The fundamental question for those who consider the Bible authoritative is not whether it advocates charity or helping the poor. Obama, Wallis, and other statist Christians are not arguing for charity. They are arguing for government appropriation of property. The issue isn’t charity, but property rights. If the Bible rejects the notion of a right to property, then these people may have a basis for their perspective. But if the Bible supports a right to own property, safe from government redistribution to others, then their policy proposals are unbiblical.
What follows is an analysis of what the Bible says, in both the New and the Old Testaments, on the subject of property rights. Whether the Bible, or parts thereof, should be considered authoritative or useful for Christians I will leave to theologians. My concern is with the text itself.
I would like to be able to report that the Bible argues firmly for an absolutist view of property rights. I would like to be able to write that the Bible is a strictly libertarian document. It is not. Yet in the balance and taken as a whole, the Bible support the individual’s right to own property and hold onto it. Briefly summarized, the Bible’s teachings are that humans are stewards of God’s property in a rental relationship and are accountable to him, not to the state, for the disposition of that property. The Bible advocates charity for the poor and condemns the parsimonious, but it does not grant authority to the state to act on God’s behalf to redistribute wealth. It is mostly a laissez-faire system of ideas, which libertarians should not forfeit to statist misinterpretations.
The Bible suggests three central principles regarding property rights. One is the prohibition against theft, enshrined in Exodus 20:15 “You shall not steal.” The second is the idea that the world ultimately belongs to God (not to the state), as exemplified by Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.” The third is a corollary: humans are temporary tenants upon God’s property, as King David said in 1 Chronicles 29:15: “For we are but sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were.”
Worth reading even if you disagree, because it’s well-written. I’d like to see a good debate on this topic, wouldn’t you? Jay Richards vs. Jim Wallis, maybe? I’d like to see that.