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Was Jesus a Socialist?

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Lucas Miles

As the United States and the Western world continue to spiral deeper and deeper into socialistic ideals and communistic thinking, it’s no surprise that this mindset has also crept into the church.  It seems as if many Christians today have replaced the gospel with demands for social justice, and exchanged Biblical truths for political correctness.

This new breed of quasi-Christianity manifests itself through anti-establishment thinking, extreme Calvinistic theology, and Christian Universalism; all of which promote collectivism and downplay personal responsibility.  But is this type of socialist dogma really what Jesus introduced to the world through his life and teachings?

In order to discuss Jesus’ viewpoints on money and economics, it’s important to start by dispelling the popular myth that Jesus was poor.

According to Luke 8:3 the Bible reveals that Jesus had several prominent women helping to support him and his disciples to carry out the work of his ministry.  Furthermore, according to John 13:29, it appears that Jesus had enough finances coming into his ministry that it necessitated he appoint one of his disciples, Judas, to act as the secretary of the group’s treasury.

Homeless hippies have little need for an accountant, but Jesus’s ministry flourished to such a degree that Judas would regularly oversee the renting of rooms, the purchasing of supplies, making arrangements for the disciples’ travels, and overseeing other expenditures related to Jesus’ ministry.

And apparently, Jesus must have been a good employer. Had Judas not been accustomed to receiving such a substantial wage from his day job, I suggest it probably would have taken much less money to bribe him into betraying Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Judas was given 30 silver coins by the Chief Priest himself to divulge Jesus’ whereabouts so that he could be taken into custody.  Although in today’s economy this may seem like an insignificant amount of money, some scholars estimate that 30 silver tetradrachmas would be worth about six months of a worker’s wage.

In addition to the support Jesus received by women such as Joanna (the wife of Herod’s chief administrator), Martha, and Mary, some scholars speculate that Jesus’ ministry may have been funded from the original gifts given to him and his family by the Magi.

As most will recall, scripture reveals that shortly after his birth, Jesus was showered with lavish gifts from men from the East who came to honor him.  Although western tradition states that there were only three “wise men” with small amounts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, scripture never defines the number of men, nor the number of their gifts.

It is much more probable that there was a significant number of these Magi (the Eastern tradition favors twelve) hauling a full caravan of gifts and supplies since their entrance into the city drew the attention of the king (Matthew 2:3-4).

It’s not only likely that these gifts were enough to help Jesus and his parents escape in the night and find safe passage to Egypt but also were enough for them to hide out there until the king was dead. The gifts the Magi provided were perhaps even sizeable enough to care for the entire family not only for the first several years while they lived in Egypt, but potentially throughout Jesus’ entire life.

This expanded view of Jesus’ financial situation also provides more context to Jesus’ question to Philip in John 6.  Prior to performing the miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus first asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

Although we learn that Jesus was only testing Philip with this question, the fact that Philip took the question seriously, demonstrates the possibility that Jesus may have had enough resources to provide such a meal to the multitudes and Philip knew it.

Did Jesus Subscribe to Social Ownership?

“Jesus was a socialist,” spouted one millennial I spoke to recently. Touting socialism as a fairer and more equitable approach to governing a society, many Christians claim that the teachings of Jesus act as an ancient manifesto which supports its ideals. It’s not uncommon to hear young Christians today describe Jesus as if he was a poor, homeless hippy; a man ‘against the system’ and ‘for the people’!

LightWorkers Jesus Ethnicity Jesus statue

In fact, the newly popular NYC Congressional seat nominee and self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to her Catholic faith and the New Testament book of Matthew earlier this year when supporting her ideas on socialism to The Jesuit Review.  In it, she stated, “We are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.”

It’s as if Ocasio-Cortez took her talking points straight from Mikhail Gorbachev himself.  Gorbachev, an early proponent of the ‘Jesus-was-a-socialist’ belief, was quoted in an article written in The London Daily Telegraph in 1992 stating, “Jesus was the first socialist—the first to seek a better life for mankind.”

