In my previous post I wrote that economics is not in the Bible. Many of the terms that are central to the economics can’t even be translated into Greek or Latin. Certainly people of the Old and New Testament eras labored, traded, and used money, but they did not see what we would call economic activity as a semi-autonomous sphere of life to be studied and managed. It is tempting for us to read our modern economic framework back into the Scripture, especially when we see words and activities presented that has similarity to our context.Christians of all political stripes fall prey to reading passages out of context in support of modern agendas. As I’ve pointed out at this blog before, political left leaning theologians have had a habit of projecting current agendas back into Scripture. For example, concerning Jubilee, Jim Wallis writes in “God’s Politics”:
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” and opened up his own ministry by proclaiming, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (which was a direct reference to the Jubilee Year in the Hebrew Scriptures where, periodically, the debts of the poor were canceled, slaves were set free, and land was redistributed for the sake of equity.) (15-16)Jubilee 2000, the campaign for canceling debt for emerging nations, took Jubilee as its theme.
First of all, while there are passages that speak to debt cancellation there is no mention of debt in the Leviticus 25 passage. Second, Leviticus 25:39-40, explicitly prohibits Israelites from taking each other as slaves. There were no “slaves” to set free if the Jubilee provisions had been followed. Third, the Jubilee provisions for land and labor functioned similar to a lease agreement. Land was sold on the basis of the number of crops until the next Jubilee, at which point the land reverted back to the seller. The same was true for labor. The “lease” simply expired. The land was not “redistributed for the sake of equity.”
Clearly, the re-institution of Jubilee in Jesus’ day would have had profound socio-political consequences. By his time the specifics of the Jubilee had become less significant to the Jews than its meaning of generally setting everything right. But the way the Jubilee Code is portrayed above is not consistent with what Leviticus says. It is distorted in order to serve a present economic agenda.
As we turn to the New Testament, many passages are similarly abused. What I want to do in the next few posts is to do a case study on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 and its sister parable in Luke 19:12-28. These parables are ones that frequently come to mind when people are asked to think of teaching Jesus gave on economic issues. Consistent with our capitalist ethic of investing and being productive, they are often used as stories of financial stewardship. Is that the case? Stay tuned.