What does the Bible say about inheritance and succession? By Jack Kettler
An exercise in “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17 NKJV)
From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Proverbs 27:17:
“The proverb expresses the gain of mutual counsel as found in clear, well-defined thoughts. Two minds, thus acting on each other, become more acute.” (1)
According to the Bible Concordance on inheritance at the BibleHub.com/concordance online, the word inheritance has 263 occurrences in Scripture.
What is Biblical inheritance? Are the laws of the Old Testament on inheritance still binding?
What do the Scriptures say?
The law of inheritance in the following verses:
“And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.” (Numbers 27:8 ESV)
“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.” (Deuteronomy 21:15-17 ESV)
“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” (Proverbs 13:22 NKJV)
From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Proverbs 13:22:
“A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children… He not only has a sufficiency for the present support of himself and family; but is so prospered and succeeded, as to leave an inheritance after him; and which is continued to and enjoyed, not only by his immediate offspring, but theirs also; for being got honestly, it wears well; see Proverbs 13:11;
and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just; the riches which wicked men get are laid up in the purposes of God for good men; and in his providence they are translated from the one to the other: so the riches of the Egyptians were designed for the Israelites, and by the providence of God were put into their hands; see Job 27:16.” (2)
Breaking the word down lexically:
Strong’s Concordance Hebrew:
5159. nachalah – possession, property, inheritance
5158b, 5159. nachalah. 5160.
Short Definition: Possession, property, inheritance.
Phonetic Spelling: (nakh-al-aw’)
Short Definition: inheritance.
3425. yerushshah – possession, inheritance
Phonetic Spelling: (yer-oosh-shaw’)
Short Definition: possession. Heritage, inheritance, possession.
Strong’s Concordance Greek:
2817. kleronomia – an inheritance
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Phonetic Spelling: (klay-ron-om-ee’-ah)
Short Definition: an inheritance
2816. kleronomeo – to inherit
Phonetic Spelling: (klay-ron-om-eh’-o)
Definition: I inherit, obtain (possess) by inheritance, acquire.
Inheritance biblically defined from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
in-her’-i-tans (nahalah, “something inherited,” “occupancy,” “heirloom,” “estate,” “portion”): The word is used in its widest application in the Old Testament Scriptures, referring not only to an estate received by a child from its parents, but also to the land received by the children of Israel as a gift from Yahweh. And in the figurative and poetical sense, the expression is applied to the kingdom of God as represented in the consecrated lives of His followers. In a similar sense, the Psalmist is represented as speaking of the Lord as the portion of his inheritance. In addition, to the above word, the King James Version translations as inheritance, morashah, “a possession,” “heritage” (Deuteronomy 33:4 Ezekiel 33:24); yerushshah, “something occupied,” “a patrimony,” “possession” (Judges 21:17); cheleq, “smoothness,” “allotment” (Psalm 16:5); kleronomeo, “to inherit” (Matthew 5:5, etc.); kleronomos, “heir” (Matthew 21:38, etc.); kleronomia, “heirship,” “patrimony”, “possession”; or kleros, “an acquisition” “portion,” “heritage,” from kleroo, “to assign,” “to allot,” “to obtain an inheritance” (Matthew 21:38 Luke 12:13 Acts 7:5; Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18 Galatians 3:18 Ephesians 1:11, 14, 18; Ephesians 5:5 Colossians 1:12; Colossians 3:24 Hebrews 1:4; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 11:8 1 Peter 1:4).
The Pentateuch distinguishes clearly between real and personal property, the fundamental idea regarding the former being the thought that the land is God’s, given by Him to His children, the people of Israel, and hence, cannot be alienated (Leviticus 25:23, 28). In order that there might not be any respecter of persons in the division, the lot was to determine the specific piece to be owned by each family head (Numbers 26:52-56; Numbers 33:54). In case, through necessity of circumstances, a homestead was sold, the title could pass only temporarily; for in the year of Jubilee every homestead must again return to the original owner or heir (Leviticus 25:25-34). Real estate given to the priesthood must be appraised, and could be redeemed by the payment of the appraised valuation, thus preventing the transfer of real property even in this case (Leviticus 27:14-25). Inheritance was controlled by the following regulations:
(1) The firstborn son inherited a double portion of all the father’s possession (Deuteronomy 21:15-17);
(2) The daughters were entitled to an inheritance, provided there were no sons in the family (Numbers 27:8),
(3) In case there were no direct heirs, the brothers or more distant kinsmen were recognized (27:9-11); in no case should an estate pass from one tribe to another.
