Capital is Important
Capital goods are important, because they make humans more productive. Capital and trade are the keys to escaping subsistence.
Economists distinguish between capital goods and consumption goods. The word capital is used to describe goods that can be used to produce other goods. A spade is a capital good. You cannot eat it if you are hungry, but you can use it to produce food. Capital goods include machinery and factories.
Consumer goods cannot be used to produce other goods. They produced for household or personal in satisfy human wants and needs. A banana is a consumer good. You cannot use it to make things, but it will satisfy your hunger. Some goods are both capital and consumption goods. When I use my computer to write articles it is a capital good. If I play games on my computer for entertainment, it becomes a consumption good.
In Jesus time, the most important capital good was land, but oxen, donkeys, fishing boats, nets and builders tools were also important. A family with a fishing boat and nets could feed and cloth themselves, whereas those without some capital might be destitute.
In modern times capital has become more complex. The capital of an airline is its aeroplanes. The capital of a courier business is its vans and computers.
The well being of a community is largely determined by the volume of capital goods available. A society with no capital goods is forced into subsistence. A society with capital good will have a better lifestyle.
Source of Capital
Capital can be obtained in several ways.
1. Make In traditional societies capital goods are made by the people who use them. Fishermen made their own nets. Noah built the ark himself. Making capital goods is difficult in a subsistence society, because food has to be stores up to live on, while the capital equipment is made.
2. Savings In the modern, world the most common way to obtain capital goods is to save up the money and buy them.
3. Borrow The money to buy the capital goods can be borrowed. This is using the savings of other people. The income from using the capital goods would need to be sufficient to cover the interest that would be paid on the loan. Sometime the capital goods can be borrowed directly from the owner, eg renting a truck.
4. Inherit Some capital goods have long lives. People sometimes inherit them from their parents.
5. Steal Throughout history, the most common way to obtain capital has been to steal it from the person who made it. Feudal lords gained most of their capital by confiscating it. In recent times, democratic governments have claimed the right to seize capital goods from their owners.
Ownership of Capital
Capitalism has become a bit of a dirty word, but there is really no argument about capital. Life in a society with no capital is pretty miserable. The key issue is who should own the capital. There are a number of possible owners.
1. The State Under Russian Communism, all capital was owned and controlled by the state. The state does not have savings, so the only way the state can obtain capital is to confiscate either the savings of other people or their capital goods.
2. Corporate In modern economies, large capital projects are usually undertaken by joint stock companies. One person or family would not have the resources to build a car assembly plant. This is what some people refer to as capitalism
3. Private In western countries, capital goods can be owned by private individuals.
4. Families In Jesus time, most capital goods were owned by families. When Peter and Andrew and James and John left their boats, they were not left rotting on the beach. The boats were owned by their family and other members of their family would have carried on operating them. This is why Peter could go fishing after Jesus died. He still had access to the family boat and nets.
As the Christian influence spreads in society, we should expect to see more capital goods being established in local communities and being owned by Christian families.
God Blesses Capital
God blesses capital when it is acquired righteously and used wisely. A crop in the ground is an investment. The seed the farmer plants in the ground could have eaten for immediate satisfaction of want. The farmer postpones his consumption hoping for a greater return in the future. Cattle were capital in biblical times. The farmer decides not the kill his heifer, because the hopes to gain a stream of milk and calves into the future. God promised to bless the crops and the cattle of his people.
The crops of your land and the young of your livestock-the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks will be blessed. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed (Deut 28:4-5).
Baskets and kneading troughs are capital equipment that make people more productive in their work. God promised to bless these possessions. He blesses righteous wealth that is used wisely.
The Jerusalem Church
When the Holy Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, land was the main form of capital in Jerusalem. Many people responded to the preaching of the apostles by selling their land and using the money to support those in need.
For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need (Acts 4:34-35).
This was an amazing transition.
There were good reasons for Christians in Jerusalem to sell their capital goods.
Many of Jesus disciples had heard him prophesy that Jerusalem would be destroyed.
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down (Luke 21:5-6).
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you Look, your house is left to you desolate (Matt 23:37-38).
Jesus had given a set of signs that would warn when this was about to happen. Jerusalem would be surrounded by the Roman armies and totally destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled in AD70.
The believers in Jerusalem understood that once the prophecy was fulfilled, property in the city and its surrounds would be worthless. It made sense for them to sell their property while it still had value. This is the reason why, so many Christians in Jerusalem sold their property.
The rich people who had become Christians had gained their wealth through their place in the Roman political system. It was unrighteous wealth. These people had chosen a new King: Jesus. They could not retain land and property that represented loyalty to King Herod or Caesar, so they sold it. They would probably have lost their property anyway, once their new loyalty became clear.
Some of the new Christians had obtained their wealth illegally.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36-37).
Barnabas was a Levite and Levites were not entitled to own land in Israel (Num 26:62). When he came to faith in Jesus, the illegal ownership of land would have weighed on his conscious. He probably could not return the land to its rightful owner (Lev 25:13), so he sold the land and gave the money to the apostles for distribution to those in need.
The word used for possessions in Acts 2:45, 4:34 and Acts 5:1 is "ktema" or "ktetor" This is not the word generally used for possessions in the New Testament (uparxis). These nouns are derived from the verb "ktaomai". It means "acquire" or "gain control over". It refers to property that has been acquired, not bought. "Ktema" refers to unrighteous wealth that has been acquired by wickedness. The property sold by Christians like Barnabas and Ananias may have been acquired as a reward for wickedness.
Much of the land in New Testament Israel was owned by absentee landlords. Some of these might have come Back to Jerusalem for the Passover and received gospel. Barnabas lived in Cyprus, but he owned land near Jerusalem. Many of these absentee landlords would have sold their land when they received the gospel.
In each of these circumstances, the decision to sell the property was wise and good. However, the widespread sale of property created a problem for the Jerusalem. Selling capital goods and consuming the money is useful in the short term, but in the long term it leads to poverty. Without capital goods to make them more productive, people are forced into subsistence living.
The church in Jerusalem de-capitalised quickly by the rapid sale of land and property. This produced an unintended consequence for the large numbers of Christians who had sold their property, but decided to continue living in Jerusalem. They remained in poverty until the city was eventually destroyed. By getting rid of their capital, but remaining in the city, they had consigned themselves to poverty.
Some of the Christians in Jerusalem may have misunderstood the timing of Jesus prophecy. He had given clear signs that would warn when the collapse of the city was close (Luke 21:7-24). This meant that that the disciples did not need to rush to sell their properties. They could wait until the destruction of the city was closer. The poverty in Jerusalem might have been the result of too many Christians selling their property too soon.
When Christians are giving away their unrighteous wealth, they must be careful that they do not de-capitalise the Christian community.
Hold Capital Lightly
Nothing in this world is certain. We never no what the future will bring. The capital of Christians can be taken from them at any time. If Christians work hard and consume frugally, they will gradually build up their capital. This may cause the enemies of the gospel to become envious. If persecution takes hold, their righteous wealth might be confiscated. If this happens, Christians should rejoice that they are able to share in the sufferings of Jesus.
You joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions (Heb 10:34).
The Christians referred to in this letter had lost their property. They rejoiced because they knew that God had given them the kingdom.
All our property belongs to Jesus, so if it is confiscated, he is the only one who has the right to be upset. We have not lost anything, so we cannot complain. We still have the Kingdom of God, so we have riches far beyond what we deserve. We can rejoice in the privilege of being part of the Kingdom.
Return to Jesus on Money.