8 PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF PROPERTY
God intended human beings to be social (live in societies - group). That alone would necessitate some divisional control or ownership of properties (things, objects, necessities for existence in a physical world). The fact that human beings were created with physical bodies to exist or subsist in a physical world of objects necessary to that physical subsistence proves that acquisition of "things" is imperative. The proprietorship of physical things is an inalienable right of human beings - an imperative consequence of their physical nature.
Proprietorship was mandated by Almighty God when he created humankind:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food (Gen. 1:28, 29).
The original human beings (Adam and Eve) were given "dominion" over every part of the earth they could "subdue."
Here is the primeval commission to man authorizing both science and technology as man's basic enterprises relative to the earth. "Science" is man's disciplined study and understanding of the phenomena of his world. "Technology" is the implementation of this knowledge in the effective ordering and development of the earth and its resources, for the greater good of all earth's inhabitants . . . .This twofold commission to subdue and have dominion, to conquer and rule, embraces all productive human activities. Science and technology, research and development, theory and application, study and practice, and so forth, are various ways of expressing these two concepts....
This command, therefore, established man as God's steward over the created world and all things therein.... The scientific and technological enterprises still comprise God's mandate to man relative to the earth and its inhabitants, and man would find himself immeasurably more productive and effective in such pursuits if he would only approach them in the reverent and believing attitude of an honest and good servant of his Maker.
The Genesis Record, by Henry M. Morris,
pub. Baker Book House, p. 77
Property rights are more than rights to things. In essence, property is an extension of the person who has acquired it for in acquiring it he has "spent" part of his life (time, energy, expertise, etc.). Thus, to take a man's "property" is to take his life. That is why the founding fathers of the United States of America were so jealous of their rights to hold private property.
... by virtue of his power of reason, man's place in the natural order is that of lord tenant of the earth. (1) Reason has been defined as the "spark of the Infinite" in man; it is that power which impels him to seek to penetrate the meaning of the universe and of his life within it; it is the power which qualifies him for natural dominion over all the lower orders; it is the power which has enabled him, little by little, to gain control over his natural environment (see Psa. 8:3-8).... (2) According to Biblical teaching, this dominion was vested in man by the Creator Himself: (Gen. 1:27, 28).... After all, what is the story of man's development of his science throughout the centuries - that science by means of which he has gradually "subdued" the forces of his physical environment - but his own natural spontaneous fulfillment of this divine command? (3) "Astronomically speaking," said someone, "man is insignificant - hardly a speck on a speck of the totality of the cosmos." To which reply was made: "Yes, but astronomically speaking, man is the astronomer." Despite fulminations to the contrary, our world is definitely anthropocentric, that is, in the sense that every person is unavoidably the center of his own experienced world. Moreover, man apparently is the only being who strives to inquire into the mysteries of the world around him and of his own life in that world. (4) History shows that man has, from the beginning of his existence upon earth, assumed proprietary right over all the subhuman orders and utilized them for preserving himself in physical existence. He has done this, moreover, naturally and by natural right. For if he has, by creation, the right to life, then surely he has also the right to the means of sustaining life; and what other means have "Nature and Nature's God" provided for his sustenance than the plant and animal orders? Again as Aristotle has put it: "The business of nature is to furnish food to that which is born." The corresponding obligation (for with every right there is also an obligation) which has been placed upon man himself is, of course, that he shall eat his daily bread "in the sweat of his face" (Gen. 3:19), that is to say, as the fruit of honest labor, mental or physical. For a man to fail in this obligation on his part is for him to become a parasite upon society.
Commonsense Ethics, ibid, pp. 107, 108
Evidently the right of proprietorship was assumed not only by Adam and Eve, but also by their first offspring:
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord. And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions (Gen. 4: l-4a).
Cain "subdued" the ground and produced "fruit" for his labor. Abel "subdued" animals and also exercised proprietorship over the "fruit" of his labors. Both men clearly understood that they had some "dominion" over these "things" inasmuch as they brought a portion to the Lord as an "offering." They offered it. It was theirs to offer. They did not have to offer it; no one took it from them against their will. They had spent part of their life (energy, time and expertise) to subdue "the earth" and that which was produced became, by God's beneficence, their property to give or keep.
The same proprietorship was mandated to Noah (see Gen. 9:1-7) after the Flood. Noah became the first "tiller of the soil" after the Flood and planted a vineyard and consumed part of the fruit of his labor (Gen. 9-20ff). The formation of the nations by the descendants of Noah implies proprietorship in the phrase, "These are the sons of Japheth in their lands .... "(Gen. 10:5) etc.
Abram's faithfulness in obeying the Lord's command to migrate to Canaan was rewarded: he "took . . . their possessions which they had gathered" when he left Haran for Canaan (Gen. 12:5). The Hebrew word for "possessions" is rekusham which is translated in the LXX in the Greek word huparchonta and literally means, "property, possessions, belongings" (see Matt. 19:21; Luke 8:3; Acts 3:6; 4:37). We read further that "Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold ..." (Gen. 13:2), and when he rescued his nephew Lot from the kings of the East, Abram "brought back his kinsman Lot with his goods ..." (Gen. 14:16). The king of Sodom recognized Abram's right to take possession of the "goods" which had previously belonged to the people of Sodom because of Abram's risk and work in rescuing them from the robber-kings. But Abram declined (Gen. 14:21-24). Abram was promised that his descendants would come out of a future bondage "with great possessions" (Gen. 15:14).
