Does God Authorize the State to Redistribute Wealth? Wayne Grudem Answers

by Jared Moore on February 1, 2013 · 39 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

At the recent Evangelical Theological Society conference in November 2012, Wayne Grudem presented a paper discussing the Biblical limits of government.  I’ve provided a brief summary of his paper below, followed by some personal application.

“God Does Not Require or Even Authorize the State to Redistribute Wealth

(Except for a Welfare Safety Net)”

Wayne Grudem

Summary of Main Points

The power of government is great and therefore exceptionally dangerous. What does God authorize government to do with its great power? God authorizes the government to punish evil (Rom. 13:4), tax (Rom. 13:6), encourage good, and promote order (see Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; Proverbs 11:11, 16:11). Government is necessary because anarchy is a highly destructive evil (Judges 18-25).

This brings us to the question if government should provide a safety net for basic needs (food, clothing, shelter). Grudem believes they should for these reasons: 1) This is doing “good” for the poor in society (Rom. 13). 2) This is consistent with Old Testament requirements for just rulers (Ps. 82:2-4; Dan. 4:27). 3) In the United States, this is consistent with our founding purposes.  Our Preamble speaks of “promoting general Welfare.”

But there does not seem to be any justification in Scripture for governments seeking to attempt to equalize income or property between rich and poor, or to take from all the rich. I do not think biblical terms for “justice” indicate such responsibility. Property in the Bible belongs by default to individual persons, not to society or the government (Lev. 25:10; Ex. 20:15, 17; Deut. 19:14). Does “justice” require more even distribution of wealth? Justice in Scripture is judgments carried out in conformity with the established moral standard (law of God), preventing crime, and enforcing contracts.

Application

I try to stay out of political issues as much as possible from a pastoral perspective, but Grudem has really challenged me to think more on the pastor’s responsibility to help Christians think through the limits of government. Based on Grudem’s observations, I have more to think about and convey the next time I discuss government from the pulpit. Furthermore, as a Christian I have a better grasp concerning why redistributing someone else’s wealth is beyond God’s scriptural description of government and is blatantly unjust. Therefore, when I vote in the future, the candidate’s definition of government will affect my vote in a greater way than before.

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

1 Bennett Willis February 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm

How/when does “redistribution of wealth” begin and “doing good” end?

2 Clark Dunlap February 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I would think we would start with basic necessities such as food and protection from the elements. In a “bare bones” kind of way. Then as a society, if we want to sweeten the pot a little we can, but not with the vote of those being provided for. Which is hard to do with our politics.

3 Christiane February 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Moral considerations for some Christians include:

” 1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.”

4 Jess Alford February 2, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Wayne Grudem sure has a nice big smile. He looks like he has just finished a large plate of possum and sweet taters. Yum, Yum.

5 Jess Alford February 1, 2013 at 6:10 pm

(equalizing income and property between the rich and poor). I’ll be honest here, I don’t know where this is happening. Someone needs to clue me in on this issue. I don’t know of any case where a rich persons property has been taken and given away to the poor. Maybe I’m not understanding the point.

6 John Wylie February 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Jess when the government increases taxes on one segment of society and the gives those proceeds to another segment of soceity via welfare that is the wealth redistribution.

7 Frank L. February 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm

“”I don’t know of any case where a rich persons property has been taken and given away to the poor. “”

It is simply “taxing the rich” to give to the poor. I don’t see how you don’t get it.

Obama defined it for you before you voted for him. He is the one that spoke about “redistributing wealth.” He is also from a long family line of communists.

That’s the point you are not getting.

There is a big difference between collecting taxes for the common good — roads, infrastructure, etc. — and collecting taxes from those who are working to give to those who don’t want to work. That’s when taxation becomes “redistribution.”

8 Jess Alford February 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Frank L,

Sir , I’m so sorry that you are rich and having to pay more taxes. I’m not rich, neither am I middle class. Matter of fact, I don’t even have any class. I pay taxes too and don’t even have any loop holes to
jump through.

I don’t remember when welfare started but I do know it was a long time before Obama.

Are we going to talk politics, or taking from the rich and giving to the poor.If we are going to talk politics I am ready. If taking from the rich
to give to the poor I don’t know of a single case where that has happened. I do know the middle class carries the load, to pay for all these unGodly programs, and it is felt in their pocket books. The rich may pay the largest percent in taxes but it is not felt in their pocket books.

I would rather talk wastful spending and paying taxes.

