The Eighth Commandment

Exodus 20:15

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2016

“You shall not steal”

We have been studying the Ten Commandments, God’s top ten list of sins.  Today, we come to the Eighth Commandment. It is a very short commandment. It is made up of only three words in English (“Do not steal”).  It is powerful.  It is very convicting.

This is a commandment that is universally broken.  We may not have made an image of a god and worshiped it.  We may not have cheated on our spouse or shot anyone this week but all of us have broken the letter of the Eighth Commandment.

You do not have to commit armed robbery and hold up the bank down the street to commit this sin.  Even Christians break this commandment.  Believe it or not, some of the biggest violators of this commandant are pastors.  Preachers break this commandment. We live in a nation of thieves.  We steal all of the time and often are not even aware of it.

“Eight year old Jimmy comes home from school with a note from his teacher that says, “Jimmy stole a pencil from the student sitting next to him.” Jimmy’s father is furious. He goes to great lengths to lecture Jimmy and let him know how upset and disappointed he is, and he grounds the boy for two weeks. “And just wait until you mother comes home!” He tells the boys ominously. Finally he concludes, “Anyway, Jimmy, if you needed a pencil why didn’t you just say something? Why didn’t you just simply ask? You know very well that I can bring you dozens of pencils from work.[2]

This commandment is short but it is very important.  It has political implications.  It contains an important principle of biblical economics.  One of my old professors, Wayne Grudem said, “wherever in history this command has been ignored, entire nations remain trapped in poverty forever”[3]

Many have pointed out that this commandment actually encompasses all of the other commandments. [1] If you kill someone, you steal that person’s life.  If you commit adultery, you steal your neighbor’s wife.  If you give false witness in court, you steal justice.

If you commit idolatry, you are stealing worship.  You are robbing God of worship.  It is one thing to steal from man.  It is far worse to try to steal from God.  That is the worse form of theft.

This commandment is also completely counter-cultural. It was different from what society in the ancient world said about stealing and is different from what society says about stealing today.  What God says and what man says about stealing are two different things. Society sees this it as a psychological disorder.

We have a term for people who do these things.  We call them kleptomaniacs.  They are people who steal out of obsession or compulsion.  They steal out of habit or addiction.  They cannot even stop.

God calls it a sin, not a disorder.  These people do not just have psychological problems.  Stealing is not a psychological disorder; it is a moral disorder.  Compulsive stealers are no different from serial murderers or serial adulterers.   The Ten Commandment are not God’s top ten list of mental disorders but of sins.

Many think that stealing is not that bad. The Bible says that people, who engage in a lifestyle of stealing, even though they claim to be Christians, will NOT enter into the kingdom.

I Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexualiy nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (ESV). 

Notice that Paul mentions stealing twice in this passage.  He mentions both thieves and swindlers.  Swindlers are people who rip people off and cheat people, like all of the online scams.  The stock broker Bernie Maydoff was a swindler.  He stole eighteen billion dollars from investors.   Paul said that these kind of people will NOT be in heaven. We will not have to lock the door in heaven.  We will be completely safe.

That is not to say that thieves cannot be saved, if they repent. Some of the Corinthians believers used to be thieves (I Corinthians 6:11). Jesus was crucified between two thieves (Matthew 27:38) and one of them got saved before he died (Luke 23:40-42). Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” 

The OT said the same thing. Ezekiel 33:14-16 says, “And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die.  None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live” (NIV).

Let’s review the last few commandments.  The Sixth Commandment deals with a violent crime (murder).  The Seventh Commandment deals with a sex crime (adultery).  The Eighth Commandment deals with a property crime (stealing).  The Sixth Commandment says that life is sacred. The Seventh Commandment says that marriage is sacred. The Eighth Commandment says that property is sacred.  This commandment teaches two things.

Implications of the Eighth Commandment

1. Private property is a right

This commandment assumes the right to private property. You can only steal something that belongs to someone else.  If something belongs to you, you can’t steal it.  This commandment assumes that our neighbor has some possessions that can be taken. You can’t take something from someone if they do not have it in the first place. This is not stated but is implied.

If stealing is a crime, property must be a right. There is nothing wrong with a person owning things and enjoying things, so long as that person’s life is not controlled or dominated by those things.  Isn’t this obvious to everyone?  No.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), the father of modern communism, thought that there was something wrong with property.  He believed in the abolition of private property.  He thought that property was bad and that property breeds selfishness. He taught that the goal of society was to reach a utopian state of full communism in which there was no social classes, no property, no religion and no state.[4]  He believed that it would “wither away”.

The 19th century French writer, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, called property robbery.  He said, “property is theft”.  According to Scripture, property is NOT theft.  The Bible upholds property rights. God says that you have the right to own things. Other people have the right to own things and we have no right to take someone else’s’ stuff. You do not even have a right to desire them (Tenth Commandment), let alone take them (Eighth Commandment).

2. Stealing is a sin

If you take something that is not yours, you are stealing and stealing is wrong, no exceptions.  The Eighth Commandment is a moral absolute.  It is something that is always wrong at all times and in all places.  Lying is always wrong.  Murder is always wrong.  Adultery is always wrong.  Worshiping another god is always wrong. All stealing is wrong. It is wrong, even if you are poor.

As the talk radio host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger used to say, “The commandment does not say, ‘Thou shalt not steal, unless it is a candy bar.”  We should not even steal a paperclip, if it does not being to us.

When I was a kid, I learned the phrase “Finder’s keepers; loser’s weepers” but that this phrase is not biblical. Just because we find something does not mean that we should keep it. The Law of Moses says that if we find something that belongs to someone else, we are to return it to him. Deuteronomy 22:1 says, “If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner” (NIV)

There are all kinds of stories of people who have found an envelope on the street with a lot of money and turned it in to the police, instead of keeping it.  The owner eventually got it back.  They did the right thing to turn it in.  Many have found wallets with thousands of dollars in them and have returned them to their owner.

