Reading the legal codes in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, it is clear that private property was taken for granted. One of the Ten Commandments was “Thou shall not steal.” There are numerous references about appropriate restitution when someone’s property has been taken or damaged. Private property was central to Old Testament economic life.
However, ownership of private property was not absolute.
Deut 15:4-5 NRSV
4 There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, 5 if only you will obey the LORD your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today.
The law required that farmers not harvest all the way to the edge of the field. (Leviticus 23:22) The Jubilee placed restrictions on the permanent transfer of land. (Leviticus 25) Also, the Israelites were required to make contributions for care of the Levites and certain governmental activities. There were communal issues that took precedence over property rights.
No where in Scripture do we see a mandate for an equal distribution of income. Some argue that the Jubilee Code in Leviticus 25 was wealth redistribution but, as I showed on Monday, it was no such thing. Some have used Acts 2:45 to suggest that the Early church intended communal ownership of property:
Acts 2:44-45 NRSV
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
These actions were done under extraordinary circumstances. The church was exploding. Many new believers would have been disowned by their families. Christians voluntarily pooled their resources to meet the need. This was not a model for ongoing church community. Even Jesus parables seem to endorse the idea of investing and earning according to the resources that have been entrusted to us. (Matthew 25:14-46)
Seemingly, God desires to have billions of Adams working their own “gardens.” He created all of us to be stewards of his resources. When all goods are held in common, the productivity and creativity tends to drop to the level of the laziest and most incompetent. There is no incentive to work harder. Any increased productivity merely accrues to the slackers. Private property encourages conscientious use of resources to their maximum benefit. Therefore, the most economically productive arraignment is private property. Still, God’s mandate that there “be no one in need among you” trumps productivity.