Now that we have discussed Biblical laws allowing and regulating slavery, I want to discuss the Biblical concept of “Human property”. I realize that just the idea of thinking that a human being could be property is absolutely appalling to our modern western values. When we think of human beings as property, we imagine people being abused and hurt by their “owner”. But what does the Bible say about the concept of human beings as property?
In the Bible a man’s wife and children were considered his property
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:17 (NASB)
This is idea of a man’s wife and child being considered his “human property” is confirmed by these other teachings of the Bible:
A man paid a bride price to a woman’s father for her hand in marriage – the father did not have to consider his daughter’s wishes in the man he chose for her.
A man paid the bride price to a woman’s father if he had pre-marital sex with her, and the father still had the choice of whether he would give his daughter to this man in marriage. Pre-marital sex was considered a property crime against the father of virgin that had been defiled.
When a man committed adultery with another man’s wife he and she could be executed. This was considered a property crime against the woman’s husband. If a married man had sex with a prostitute this was not considered adultery, but rather the sin of Whoremongering as no property crime was committed.
The fact that a man was allowed under Biblical law to sell his son or daughter as a slave confirms that children were considered the property of their father (assuming he was a free man, and not a slave who had been given a wife by his master).
The only exception to this idea of a man’s wife and children being his property was if the man was a slave and his master gave him another slave as a wife. If the male slave were to freed, the master did not have to release his wife and children with him.
Different types of Human property
While all slaves Biblically speaking would be considered human property (unless they were a fellow Hebrew male and then only seed as a temporary hired worker), not all of those who are considered human property were slaves.
A wife while she her husband’s property, is not his slave. A child while is the human property of his father – is not his slave.
Even though Wives and children were also considered human property they had the same human rights as slaves and then even more rights.
The Bible gives an example of this difference of rights between those who were considered human property when it shows in Exodus 21:9-11 when a man gives his female slave to his son as a wife. The Bible states she must be given the full rights of a daughter and a wife – even though she remained human property.
The Treatment of Human Property
Most people in our modern society have the idea that if a person is regarded as human property, that the owner of that person can treat them any way they wish. This could not be further from the truth. I highly suggest that you read my post “Biblical Human Rights vs American Human Rights” and see the section entitled “8 Biblical Human Rights”. These are rights that every human being has, whether they are considered the human property of another person or not.
Children as Human property
Most Americans, while they might not like the use of the word “property” when referring to their children basically regard their children as their property. I would argue that they have a Biblical right to do so. That is why parents get angry when doctors or school officials do things without parental consent. “That is my child, and you did not have my permission to do this or that with them against my wishes” – this is a phrase that is heard quite often from parents, and our legal system for the most part supports this concept of parental consent.
As parents God meant for us to have complete control over things like our children’s education and medical treatment. God meant for us a parents to mold our children through discipline and training to respect and obey not only our authority as parents, but other authorities that God places in their life whether they are teachers in school, church authorities or civil authorities.
Because God places the greatest responsibility on a father and then secondarily to a mother, he gives parents the most power over a child’s life. This is why schools, churches and the government need to be careful to stay within the realm of authority God has given them when they are working with children as God has given the ultimate human authority in a child’s life to their father and mother.
Wives as Human property
Seeing a wife as the human property of her husband sounds degrading and insulting to most Americans and westerners. But there are still some devout men and women of the Christian faith that have no problem with this concept.
As believers we are told that we are not our own, that we belong to God. Christian Men, women and children – it makes no difference we all belong to God.
“…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20(NASB)
Most Christians have no problem with the concept that we all belong to God. It is only when God delegates his ownership over us to a fallible human being that we begin to have a problem.
For Christians who reject the concept of male headship as taught in the Scriptures – it is impossible for them to even conceive of a wife being the property of her husband as they see marriage as an equal partnership.
But even for some Christians who embrace the concept of male headship as taught in God’s Word – they still struggle with this concept of a wife being the property of her husband. The reason is because they fear the abuse of such power and with good reason as many men have abused this power God has given them over their wives.
But the abuse of power by those in authority, whether in government, the church or the home does not negate the truth that God teaches about authority and ownership in the family. God has delegated his ownership of the family – the wife and the children to the husband and father.
God teaches that when women and children willingly submit to the authority of the husband and father in the home – he blesses them and it is a testimony to the world of God’s power. When a husband uses the power God has given him, not for his own sinful and selfish desires but for the glory of God he blesses his entire family through his leadership, provision and protection(I Peter 3:1-6).
Some Christian women who embrace the concept of male headship may ask for more direct evidence than the passages I supplied so far for God seeing a husband as the owner of his wife.
In the next couple of sections I will show more direct evidence from the Scriptures that husbands do in fact own their wives.
Ownership of wives shown in the Old Testament
There are two Hebrew words that the Old Testament translates for us in English as “husband”. The first one ‘ish’ literally means “man”, but it is translated a “husband” whenever the context is talking about a husband and wife. The second word that the Hebrew Scriptures use for “husband” is “baal” which literally means “Owner/lord”. This same Hebrew word is used to refer owner of something.
