone in society, including the healthy young men and women that are physically and mentally fit, along with anyone else, who just want to be able loaf day and night, besides procreating.

    No Peter, feeding the poor with the tithes in the law of Moses is nothing like modern public welfare.

  47. John, it would be instructive to see what the penalties are in the Law of Moses for breaking the other nine of the Ten Commandments. I think you will find it was death for each one of them, at least under certain conditions, except stealing for which it was restitution with an extra. The tenth commandment is an exception only because it is uniquely about inward thoughts. But tithing it not an exception in this way.

    Yes, there is a big difference theologically and practically between an ancient theocracy and a modern republic. In the latter, the people have democratically decided to give their representatives the right to raise taxes and to use them as they see fit, within certain constitutional limits. If you don’t like their decisions, vote them out of office, rather than trying to spin theological arguments.

  48. Wait a minute! I came to your site because you were “spinning” theological arguments using the biblical text. When I attempted to interact with you about the need for “individual” efforts rather than using a corporate tax methodology (and using the OT to somehow support it) you brought up GW Bush.
    It appears to me that you are a Christian, have a politically liberal inclination, and like to use the biblical text to bolster your liberal position when it suits. As I said in an earlier post, using the same methodology I can support many political positions that you would probably really disagree with. After the monarchy is established Israel REALLY begins to use taxes, not tithes….to support the government and mainly the military! My point? While I understand the concepts, I think your methodology is flawed. You have a right to your position, but I do not see why you strain with using the OT text – just say that you want more taxes and more welfare for the poor.

  49. Al, I regret (although I am partly to blame) that this thread was diverted from its original topic of general biblical principles to one of public policy in a particular country. The latter cannot be decided from the Bible as that country is not a theocracy, but only by the will of the people as that country is a democracy. Anyway I don’t see any biblical prescriptions for or against massive bureaucracy and providing welfare for those unwilling to work, so such matters can be left to the politicians and the voters.

  50. Peter,

    It is great to see that you are continuing this discussion. I still have an open mind on the subject, waiting to read the rest of Tyson’s book. I am libertarian enough to consider Republicans disgustingly left-wing on most points, but I just never made enough money to be dogmatically libertarian on this issue. As long as no one ever approves SSI for my worthless brother-in-law, I think that the US welfare programs are humiliating enough that I wouldn’t complain about their inefficiencies.


  51. It is amazing to me how people are so willing to twist data in order to prove their already established position. The article you cited is skewed in so many ways. Let me give just a few examples.

    First, this graph is the “annualized growth” of spending. After 2009 of record spending it is easy to have a low “growth” in spending. I referenced this in an earlier post when I said that liberals like to call reductions in growth “spending cuts.” If my budget is to spend $100 per week at the grocery store and I have a 5% built-in COLA every year, then my weekly grocery budget is supposed to be increased to $105 per week. If we then decide to only allow a 3% COLA INCREASE, you cannot in good faith call it a spending “cut.” It is a reduction in the increased budget. Yet this is the language our fine Congress people use all the time.

    “Ungar cites the claims of a liberal reporter, MarketWatch’s Rex Nutting….Nutting doesn’t start the clock on Obama’s spending until fiscal 2010….The Democratic Congress (of Bush’s final year), confident Obama was going to win in 2008, passed only three of fiscal 2009′s 12 appropriations bills… The Democrat Congress passed the rest of them, and Obama signed them.”
    [Hans Bader,

    You cannot pin the final spending of 2009 on Bush. Most of the blame lays with the Democrat Congress.

    Another point: Obama needed to hold back on spending in the run up to the 2010 midterm election and AFTER 2010 the newly elected Republican House of Reps kept spending down. But the Dem Pres Obama coupled with a Dem Congress spent like crazy in 2009.

    You should read “Has Government Grown Since the Recession Started?”

    But now I will speak critically about my favorite President in my lifetime (I am 53 yrs old), GW Bush. Yes, he is my favorite President during my lifetime …and I loved Reagan. Growing the TSA under Bush made me angry – we spent far too much money on the TSA which continues to be a joke. There are several other things GW did that angered me, but he gave in far too much to the Democrats so he could get his military spending passed.

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