The following is a partial list of statements or inferences from the pre-Mosaic era (the books of Genesis and Job) concerning property and proprietorship:
Private property is from God. It is important. It is to be valued. Any politico-economic system which denies this God-mandated right of private property is under the condemnation of Almighty God. Human proprietorship of property is also clearly a right by "Natural Law":
1. The right of private ownership is a natural right. This right is founded on no other fact than the fact of man's existence: the right to life carries with it the right to the means of sustaining life and of enriching the personality. Among primitive peoples, allocation of land (real estate) was not necessary because of sparseness of population: however, as population grew, it became necessary to allocate land, and later to make a distinction even between surface and subsurface (mineral) rights. That the external goods of the world exist for man's use and benefit is evident from (1) his absolute need of them, and (2) their perfect adaptability; to his needs as an organism. A natural right is one that is postulated by the needs of human life itself - individual, family, and social. The right to acquire private property is postulated by this threefold need. Individual need includes (a) capability and necessity of human providence, (b) the right of the individual to the fruits of his labor, and (c) the necessity of an adequate incentive to personal labor. That which belongs to everybody is never properly cared for, because it is human nature to have special interest only in what is one's own. Family need includes (a) duty of maintenance of home, wife, and family, (b) duty of adequate education of offspring - physical, intellectual and moral, and (c) provision for emergencies, such as births, sickness, accidents, old age, etc. The right to private ownership of a home goes along with the right to establish a family. The most stable form of civil society is that in which there is a dominant home-owning middle class. Revolutions occur only in cases in which this middle class disappears, leaving only the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor. Social need includes (a) the promotion of the arts and sciences, and of the amenities of life; (b) wholesome competition arising from private enterprise; (c) prevention of anarchy that arises from universal sloth, or of tyranny from forced conscription of labor, conditions that invariably occur if private enterprise is outlawed. Man either owns some private property, or he will be owned by the state (the ruling regime). As Aristotle pointed out long ago, (a) the great crimes of man are not due to considerations of property but to human excess (passion, lust); property, moreover, would destroy the virtue of liberality (generosity) altogether and would make man simply a ward of the state. Any governing regime that tries to eliminate private property will have to resort to brute force to do so. Complete equalization is contrary to human nature: unity is not to be confused with uniformity. A Kentucky thoroughbred and a Missouri mule can be put on the same track, and if the track is made muddy enough, the thoroughbred will not be able to move any faster than the mule. Again, a thousand dollars may be divided equally among ten persons, but it will not be long before two or three of the ten will, by superior initiative or ability or cleverness, acquire possession of the entire sum. Equalization of human talents and incentives, and equalization of property as well, goes directly against human nature itself. Paternalistic government, moreover, destroys individual initiative; citizens who must be "kept" by the state can hardly be called citizens. Finally, no evidence is forthcoming that the much-touted proletarian (from proles, Latin word for a father whose only property is offspring) will prove to be his own messiah; he turns out to be, rather, merely the puppet of the ruling regime.
2. The right of private ownership, however, is not an unlimited right. (1) The individual has the absolute right to assume those goods which are necessary to the sustenance of his own life, provided he is willing to give honest labor in return: the obligation placed upon every man is that he shall earn his daily bread in the sweat of his face, a provision which is for man's own good. The individual has the right to assume for his own use that which has not been assumed by others on the basis of the same right. (2) Other persons have rights, too: the same basic rights (to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness); rights to safety, order, security, integrity of limb, etc. Property right is a right which I am obligated to use reasonably. I do not have the right to drive my automobile at excessive speed such as to endanger the lives of others, nor do I have the right to drive anywhere, on the sidewalks as well as on the streets, etc. I have no right to use my residence as a place for making explosives, nor as a brothel. I have no right to set fire to my property and thus endanger the property and lives of others, etc. In fact I have no right to use my property in any manner that would be injurious to others - not even to manufacture chemicals, narcotics, etc., that would destroy the minds and bodies of my fellows. (3) Nor do I have any right to the unlimited accumulation of wealth. There was a time a few years ago when a few men owned the quinine supply of the world; had they resorted to price-fixing to excess, that would have been monopoly, and the kind of monopoly that is detrimental to human welfare the world over. And therefore both immoral and illegitimate. One of the legitimate functions of government is that of outlawing such monopolistic practices. There is a moral limit even to "free enterprise." Excessive monopoly can stifle free enterprise as effectively as government control. (4) Much ado has been made in recent years about the subordination of property rights to human rights. No sane person questions the fact that human rights take precedence over everything; indeed there are no rights, property rights included, which are not human rights.
3. That private property is a natural right is confirmed historically. (1) The right to life carries with it the right to the means of sustaining life. The only means of sustaining life available to man are those material goods which provide for him food, shelter, clothing, etc. Hence we reason that the material goods of the earth are here for all mankind. The only ethical problem involved is that of the just allocation of such goods: no society can afford to allow such a maladjustment to prevail as to make it impossible for a citizen to earn a livelihood through honest toil. The world does not owe me a living, but society does owe me the opportunity of making a living. (2) History proves that private property, through relatively just allocation of material goods (and relative justice is all that one can expect in this present world), is the only method that has ever been found to succeed permanently and at the same time to provide for the greatest measure of individual freedom and initiative together with collective security and contentment. Hence private property has existed as a worldwide institution from the very dawn of history. (3) No other system can be correlated with the rise and spread of human initiative and freedom and with the rise and spread of democracy. The only alternative is strict regimentation under a rigid dictatorship; in a word, totalitarianism, in which the social, political, economic, and even the cultural life of a people are all placed under rigid bureaucratic control.
Commonsense Ethics, by C.C. Crawford,
pub. Brown, pp. 302-304
One commentator has pointed out that the very essence of the Law of Moses is best seen in its regulations about proprietorship. The regulations and principles set forth in God's revelation to Moses in the area of property ownership and economics were (and still are to some extent) unparalleled. The laws regulating property in the Mosaic theocracy set that nation apart from all other nations on earth.