First here are some examples of the use of the Hebrew word “baal” that are not in speaking of a husband and wife:
“If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner [baal – “owner”] of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner [baal – “owner”], and the dead animal shall become his.” – Exodus 21:33-34 (NASB)
“Then the man, the owner [baal – “owner”] of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my fellows, please do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not commit this act of folly.” – Judges 19:23 (NASB)
In Exodus 21:33-34 we see that “baal” refers both the owner of a piece of land and another owner of and ox or a donkey. In Judges 19:23 – “baal” refers the owner of a house.
Now let’s move on to examples of “baal” in reference to the relationship of a husband and a wife:
“Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married [baal – “she has an owner”].” – Genesis 20:1-3 (NASB)
“If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband [baal – “owner”] of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him.” – Exodus 21:3 (NASB)
“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband [baal – “owner”] may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.” – Exodus 21:22 (NASB)
“An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
The heart of her husband [baal – “owner”] trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.” – Proverbs 31:10-12 (NASB)
There are more passages that use “baal” to refer to a husband being the lord and owner of his wife but I think the ones I have provided here are ample evidence to this Biblical teaching.
What about Hosea 2:16?
Some egalitarians actually will concede the inequality in the relationship between a husband and wife in the Old Testament. But they believe that Hosea 2:16, speaking of the coming Christ, shows that God makes the husband and wife relationship no longer a owner/owned relationship but rather and equal partnership.
“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi[man]
And will no longer call Me Baali[lord/owner].” – Hosea 2:16 (NASB)
There is a problem with this egalitarian interpretation that God was going to change marriage from an owner/owned relationship to an equal partnership with coming of Christ. Apparently the Apostles Paul and Peter did not get the memo – because those Apostles wrote these passages under the inspiration of God:
“For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” – Ephesians 5:23-24(NASB)
“In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior… For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” – I Peter 3:1-2 & 5-6 (NASB)
Peter was actually pointing back to the Old Testament’s use of “baal – lord/owner” in reference to a husband and he was reminding Christian women that the holy women of old treating their husband’s as their lords and owners was the example that God still wanted them to follow in marriage.
So what was God saying of his nation of Israel as his wife when he said they would no longer call him “Baali” but “Ishi” if he was not removing the ownership/lordship part aspect of what marriage is about?
The context of that statement is critical to properly interpreting it. In the beginning of Hosea chapter 2 in verse 2 we see that God says of his wife Israel “For she is not my wife, and I am not her husband“. This is in reference to the fact that God divorced Israel as his wife for her adultery(Isaiah 50:1 ,Jeremiah 3:8).
When we take the entire context of Hosea chapter 2 this is what we see. A husband who has been badly hurt by his wife’s adultery with various lovers. He tried to discipline her to bring her back to him but eventually he had to divorce her because she continued doing this. But even after divorcing her he still loves his former wife and still provides for her even though she does not realize it. In fact, she thinks her provision comes from her various lovers.
God decides to rip the carpet out from under his former wife and takes away everything she has and strips her even of the clothes off her back. Leaving her naked, hungry and homeless. In her nakedness and hunger she comes to the realization we see in verse 9 where she says “‘I will go back to my first husband,
For it was better for me then than now!’”
God in love opens his arms to his former wife and takes her and speaks softly and kindly to her. He allures her with his love and shows his grace and mercy. His former wife falls madly in love with him again and this time even more than before. She will no longer regard him simply as her Lord and owner(which all husbands are to their wives), but she will regard him as her “iysh” or in others words she will say “You are not just my Lord and owner, you are my man(ishi) whom I love“.
The Greatest evidence that God has made the husband the owner of his wife
I could have lead with this evidence as it is the strongest and most indisputable evidence that God has made husbands the owners of their wives. But I first wanted to show the pattern of husband’s being their wives owners throughout the Old Testament.
Many Christians will gladly accept the fact that God designed marriage as a picture of Christ and his Church as shown in Ephesians 5:22-33. In fact this is the favorite part of Ephesians 5 by those who take the equal partnership view of is this passage:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;“
Ephesians 5:25 (KJV)
But if we are going to accept the fact that marriage was designed by God to be a model of the relationship between Christ and his Church then we must accept ALL aspects of the relationship between God and his Church.
So what that means is if we fully embrace the fact that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved his Church then we must equally accept that the husband is the head of the wife and she must submit to her husband in “everything”(Ephesians 5:24).
Also in accepting the fact that marriage is a model of the relationship between Christ and his Church we must accept that the attributes of that relationship are not confined to Ephesians 5:22-33. The attributes of that relationship are found throughout the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation.
Finally this brings us to a little known attribute of the relationship of Christ and his Church as found in the book of Acts:
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”Acts 20:28 (KJV)
I doubt I have changed the minds of any egalitarians or Christian feminists reading this since most of them reject Biblical inerrancy. But for those Christians who accepted the Biblical teaching of male headship before you came to this post – you now may be asking “Why does it matter that a husband is not only the head of his wife, but that he actually owns her?”