9 David Rogers February 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Jared,

I have listened some of Grudem’s lectures to his Sunday School class in Arizona on politics, though I have not listened to the particular lecture you reference, nor read his book on Politics. One thing I don’t remember him addressing, though, is the following (not saying he didn’t address it; I just don’t remember for sure);

Should we expect Scripture to define in detail for us the prerogatives and limitations of human government? Why or why not?

I see a certain parallel here with the regulative and normative principle of worship. The regulative principle being: only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example or which can be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture are permissible in worship, and that whatever is not commanded or cannot be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture is prohibited. And the normative principle: worship in the Church can include those elements that are not prohibited by Scripture.

So, is Grudem advocating a regulative principle-type approach to the role of government? or does he leave room for a normative principle-type approach?

As I see it, the approach of Scripture toward OT theocratic Israel was more in the regulative principle mode, while the approach of Scripture toward other government, outside of OT theocratic Israel, is more in the normative principle mode.

To bring the OT theocratic mode and try to apply it to our governments today is to commit the error of the theonomists.

10 Jess Alford February 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm

David Rogers,

These are great questions. I can’t wait to see the answers.
Sometimes I feel like a NT Christian living under OT rule.

11 David Rogers February 2, 2013 at 12:50 am
12 Jess Alford February 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm

David Rogers,
Outstanding, I’m going to read alot more of your writings, I feel embarrassed I haven’t already. Thank you.

13 Bruce H. February 1, 2013 at 7:47 pm

I think it is the churches responsibility to help the poor. There is a reason they are poor and spiritual discernment can identify whether they are lazy, under God’s discipline or incapable of providing the higher level of work to cover their bills and sustain a means of living. If they are lazy they should not eat. If they are under God’s discipline we should sustain but disciple and encourage repentance. The government is doing the Christian thing the wrong way and they need to stay out of it.

It is God who gives the power to get wealth. If you do not give to the poor you are responsible to God, not the government. Sad that the government waste our opportunity to be blessed of God by taking our money and wasting it through their programs. No one benefits.

14 Alan Cross February 1, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I think that a “just” society is one that doesn’t have unfair barriers in place to a person working hard so that he/she can provide life’s necessities for himself and his family.

If a person has food, clothing, and shelter and has the open ability to work to provide that for himself and those in his care, then we have a just society.

When opportunity for such things is open for all, then we have a just society.

When the education needed for a person to be able to provide for his needs and the needs of his family is available to all, then we have a just society.

When the rule of law is equally applied to all, then we have a just society.

But, a just society does not require that everyone gets whatever they want without having to work for it.

It also does not mean that poor choices are rewarded by a “safety net.” Then, the proper incentive of “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” is removed.

The incentive for a young person to get an education is removed and the maturing that is to take place in adolescence does not happen because the young person has no fear that he/she will starve to death if they don’t take full advantage of the education provided.

We have a society where a large number of people thinks that everything will turn out alright without them having to work hard and apply themselves.

Then, we have a situation where those who HAVE worked hard are taxed at up to 50% of their income (federal, state, and local taxes) to provide for the “common good.” It seems like that involves the taking of property.

So, it appears that there is “injustice” occurring at this point, but not because we have the poor with us, but because the safety net is so large that it removes the necessary incentive to work and create and build that has caused people to maximize their potential for generations in this country.

I am all for a legitimate safety net. I do not want to see the disabled dying in the streets. I don’t want to see children working in factories or sweat shops because they have nothing to eat. I don’t want to see people denied medical care that could save their lives if they had access to it. I don’t want to see a child denied a proper education because their family is poor or because they come from a bad neighborhood. I also don’t want to see a hardworking mother/father who has kids lose everything because they get laid off because their company that they have worked really hard for decides they can increase profits if they move their operation overseas.

So, there is a balance to all of this. A safety net of some kind is needed lest millions of people fall into utter ruin. The problem is, how does one discern which situation is which? We have not successfully figured that out yet, it seems so we just tax and pay for everything. Unfortunately, there are people who game the system and generational dependency develops. But, the alternative of having no safety net is not right either.

We need a better way. Welfare Reform in the mid 90′s was an attempt at that, but that has been worked around and dismantled for various reasons, few of them good, I think.

15 Jess Alford February 1, 2013 at 10:43 pm

The Bible does teach redistribution of wealth.

Proverbs, 29:14. The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne
shall be established forever.

Proverbs, 21:13. Whoso stoppeth his ears to the cry of the poor, he also
shall cry himself, and shall not be heard.

It’s our responsibility to care for the poor, if this was left up to the church the poor would starve and freeze to death. This is why we have a tax system.

