In this paper Clive and Cara Beed explore whether Jesus’ sayings can serve as a basis for advocating a reduction in inequality, but without implying complete equality. Only one parameter is discussed by which inequality might be assessed, the distribution of wealth and income, called here for short, wealth. Potentially relevant texts in the New Testament expressed by Jesus are analysed with the assistance of Biblical exegetes. These texts show Jesus wanting to see inequalities of wealth reduced. Suggestions are made as to how this might be pursued in a developed economy
Aspects of the enormous increase in wealth in developed capitalism in the last few centuries have not followed trajectories God and Jesus require for human development. Jesus stresses the need to reduce inequality in material wealth, compared with the pervasiveness of inequality throughout history. This does not mean that Jesus was advocating a flat or even equality, but only that parameters of extreme inequality were to be modified. Jesus’ teachings relate also to ways of reducing inequality. They show Jesus constantly calling for reductions in material inequality, with the rich divesting some (and, at times, all) of their wealth to the poor. The existence of poverty was anathema to God’s project for humankind.
However defined, complete or absolute equality between human beings is not possible in the fallen world. This is because people differ in natural aptitudes, like intelligence, personality, ability and strength, and in life experiences that might affect values, for example. Accordingly, Miller suggests that ‘there is no agreed answer to the question ‘in what respect should people be judged more or less equal’.1 Hicks expresses the problem that various ‘currencies’ exist within which equality can be construed, for example, greater equality in the distribution of income and wealth, in access to health care, and so on.2 One view is that all people are of equal worth before God, who seeks to bring them to a new creation where ‘basic human differences are transcended’.3 The worth of each person is equal, despite seeming inequalities in what they appear to deserve. Each person is of infinite and equal worth to God and to each other. Therefore, no person is entitled to privileges over others.
Differences between people do not mean they should exist. Forrester puts it that the ‘diversity of gifts and functions does not lead to diversity of worth, esteem or status’, or power position. Everybody is not meant to do the same thing. God has not entrusted the same talents to each person. Nor does God intend each person to have the same life experiences, such as performing the same sort of work. Diversity in human characteristics is recognized even though God seeks greater equality than exists currently in various outcomes (both in biblical times and now). However, ‘worth needs to be recognized and given substance in action, in policy, in the way our society operates and structures itself’.4 The issue is whether inequalities as they exist are intended by Jesus to be modified toward greater equality leading up to the new creation. The argument is that Jesus does intend, even though he does not advocate complete or absolute equality. For example, Zacchaeus would still have remained a rich man after his generous redistribution.
Jesus’ Teachings on Reducing Inequality in Wealth Distribution
Jesus constantly extols the necessity for reducing inequality between human beings in a variety of ways. One is His calling on the rich to share their possessions with the poor. Jesus is advocating a more equal distribution of wealth than would otherwise occur. Many of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptics5 demonstrate…