Husband – this truth that God has given you ownership of your wife and children should not cause your pride to rise, but rather it should humble you. The ownership God has given you is to be exercised for his glory – not yours. You should always remember that your wife and children are gifts from God to you.
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing And obtains favor from the Lord.” – Proverbs 18:22(NASB)
“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” – Psalm 127:3 (NASB)
As Christian men we are responsible for our children AND our wife’s spiritual and physical well-being. We are also responsible for the behavior of our children AND our wife. Unfortunately many Christian men are negligent in ownership responsibilities over their families. God wants us as men to take ownership for the women and children he has given graciously us.
He wants us to love them by knowing them, honoring them, leading them, teaching them, correcting and disciplining them, protecting them and providing for them.
Let me add one caveat to these responsibilities that we as Christian husbands have for our wife and children. God holds each of us responsible for he has given us power over. So if our wife or child descends into spiritual rebellion against after we as husbands and fathers have exercised the authority God has given us to try and help them – then we are no longer responsible for their behavior. What I am talking about is husbands or fathers who watch their wives or children descend into sinful behavior and tell themselves there is nothing they can do and they bare no responsibility to intervene. According to God’s Word as the Spiritual heads of our homes we do have a responsibility to spiritually intervene in the lives of our wives and children.
Wife – this truth that God has given your husband owner over you might at first be scary. It’s scary because we all know that human authority can be abused. But God calls you to have faith in him, and faith in his design. This does not mean your husband will never mistreat you, or sin against you because he is a sinner just like you. Also know that just because God has made you the property of your husband this does not mean as “human property” that you have no rights. You have certain human rights and additional rights as a wife that your husband must respect – otherwise God will hold him accountable.
God did not give your husband ownership over you to crush or dehumanize you, but to provide for you what he knows you need. Once you understand how God view’s a husband’s ownership over his wife – it should give you comfort that if he owns you the way that God owns us all, you have nothing to fear.
This will then free you to embrace your husband’s ownership over you. It will humble you and help you put aside that sinful pride that can often rise up in your heart. You will be able realize you are not your own – you were bought with a price, and God gave you to your husband.
“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:20 (NASB)
“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” – I Corinthians 11:7(NASB)
7 thoughts on “Does the Bible teach the concept of “Human Property”?”
Great post BGR. I loved the explanation of how the word Baal evolved during Israel’s history. Previously I had discussed this very subject online and I was unaware of that passage [Hosea 2:16].
IIRC Jay Adams in his book ‘Marriage Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible’ criticised the King James translation of the Bible claiming they had mistranslated the Hebrew word ‘Baal’ to be ‘husband’. But when I checked I found it was a consistent use of word in context and meaning. I suspect J Adams was appealing to his [mostly feminised] readership. Anyway his book was very popular but not with me.
The concept of “property” never really sits well with us in the modern, Western world. Sometimes I rather humorously picture an antique truck someone has worked their entire life for, invested in, polished daily. I know husbands like that, that truck is their baby, but it is also their property and one of their most prized possessions. That kind of property relationship isn’t exploitative at all, it is to be treasured and valued.
Something many people are not aware of, we are still “property” today, as in belonging to the State. When a crime is committed against us, it is not really against “us,” it is a crime against the State, an attack on the the State’s property. Many people seem to have no problem with “property” in this context, in fact it is such an accepted norm, people don’t even think about it.
This is why fathers should retain custody of children in a divorce.
Just thought I’d share this information. You can check it out and judge for yourself.
1 Cor 7:2: Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his OWN(heautou) wife, and let every woman have her OWN(idios) husband.
If Paul was a proponent of gender equality he would have used the same word for both. Heautou is a stronger possessive term and its mostly used to denote something very strongly associated with one’s self, very strong sense of ownership. Idios is more ambiguous and means simple ownership, something private and personal.
The deliberate use of these 2 different words destroys the concept of equal partnership and it also allows for polygamy. Heautou is always exclusive, so a man’s own wife can not be shared. Idios may or may not be exclusive. Just like your own(idios) people can be claimed by others of the same group, so can your own(idios) husband be shared by other wives of the same man.
The gender difference for own husband and own wife appears in other places too. For husbands it is always heautou and for wives it is always idios. There must be a reason.
Nice blog by the way.
You are absolutely right – the Bible NEVER teaches equal rights between men and women. Yes every human being has equal value before God, and God does grant certain human rights to all people – but equal roles is not one of the things God grants. Men were designed for distinctive purposes in God’s plan, and women were designed for distinctive purposes in God’s plan.
A crime is against the commonwealth. The same act committed against the individual is a tort.
Up until the early 20th century, the father was usually awarded custody of children unless he was proven unfit. As a result, men tended to stay married to the mothers of their children, for they did not want to have to raise them alone. Mothers tended to stay with the fathers of their children, for they did not want to lose their children, especially to the new wife her husband would try to get as a mother to his children.
For custody to be almost automatically awarded to the mother makes it much easier for women to bring themselves to divorce their husbands. 80-85% of divorces are filed by wives.