Cross Current Economics Group

Biblical themes A6: High level Derivative Social Principles - classification and summary of DSPs across all economic activities [Themes A1 to A5]

A. Theological Context

The theological context for Derivative Social Principles (DSPs) arises out of the Biblical understanding of the relationships between God, the natural (created) order, and humanity. God created the natural order and sustains it. He also created humanity (man and woman) in his own image and likeness for relationship with him. Humanity is given ‘dominion’ or rule over the natural order, to work with it and to care for it, and so provide for human flourishing (food, clothing, shelter, social interaction).  These three relationships are illustrated in the diagram, where the arrows indicate relationships. In addition, human beings are also created social beings in relationship with each other within ‘humanity’. The ideal for human life has all these relationships in harmony: the purpose of human life has its origin in God’s purposes in creating the universe. 

This theological structure gives rise to three ‘high level’ Biblical principles to govern these relationships.

First, humanity is required to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind’. Second, humanity is required to work with the natural order and to care for it. Third, human beings are required to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. All DSPs can be traced back to these requirements. In some areas of economic life, detailed DSPs can be derived straightforwardly from the Biblical text: these are rules for economic activities based directly on the economic and social context of the people of God, both in the Old and New Testaments.  The task in these cases is to identify the underlying principles that underlie these rules, to see how they might be generalised to other places, times and cultures. In other areas, there are simply no analogues in the Biblical material for the economic institutions and issues that arise in a modern economy, such as the financial sector, the corporation, or globalisation.  In these cases we need to return to the three high level principles to see how they might be applied in these cases. However, the exercise of deriving specific DSPs from the Biblical text does help, as it indicates how those DSPs can be traced back to the three general principles, and thus gives some guidance as to how we may develop ethical thinking to deal with ‘modern’ problems. 

Before turning to the elucidation of a set of DSPs developed from the Biblical text, it is as well to remind ourselves of what we have in mind in this exercise. We are following the methodology outlined by C J H Wright. His claim is that the people of God in the Old Testament ‘were to be a model of what a redeemed community should be like, living in obedience to God’s will’. Israel was intended to be God’s paradigm society: so in Exodus 19: 4-6, Israel is required to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ in the context of all nations and the whole earth(1). Wright comments: ‘.. [these scriptures] render to us a paradigm in one single culture and slice of history, of the social values that God looks for in human life generally.’ A paradigm combines a matrix of fundamental values with specific examples of how those values work out in practice. Our task in applying the paradigm is to distinguish principles and concrete examples. This has to be done with great care, so that the principles we derive do not go beyond the values actually implicit in the examples.  In deriving the principles we have the advantage of being able to compare principles implicit in very different cultural settings in the history of Israel. Furthermore we can consider the additional material relating to God’s people in the New Testament in another quite different culture and period. The assumption is that God’s principles for social and economic life are consistent over time, even if the instantiation differs greatly depending on the historical context(2).  

Finally we must note the complication that the Biblical materials generally apply in the context of fallen humanity.  This does not reduce the stringency of the Biblical principles, but in interpreting the material we need to consider to what extent the detailed instantiations are influenced by the need to make allowance for ‘hardness of heart’(3).  

 In what follows we have identified relevant DSPs from our working papers on areas of economic life, and re-ordered them to fall under the three high level principles described above (the source of the DSPs in the working papers is indicated in []. 

B. Loving God


Matthew 22: 37 “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’.” Luke 10: 27 adds ‘and with all your strength’.  

Here are some related DSPs: 

1. [A1] The natural order has its own value, regardless of the value we put on it, because it belongs to God. [For the people of God, the natural order is recognised as created, God’s gift to humanity, and sustained by his providence: those who love God should love his creation.] But note that this is very different from the ‘idolatry of nature’ that characterised Canaanite religion, and reappears in various forms in current world religions and some ‘green’ ideologies in the West. 

2. The ‘idolatry’ of wealth and possessions [A5, B1]: 

  • Damages individuals, since the pursuit of wealth and possessions is destructive of our humanity
  • Harms society, since inequality of wealth and possessions, and poverty, undermine social relationships and individual human flourishing. 