The commands of the law regarding wealth and its use are all addressed to the heart, aimed at quenching the desire for earthly riches and mammon-worship. Yet on the other hand, they were not intended to dull enthusiasm for honest industry and proper gain thereby, and certainly not to encourage sloth, waste, or indolence. If work and thrift are part of the Puritan ethic, we know where the Puritans, famous for their interest in the Scriptures, got such ideas.
Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, by Robert D. Culver,
pub. Moody Press, p. 151
The citizens of theocratic Israel began to obtain property on a national scale when they were the guests of the Egyptians in the "land of Goshen" (see Gen. 47:1, 6, 27; Exod. 11:1-3; 12:35, 36) and from the spoils of wars against their adversaries of the "wilderness wanderings" (see Num. 31:32-54). All this "portable wealth" or "personal property" was divided among all the families (Num. 31:25-54). The "real estate" properties were acquired when Israel invaded and occupied Canaan and the land was apportioned to tribes and then to families within the tribes (see Num. 26:52-56; 33:54). And it was a rich and productive land (Deut. 8:7-10; Exod. 3:8; Lev. 26:5; Num. 13:21-24). There were many exportable natural resources for trading (see Jer. 22:6; Zech. 10:10; Jer. 8:22; 46:11; Ezra 27:17; Gen. 37;25; II Sam. 18:6-8, etc.). Real estate properties were to be held by families in perpetuum. They were to be passed on by inheritance within the same family "forever." Ownership of the land was by family. It could not be transferred from that family by any means, person, or state. It was a "trust" from the Lord to the family "forever" (see Lev. 25:23-28). Land might be temporarily "indentured" or "sold on loan" but it legally reverted to its original family proprietor when debts were paid or at the "year of jubilee" (every fifty years). The family to whom the land was originally allotted by Mosaic law could not sell their land in a perpetual sense.
The eighth and tenth commandments of the Decalogue (Exod. 20:1-17) unequivocally state the Almighty God holds ownership of private property inviolable. Stealing of another's property, by whatever means (robbery, forgery, cheating, embezzlement, thievery) is divinely forbidden. The human right to hold private property originates with the Sovereign God of all creation, not with any political or social entity. Sophisticated methods of stealing like moving a neighbor's property boundary marker is forbidden (Deut. 19:1). Not even a king dared to steal the property of one of his people (I Kings 21:15-19). The human law of "eminent domain" was not a part of God-approved legislation about property.
Eminent Domain is the inherent right of a state to force a property owner to sell his property when it is needed for public use. This right is based on the legal rule that all real property is subject to the control of the state, just as all real property in England was once owned by the king.... The use of Eminent Domain by governments originated in the Middle Ages. It once meant the right that an overlord (ruler) had over the land farmed by his vassal (tenant).
World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, pp. 209,210
The Old Testament theocracy, as such, had no control of "real property." There is no inherent "eminent domain" authorized by God for the state in all the Bible, neither in the days of the patriarchs, nor in the theocracy, nor the monarchy, nor in the New Testament. "Eminent domain" may be considered by modern civil governments the only expedient way to make technological progress, but it has no basis in the Bible. To condemn a property-owner's land (or other property) by the rule of "eminent domain," against the property-owner's wishes, even though fairly appraised market-value exchange is made for it, would be classified as stealing in the Bible.
Following are some of the theocratic regulations concerning private personal property (Exod. 22:1-14; Deut. 5:15-21):
A few additional references to proprietorship in the Pentateuch follow:
References to private ownership of property in the era of the Judges and the Monarchy are indisputable. The following is listing of the most significant ones:
Direct statements and indirect inferences to individual proprietorship in the Old Testament Prophets are pervasive. Below is a sampling:
When we turn to the New Testament we see unimpeachable evidence, in both teaching and example, that Jesus Christ and his apostles approved of the principle of the ownership of private property - real and personal:
These few references clearly prove that Jesus Christ specifically and unequivocally approved of the ownership of property by individual persons. Not one word in the Gospels would give divine sanction to the ownership of property by a political state. States may commandeer property by "eminent domain" but such action is not sanctioned by Christ. While a state has divine mandate to exist by collecting taxes, it has no right to invade or confiscate private property.
Perhaps the most unambiguous statement of the divine sanction in favor of human proprietorship is that in Acts 4:32-5:6. It is the story of the first century Christians declaring their "possessions" available to any of their brethren who had need. Those who had real estate property sold some of their holdings and made the proceeds available to the apostles for distribution to the needy. They did this on their own. There is not one word in the New Testament that indicates they were commanded to do this. We are not even told that God approved of their doing this. The judgment that came upon Ananias and Sapphira was not for holding back part of their property - it was for lying to God about what they had done in order to appear to have done differently. These are the apostle Peter's words:
Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God (Acts 5:3, 4).
After this incident nothing more is said in the New Testament about this kind of alleged "communism." Besides, what the early church was practicing here in no way resembles the humanistic, socialistic dictatorship of modern Marxist communism where the wealth is controlled by an elitist hierarchy of power-brokers. The fact that the apostle Paul had to call upon other Christian churches to take up spontaneous, free-will offerings and collections to supply physical assistance to the brethren at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-31; I Cor. 16:1-3; II Cor. 8:1-9:15; Gal. 2:10) indicates the early church discontinued abruptly its practice of "having all things common." The following passages seem to indicate early discontinuation of a "community of goods" practice:
But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody (I Thess. 4:9-12).
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one's bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command; If anyone will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing. If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (II Thess. 3:6-15).
Paul also gave apostolic command:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need (Eph. 4:28).