I also recognize there are terrible flaws in the way we give to the poor.
For instance, the credit card or whatever it’s called that the poor buy food with. I didn’t know that the card could be used on many other things besides food.
Now get this, after they use up their card on everything besides food
they then go to the food lines and get their food.

My son was driving through our little town about two weeks ago and saw a van with a sign on the side of it that said government assisted cell phones. The goverment gives and pays for cellphones for the poor.
I ask you when did this become a necessity. Now there is a program that helps the poor with internet service.

Welfare needs to be retooled in the worst of ways. I’m not against helping the poor, I believe that is what God expects from us. Wastful spending is another ballgame. This has been going on for many years and it’s getting worse.

16 Nate February 2, 2013 at 12:28 am

Jess,

You better go read history. Why do you think the overwhelming majority of hospitals are named St. this, Baptist that, Methodist this, etc. And orphanages were mainly run the churches, not the state. The U.S. government certainly didn’t name the hospitals and orphanages these names.

That is, until the state got their greedy and wanted to control every aspect of society, which has been for the worst. Plus, they taxed Americans into the ground and then regulated everything in order to control everything.

17 Jess Alford February 2, 2013 at 11:35 am

Nate,

I’ve read enough history to know hospitals that are named Saint or Baptist have no affiliation with any churches. And, and, and, unless the state intervened in the operation and support of these organizations
they would have to close the doors. Example, the KBC, Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, Now, the Sunrise Children Homes, operate largely on donations of business. The churches isn’t even supporting the CP like it should. Missionaries are suffering because of
lack of giving.

18 John Fariss February 2, 2013 at 11:56 am

Jess is right, Nate, at least in our Baptist world. Baptist hospitals were indeed started by various Baptist state conventions, but in the states where I have lived that have them (Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia), the ony support they receive from Baptists conventions now is for their chaplaincy programs. I suspect the same is true for the Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., but have not checked into those.

John

19 Nate February 2, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Jess,

I’m not disagreeing with you about the current state of affairs of these hospitals and orphanages, but you are wrong if you think the govt started those hospitals and named them St. or Baptist.. And, I’m not sure you can prove that the hospitals would have had to close without govt. support. My argument is that govt. intrusion, regulation, and taxation was and is the reason that churches are not leading in this area any longer.

Govt. intrusion and taxation lessens the amount of money that people can give.

20 Jess Alford February 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Nate, I’m not saying the hospitals would close without state intervention, It certainly looked like I said it after I went back and read what I had written. Many organizations would close without state intervention.

Many Hospitals started out being church affiliated but not so anymore.

21 dr. james willingham February 1, 2013 at 11:17 pm

You all should study communism under one of the leading theoreticians for world communism as I did at Lincoln Univ. in the mid-sixties. Next , you all should read Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Modern Times and his The Anglo American Establishment and Cleon Skousen’s The Naked Capitalists, and a whole library full of works, probably some 250,000 volumes from many fields, to find out that behind every commie stands a monopolistic capitalist….an international banker…and lodge and religious order person and a brainwashed, misinformed society.

All of this is occurring according to a well-devised plan that is predicated in recognizing reality. As one of the leaders bragged in his biography in the mid-nineties, “Someone has said I was a member of a secret outfit and I am,” or something to that effect which can actually be googled, if one knows how. O well, the best laid plans of men and mice often go awry. God has a plan, too, and His includes, if I mistake not, a Third Great Awakening in which every soul on earth is converted, beginning hopefully in this generation and continuing for a 1000 generations and reaching millions of planets (just think of the possibilities, if what I heard is true, that we tried to go to the stars in the early 50s or 40s and that they lost the ship, because they did not know there was a gravity warp between the earth and the moon). O well, anywhere from 20,000-1,000,000 years could be left in order to have enough in Heaven so God’s humorous remark to cheer His children can have some real substance to it. You know that remark about the number of the redeemed in Heaven being a number no one can number (Rev.7:9). Not even the Lord? Or is it as I suspect, an absurdity designed to provoke to laughter those folks who are so discouraged and depressed by things at times. Sort of like the remark, “God’s grace is sufficient.” And the listener responded, “I reckon so.” Riches, unsearchable riches, infinite riches of grace, eternal riches of grace, get it? Sufficient? I reckon so, and then some. O well, I tried.

22 Rick Patrick February 2, 2013 at 12:11 am

I tried to pass a meaningless resolution against socialism at the SBC years ago, with no success. I am glad to hear a theologian of Grudem’s stature sees this as the significant biblical and moral issue that it is.

I wish Southern Baptists would be a bit more vocal about it.

