Are Pay Differences Biblical?

by Tim on October 8, 2010

The debate about minimum wage and the varying income classes in the world is a fascinating economic topic.  Interestingly, this topic is one that we can find Biblical references to guide us with our thinking.

We know that pay is essentially determined by the combination of supply and demand – the same supply and demand that determines the price of goods and services we use.   These wages guide us in utilizing the scarce resources of capital and labor – which always have alternative uses (opportunity costs).

But enough with the economics lesson…how about the real questions:

- Are wages fair?
– Are workers being exploited?
– What does the Bible say about that!?

From an economics standpoint, a well functioning society has a variety of skilled laborers who are willing and able to work for different wages.

Differences in pay can often be attributed to differences in skills, experience or willingness to work.  As we’ve advanced as a society, we’ve moved from a labor-intensive workforce towards a more technological/less physically challenging workforce.  This trend led to an increase in demand for educated workers who were trained intellectually, rather than workers who could only provide physical labor.  This simply means that today, the physically intensive jobs are not in demand as they were in the past –meaning the pay will lower for these workers (or the jobs will be exported to those who are willing to work for the lower wage)

Changing wages are normal and are beneficial, especially when used as an incentive for workers.  For many workers, wages will increase with years of experience because of the knowledge they’ve gained from their work.  Even more, workers who take on more responsibility often see a change in wages because of the increased workload they are accepting.


I believe in providing fair wages.  A person should be paid a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.  Technically, fair pay is something that a market economy should establish naturally.  If I told you I’d pay you $2.00 to carry wood for 10 hours, you’d probably decline.  But if I told you I’d pay you $20.00 an hour to help move wood, you might consider it.  The ethical question arises when the employer exploits their workers.

[box]Jeremiah 22:13 says “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages” [/box]

[box]James 5:4 says: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”[/box]

[box]Matthew 7:2 says: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”[/box]

Clearly, we are provided with instructions to treat workers with respect and to pay them a fair wage.  Does that mean everyone should be paid equally?  Not at all!  Although my work is important, I don’t feel that I should be paid more than say a doctor or a lawyer.  Remember, the education factor and skill difference allow for these specialized workers to be paid for their specialty.  They’ve put in many hours of work and these workers’ skill level (in most cases I hope) is greater than a person without that training.

In general, pay differences are what make the economic clock tick – but unfair labor practices and withholding appropriate wages are definitely not  Biblical.

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