The above points were made the subject of statutory law at the instance of the daughters of Zelophehad, the entire case being clearly set forth in Numbers 27; Numbers 36.” Frank E. Hirsch (3)
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia does an excellent job of biblically defining inheritance laws and their range, thus answering question number one.
Inheritance laws served the purpose of the passing of wealth to the next generation and enabled families to preserve their wealth. The laws of inheritance in the Old Testament undergird modern laws of succession. Modern laws of inheritance did not just appear out of thin air. Like many laws in the modern world, inheritance laws have their origin in Old Testament case laws, i.e., murder, rape, theft, perjury, etc.
A contemporary definition of inheritance:
Inheritance is money or objects that a beneficiary receives when a benefactor dies.
In contrast to this modern definition, biblical inheritance is connected to blood or familial relations.
Family Inheritance laws in the New Testament:
The New Testament does not address physical inheritance laws. The New Testament deals with spiritual inheritance. Not addressing the topic of family birthright succession does not invalidate or repudiate the principle of Old Testament inheritance laws. According to sound hermeneutical principles, The Old Testament law stays in force unless specifically set aside like the dietary laws and the gentiles (See Mark 7:19; Acts 11:9). To bolster this assertion, consider that the New Testament does not address bestiality. Who would argue that this silence is a repudiation of a moral law? The New Testament silence is not enough for a law to be set aside.
Therefore, to answer question number 2, Old Testament laws and biblical principles are still in force unless the New Testament specifically sets them aside like the sacrificial animal laws and the ceremonial temple laws.
Two examples of the New Testament emphasis on spiritual inheritance:
“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Ephesians 1:11 KJV)
“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15 ESV)
There is no greater blessing than to see your children have the genuine fruits of regeneration.
Our study is not over. Enter the doctrine of incorporation in history.
Additional advances in the doctrine of succession or inheritance:
R. J. Rushdoony says that the doctrine of incorporation is one of history’s most important doctrines. The doctrine of incorporation does not replace Old Testament inheritance laws; it supplements the Old Testament laws of succession.
Rushdoony has this to say concerning corporations:
“The church thus, as the original and true corporation has an earthly as well as a supernatural life…. (p. 229)
The influence of the concept or doctrine of incorporation or the corporation went beyond the state into the world of commerce. The business corporation echoes whether or not it knows it, the Biblical doctrine of the church. Two things may be said at this point. First, it goes without question that the doctrine of the corporation has, in humanistic hands, been greatly abused and misused. However, this should not lead us into overlooking a second fact, namely, that the concept of the corporation has given continuity to man’s activities in one sphere after another. Medieval and modern institutions have a continuity and history unlike anything in the non-Christian world. What the corporation doctrine has enabled men to do is to transcend the limitations of their life-time and life-span. Men can create and develop a business, a school, or an agency whose function lives beyond themselves. This has been a very revolutionary and Biblical fact…. (p. 230)
Granted that corporations are not necessarily good (nor necessarily bad), it still remains true that the concept of the corporation has been important in history by giving continuity to the works of men. Among other things, the original corporation, the church, has given a new meaning to time. Time is now time in terms of Christ, B.C. Before Christ, or A.D., Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, in Christ…. (p. 231)
The development of corporations in Western history has been very important. Many Christian corporations were established during the medieval era to carry on specific Biblical duties and to organize people for common action to meet a specific Christian need or function. Attempts at statist control were also common…. (p. 231)
In the United States, virtually total freedom existed for generations for all kinds of corporations. The incorporation of a church or Christian agency of any kind was simply a legal formality notifying the state of the existence of such a body and its immunity from statist controls. In recent years, the statists have turned that notification into a form of licensure and control. The matter can be compared to filing a birth certificate. When the birth of Sarah Jones is recorded by her parents and doctor, permission for Sarah Jones to exist is definitely not requested; rather, a fact is legally recorded. Similarly, in American law religious trusts, foundations, or trusts did not apply for the right to exist but recorded their certificate of birth, their incorporation. The current Internal Revenue Service doctrine is that the filing is a petition for the right to exist. This turns the historic position, and the First Amendment, upside down. It asserts for the federal government the “right” to establish religion and to control the exercise thereof. As a result, a major conflict of church and state is under way. At the same time, many abuses of the concept of a church corporation prevail. Some organizations sell “ordinations” as pastors and priests to enable men in the evasion of income taxes. This kind of abuse does not invalidate the integrity of a true church, nor is it a legitimate reason for the entrance of the state into the life of valid churches. Then too, because of the intrusion of the federal and state governments into the sphere of church incorporation, some are advocating disincorporation by churches. Given the vulnerability of the church as an incorporated legal entity to statist controls, we should not forget the total vulnerability with disincorporation. In some court cases, the results are proving to be especially disastrous. If our weapons against an enemy prove to be somewhat defective, does it make sense to throw away those weapons and to disarm ourselves?” (p. 231, 232) (4)
The genius of the doctrine of incorporation is that it makes stronger the ability to pass on wealth to the future without being restricted to birthright inheritance from blood relatives. Incorporation now allows righteous ministries to pass on godly blessings to future generations.
