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The Biblical Concept of Property

Posted on November 28, 2015

Tom Rose

The continued existence of poverty and inequality in this world remains a stumbling block to many Christians. Recently, some 200 delegates met at a Christian college to discuss a topic entitled “Ethical Considerations for Christians Concerning Wealth and Power.” The majority in attendance approved, among others, this opinion concerning private property:

We believe that Christian justice and love demand at least: that every person, group and nation ought to be assured of an equal chance to maintain life, develop talents and resources, and fulfill obligations to God and neighbors.

No mention was made concerning what agency is to be empowered with such awesome power to provide the desired assurance of equality, but the presupposition is that the agency is civil government. Before concerned Christians go too far in urging that the civil authority be empowered to assume such a coercive role, it would be prudent to note that even God Himself, with all His omniscience and omnipotent power, did not elect to dictate to men in such a way. Rather, He left men individually self-responsible in this matter. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the Sovereign owner of all the universe exerting His unquestioned authority to assure equality to all men. In fact, the commandments “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet” (Ex. 20:15, 17), along with countless other biblical examples, clearly indicate an unequal distribution of both opportunity and wealth.

But there is one point on which the Bible does present an egalitarian view — that is, concerning the principle of self-responsibility before God for whatever talents or resources God might have bestowed on us:

Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezek. 18:4).

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required. . . (Luke 12:45).

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12).

There are two contrasting philosophies of property extant in the world today. One is the Marxian concept which regards the State as the practical owner and/or controller of wealth, with individuals being answerable to the State for what they do or don’t do with the wealth the State allows them to control. This, in effect, is the unspoken philosophy of property which underlies the majority opinion of the 200 given above.

The other philosophy is the Christian or biblical view which recognizes that God is the owner of all the earth (Ps. 24:1), but which simultaneously supports man’s right to act freely and uncoercedly as an acting trustee so he can indeed stand self-responsible before God for whatever disposition he might make of his wealth or talents. While this biblical view recognizes the need of others, whom we are to regard with brotherly love, it never gives those in need a legal claim on those who have more than they do. For, how could such claims be measured objectively? The principle of property is beautifully stated in our Lord’s parable of the laborers in the vineyard:

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? (Matt. 20:15)

Let us look at the logic behind God’s principle of private property as a means to understanding why the private and individual control of wealth is necessary in God’s created universe:

When God created man in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26) and made man a living soul (Gen. 2:7). He established a unique relationship between things spiritual and physical. Logically speaking, it became necessary for God’s image in man (the spiritual aspect of man) to exist in a material world. In other words. God created a situation in which man, a spirit living in a physical body, had to think rationally (mentally) but act purposefully (economically) in a physical environment.

The logical question to be answered was this: How can man — a God-reflecting spirit housed in a physical body — be empowered to act as a self-responsible entity in a material world? If men were simply a spirit living in a spirit world, this practical problem would never have appeared. But, logically speaking, the moment man was created a living soul in the image of God, with the same mental imputation power that God has, the problem of duality arose.

God handled this problem by establishing a legal relationship (1) between Himself and man, (2) between the spiritual aspect and physical aspect of man, and (3) between man and the outside world. This legal relationship is called property, and it works in this order:

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