The impossibility of a socialist Jesus

Posted on September 1, 2011


Jesus was “pro-socialist,” American Christians are in thrall to Ayn Rand, and the early Apostles concocted a system of “egalitarian socialism backed by fear of death.” Such are the wild claims Gregory S. Paul made Friday on this site.

Socialism is a relatively modern construct, a governmental system invented roughly 1,800 years after Christ’s death, not a biblical mandate. The question, then, is whether socialism is compatible with Christianity, not whether the Bible mandates socialism.

How can Mr. Paul claim Jesus was “pro-socialist?” Jesus, after all, despite many demands from His followers, pointedly refused to establish an earthly government. Undeterred, Mr. Paul interprets Jesus’s “substantial encouragement for the poor” and warnings against the moral pitfalls of wealth as support for socialism. Yet one has to travel quite the intellectual and theological distance to equate admonitions towards charity and warnings against greed with divine sanction for the destruction of private property rights and the forcible redistribution of wealth.

But this isn’t Mr. Paul’s main argument. He claims the Jerusalem church’s famous voluntary sharing of goods and property wasn’t voluntary at all but instead represents a “form of terror-enforced-communism imposed by a God who thinks that Christians who fail to join the collective are worthy of death.” This theological assertion — a reading of Scripture that has completely escaped theologians for two millennia — rests on the story of Ananias and Saphhira, who were struck dead after they “lied to the Holy Spirit.” They had sold land, given part to the Apostles but claimed that they had given all. Here are the Apostle Peter’s words to Ananias:

Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.

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