“Biblical” monetary policy

In my New Testament class we are in the midst of going through the gospels. As a result, I assign my students the task of reading each gospel in its entirety in one sitting before we begin covering it in class. This is a beneficial exercise because it helps us get past those pesky chapter and verse divisions that were not original and allows us to get a better sense of a gospel as a whole. In doing this again myself I was struck by two verses in Luke that appear to be directly contradictory.

. . . to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away (Luke 8.18)

My first thought was, why don’t the Republicans run on this verse since it does a decent job of summing up their economic philosophy. It’s election season, what can I say? This is, of course, in jest. I do know that Republicans are not advocating the message of this verse precisely, though as far as crude comparisons go “to those who have, more will be given” does seem to sum up quite well the”trickle down economics” through tax cuts for the rich that Democrats have been accusing Republicans of. In my view, a Republican could fully appropriate this verse into her monetary policy and say that their monetary policy is “biblical.” But then we come to Luke 12.48:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

This is a verse that I have heard more than a few “liberal” political analysts invoke as a rebuke to Republican monetary policy and in favor of asking the richest among us to pay a little more. Just as a Republican would not be lying when claiming Luke 8.18 as a “biblical” basis for monetary policy, so too would a Democrat be telling the truth when claiming Luke 12.48 as the basis for their monetary policy.

So, who is right? Who has the “biblical” monetary policy?

I imagine that if we were to each answer this question that we would find a way to justify the opinions we already hold about monetary policy and our beliefs about what the Bible says about monetary policy would hardly be challenged. But at the end of the day, both the Republican and the Democrat in my hypothetical situation are correct. They are both citing a Bible verse, so doesn’t that make their policies “biblical”?

This is just one example of why I think it is more than a little problematic when politicians and/or ministers begin talking about some policy as “biblical” or “non-biblical.” We are all quite adept at cherry picking the verses that support our cause and conveniently leaving out those that don’t (think of the fight to define “biblical marriage” in a way that leaves out polygamy, levirate marriages, a soldier taking a prisoner of war as his wife, and the command that a virgin who is raped must marry her rapist).

I think that Christians should be active in our political system, but I think that we should be more careful about adding the qualifier “biblical” to every policy we support and can find a proof text for and we should be more careful about attaching the qualifier “non-biblical” to every policy we oppose and that doesn’t fit neatly in our version of Christianity. So, make an informed and passionate argument for the monetary policy you support, but don’t label it as “biblical” simply because you found one verse that appears to agree with your position. And to slightly alter a favorite saying of a theology professor of mine in divinity school: one verse does not a policy make.

Thomas Whitley

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Thomas Whitley holds a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity from Gardner-Webb University. He is currently working on a PhD in Religions of Western Antiquity at Florida State University. He regularly writes on religion, technology, and politics at thomaswhitley.com.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/davidalanskelton David A. Skelton

    These are all good points, but I fear that you’re setting up a no-win scenario where any sort of theological reflection falls apart if one finds a single biblical verse that contradicts it. When we do theology we all have controlling metaphors or particular lenses that have us prioritize some verses over others. Of course, this is not new to theologians as the Bible itself does this (e. g. Deuteronomy). I just don’t want to get rid of attempting to let certain voices in Scripture speak to something in our own time period, even though I know this is a very subjective process

  • Jonathan

    Wow…where to start…

    1. “Monetary Policy” refers to how the government controls the money supply in a given nation (think Federal Reserve in the US), not how the earnings of its citizens are taxed and/or redistributed. The term you’re looking for is “Fiscal Policy”…that book keeping aside:

    2. Supply Side Economics. Whitley: “as far as crude comparisons go “to those who have, more will be given” does seem to sum up quite well the “trickle down economics” through tax cuts for the rich that Democrats have been accusing Republicans of.”

    I’d be interested in how the professor go to the “does seem to sum up quite well” argument here regarding what is commonly called, “Supply Side Economics”…especially when income tax rates have always been higher on the wealthiest of us. Over the past 30 years, everyone’s tax rates have been reduced such that now we have incredibly large % of US adults who pay no income taxes at all. I get why you started with this (red meat to the majority of folks who subscribe to the ABP feed and all that) but you’re a leader/teacher of men and women…you have a responsibility to educate and to set an example of intellectual due diligence. Leave the partisan hackery to experts like Miguel De La Torre. :)

    3. Reading these verses in context, did you really see that the text was describing “fiscal policy” or were you just trying to be clever in an election year? Quick, anyone: what is the possession being had, given more of, being taken away in Luke 8:16-18? The reason I bring that up is that the appropriate response to someone who is taking passages like these as proof texts for a specific political agenda is to gently correct the one in error by attempting to explain the context of the verse. I want to assume that this is where you quickly go in your coursework.

  • Mac

    Both of these verses reflect the same idea, and neither is about economics or tax policy (though that is the analogy). They mean God will evaluate what we do with those things entrusted to us. Those that do the most with what God gives, will receive more. Those who receive much are held to a higher standard of personal responsibility because they are capable of more. In both cases, the judgment is God’s, man cannot even begin to agree on the standard by which we can decide who has done the most. God has perfect knowledge even of our motivations, without that our judgment is not likely to be reliable.

  • youkiddingme

    Wow. I’m glad I didn’t have you as a professor of religion. You seem to be missing a fundamental skill in reading Scripture, seeing the context. The context of this passage is not about money at all, it is about how we listen to the Word of God. He who listens correctly by not only hearing the word but also retaining it and applying it will be give more understanding. He who listens in a way that only hears but doesn’t apply will lose even the understanding he has been given. The principle being “use it or lose it”.

  • Roland

    Giving comes from the heart. If you want giving that honors God, don’t do it only because a human government forces you to. That’s not compassion or charity. True charity comes of one’s own volition. To order taxes over large swaths of a secular society is an entirely godless operation – call it as it is, please. If you’re concerned about the poor, do something about it, don’t tell others to do it.