Category Archives: Bible Commentaries

1 Timothy

Gary North

We live in a series of covenantal hierarchies: family, church, and civil. We also face economic hierarchies. There are endless debates about who owes how much allegiance to whom.

Paul here sets forth a basic principle of law: men who break god’s civil laws are not covenant-keepers (1:9-10). Paul makes it clear that God’s Bible-revealed law is God’s standard for all civil governments.

As for church elders, they must run their homes well and be hospitable (3:1-6). What a man does in his home will be what he does in the church. If he performs poorly in his home, he is not to be allowed to become a church officer.

The church must be charitable, but the first institution of welfare is the family. Thus, no widow who has relatives to support her is to receive funds from the church (5:4).

Paul says nothing about the state as a source of charity. Neither does any other writer of a biblical text. Yet modern Christian socialists and welfare statists go on endlessly about the need for higher taxes on the rich and more money government spent to assist the poor. They take what they were taught in college by God-hating socialist professors and impose this worldview on the Bible.

I Timothy makes it clear that no poor person has a legal claim on anyone else’s money. If the church is not allowed to support a poor widow unless she is at least 60 years old, has been married only once, and has no relatives to support her, there is no way to make a New Testament case for the welfare state.

I Timothy

1 Corinthians

Gary North

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church deals with the necessity of rendering judgment. This epistle establishes the principle of ethical judgment as the foundation of social order.

This epistle rests on the doctrine of God’s final judgment (Ch. 15). Because God will judge all people retroactively, everyone must make judgments in history. They ought to assess their plans and the results of their actions in terms of God’s laws.

This epistle is all about government, which begins with self-government under God.

In chapter 6, Paul calls the church to avoid going into a Roman civil court. Instead, he insists, the local church should settle disputes among members. Christians should not trust pagan courts.

Paul’s hostility to Roman civil courts is obvious. Here is his message. The church is a separate jurisdiction. It should have primary authority over its members. Members should not sue other members in a Roman civil court, which is not under a covenant with God.

The doctrine of individual judgment is the foundation of the economic theory of value. Specifically, an individual imputes value to scarce resources. This is the economic application of judicial imputation, which imputes moral value to people’s specific actions.

Through competitive bidding in terms of each person’s subjective imputation of economic value, bidders establish objective prices.

Prices are objective. Economic value is subjective. Yet because God’s imputation of economic value (Genesis 1) is both subjective and objective, men’s imputations of value are both subjective and objective. Without objective value — a corporate scale of values that can be assessed by decision-makers — it would be impossible to assess the social value of any proposed corporate policy. No one could estimate whether a policy will benefit or harm groups or society as a whole.

This commentary discusses the theory of economic value.

I Corinthians

Romans

Gary North

Romans deals with a whole series of crucial issues: the rebellion of man and its effect on what he thinks about God (1:18-21), the common morality of humanity (2:14-15), the redemption of the curse of nature (8:19-23), the division of labor (12), the legitimacy of civil government (13:1-7), and the reason not to be in debt (13:8).

The section in Romans that deals with the division of labor in the church (12) is paralleled by I Corinthians 12. When Paul says something twice, we should pay attention.

The division of labor makes the church a better tool for the extension of God’s kingdom. What is true of the church is true of every other institution.

Adam Smith began The Wealth of Nations (1776) with a discussion of the pin-makers of his day: how specialized tools that were funded by private capital investment make men far more productive. In this sense, Adam Smith’s intellectual defense of capitalism was an extension of Paul’s observation regarding the church.

Romans

Acts

Gary North

In Acts 8:1, we read of a terrible persecution of the church in Jerusalem. They fled. They could flee because they had sold all of their real estate and most of their personal possessions. They were in effect packed and ready to leave.

This is the background of the decision by members of the Jerusalem church to sell their real estate and hold some (not necessarily all) of their money in common. There is no record of any other church in the New Testament period that did this.

Common money was entirely voluntary. Ananias and Sapphira sold their real estate, kept some of the money in reserve, and handed the rest over to the leaders of the church for use in the church. They told the leaders that they were giving all of their money. They made a big show of this. God then made an even bigger show. He killed them. But Peter made it plain to Ananias that their money had been theirs to keep. Their sin was in lying about the percentage (100%) of their gift (Acts 5:4).

It is also worth noting that the Jerusalem church was the most poverty-stricken church in the New Testament. Paul took up a collection throughout the European churches on behalf of the Jerusalem church (II Cor. 9). Common property has a tendency to produce poverty except in extraordinary circumstances, such as in monasteries.

Acts

Luke

Gary North

The Gospel of Luke is by far the Gospel that is most hostile to the goal of accumulating great wealth. Yet only in this Gospel do we read this:

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete [measure] withal it shall be measured to you again (Luke 6:38).

Here is the fundamental principle of free market economics: serve the consumer. This theme of service is basic to the Gospel of Luke.

And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth (Luke 22:25- 27).

The quest for great wealth for its own sake is foolish, Jesus said — not just in Luke but in the other Gospels, too. But this theme is front and center in Luke’s Gospel.

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).

As we read in the Gospel of Matthew, success is a matter of priorities.

Luke

Matthew

Gary North

The economic outlook of the Gospel of Matthew is structured by the theme of priorities.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).