23 volfan007 February 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

To tax some people, who are working to make thier money, to give it to some poor people, who are not working, is nothing more than stealing.

The govt. absolutely should not take away the money that people make… work hard for….to give to some others, who are lazy. Why should the govt. become a bandit?

Now, a Church helping out it’s members, who are truly widows and orphans, who are truly needy, is a great thing. I’d even be for a govt. helping people, who are TRULY disabled. But, let’s not hand out money to people, who are playing X Box, or basketball all day. Let’s not hand out money to people, who are sitting up all night watching TV, and who are sleeping all day…and then, claiming that they’re disabled due to anger issues, or because they have a pain in their big toe.

David

24 John Fariss February 2, 2013 at 11:48 am

I agree that some people abuse the system. I agree that those who are lazy should not eat. I agree that the welfare system is our nation is prone to fraud and in some ways exceeds prudence, good sense, and a lot of other virtues.

Having said that, I have one question. In discussing differencial tax rates, where does Luke 12:48 come into play? You remember it, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

John

25 volfan007 February 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm

JOhn,

I think Luke 12:48 has nothing to do with taxes. I think it has everything to do with serving God with our talents and abilities and money, etc. It’s not a govt. thing, at all…it’s a Kingdom of God thing.

David

26 Keith Price February 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I believe that verse is about kingdom resources and responsibilities, not governmental differential tax rates. I guess you might use that verse if you think the government and the kingdom are one, but I don’t see it that way.

Will we rich Christians be judge by the King by how we are using our Kingdom resources? Absolutely, and that should send a shiver up the collective spine of the church in America, but US differential tax rates and proper attitudes and uses of King and Kingdom supplied resources are not one in the same.

27 Bennett Willis February 2, 2013 at 2:23 pm

John, somehow this has been removed from the bibles of several who comment on this site.

But from another point of view, countries who have the capital/wealth of the country concentrated in the hands of a few have societies that few of us would agree with. But somehow we forget this when we get to commenting–at least I hope we have forgotten it.

28 Dave Miller February 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm

No, Bennett, the verse has not been removed, but interpreted with proper hermeneutics. It is not a verse about taxes, is it?

29 John Fariss February 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Is it not a general principle for life, and what God expects of people?

No disrespect, but some of you guys should try out for the Olympic Gymnastics team–at least if exegetical gymnastics ever become an Olympic event.

John

30 Keith Price February 2, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Nope, it is a specific principle for the disciples of Jesus. Trying to turn it into a justification for differential tax rates progresses beyond Olympic gymnastics to circus contortionist.

31 Joe Blackmon February 3, 2013 at 11:21 am

Keith,

Kinda reminds me of the way the phrase from the BFM63 “…Christ is the interpretation of scripture…”(or however it read) was used by moderates -”Oh Paul couldn’t have meant that because Jesus wasn’t that narrow minded or exclusive”.

32 Christiane February 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Hi KEITH:
God is love.
God has manifested Himself in Jesus Christ Risen From the Dead.
The ‘power’ inherent in the Gospel hinges on this fact:
Jesus consistently speaks and acts in the very Person of God.

Christ is pictured in Revelation 5
in this very moving passage:
“9 And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because You were slain,
and with Your blood You purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

there is no one who can ‘open’ to us the meaning of the sacred writings of the great interpretive story of God but Christ,
He can open it and He can, through the Holy Spirit, interpret it for us

for any person to interpret sacred Scripture in a way that is contrary to Jesus is heretical

we must remember, the Holy Spirit points ONLY to Christ

33 volfan007 February 2, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I think a lot of yall are trying to make the Bible say things that it’s not saying…taking it out of context. When a verse is talking about the responsibility of the Church, or about the individual Believer, it’s not talking about the govt.

David

34 Christiane February 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I suppose it comes down to just what injustices are
tolerated and what injustices are intolerable morally by Christian people as to how they engage in trying to impact the direction of government.

One example is the moral precept of the dignity of all human beings as created in the image of God.

The larger the gap between what a religious organization teaches about the dignity of the human person AND the political framework supported by that religious organization,
the more the Christian witness of that organization is affected negatively.

35 Bennett Willis February 3, 2013 at 5:11 pm

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2011/12/06/biblical-vs-deistic-economics/

A link that David Rogers had on the posting linked in #11 above.

How did Jubilee (seems like redistribution to me) actually work? It is mentioned several times but actual implementation was not–that I recall. I keep suspecting that there was a “work a round” that actually was used by many.

