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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Many of Jesus disciples had heard him prophesy that Jerusalem would
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
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
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
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
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