Paul told Timothy to exhort the "rich in this world" to "do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous ..." (I Tim. 6:18) without one word of condemnation for the fact that they were rich. He told Titus to command servants to "be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to be refractory, nor to pilfer, but to show entire and true fidelity, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God . . ." (Titus 2:9, 10). Slaves and servants who had very little property, if any at all, were to respect the property of others and not steal! Paul even went so far as to return a slave-owner's (Philemon's) slave (Onesimus) out of respect for "property rights" - exhorting the "owner" to treat his "slave" as a "brother" and no longer as "a slave" (Philemon).
In Hebrews 10:32-36 we are informed that certain Hebrew-Christians had joyfully "accepted the plundering of their property" during the persecution of Christians by their Jewish (anti-Christian) kinsmen.
James severely condemns those who own property and misuse it or refuse to share it (James 2:1-26; 5:1-6); and he warns those whose whole lives are centered in "trading and getting gain" to consider the brevity of life on this earth (James 4:13-17).
The Bible says that owning private property has divine sanction. It goes further and pronounces severe condemnation upon those who would violate the rights of proprietorship. The Bible acknowledges the reality that there will always be rich and poor in this world (Deut. 15:11; John 12:8; Matt. 26:11; Matt. 14:7). But it places no spiritual premium on either economic category, per se.
Dr. C.C. Crawford discusses the rationale ("natural law") of human proprietorship from the standpoint of titles to property:
A title of ownership is a clearly evident fact by which a moral bond (of ownership) is established between a definite person and a definite thing. No definite thing can belong to a definite person (natural or juridical) without a title.
1. Original titles are those by means of which a thing formerly belonging to no one becomes the property of a particular person: these are effective occupation, accession, and productive labor. (1) Effective occupation is the action by which an unowned thing is taken as the possession of a person or persons. This country was settled in this manner: people settled on the land occupied by no one (certainly the landed area of the United States was not being effectively occupied by the aborigines); hence, effective occupation gave original title. No other original title - to land, especially - is conceivable: however, great injustices can occur in the process. Juridical prerequisites of effective occupation are (a) that the thing is capable of exclusive ownership, (b) that there is a permanent occupancy (squatters are outside this category); and (c) that a permanent sign is set up denoting intention to occupy and thus to acquire possession. No injustice is involved in taking over a thing which belongs to no one, which is not being utilized by anyone: if someone does not come along and take possession of the thing, it will be of no use to anybody. Before injustice can occur, one has to infringe on the rights of another. (2) Accession is the original title to the natural increase of the thing possessed, such as new creatures of the herd, fruits of the orchard, yield of farm land, alluvial deposits, etc. (What about mineral rights?) (3) Productive labor is the gain form or quality to something already existing and hence makes that thing more useful and valuable. To the extent, therefore, that it makes the occupation effective, labor becomes a primordial title to ownership. (Non-productive labor takes the form of service rendered: it includes the various services and liberal professions, e.g., teachers, dentists, physicians, etc. Such persons do not produce anything as a rule; they do render invaluable services, however, and hence are entitled to proper remuneration).
2. Derivative titles of ownership occur by transfer of ownership from one person to another: these are prescription, inheritance, and contract. (1) Prescription is the acquiring of ownership by fortuitously coming into possession of a thing that once belonged to another whose claim to the thing has evidently been abandoned. E.g., an outlawed debt, an article which one finds with which no previous owner is identifiable, etc. Prescription is a natural title for two reasons: unless it were, many material things would be of no utility to man; ownership would be so uncertain that contests for it would be multiplied beyond reason. (2) Inheritance is legitimate succession to ownership of a thing upon the death of the former owner. Intestate succession (when an individual dies without leaving a will) is in favor of the wife and children of the deceased. The right of inheritance is essential to democratic society, for the following reasons; (a) right order demands the stability of family life; wife and children are clearly indicated by the Moral Law to be the natural heirs of the husband! and father of the family, as the continuation of his personality; (b) heredity succession is necessary to safeguard parental authority; (c) if a person could make no such disposition of his earthly goods, arid if the state took them over at his death, obviously the stare would own everything within a generation or two; (d) if the state did not take over the property of the deceased, then the first occupant would do so, and this would mean a fight among the relatives for the disposition of the property, and in the end would spell the destruction of the social order; (e) abandonment of inheritance would mean that all families ultimately would be thrown upon the bounty of the state; (f) abandonment of inheritance would throw upon the state the duty of subsidizing all worthy cultural and humanitarian causes, and the result would be the stamping out of altruism; (g) the right of inheritance is a positive stimulus to human initiative; (h) property right is domestic and personal in character, and therefore is by nature antecedent to civil law and even to the beginning of civil power; hence it is the duty of a society to safeguard this right and to control its use by law, in such a manner as to prevent the accumulation of vast wealth in the hands of a privileged few. While equal distribution of material goods is impossible and unnatural, equitable distribution is absolutely essential and should be maintained by governmental action if necessary. By equitable distribution is meant a relatively fair allocation of goods among all segments of the population, in order to prevent unemployment and to safeguard free enterprise in general. Devices that serve this general purpose are death taxes, inheritance taxes, income taxes, minimum wage laws, collective bargaining, etc. In the final analysis, private inheritance, if properly controlled, is a necessary safeguard of democratic institutions. The state has a right to be supported by its citizens by means of taxation of private enterprises. The state also has the duty of protecting its citizens from the corruptions and injustices that proceed from the "cornering" of excessive wealth in the hands of a minority, to the detriment and degradation of the many. Such a condition - that in which only two classes exist, the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor - issues inevitably in violent revolution and the overthrow of the government. As Aristotle pointed out long ago, the stability of any social order depends on the stability of a large home-owning class. Individuals who are fortunate enough to amass great wealth - and in most cases great wealth comes fortuitously - are too often prone to overlook the fact that great wealth entails great responsibility to society.