3. The ‘idolatry’ of work [A3]: 

  • ‘Workaholism’ damages individuals, since work for its own sake is ultimately pointless and unsatisfying (Ecclesiastes)
  • Work needs to be balanced by rest, recreation and time for others (especially the worship of God)

C. Love for neighbour

Luke 10: 27, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19: 18, Matthew 22: 34-40, Mark 12: 28-31)

1. General DSPs

  • Interactions with others (social and economic) should be relational, not ‘arms-length’. 
  • Attitudes to others should be motivated by love (grace, service), not personal gain. 

2. Transactions

  • Goods and services [A2]:

- The purpose of trade and commerce is to serve others by supplying goods and services that are necessary to human flourishing

- Market interactions should be relational and motivated by service to others

- Honesty and integrity in market transactions are required.

  • Employment and wages [A3]:
    - Employers have an obligation to enter into fair labour contracts and to fulfil them e.g. pay wages on time. Employees are dependent on these arrangements, and changing them unilaterally is an abuse of power.
    - Workers should be valued and respected by employers: the employers should be alert to the work/ life circumstances of employees, since productive efficiency is not the only thing that matters.
    - ‘You are more than what you do’. Human dignity exists independently of the type of work a person is engaged in: a person should not be looked down upon because of her occupation.  
  • Lending and borrowing [A4] (commercial only, see Transfers below(4)):
    - Commercial lending at interest permitted: general requirements for honesty, integrity and absence of exploitation apply.
    - Obligation (legal, as much as moral and spiritual) on the borrower to repay loans when due.
    - Collateral is permitted so long as it does not deprive the borrower of his means of livelihood.
    - Lending at interest is associated with inequalities of wealth and power

3. Transfers [A4, A5]

Giving to the poor and disadvantaged: mutual support in the community. The existence of poverty is the result of human brokenness (sin), not God’s failure to provide in the natural order.

  • Lending and borrowing (where circumstances of the borrower are such that he/she is in a position to repay):
    - Lending as a response to God’s generosity towards the person who is in a position to lend
    - The borrower is expected to repay if he is in a position to do so
    - Collateral is permitted, so long as it does not deprive the borrower of his means of livelihood
    - Interest is not permitted on any loan, either in money or goods
    - Debt must not be allowed to accumulate, so there must be provision for debt forgiveness
  • Sharing and giving
    - Rich have an obligation to help the poor generously (among the people of God this reflects an understanding that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, and therefore to be shared). 
  • Tax and transfers
    - There should be rules and systems in place for transfers from the rich to the poor. 

 

D. The natural order (creation) and work

Genesis 1: 26, ‘Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over…’.
Genesis 2: 15, ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’. 

 

1. Natural order [A1]

  • The natural order is God’s good creation: it is abundant and fruitful
  • The natural order is God’s gift to humankind, but it remains his, not ours. 
  • Humankind, created in the image and likeness of God, is given ‘dominion’ or ‘rule’ to subdue and rule the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, and to care for the natural order.
  • Access to natural resources should be shared by all, and concentration of scarce resources (land) in a few hands should be prevented. 
  • The purpose (telos) of working with the natural order is to provide for human flourishing – food, clothing, shelter, social interaction – in which everyone should have a share.

2. Work [A3]

  • One part of the telos of individuals is to be engaged in productive work. 
  • We should emulate and worship God in our work; but because we live under the curse of a fallen world, we do not find ultimate satisfaction in work, rather a mixture of joy and toil.
  • The motivation of our work should not be exclusively money reward or anxiety about provision for the future, but rather the fulfilment of our telos in working, trusting God to meet our needs. 
  • Opportunities for work should be available to all who are capable of working.
  • Work should be appropriately balanced by rest (days off, holidays): work should not become an idol that takes over our lives. 
  • There is a responsibility to work (if able) to provide for ourselves and our dependents, not being dependent on others.

3. Wealth [A5]

  • Wealth results from work and natural resources: but ultimately it belongs to God, and we are to be careful stewards of it. 

 

 

(1): Wright claims that this is to be seen as the ‘mission of the people of God’, a witness to God’s love for a world broken by the Fall, and to the covenant as a sign of grace and hope.

(2): Note that we are not claiming anything more than is routinely assumed by scholars in identifying a consistent biblical theology across the Testaments. 

(3): See the Postscript to Economics Today, where this issue is addressed in the context of applying DSP to R.

(4):  It is arguable that all the passages in the Pentateuch that discuss lending and borrowing (and the prohibition of interest) relate solely to transfers from rich to poor, and not to commercial lending of any kind. The only apparent reference to commercial lending is the exemption from the interest ban of loans to non-resident aliens.

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