This continues a series on the Ten Commandments. In the last post we discussed 9th commandment. With object of demonstrating we base our laws upon the Bible, in this post we will discuss the relationship between the 8th commandment and government. What is the 8th commandment?

Exodus 20:15 The New Revised Standard Version

You shall not steal.

Note that for reasons we discussed in PART 2 of this series Catholics consider the prohibition against stealing the 7th commandment.

What is stealing?

steal n : an advantageous purchase; “she got a bargain at the auction”; “the stock was a real buy at that price” [syn:
bargain, buy]
v 1: take without the owner’s consent; “Someone stole my wallet on the train”; “This author stole entire paragraphs from my dissertation”
2: move stealthily; “The ship slipped away in the darkness” [syn: slip]
3: steal a base, in baseball
4: to go stealthily or furtively: “..stead of sneaking around
spying on the neighbor’s house” [syn: sneak, mouse, creep,

Of course, what the 8th Commandment prohibits is taking without the owner’s consent. With a little hyperbole, we call that furtive action we associate with stealing, stealthy movement, “stealing”.

Because we speak English and most of the colonists who founded the United States were the descendents of Englishmen, the Authorized King James Version of the Bible probably has more effect upon the morals of Americans than any other document (See here for its history.). That version of the Bible contains versions of the word “steal” 26 times and the word “stole” 20 times. Thus, Christians understand what God thinks of theft (which appears 5 times), thieves (which appears 16 times), robber (which appears 23 times), and thief (which appears 28 times).

What Does The Eighth Commandment Require Of Us?

Although the 8th Commandment does not prohibit slavery, it does discourage certain aspects of it.

Exodus 21:16 American Standard Version (ASV)

And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.

Deuteronomy 24:7 Amplified Bible (AMP)

If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the Israelites and treats him as a slave or a servant or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall put evil from among you.

Of course, there are plain rules for dealing with the theft of property. Here is the explanation in modern English.

Exodus 22:1-4 The Message (MSG)

1-3 “If someone steals an ox or a lamb and slaughters or sells it, the thief must pay five cattle in place of the ox and four sheep in place of the lamb. If the thief is caught while breaking in and is hit hard and dies, there is no bloodguilt. But if it happens after daybreak, there is bloodguilt.
3-4 “A thief must make full restitution for what is stolen. The thief who is unable to pay is to be sold for his thieving. If caught red-handed with the stolen goods, and the ox or donkey or lamb is still alive, the thief pays double.

Although it might surprise some, the Bible does not regard the “right” to kill a thief as foregone conclusion. John Wesley (1703 – 1791) reached this conclusion about the text above..

If a thief broke a house in the night, and was killed in the doing it, his blood was upon his own head. But if it were in the day – time that the thief was killed, he that killed him was accountable for it, unless it were in the necessary defence of his own life. (from here)

Nonetheless, sympathy for the thief has its limits.

Proverbs 6:30-31 New Century Version (NCV)

30 People don’t hate a thief
when he steals because he is hungry.
31 But if he is caught, he must pay back seven times what he stole, and it may cost him everything he owns.

The society of man cannot easily tolerate open thievery.  

What Does The New Testament Say?

When asked “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? ” Jesus observed that we must obey the commandments, including the one that prohibits stealing (Mark 10:17-27). As Jesus had observed earlier in the Book of Mark:

Mark 7:20-23 King James Version (KJV)

20And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:

23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

The Apostle Paul summed up this way.

Romans 13:8-10 New Living Translation (NLT)

8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

In fact, the Apostle Paul suggests that the thief exchange stealing with charity.

Ephesians 4:28 King James Version (KJV)

Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

What Do Our Laws Say? provides an overview of Theft. Here is the legal definition.

Theft is often defined as the unauthorized taking of property from another with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. Within this definition lie two key elements: 1) a taking of someone else’s property; and 2) the requisite intent to deprive the victim of the property permanently.

Just as the Bible does, we try to make the punishment fit the severity of the crime.

Other key questions in theft cases are: 1) what type of property was stolen; and 2) how much the property was actually worth. This determines the category and/or degree of theft charges that an accused could face. Many jurisdictions create degrees of theft crimes. For example, a third degree theft might be a misdemeanor involving property with a relatively low market value. On the other hand, a first degree theft could be classified as a felony with stolen property valued above a limit established by law. Alternatively, some states categorize their theft (or related offenses) as “petty” or “grand”.

Of course there is more to stealing just sneaking and creeping off with someone else’s property. Matthew Henry‘s (1662 – 1682) commentary puts it this way.

The eighth commandment is the law of love as it respects the property of others. The portion of worldly things allotted us, as far as it is obtained in an honest way, is the bread which God hath given us; for that we ought to be thankful, to be contented with it, and, in the use of lawful means, to trust Providence for the future. Imposing upon the ignorance, easiness, or necessity of others, and many other things, break God’s law, though scarcely blamed in society. Plunderers of kingdoms though above human justice, will be included in this sentence. Defrauding the public, contracting debts without prospect of paying them, or evading payment of just debts, extravagance, all living upon charity when not needful, all squeezing the poor in their wages; these, and such things, break this command; which requires industry, frugality, and content, and to do to others, about worldly property, as we would they should do to us. (from here)

Thus we prohibit fraud and punish those who break contracts and seek to evade payment of their just debts. In addition, we allow workers to organize and seek just wages (See FAQs About Union Members’ Rights).

To be continued: Next week we will discuss the 7th of The Ten Commandments.


  1. PARTNERING WITH EAGLES – Glad you enjoy these posts.

    I don’t know whether Matthew Henry was martyred, but I did use those commentaries for the reason you stated.

    Every change has both positive and negative benefits. The Protestant Reformation began with a reexamination of the roots of Christian beliefs. Initially, violence accompanied that examination. However, thoughtful people eventually realized Jesus did not approve of using coercion to spread the faith. With that understanding, Christians became advocates for freedom of religion. That freedom, freedom of religion, provided the basis for a new form of government. Without quite realizing what they had done, men such as Matthew Henry and John Wesley both introduced their fellows to a new understanding of Bible and changed the form of our government.

  2. Very much enjoying these postings; I was puzzled by a recurring item; You mention ” Matthew Henry‘s (1662 – 1682)” several times. I finally clicked on the link to find:
    Matthew Henry – (1662-1714), Calvinist biblical exegete –
    Interesting info; privately ordained in London in 1687 and able to minister as a nonconformist for 25 yrs.
    So the referral was to commentaries made during this time frame. 1662 marked a rather violent time (Act of Uniformity) for Puritans and nonconformists; until I used the link, the reference (1662-1682) had me thinking he might have been martyred early in life.

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