I have no quarrel with men of wealth, but I must insist that responsibility to society is in proportion to the wealth accumulated. I have often made the statement that if I am to be exploited, and I know that I am exploited (by marked-up, even excessive, profits) about every time I go to the store to purchase needed material goods, I prefer to be exploited by private industry than a government bureaucracy of some kind. It is not money, but the love of money, that is the root of all kinds of evil (I Tim. 6:10). We can - and often do - carry the profit motive to unjustifiable extremes; yet we cannot do away with it without destroying democracy and every value that is associated with it, even freedom itself. There are two fundamental human rights, lacking either of which no political order can rightly call itself democratic; these are the rights of religious freedom and private property. When these two rights are usurped by government, democracy perishes. Moreover, I have never been able to convince myself that poverty is a virtue, when, as a matter of fact, it breeds vice, crime, and all kinds of wickedness; it is about the costliest business - to all segments of the economy - that any community can engage in. Among the poor themselves it usually resolves itself into a psychological, rather than an economic, problem: hence the solution is not easy to find. Nations and communities are acting wisely, however, in seeking a solution, one that at least will reduce poverty to a minimum.
I recall walking with a friend, on one occasion, over his fertile farm land of several hundred acres in extent. In the course of the conversation, he became rather boastful. "I suppose," he said "that I could sell out tomorrow for a quarter of a million dollars. Yes, I think I am worth that much." That was about all I could take, and so I said to him, "You are mistaken. That is not what you are worth." In astonishment, he replied, "I don't understand. Just what do you mean?" "I mean," I answered, "that two hundred and fifty thousand dollars represents what you have cost society. What you are worth is to be measured by what you put back into society, for the common good." Worth is not measured by getting, but by giving. Jesus, Luke 12:15: "A man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses." This is a truth that selfish man is very reluctant to admit.
Commonsense Ethics, C.C. Crawford pp. 307-309
God judges not by how much property a person has, but by what he thinks about it in his heart and what he does with it in his life!
Economic systems and political structures are not necessarily one and the same. "Communism" is fundamentally an economic system - not a political one. In Biblical times there were apparently four major politico-economic systems:
Different economic systems have developed as a result of specific political systems. Hardly any economic system is pure or absolute. All are eclectic. These systems develop and commingle because nations and cultures can not agree on how to solve their basic economic problems. Four important economic systems today are:
Some anonymous wit made the following facetious definition of basic economic systems:
Socialism: - You have two cows: you give one to your neighbor.
Communism: - You have two cows: you give both to the government, and the government gives you back as much milk as the government thinks you ought to have.
Fascism - You keep two cows, and then give the government the milk, and the government gives you as much milk as it dictates.
Nazi-ism: - The government shoots you and takes the two cows.
New Dealism - The government shoots one cow, milks the other, and then pours the milk down the sewer.
Capitalism: - You sell one cow and buy a bull.
In every civilized society of national and political structure, the government must play a role (i.e. regulation and services) to one degree or another in the economic system of its citizenry - even in a "free-enterprise" system. Some form of authority or enforcement must be delegated to regulate economic activity (by law) to assure justice and fairness - to prevent monopolistic exploitation of individuals. Further, a federalization of some form of government must exist with the authority and resources at hand to provide services for the citizenry (e.g. legislation, national defense, local law enforcement, roads, postal system, judicial system, currency, etc.) that individuals and smaller social groups cannot provide for themselves. America's founding fathers put it this way in the Preamble to the Constitution adopted September 17, 1787:
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Because of the imperfection and sinfulness of human beings, human political structures and economic systems must be restrained by law. Since all human laws that are just and reasonable have their source in the Law of God (both "natural" and "revealed"), it is logical to conclude that the Bible will say something about a systemization or regulation of economics. While the Bible mandates no specific politico-economic system, it does show that believers may live and serve God as citizens under varied economic arrangements. The institution of an economical scheme most in harmony with biblical principles and precepts seems to be that of modified "free-enterprise." It appears that the Bible presents an example of economics that would be strong on laissez faire with the federal government interfering in property ownership and private business enterprise only to guard against exploitation of individuals and providing only the basic services that individuals and corporations of citizens cannot provide for themselves. Crawford postulates the "free-enterprise" system from the standpoint of reason and conscience (the "natural law" of God):
4. Any politico-economic system which denies this basic right of private property is undemocratic and therefore unacceptable, e.g., the following: (1) Social Positivism, which is the doctrine that the sole source of private property right is the civil law, hence, that only such "rights" exist as are granted (created) by the state. This is simply the denial of natural law and natural right. Under such a: view, obviously neither the right of individual conscience, nor minority right, exists: only the will of the ruling regime, enforced by physical power, becomes the source of laws and "rights." However, these would hardly be rights at all: rather, they would be only gratuities doled out by the ruling authority. (2) What is called Communism holds that no right of private property exists and calls the exercise of that right "robbery." Absolute Communism would make ail things positively common (including women - the doctrine of "free love") so that neither the individual person nor society as a whole could have dominion over them, but individuals could use them according to their individual desires. This is real "Communism": it seeks the overthrow of all government and hence is anarchistic in character. Marxist-Leninism entrusts the dominion over all goods to the society as a whole, in the final analysis, to the ruling regime set up by the society. In practice this is really Absolute State Capitalism. (Advocated by Fourier, Robert Owen, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotzky, Stalin, etc.) Limited Communism takes the form of what is generally called Socialism.