While it’s en vogue to discuss Jesus’ teachings on money as being synonymous with socialism, his teachings make it clear that he favored individual ownership and individual stewardship rather than collectivism.

This why Jesus emphasized personal responsibility with statements such as, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” (Mark 12:17); or “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,” (Luke 16:10); and “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 13:12).

Despite these statements being in contrast to today’s progressive ideology, it’s clear that personal stewardship and personal generosity were at the core of Jesus’ viewpoint on money.

Socialistic-Christians and progressives would do well to realize that having compassion for the needy, isn’t the same thing as socialism. Ocasio-Cortez and others will need more than out of context Bible passages to convince hard-core conservatives that socialism is God’s plan.

Is Socialism “Practical Christianity”?

Bertell Ollman, Professor of Marxist theory at NYU, once defined socialism as “practical Christianity” in a piece he wrote in 1965 for the People’s National Party of Jamaica. But does socialism truly share the same tenets as other mainstream Christian doctrines and biblical teachings?  Is socialism truly “practical Christianity,’ as described by Ollman?

In socialism, via the collective ownership of goods, wealth is redistributed among the masses by the State, rather than being accumulated or curated by the individual.

This type of ‘social ownership’ was perhaps best described by Barack Obama in his now infamous statement to “Joe the Plumber” during the 2008 campaign – “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

It’s common for progressives to mince this state-sponsored redistribution of wealth with acts undertaken by the early church in an effort to gain support for its movement from among Christians.

Gregory Paul, writing for The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, described the behavior of the early church in Acts 2-5 as, “outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx—who likely got the general idea from the Gospels.”

Mr. Paul, like many other progressivist readers of scripture, suggests that Acts 2:42 introduces a biblical precedent for socialism. Although the Bible tells us that those in the early church “sold their property and possessions and gave to anyone who had a need,” what was actually happening in the life of the fledgling Jerusalem church community is that the believers simply overflowed with such personal gratitude for what Jesus had done, they began to value one another by becoming generous with their personal possessions.

Socialism, by contrast, demands “generosity” through coercion by the State. The early church’s spirit of community, however, was completely voluntary and self-imposed. Additionally, their generosity and communal type living had nothing at all to do with the State, nor did it apply to those outside of their community. On the contrary, they shared only with those who were a part of their own fellowship – free from State regulations and obligations.

Yet in hindsight, as beautiful as the early church’s sharing with one another was, the type of Christian community described in Acts was eventually phased out after Jerusalem experienced a severe famine, which caused these early believers to fall into financial despair (see Acts 11:29-30 and Galatians 2:10).

Unprepared for the pending economic crisis in Jerusalem, the young, zealous church sank into deep poverty, which forced Paul to spend nearly 10 years of his ministry simply raising funds to help bail out the believers in Judea, in what has become known as The Jerusalem Collection. What began with an idealistic attempt at Christian community, ended in financial hardship, poverty, and despair, in spite of all the believers’ good intentions.

Conclusion

Both Jesus and Paul, along with other major historical Christian thought leaders, never supported socialistic ideologies, rather they elevated the importance of personal responsibility.

Pope Pius XI, for example, wrote in Quadragesimo Anno, “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms…[N]o one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

While I agree that our society needs to continually explore ways to assist the poor, hungry, naked, and imprisoned, the solution to these societal ills will never be found in rules and State coercion.

From a Biblical point of view, the success of the individual was never the responsibility of the government, the collective, or even the church, rather it was always based upon one’s personal responsibility, obedience to God’s path in one’s life, and avoiding the pitfalls and follies of the foolish.

If one is going to make a claim for the benefits of socialism in a modern society, he will need to find another source other than the Bible to support this claim.  Any serious student of scripture knows that the ideals of socialism, even democratic socialism, could not be further from the teachings of Jesus.


Lucas Miles is the host of The Lucas Miles Show, available on Faithwire.com, iTunes, and Stitcher Radio, as well as the author of “Good God: The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace.”

Follow him on Twitter @lucasmiles or on IG @mrlucasmiles.