We can be thankful the God in His Word has given directives to His people on preserving His blessing upon families and individuals. With the advent of Christ, we now see through corporations, additional ways to store and protect the wealth God has provided. This wealth can be passed on to our godly offspring enabling them to build upon the success of diligent parents. Godly children do not have to start dirt poor.
The state and its laws:
Modern inheritance tax laws are revolutionary, and Marxist, and a threat to the biblical family inheritance.
Rushdoony explains this in The End Game of Humanistic Law:
“In economics, redistributive legislation in Marxist countries means the open transfer of land and wealth from private ownership to the state as the trustee of all the people. In the democratic nations, the same redistributive goal is achieved by a variety of means, most notably the inheritance tax and the income tax. In the United States, 75% of all farms, businesses, and activities are wiped out by the death of the owner because of the confiscatory nature of the inheritance tax. The income tax works annually to redistribute wealth, as does the property tax, and a variety of other taxes. In fact, the goal of taxation can no longer be said to be the maintenance of civil order and justice; rather, its goal is social revolution by means of taxation. Taxation has indeed become the new and most effective method of revolution; it is the reactionary redistributionists who still think in terms of the armed overthrow of existing orders. The more liberal ones know that taxation is the more efficient means of revolution.” (5)
Inheritance laws are tools to preserve wealth!
How are inheritance laws tools? Gary North explains:
“Inheritance is inter-generational. Each generation is supposed to leave an inheritance to the next generation. This inheritance is comprehensive. It involves worldviews. There is competition in history among people who hold rival worldviews. One way that adherents of a worldview can increase the influence of their worldview is to build an economic inheritance. The heirs will be able to use this capital asset to extend the worldview. This means that every inheritance is supposed to be confessional. Covenant keepers are not supposed to subsidize rival worldviews with the capital they leave behind…
The Bible makes it clear that righteous men leave an inheritance to their grandchildren. It also says that wealth is accumulated in order for righteous people to inherit it. The righteous will inherit the earth (Psalm 37:29). This means that they will inherit enormous responsibility. This is eschatologically certain. It is a prophecy. Jesus confirmed it. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The meaning is not that wimps will inherit the earth. It means that people who are meek before God will exercise dominion. This means that covenant keepers must strive for mastery in their fields. They must therefore strive for success. This is a moral requirement. It is not optional…
Inheritance is basic to every social system. There has to be succession. We are mortal. We will be replaced. The question of who will replace us, and what they will do when they replace us, are major issues.” (6)
“He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a wise son; He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.” (Proverbs 10:4-5 NKJV)
From Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary on Proverbs 13:22:
“A good man leaveth an inheritance – He files many a prayer in heaven in their behalf, and his good example and advices are remembered and quoted from generation to generation. Besides, whatever property he left was honestly acquired, and well-gotten goods are permanent. The general experience of men shows this to be a common case; and that property ill-gotten seldom reaches to the third generation. This even the heathens observed. Hence:
De male quaesitis non gaudet tertius haeres.
The third generation shall not possess the goods that have been unjustly acquired.” (7)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Proverbs, Vol. 6 p.103.
2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Proverbs, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 243.
3. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, Entry for Inheritance, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp.1468.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction, Incorporation, (Vallecito, California, Chalcedon, 1984), pp. 229-232.
5. R. J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction, Law as Redistribution, (Vallecito, California, Chalcedon, 1984), p 1014.
6. Gary North, Chapter 21: Dominion and Inheritance, (Dallas, Georgia, Point Five Press), p 187-189.
7. Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, Proverbs, (Concord, NC, Wesleyan Heritage Publications), p. 67.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM
For more study:
Dominion Covenant: Genesis by Gary North
Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus by Gary North
Leviticus: An Economic Commentary by Gary North
Sanctions and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Numbers by Gary North
Inheritance and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Deuteronomy by Gary North