Does the Bible support redistribution of wealth or private property?

Article here. (H/T C.S. Lewis Society)

Excerpt:

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.

8 thoughts on “Does the Bible support redistribution of wealth or private property?”

  1. I think he’s wrong to concede that the Bible is in any way a non-libertarian document. Even the limited charities that were *commanded*, such as the third-year tithe and the gleaning laws, do not include any punishments associated with them. Hence, they were likely voluntary in the sense that they were punished by God himself. The mosaic law even barely establishes any central government at all, for crying out loud.

    Here’s one example discussing charitable loans, where God seems to be the enforcer:

    Deuteronomy 24

    “10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge. 11 Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. 13 Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.

    14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. 15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

    When God protects the poor to make up for human greed, it is glorious. When Barack Obama does it, he just wants votes, and he generally screws it up.

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  2. For me, Peter said it all in his exchange with Ananias and Sapphira:

    Acts 5:1-4

    But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,

    2And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

    3But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?

    4Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

    Notice verse 4: “Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?”

    The point here is obvious: “It was yours, you could do with it whatever you wanted.”

    Also, notice in the old law that the rich were told to leave the corners of their fields for the poor to come in and harvest. Notice, they weren’t to harvest it and turn it over to the poor, but to leave it so the poor could work for it themselves. Good lesson there.

    In the end I believe God is a “private property rights, help the poor from the heart” God. And while in the end He owns it all, he bestows the power to choose to whomever is the steward over a particular piece of property.

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  3. I have just figured a crucial difference between “conservatives” and “progressivists”
    Conservatives call the government “Them”
    Progressivists call the government “We”

    Cons – Them the people that want to take our money
    Prog – We the people who invest for common good

    Cons – Them who want to get rich by our taxes
    Prog – We the people who get enslaved by corporations

    From here arises the different perspective. Them or We

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    1. Cons – them the people who force us to pay for abortions and perform them against our will if we are doctors and nurses
      Prog – we the people who want to steal from our neighbors so that we can avoid taking responsibility for our own decisions

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  4. Romans 13: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
    6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

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    1. Nick, I pay my taxes more fairly than Obama’s tax-cheat political appointees. The point is that Christians should want the government to do as little as possible so that we have more money for our own goals and our own charitable giving.

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  5. I’m no theologian but here’s my view:

    The bible does NOT encourage redistribution of wealth – at least not in any direct way.

    The bible DOES call for charity and, (perhaps more controversially), it makes a virtue of poverty. But what the bible does not do is call for individuals or civil authorities to pursue wealth re-distribution as a goal.

    But there’s a lesson to be learned here. Many Christians think that “separation of church and state” is some secularist plot to keep religion in check. Quite the opposite. Separation of church and state protects freedom of religion. Separation of church and State is the thing that protects you from the policy makers and officials of the state who will say they are passing laws because of biblical authority.

    So if some leftist politician says “but God wants us to redistribute wealth” you CAN take out your bibles and argue that he’s wrong as a matter of theology. But a better protection is to take out your copy of the Constitution and say “that’s illegitimate as a matter of our foundational law.”

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