In this Gospel, Jesus set forth the principle of the centrality of the kingdom of God, which the author refers to repeatedly as the kingdom of heaven. This Gospel is kingdom-centric. The kingdom is growth-oriented.

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof (Matthew 13:31-32)Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened (Matthew 13:33).

This is the foundation of the New Testament’s doctrine of economic growth. It extends to the world the principle of God’s blessings in history, including economic blessings (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Moses spoke regarding the nation of Israel. Jesus’ accent on kingdom expansion extended this to the world.

Matthew

Proverbs

Gary North

The Book of Proverbs is by far the most practical book in the Bible. It was designed to be a success manual.

Proverbs defines success far more broadly than economic success. It includes economic as one mark of a successful person. But these proverbs make it clear that economic success apart from biblical wisdom is a snare and a delusion.

The book applies the principles of biblical law to such areas of life as money, work, planning, peace, goal-setting, self-discipline, and other topics. It covers the following in detail:

1. The steps to personal success
2. The standards of personal success
3. Success indicators
4. Failure indicators
5. The function of riches
6. The basis of riches
7. The concept of ownership
8. The nature of economic causation
9. The marks of a biblical economy
10. The purposes of inheritance

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Proverbs

Moses and Pharaoh: Dominion Religion vs. Power Religion

Gary North

In the fifteenth century before the birth of Jesus, Moses came before Pharaoh and made what seemed to be a minor request: Pharaoh should allow the Israelites to make a three-day journey in order to sacrifice to their God. But this was not a minor request; given the theology of Egypt, it was the announcement of a revolution.

The conflict between Moses and Pharaoh was a conflict between the religion of the Bible and its rival, the religion of humanism. It is not common for scholars to identify Egypt’s polytheism with modern humanism, but the two theologies share their most fundamental doctrines: the irrelevance of the God of the Bible for the affairs of men; the evolution of man into God; the impossibility of an infallible word of God; the nonexistence of permanent laws of God; the impossibility of temporal judgment of God; and a belief in the power of man.

What Bible commentators have failed to understand is that the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh was at heart a conflict between the two major religions in man’s history, dominion religion and power religion, with the third religion – escapist religion -represented by the Hebrew slaves. What they have also failed to point out is that there is an implicit alliance between the power religion and the escapist religion. This alliance still exists.

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Moses and Pharaoh

This book is a detailed study of the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh. It discusses the implications of this conflict in several areas: theology, politics, sociology, and especially economics.

Deuteronomy

Gary North

The Pentateuch — the five books of Moses — sets forth laws which, when obeyed, make socialism impossible to establish. They also make the Keynesian “mixed economy” impossible to establish.

The Pentateuch is structured in terms of the five-point covenant model: transcendence (God the Creator), hierarchy (God the Liberator), ethics (God the Law-Giver), oath (God the Sanctions-Bringer), and succession (God the Deliverer).

Deuteronomy, like Exodus and Leviticus, is also structured by this five-point model.

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the five books of Moses, which we call the Pentateuch. It is the book of inheritance. Moses read the law of God to the generation that would inherit the land of Canaan, the fourth generation of the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt, just as God had promised Abraham (Genesis 15:16). Then, under Joshua, the men of the fourth generation were circumcised, after they had come into the Promised Land (Joshua 5:7). On this judicial basis, they inherited the land.

Deuteronomy is the book of Israel’s inheritance. Israel’s covenantal succession from Abraham to Joshua was confirmed historically by God through the defeat of the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua. But Moses formally passed on this inheritance before he died.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ recapitulation of the law. By means of their adherence to God’s law, he said, the Israelites could maintain the kingdom grant established by God with Abraham. But they would lose their landed inheritance through disobedience, to be restored only after a period of captivity in a foreign land (Deut. 30:1-5).

Deuteronomy’s message is clear: grace precedes law, but God’s revealed law is the basis of maintaining the kingdom grant. Transgress this law, and the expansion of God’s kingdom in history will suffer a setback for one or more generations. The kingdom inheritance is reduced by God’s negative sanctions in history (Deut. 28:15-66). But this inheritance is never permanently lost. It compounds over time. The compounding process — growth — is the basis of the triumph of the kingdom in history.

My commentary is in four volumes. They are in PDF format. To access them, click here:

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4

Numbers

Gary North

The book of Numbers is the book of Sanctions. God brought Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness. The Israelites, except for Joshua and Caleb, were afraid to invade the land of Canaan. God let them wander in the wilderness for 40 years as a negative sanction against them.

Then the next generation invaded Canaan, bringing God’s negative sanctions against the Canaanites.

Numbers is the story of inheritance delayed. The fourth generation after Israel’s descent into Egypt would defeat the Canaanites and inherit the Promised Land (Gen. 15:16). That was Joshua’s generation. This meant that the third generation — the generation of the exodus — could not inherit. They didn’t.

Sanctions are an aspect of the biblical covenant model: point four in the list of five. Numbers is the fourth book in the Pentateuch. Commentators who have not seen that the Pentateuch is structured in terms of the five points have not been able to discover the unifying theme of Numbers. The theme is sanctions: God’s sanctions on Israel up to and including Numbers 14, and then, in the final chapters of the book, on the cities that lay just outside the land of Canaan.

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Sanctions and Dominion