A person’s property is whatever he has exclusive right to possess and control. Property is first internal. A person’s conscience is his most precious aspect of property because it tells him what is right and wrong in his actions. Each person in a free government must be a good steward of his conscience and keep it clear. By doing so, he will know what is right and wrong from within and, therefore, he will be able to live his life in a right manner. The apostle Paul said he did his “best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16).
How one takes care of his internal property will determine how he takes care of his external property. The following chart reveals various aspects of internal and external property:
Internal Property External Property
Talents Freedom of Speech
Conscience Bodily Health
Mind Freedom of Assembly
The idea of property is so important to God that three of His Ten Commandments protect property rights (Commandments 6, where life is a form of property, 8, and 10). Much of the Mosaic Law (and the Bible in general) deals with obtaining, increasing, protecting, and distributing property (both internal and external). There can be no civil society without private ownership of property (including land, clothes, tools, homes, weapons). People will not willingly till the land if others have an equal right to the harvest, nor will they build a home if another can take possession of it when it is finished. When the lazy receive as much as the diligent, then the motivation to develop character qualities necessary for freedom and prosperity – like industry, thrift, frugality, and inventiveness – will be lost. Socialism and all forms of statism reward behavior contrary to God’s Word, and consequently, do not produce a growing and free society, but rather a stagnant nation full of indolent and ignorant men and women.
Property rights are the basis for political equality. In ancient Israel all citizens were members of the body politic and had a voice in government. Their power and voice was derived from their ownership of land/property. Each family in ancient Israel was given a share of the land that they owned, managed, and cultivated, and this was inviolable (or made permanent) as the land was returned to the original owners in the Year of Jubilee (every 50 years), and in the Sabbath (seventh) year debts were forgiven and slaves were set free. These provisions also helped preserve the family, enabling the Israelites to retain their family holdings.
E.C. Wines writes, “Property in the soil is the natural foundation of power, and consequently of authority.”[i] If ownership of the property in a nation is dispersed among all men, they will not be enslaved to a few powerful land owners. As Noah Webster said: “Let the people have property and they will have power.”[ii] If they have power, then they will have control of the state. Their power is not conferred upon them by the state or aristocracy. “The men who own the territory of a state will exercise a predominating influence over the public affairs of such state.”[iii] Property not only includes land, but also businesses, manufacturing, and various other means of producing goods and services.
The distribution of land to all families in ancient Israel had a number of positive consequences: 1) It made extreme poverty and huge wealth impossible. It kept the rich from accumulating large land holdings, and forming an elite class. 2) Everyone had an interest in maintaining peace and order in society so they could fully cultivate their land, and therefore, they had an interest in being involved in governmental affairs. 3) It promoted industry and frugality, as these are needed to cultivate property. 4) It enabled everyone to have a degree of independence, as they could provide for their own household. They did not have to look to government, or someone else, to provide for them. At the same time, the government protected everyone’s right to property. If you found yourself in poverty, you could not blame someone else.
God did not intend for the government of Israel, or of any nation, to provide material goods to the citizens. Governments do not exist to provide property; rather, governments exist to protect property of every sort, most importantly, liberty of conscience. Tyrannical governments will invade rights of conscience as well as external property rights. The power that can invade liberty of conscience, can also usurp civil liberty. Internal property rights must, therefore, be guarded at all costs, for as they are diminished, every inalienable right of man is jeopardized.
The famous British political scientist, John Locke, wrote in his treatise Of Civil Government:
For Men being the Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker: All the Servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the World by His Order, and about His Business, they are His Property, whose Workmanship they are, made to last during His, not one anothers Pleasure.[iv]
Locke goes on to state that while we are God’s property, God has given us the responsibility to be good stewards over our persons. He wrote that “every man has a Property in his own Person.” It follows we have a God-given right to everything necessary to preserve our persons, to internal and external property.
In other words, God has created everything, including us, and given us the right to possess internal and external property. God requires us to be good stewards of everything He puts into our hand, whether that be houses, land, and money (external property) or talents, abilities, and knowledge (internal property). The idea of stewardship is embodied in the principle of property.
Before any property can be taken from us, we must give our consent. If our property can be taken without our consent, then we really have no property. This is why any taxes imposed by a government on its citizens must be done by elected representatives. We give our consent to taxes or laws affecting our property rights through our representatives. If they do not represent our views, we should work to replace them in a lawful manner.
A people standing on the principle of property will take action to prohibit government or other citizens from taking anyone’s personal property without their consent, or from violating anyone’s conscience and rights. Lack of this principle in the lives of citizens will lead to unjust taxation, a government controlled economy, and usurpation of both internal and external property rights.
One reason that property is valuable is due to its potential productivity. Agricultural production is primary as this is the foundation of prosperous and happy nations. Israel was represented as a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of wheat, barley, vines, and fig trees, and in many other similar terms of abundance (Ex. 3:8; Deut. 1:25; 8:7-10). Every family and those born to the families would inherit a portion of this rich land. Food production is foundational for any nation. Without being able to meet the basic needs of the people, a nation cannot grow and advance.
Agriculture has many positive influences for individuals and the nation at large. It produces character, industry, frugality, physical stamina, and rugged independence – traits necessary to live in liberty. It strengthens a love for the country while providing the necessities of life. It also helps keep peace because men will not use the sword as an aggressor, but only in defense of his property, if that need arises.
Pagans view manual labor as demeaning and for the lower class. Pagan nations have sought to enslave others to labor for them in the fields. In contrast, Moses (following God’s instruction) regarded agriculture as the most honorable of employments. Elisha was ploughing the fields when he was called by Elijah. David was taken from the sheepfold to become king. Moses, himself, was called from a pastoral life to free God’s people.
Godly leaders should honor agriculture and enact laws to support men as they work their fields. Laws should encourage a general ownership of property among citizens. (This was so in early America and was one reason for her great prosperity and equality.) The land should be owned by those who till it. Such ownership produces industry, as well as mental and muscular vigor. It gives people power. Most political evils in history have resulted from “the unrighteous monopoly of the earth.”[v] Therefore, land and farms (as well as other forms of property) should be dispersed widely among the people. God’s plan for Israel did this.
Private property rights are a basic necessity for any society that desires to be free and prosperous. Noah Webster wrote:
The liberty of the press, trial by jury, the Habeas Corpus writ, even Magna Charta itself, though justly deemed the palladia of freedom, are all inferior considerations, when compared with a general distribution of real property among every class of people. … Let the people have property and they will have power—a power that will forever be exerted to prevent a restriction of the press, and abolition of trial by jury, or the abridgement of any other privilege.”[vi]
A Christian nation will “let the people have property” and hence power.
(This article is taken from the book, Stewarding the Earth, A Biblical View of Economics by Stephen McDowell, published by the Providence Foundation, 2022.)
[i] Wines, The Hebrew Republic, p. 8.
[ii] Rosalie J. Slater, “Noah Webster, Founding Father of American Scholarship and Education,” article in Preface of the facsimile reprint of Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, p. 14.
[iii] Wines, The Hebrew Republic, p. 9.
[iv] John Locke, Of Civil Government, quoted in Christian History of the Constitution, Verna Hall, compiler, San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, p. 58.
[v] Wines, p. 29.
[vi] Rosalie J. Slater, “Noah Webster, Founding Father of American Scholarship and Education,” in Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, republished in facsimile by Foundation for American Christian Education, p. 14.