It would vest in the community as a whole, operating through a duly elected government and through "public corporations," the administration of all means of production and distribution of goods essential to the general welfare. [Evolutionary Socialism (also known as "Fabian" or "creeping" Socialism) proposes to bring in the socialistic order gradually by ballot (legal change). Marxist - Leninism contends that the rule of the proletariat can be achieved only by violent revolution (by bullets); hence it is known as Radical or Revolutionary Socialism.] (3) Anarchism rejects all public authority and would destroy the present social order by force. It would tolerate no other bonds than those by which workers might associate themselves in guilds and in municipalities, to which would be entrusted dominion over various kinds of goods to be produced. (Cf. Syndicalism, Guild Socialism, Industrial Workers of the World, etc.). We must conclude that any politico-economic system is inadmissible, the introduction of which and the administration of which reduces the citizenry of a given region to abject subservience to the ruling regime, otherwise known as the State, the Party, or the Cause. Totalitarian systems, moreover, are ethically unjustifiable because they can be instituted only by bloody revolutions (in no instance has what we call "Communism" today ever been introduced by a free popular election). In a democracy, however, the only justifiable instrument for effecting political change ("reform") which public sentiment may deem necessary, is the ballot-box. Certainly our Constitution is sufficiently elastic to permit any kind of change which public sentiment may demand sufficiently to bring about constitutional amendment by due process of law (as provided for, in the Constitution itself); hence there is no excuse for the existence of any movement in the United States that is committed to the doctrine of revolution by force: such a movement cannot be regarded, in the very nature of the case, as anything but a conspiracy, a form of treason. Totalitarianism can be achieved only by the "liquidation" of the middle class (the bourgeoisie), and can be maintained only by brute force, so contrary is it to human character. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" is, in the final analysis, not a "classless" society, but a one-class society maintained by a ruling oligarchy which sees to it that there shall be one, and only one, class in the state.
Commonsense Ethics, by C.C. Crawford,
pub. Brown, pp. 304-306
Dr. Crawford holds that practically all economic systems except modified "free-enterprise" are illogical and impractical. Being unreasonable and disenfranchising they are philosophically unacceptable. They go against human conscience (the "natural law" of God) and the desire for freedom. Only the "free-enterprise" system of economics, modified by a civil regulatory arrangement which conforms fundamentally to both reason and the propositional revelation of God in the Bible is acceptable for human societies. Other economic systems may be endured by believers but they can never be acceptable.
From the very beginning, the Bible portrays man as a proprietor operating in an exclusively free-enterprise economy. "Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a tiller of the ground" both earning what was "theirs" and disposing of it according to their own determination (Gen. 4:1-7). Next, acting strictly on his own initiative (free-enterprise), "Cain built a city" (Gen. 4:17) and some of Cain's early descendants, also acting on individual initiative, chose vocations and trades obviously indicating a "free" economy (Gen. 4:20-22). But since we know very little detail about pre-diluvian structures of society it is irrelevant to make comparisons between these earliest economic inferences and later ones more precisely detailed.
Immediately after the flood, Noah and his sons began the human race again as sole proprietors (Gen. 9:1-29). As the descendants of Noah's sons migrated and populated the earth, they developed political and economic structures according to the circumstances of their environments and leadership. Early postdiluvian societies were sufficiently sophisticated to build cities and massive architectural structures (Gen. 11:1-4; 11:31, 32) which should require some necessity for "free-enterprise" systems of economics.
It is clear from our previous analysis of what the Bible says about property that the patriarchs who believed God (i.e. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others) practiced a rigid "free-enterprise" system of economics while most of their unbelieving contemporaries lived in cultures which practiced feudal or fascist arrangements economically. There is one significant and very interesting economic case study in Genesis - that of Egypt in the days of Joseph. The economic system of Egypt was apparently "free-enterprise" (modified) until the great famine when Joseph "bought" all the privately owned land from individual landowners (Gen. 47:13-27). At that point Egypt's economy shifted, by consent of the starving populace, to a feudal or fascist system where the land was owned by the King (Pharaoh) and farmed by vassals ("tenants or share-croppers") who had indentured themselves to Pharaoh for food by which to survive.