36 Keith Price February 4, 2013 at 1:55 am

While I am no Jubilee expert, I’ll take a stab at explaining it, as briefly as possible as this could easily be longer than the original post.

Jubilee was celebrated in the land of Israel, by the Hebrews, although it has not been celebrated since the tribes went into exile. The Jubilee year is declared by the sounding of trumpets ten days after it begins which happens to be the Day of Atonement.

During the jubilee year, agriculture is to be left fallow, just like a sabbatical year. In a fallow year you could not cultivate, but you could gather for your own use what the land grew naturally. Also, the land was not exclusive, meaning anybody could pick and harvest from any land. It is also interesting to note that the Jubilee (year 50) comes after year 49, a seventh year or Sabbatical year where the same rules of the land apply. Two years in a row. Think about that for a moment…

Also during the Jubilee year debts and loans are cancelled. This could lead to some abuse as folks could rack up a big debt just prior to the Jubilee knowing it would be cancelled, but it there was some mechanism to prevent this abuse. Integrity in business is very important to living a Torah life (Lev 25:17).

Similar to debts and loans, folks that sold themselves into slavery (to pay debts or to survive) were released. Likewise property outside of walled cities was returned to the original tribal or family owners. So, if the land was not your tribal land and you “bought” it in essence it acted more like what we would call a long term lease.

There are a lot of interesting themes running through Jubilee (Jesus as our Jubilee being foremost, but not really the overall topic of the post). God is ultimately the owner of the Land. He gives individuals the privileges of ownership, but we must not grip these possessions too tightly. Generosity or a “good eye” is considered a high virtue, one that is to be cultivated.

Now the question, is the Jubilee year redistribution? By a dictionary definition of redistribution I would say yes. There is redistribution of resources. Is it the same redistribution as promoted by our political classes today? Not really.

The current redistribution is the movement of resources from one to another. Remember that this movement today is not just from rich to poor. It is from all, at various levels, to others, poor, rich, corporate or whatever friends or those with influence can coerce from the government. The Jubilee, in some sense, is a return of resources to those who were entrusted with that resource in the first place. It is forgiveness and redemption. It is no coincidence that the year of Jubilee is announced on the Day of Atonement.

Can we use Jubilee, written to Jews in the Land of Israel as a justification for the redistribution in America as promoted by our political classes today? No, that would be bad exegesis and hermeneutics.

Can Jubilee teach us some valuable lessons about how God wants us to treat those we live with? Absolutely.

Bennett (and John) I hear you passion about taking care of the poor, it is admirable and I share your concerns, but sliding down a slippery slope in exegesis and hermeneutics is not the way to support that passion. Besides, there are lots of better examples in the Bible, OT and NT that are better suited for this task.

Before all of the social safety nets, were there mass starvations in the streets? Even during the Great Depression? No. Were folks hungry and hurting? Sure, but maybe the church did a better job than we think in helping those less fortunate. I think there will come a time again when the church will need to act in this way. I am hopeful that she will respond with a “good eye.”

Shalom…

37 Bennett Willis February 4, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Keith, thank you for the information.

Do we have any historical information about whether this was done as you describe or not. Were there ways to avoid doing things like this in reality. You would lease the land to someone or there would be a “straw man” who held the loan “papers.” Two years without a formal crop would be quite a strain.

There is quite a legal industry set up so that Muslims can avoid paying “interest.” They actually pay exactly the same as if they were paying interest but it is a “lease” or similar which lets them avoid calling any part of the payment “interest.”

38 Keith Price February 5, 2013 at 12:04 am

The laws outlining Jubilee, Sabbath years, helping out a poor brother and such are outlined in Lev 25-27. God gives them some very specific instructions as to how this was to all happen. For example, valuation of the land is based upon crop years until the next Jubilee: the longer the time the higher the valuation. Also included in these chapters is a blessing if they followed the commands and a curse or warning if they did not. The warning is basically that they would be taken away by the enemies and while they were gone the land would get the rest that was due it under the covenant. In fact II Chron 36:20-21 sites this as the reason for the Babylonian captivity.

Over the 500 or so years from the Judges to the Babylonian captivity there were times that they followed the law and times when they did not, times of great blessing and times of curses such as the Babylonian captivity. Folks are always looking for a work around to God’s commands. That is true now and was true then.

Two years without formal cultivation would be a strain…on our faith. It is God’s land and God’s command and promise. I would imagine that the land was fruitful and folks were blessed. Seek first the Kingdom of God…

39 Bennett Willis February 4, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Keith, I think that I live too well to qualify as a having a passion to care for the poor.

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