B2 Productive Enterprises

[This topic cannot easily be addressed directly from the biblical text, as in general the biblical cultures did not have any institutions to compare to productive enterprises in the modern economy. The one exception is the family farm in the OT, related to the allocation of the Land. This is considered first in the discussion below. An alternative approach is to go via the higher level DSPs (see A6 Higher level DSPs), and also to draw on DSPs identified for other economic activities, in particular market transactions for goods and services, work and wages, and financial transactions.  We will also consider the relevance of biblical materials relating to the accumulation of wealth. Our listing of DSPs is therefore more than usually eclectic and provisional.]


1. The family farm in OT Israel

The land gift tradition – the division of the Land: Numbers 26, 34, Joshua 13-19. Note that allocations of land related to size of tribal groups, and to the quality of the land for productive purposes, so roughly equal. Land provided work opportunities for family members, and the productive returns accrued to the family to provide food, clothing and shelter (see Leviticus 25: 18-22, Deuteronomy 8: 6-9). Land was to be cared for and given its own Sabbath: Leviticus 25: 1-7. 

Protection of land holdings. Shifting of boundary markers condemned: Deuteronomy 19: 14, Proverbs 23: 10. Land grabs by the king condemned: 1 Kings 21. 

Land not to be sold in perpetuity: Leviticus 25: 8-43.  Year of Jubilee: ‘In the year of Jubilee, everyone is to return to his own property’ (25: 13), ‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine… Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land’ (25: 23, 24). Obligation on kinsman to redeem land if a family falls on hard times: but if not possible then land to be returned at the Jubilee. In the meantime, family to be provided with opportunities to work as a ‘hired worker’ (25: 39, 40). 

Limits to, and prophetic anger about, the accumulation of land: Deuteronomy 19: 14, Micah 2: 1-2, Isaiah 5: 8. Implication that landholding was a constraint on the size of farming enterprise that any one family could develop, though land could be leased until the Jubilee: Leviticus 25: 14-17. 

Provision for debt forgiveness, Deuteronomy 15: 1-7, where family had borrowed due to business failure (e.g. crops destroyed by weather or pests?)

Suggested DSPs: 1. Provision of work opportunity to enable families to provide for their own basic needs (also to contribute tithes and support the landless); 2. Returns accrue to the family – so direct reward for more productive activity; 3. Limits on accumulation and hence scale of enterprise; 4. Provision for business failure: debt forgiveness and provision for return of productive assets (land). 


2. Higher level DSPs (see A6 Higher Level DSPs for economic activity). 

The natural order and work. ‘Dominion’ or ‘rule’ over the natural order is given to humanity, and expressed in work. The telos is to provide for human flourishing – food, clothing, shelter, and social interaction. The natural order should not be wasted or destroyed.

Suggested DSPs for productive enterprises: 1. Purpose is to provide goods and services that human beings need for their flourishing; 2. Provides context for work, and hence opportunity for workers to provide for themselves and their dependents; 3.  Efficient operation is required, to avoid waste of natural resources; 4. Requirement not to destroy or waste natural resources.
Need to include requirement for the owners/ managers of the enterprise to take responsibility for these activities.

Love for neighbour. Economic relations with others should be relational. Their telos is service of others, not pursuit of personal gain. [See next section.] 


3. Relations with customers, suppliers, workers and providers of finance.

[The economic relationships of productive enterprises are with customers and suppliers, the workers, and the providers of finance. The DSPs for each of these areas are drawn from: A2 Transactions in markets for goods and services; A3 Work and wages; A4 Lending and borrowing. These are detailed in italics below.]

Transactions in markets for 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, especially food, clothing and shelter, and social interaction.

Market interactions should be motivated by service to others. 

Honesty and integrity in market transactions and economic valuations are required

Work and wages (A3)

Employers have an obligation to enter into fair labour contracts (including provision for time off), and to fulfil them e.g. pay wages on time. Equally, employees should fulfil their side of the contract with honesty and integrity. 

Workers should be valued as human beings and respected by employers. Employers should be alert to the work/ life circumstances of employees: productive efficiency is not the only thing that matters. 

Lending and borrowing (A4)

Commercial borrowing at interest permitted, subject to general requirement for honesty and integrity. Collateral permitted so long as it does not deprive borrower of essential work tools or possessions needed for daily life. 

Obligation on the borrower to repay loans when due. But there should also be provision for debt forgiveness.  

Risk and the future (A5)

Equity financing: shareholders become owners of the enterprise, so they must share in the risks, and bear responsibility for it (‘stewardship’). 

[Issues: limited liability, absence of shareholder responsibility due to disinterest or indirect shareholding.]  


4. Accumulation of wealth

The accumulation of wealth for selfish purposes damages society and does not deliver contentment to individuals.

Warnings against greed: Mark 7: 20-23, 1 Corinthians 5: 10. 

Warnings against pride in personal achievements and wealth: Deuteronomy 8: 10-18, Ecclesiastes 2: 4-11, 5: 10 – 6: 6, Luke 12: 16-21.

Condemnation of wealth gained at the expense of others: Jeremiah 22: 13-17, Amos 5: 11-12, 6: 4-6, James 5: 1-6. 

Suggested DSP. Telos of productive enterprises should not be the pursuit of wealth per se. If wealth does result, then pride in achievements (hubris) and reliance on wealth are wrong.


5. T=>DSPs: provisional DSPs for productive enterprises

Summary of previous sections. 

Productive enterprises have three purposes (telos):

A. To serve others by providing goods and services that human beings need for their flourishing.

Market interactions for goods and services should be motivated by service to others, so honesty and integrity are required


B. To enable human beings to exercise their calling to work productively, not least by working together and using their skills and experiences to the best effect: 

  • workers should be respected and valued as human beings by employers

  • employers have an obligation to enter into fair labour contracts, and to fulfil them; equally employees should fulfil their part with honesty and integrity


C. To use resources wisely and effectively, avoiding waste and/or the destruction of the environment. 

Ownership and finance

The owners of a productive enterprise must take responsibility for its activities, both organization and risk

  • The focus of the enterprise should be on service to customers, fairness in dealings with the workforce, and avoidance of environmental damage – and not solely on the growth of assets and wealth

  • Borrowing to sustain production and trading activities is permitted, but active and responsible equity participation is to be preferred

  • Borrowings should always be repaid, but provision should be made for debt forgiveness

  • Success in the accumulation of assets and wealth may result in the evils of pride (hubris) and greed.

[Donald Hay, November 2014]