In contrast to the happy condition of Joseph's father and brothers in the land of Goshen, the Biblical record . . . depicts the state of privation in Egypt. In need of food, the Egyptians presented themselves to Joseph to explain their plight. On the first such occasion, Joseph purchased their cattle, allowing them "bread" in exchange for horses, flocks, herds, and asses. When the Egyptians present themselves a second time, they had nothing to exchange for food except their lands. Thereupon Joseph secured the lands of the Egyptian people for Pharaoh, because they received an allotment of food at Pharaoh's expense. This introduced the feudal system into Egypt: the system of land tenure. Seed was allotted to the Egyptians on condition that one-fifth of the produce of the land would revert to Pharaoh. "Although this act of Joseph involved a measure of humiliation, including the surrender of lands to the state, it made possible a strong central government which could take measures to prevent famines. The life of Egypt depends upon the Nile, and all the inhabitants of the Nile Valley must cooperate if the water is to be used efficiently. The government was in a position to regulate the use of Nile water and also to begin a system of artificial irrigation by means of canals which could carry the waters of the river to otherwise inaccessible areas. Joseph's economic policy is described with no hint as to either approval or censure. Some have thought that Joseph drove a hard bargain and took advantage of the conditions to enhance the power of the throne. That the emergency resulted in a centralization of authority is clear. There is no hint that Joseph, personally, profited from the situation, however. On the contrary, the people said to Joseph, Thou hast saved our lives (47:25). Many, doubtless, resented the necessity of being moved, but in famine conditions it was necessary to bring the population to the store-cities where food was available. Convenience must be forgotten in a life-and-death situation such as Egypt faced. Joseph thus destroyed the free proprietors and made the king the lord-paramount of the soil, while the people became the hereditary tenants of their sovereign, and paid a fifth of their annual produce as rent for the soil they occupied. The priests alone retained their estates through this trying period." (Pfeiffer, The book of Genesis, 98, 99). The "tax" of a fifth of the produce of the fields was not excessive according to ancient standards, we are told. In the time of the Maccabees the Jews paid the Syrian government one-third of the seed (I Mace. 10:30). Egyptologists inform us that large landed estates were owned by the nobility and the governors of the nomes ("states") during the Old Empire period (c. 3000-1900 B.C.). By the New Kingdom (after 1550 B.C.) power was centralized in the person of the Pharaoh. It would appear that Joseph, as Prime Minister, was instrumental in hastening this development. There is no doubt that Egypt was, during the most of the last two millennia of her existence, essentially a feudal state in which the nobility flourished and slaves did all the work. "At the end of two years (see Gen. 45:6) all the money of the Egyptians and Canaanites had passed into the Pharaoh's territory (Gen. 47:14). At this crisis we do not see how Joseph can be acquitted of raising the despotic authority of his master on the broken fortunes of the people; but yet he made a moderate settlement of the power thus acquired. First the cattle then the land of the Egyptian became the property of the Pharaoh, and the people were removed from the country to the cities. They were still permitted, however, to cultivate their lands as tenants under the crown, paying a rent of one-fifth of the produce, and this became the permanent law of the tenure of land in Egypt; but the land of the priests was left in their own possession (Gen. 47:15-26)" (OTH, 121).
Genesis, Vol. IV, by C.C. Crawford,
pub. College Press, pp. 567-569
While there is no revelation from God as to heaven's acceptance or rejection of the "feudal-system" of economics instituted by Joseph, the incident does show that believers may function in such a system without violating divine revelation.
After the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the Israelites were structured into a "nation." This necessitated more regulation of individualism and privacy. The Law of Moses regulated property and business transactions with divinely revealed and codified rules. Previous detailing of Mosaic laws of property and business portray a "modified" free-enterprise system. Israelites owned their land privately and were allowed to succeed or fail by their own initiative so long as they obeyed the regulations of Moses' Law. Some became affluent, some poor. But participation in the "market place" was open to all.
Now the approach of the Mosaic law to the matter of wealth and its distribution is both novel and realistic. It envisioned no perfect Utopia in which all men would be equal in ability and possessions. On the contrary, there was a frank recognition of the perennial nature of the economic problem in a sinful race, even under the beneficient rule of a kingdom of God on earth: "For the poor shall never cease out of the land" (Deut. 15:11). This is not a laissez faire form of economic fatalism, but simply one price which a society must pay for human freedom. For, if men are to enjoy any satisfactory measure of personal liberty in economic affairs - men being what they are, widely different in disposition and ability - some will gain and others will lose. Historically, no perfect way has ever been found to reconcile personal liberty with complete economic equality; the reason being that the root of the problem is in the nature of man himself, and consequently individual action is never wholly predictable. The law of the historical kingdom (i.3., Mosaic law) accepted these facts and laid down its rules accordingly. Since men could not be left wholly free and at the same time be fully protected from their own economic follies, certain provisions were established to safeguard them in the exercise of their economic rights and also to ameliorate some of the inequalities arising therefrom.
The Greatness of the Kingdom,
by Alva J. McClain, p. 76
A socialist or communistic economic system has been tried in modern Israel and "found wanting":
BEIT OREN, Israel (AP) - The new kibbutzniks may not be yuppies yet, but some of Israel's socialist communes are modifying the collective life with white-collar jobs, privacy and self-fulfillment.
Beit Oren, one of the oldest communal farms, is leading the experiment with ideas that were anathema to the pioneers: private ownership, paying salaries and letting members choose their own jobs....
It also has a special motivation: the need to attract new members who can help erase a $6.5 million debt that nearly forced the settlement to close in 1987....
"We are trying to make a better kibbutz by changing the role of the individual," said Zeev Shabtai, 48. "It used to be that the individual worked for the collective. This is over. People no longer want to be a tool. Let's allow the society to be the tool"....
Kibbutz members will be free to spend their money as they choose, even to squander it on such capitalist luxuries as vacations abroad or stereo equipment....
Under the old system all income, regardless of source, went into the kibbutz treasury to be shared by all....
In exchange for the new freedom, Biet Oren plans to charge individual members for such things as electricity, water and food rather than paying the bills collectively.
Joplin Globe, 1-8-89, Joplin, MO, AP wire item
During the period of the judges Israel maintained its "free-enterprise" system of economics. But individuals and their properties were in constant peril from heathen plunderers (Jdgs. 2:14). Israel was primarily an agrarian society with a scattering of tradesmen or craftsmen and merchants. But the continual harassment of pirating heathen seriously impeded their economy. At one point they had to hide themselves and the produce of their lands in caves and holes in the ground (Jdgs. 6:1-6). The book of Ruth informs us that individual Israelites owned their own farms, bought and sold land according to their own choice (Ruth 4:3), and were able to feed themselves while in Moab there was serious hunger and privation.
The institution of a monarchial political structure, at the insistence of the citizenry (I Sam. 8:1-22), did not fundamentally change the Israelite economic system. It remained free-enterprise, but government interference intensified. Encroachment upon the citizen's ownership of private property took the form of increased taxes. The "king" would "take" not only things from his subjects, he would take some of the people themselves to be his servants in the armed forces, as servants in his palace and his "fields." It is inevitable - the more a citizen demands his government "give" him, the more rights and liberties and possessions the individual has to surrender to the government!
