The right to property is not a popular one to defend these days, even though it’s one of the most clearly stated rights in Scripture. It’s much more popular in elite Christian circles, and the wider culture, to undermine others’ God-given right to property in the name of some form of ‘charity’ or ‘the greater good’ or ‘justice’. If you object to having your property taken away and given to someone else, or if you don’t think that you have an obligation to give away your stuff, then you’re greedy because… it’s somehow bad to want to keep your stuff. The question this presents us with is: what does the Bible say about private property ownership?
First, we need to define what property is. Normally, when we think of property, we think houses and land. While these are certainly a type of property, property encompasses much more than that. Property is, quite simply, that which belongs exclusively to someone. Thus, if you own a car, that car is your property. My coffee mug is my property. In short, your property is the stuff you own. Pretty straightforward, but does this definition fit with the Bible?
In Exodus 20:15, God explicitly forbids stealing. Now I’m no expert in stealing, but it seems that it would be exceedingly difficult to steal something that doesn’t belong to someone else. If, like ducks in the park, it doesn’t belong to anyone, you can just take it home if you want to. But just in case the obvious presumption of the existence of private property wasn’t enough for some people (because they’re Communists), God explicitly states the right to property in Exodus 20:17, when he forbids coveting ‘anything that belongs to your neighbor.’ In other words, don’t covet your neighbor’s property.
So not only does God give us the right to own property, He lays out a pretty comprehensive set of protections for property in Exodus 22:1-14. In addition to not stealing, we are also forbidden from damaging or destroying our neighbor’s property, even by accident. If you do steal, damage, or destroy your neighbor’s property, then you have to make restitution from your own property. If someone steals and can’t make restitution, then that person is to be sold into slavery to make restitution. That’s how seriously God takes property rights; if you violate someone’s property rights, it can cost you one of your most fundamental rights: your liberty.
This runs directly counter to the attitude of the diet Communists on the professing-Christian Left, who would admonish us to ‘not make an idol out of private property’ if our property is stolen, or if we don’t want our taxes going ‘welfare’. While that sure sounds spiritual and high-minded, it’s pretty unloving when you think about it. ‘Your car got stolen? Don’t make an idol out of your car, bro.’
Can you make an idol out of your property? Sure. But being bothered because your stuff was stolen isn’t idolatry. God takes stealing very seriously, and we should too; not just because our stuff is being taken wrongfully (it’s okay to be upset at being wronged, just look at the Psalms), but because stealing is an affront to God.
Our property is not just stuff that belongs to us, it is stuff that was entrusted to us by God, the Creator and ultimate Owner of all of the stuff in the universe, you and me included. Since God owns everything, He has the right to entrust that stuff to whomever He wishes, as He did in Genesis 1:28-30 when He told mankind to subdue the earth. A detailed Biblical case for free markets would be a bit of a tangent, but suffice it to say that as part of our stewardship of God’s creation, we are allowed to trade with each other, to further the purpose of our stewardship, which is to glorify God in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). All of the stuff ultimately belongs to God, He’s just letting us use it, within the rules He set. Thus, when someone steals, they are not just stealing from the human owner but, after a fashion, from God Himself.
So far, I haven’t said anything really controversial; even the most wishy-washy Big Eva intellectuals aren’t really okay with private individuals stealing from each other, but there is one entity whose thefts mainstream evangelicals are more than willing to overlook: the government.
There is a strain of bargain-basement Bolshevism in mainstream Christian thought that holds that the government can take the liberty and property of its citizens for any reason that sounds virtuous enough, such as ‘the common good’, ‘helping the poor’, or that favorite of Lenin-lite lefties ‘social justice’. Somehow, it’s not stealing if the government takes your stuff without your consent, so they can give it to a single mother who is suffering the consequences of her decision to fornicate.
This is not to say that the government doesn’t have the authority to levy taxes. Jesus said to pay your taxes in Matthew 22:19-21, so obviously the government has the authority to tax, or Jesus would have said taxation is theft. What He doesn’t tell us, because it wasn’t His point, is why the government gets to tax us. He left that for Paul to explain in Romans 13:1-7. It is the government’s job to be ‘an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.’ That wrath isn’t free. Even back then, soldiers had to be paid. Swords, shields and sandals cost money too. Today’s more advanced and effective wrath delivery systems like main battle tanks, attack helicopters, and cruise missiles cost a lot of money. That’s why the government gets to levy taxes, because most terrorists aren’t going to bomb themselves, and the grunts need to be paid.
That said, the government’s authority to tax is limited to what God has allowed them to tax for. Taxing for reasons other than to fund its God-given role is not taxation, it’s theft. For example, Social Security is not a job given to the government by God; thus, the Social Security tax that comes out of your paycheck every month is theft. Government appropriation of private property through eminent domain is also theft, even if they have good intentions. This means that the welfare state that so many left-leaning professing Christians champion as ‘caring for the poor’ is not Christian. It is not appropriate for Christians to support the welfare state, because they are supporting theft from their neighbors.
The Bible puts forth very strong protections for private property, because your property is a stewardship granted to you by God. As such, you are responsible to God for how you use that property, and it is not the place of others to take that property from you. As Christians, who are called to love our neighbors, we should stand up for their property rights that were given to them by God. We should not advocate for the government or anyone else to take that property, whether in the form of money or stuff, except for reasons specifically permitted by God, namely as taxes to allow the government to punish evildoers, or as punishment for their own crimes. Private property is a stewardship from God, which means that He is the final authority over it, and no one else.
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