A few references from the period of the Israelite monarchy will confirm a "modified" private enterprise system of economics:
A free-enterprise system of economics is clearly apparent in the literary prophets (Isaiah through Malachi) and has already been documented in our listing of references to proprietorship during the days of the prophets. As in the days of the judges, however, so in the days of the prophets, apostasy from the law of Moses and idolatry which led to gross immorality and wickedness resulted in widespread civil injustices. Theoretically, the nation's economic system was capitalism, but the power which accrued to the rich allowed many of them to exploit the poor. Severe condemnation of pervasive economic injustice is a fundamental theme of all the literary prophets.
We know that many of the Jews prospered during their exile in Babylon, Persia, and under Greek rule. In exile in these foreign lands and under imperial, monarchial and fascist politico-economic systems (with their varying degrees of private ownership of property granted) the Jewish culture took on a more mercantile, professional, and tradesman character. In fascist economic systems private property is often confiscated with suddenness at the caprice or whim of the ruling monarch or one of his subordinates (see Dan. 2:5; Esther 8:1ff).
Free-enterprise economics were reinstituted in the new Jewish commonwealth upon the return of some fifty thousand with Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel. However, the system was always regulated by the Law of Moses (as interpreted later by the rabbinic traditions). And that is essentially the system of economics we find among the Jews at the time of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Israel was, for all practical purposes, under the rule of the Roman Empire at the birth of Christ. Thus, if we wish to know the economic arrangements under which people lived from the time of Christ to the end of the New Testament, a resume of the Roman economic system is in order:
THE LAW OF PROPERTY - Problems of ownership, obligation, exchange, contract, and debt took up by far the largest part of Roman law. Material possession was the very life of Rome, and the increase of wealth and the expansion of trade demanded a body of law immeasurably more complex than the simple code of the Decemvirs....
Ownership (dominium) came by inheritance or acquisition.... Every testator was compelled to leave a specified portion of his estate to his children, another part to a wife who had borne him three children, and (in some cases) parts to his brothers, sister, and ascendants. No heir might take any part of an estate without assuming all the debts and other legal obligations of the deceased.... Where an owner died without children and without a will, his property and his debts passed automatically to the nearest "agnate," or relative descended from a common ancestor exclusively through males....
Acquisition came by transfer, or by legal conveyance resulting from a suit at law. Transfer (mancipatio, "taking in hand") was a formal gift or sale before witnesses and with scales struck by a copper ingot as token of a sale.... An intermediate or potential ownership was recognized under the name of possessio - the right to hold or use property; e.g. tenants on state lands were possessores ("sitters," squatters), not domini; but their prescriptive right (usucapio, "taking by use") became dominium, and could no longer be questioned after two years of unchallenged occupancy ....
Delicts or torts - noncontractual wrongs committed against a person or his property - were in many cases punished by an obligation to pay the injured person a sum of money in compensation. A contract was an agreement enforceable at law. It did not have to be written; indeed, until the second century A.D. the verbal agreement made by uttering the word spondeo - "I promise" - before a witness was considered more sacred than any written compact.... Any seller of slaves or cattle . . . was required by law to disclose their physical defects to the purchaser and was held accountable despite a plea of ignorance....
Commercial defaults were mitigated by a law of bankruptcy which sold the bankrupt's property to pay his debts, but permitted him to keep as much of his later acquisitions as his subsistence required....
The chief crimes against property were damage, theft, and rapine - theft with violence. The Twelve Tables had condemned a detected thief to be flogged and then delivered as a bondsman to his victim; if the thief was a slave he was to be scourged and flung from the Tarpeian rock. Increased social security permitted praetorian law to soften these severities to a twofold, threefold, or fourfold restitution. In its final form the law of property was the most perfect part of the Roman code.
Caesar and Christ, by Will Durant,
pub. Simon and Schuster, pp. 399,400
These are the laws of economics and property that structured and regulated the economic life of the Roman Empire. The similarity of these laws to those of the Mosaic code strongly imply that the economic system of the New Testament (under which the people of the Gospel history and the first century church functioned) was a modified, government-regulated, free-enterprise arrangement.
A partial listing of New Testament references indicates that the free-enterprise system of economics was what Christians experienced in the first century A.D.:
Robert Culver summarizes his view of what the Bible says about civil government and economic systems:
The doctrine that personal property is a sacred right is clearly evident in Scripture.... Furthermore, wealth is proclaimed by the Old Testament prophets, by Jesus, and by the New Testament writers to be a sacred trust, a stewardship for God.... Yet there is nothing doctrinaire about all this. Many features of capitalism are there . . . but not capitalism per se, for much that seems contrary to the formal theory is also there. Many of the criticisms against capitalism (e.g., that it is morally wrong to buy and sell with profit as motive) are specifically rejected by Scripture. Yet it is perfectly possible for a Christian man to live in a socialist country and submit to the socialist economic system. I dare say, the same man will be freer to invest his life and substance in Christian missions, evangelism, and benevolences as features of private enterprise and free competition are reintroduced into the socialist system. The problem is that until the individual is able to gather to himself some monetary or other substantial surplus not allowed in a strict socialism, he has nothing at all to give away on a personal basis. Thus, though the system of private enterprise and free competition (which is what most of us really mean when we speak of capitalism) is in certain respects more congenial to Christianity than is strict socialism, one does not find the Bible forbidding him to practice socialism. Furthermore, the Bible itself furnishes examples of limitation on private enterprise and furnishes a number of examples of voluntary poverty and even of voluntary communism, mixed with wealth and private property holding....
Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, by Robert D. Culver,
pub. Moody Press, pp. 281,282
Copyright © 1990, Paul T. Butler