About twenty years ago, when I was in Chicago, I read a story about a woman who went to the McDonald’s restaurant right near Wrigley Field and left her wallet there.  She drove back to the restaurant and it was not there.  A man from the Philippines found it and had dropped it off at her house while she was gone.  Her husband asked if he wanted a reward.

He said that he had several kids to support and was unemployed at the time but did not ask him for any money.  The only thing he asked him to do was to let him know if he knew of any leads on jobs.  The man’s wife just so happened to work for a Chicago newspaper.  She let everyone know what happened and asked the readers if they wanted to hire an honest man, to give this man a call.

In the next twenty-four hours, he received hundreds of job offers.  Before that time, he could not find an opening anywhere.  He ended up taking a job in a bank. Exodus 23:4 goes even farther.  It says, “If you come across YOUR ENEMY’S ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it.”

That’s interesting. You find something that belongs to someone you hate.  Return it to him or her. Jesus says in the NT that we are to love our enemies.  The OT said the same thing. This is the Golden Rule.  It is doing to others as you would want them to do to you.  We would want someone else to return our animal if it happened to wander off and end up on their property.

Stealing is wrong but that does NOT mean that all stealing is equal. There are degrees of sin. Stealing a pencil is not as bad as stealing a car and stealing a car is not as bad as stealing a person. We know this because the punishment was different. The punishment for stealing someone’s property in the Law of Moses was restitution.

In the Middle East, the punishment for stealing is amputation.  That is what the Koran says to do with thieves.[5] It is the punishment for theft in Shariah Law.  It is barbaric.  In Iran, they do it in public.  The Law of Moses says that the punishment was for stealing personal property was restitution, not amputation.

Exodus 22:1, 3b-4 says, “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep… Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double” (NIV).

There was one exception to this rule. If you stole a person (kidnapping), the punishment was death, which shows there are degrees of sin.  Exodus 21:16 says, “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession” (NIV).

Deuteronomy 24:7 says, “If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.” (NIV)

Kidnapping is almost never punished in our country by death.  When Ariel Castro kidnapped, raped and imprisoned three women in his home for decades, he only received life plus a thousand years in jail without the chance of parole but in the OT, he would have been put to death.  He ended up putting himself to death in his jail cell.

Ways People Steal Today

The Eighth Commandment forbids stealing.  How does this apply to us?  Most of us have not robbed a bank. Have we ever stolen?  Have we ever broken the Eighth Commandment? There are actually many ways people steal.


The first type of stealing is violent.  It can take different forms. It could involve things like  burglary (home invasion), mugging (armed robbery), carjacking (stealing cars) or piracy (stealing ships in the ocean)


This type of stealing is non-violent.  Examples would people who pickpocket and shoplifters.  It is not just kids who do retail theft.  Most who do this are adults.[6] Stealing copyrighted software (software piracy) off of a computer also falls into this category.

Unintentional Theft

Borrowing something and not returning it is stealing.  Most of the time, it is unintentional.  We forget to return it but it is still stealing.  Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.”  It is not a sin to borrow something but it is a sin not to return what we borrow.

Intangible Theft

Some steal a grade by cheating on a test or copying someone’s homework. Athletes steal records through performance-enhancing drugs (steroids).  Some people steal other people’s identity.  It is identity theft.  WikiLeaks hacks into computers and steal emails.

Corporate Theft

Some steal from companies. An example would be people who steal from hotels.  Some amenities you are allowed to take (travel-size toiletries) but not pillows or towels.

Many steal from banks.  Getting a loan and not paying back your loan is a form of stealing.  Defaulting on a loan is a form of theft. Bankruptcy is a form of theft.  It is a legal way of eliminating your debt by simply not paying it.

Many steal from their work.  They take money from the register or take office supplies home.  They rationalize that they are underpaid and overworked.  They think that it is just something little, the company is wealthy and it will not be missed. Some steal from the government.

National Theft

Some steal from nations.  Spies do this.  They steal state secrets or classified information. It is called espionage but that is a fancy word for stealing.  Other people steal from nations by not paying their taxes. Tax evasion is a form of stealing.  Taxes are payments for the public goods and services we consume.

The Bible says to pay them.  Paul says, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes” (Romans 13:7).  Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:21 KJV). He said to pay Caesar what you owe Caesar.

Political Theft

Governments can steal.  What are some ways that governments steal?  They can steal form other nations.  They can also steal form their own people.  The first way they do this is through imperialism. That is big fancy word for stealing land. Big nations often steal from little nations. The Bible talks about stealing land (Micah 2:2; Deuteronomy 27:17).

Another way they do this is by excessive taxation.  US taxes wealthy people are taxed at a higher income tax rate than middle-class.  It is called a progressive tax. What is does is takes money away from rich people and redistribute wealth and give it to the middle class or the poor.

Socialism is a violation of the Eighth Commandment.  It legalizes theft.  Government sanctioned stealing. It is stealing from the rich.  Many American voted for a socialist in the primaries.  Thirteen million people voted for him.  It is the Robin Hood philosophy.  It taxes the wealthy and punishes the rich.  It ends up punishing achievement. Overtaxing people is a form of theft.

Religious Theft

Some pastors steal from the congregation.  False teachers are motivated by greed.  They are in the ministry for the money (II Peter 3:1-2). There are entire ministries based on greed.  Some even say that the more you give to the church, you will become a millionaire but the only one who gets rich is the pastor.  Everyone else gets poor.

Jesus described the Temple in his day as “a den of thieves.”  He might describe some churches like that today. He said that some of the Pharisees were outwardly religious but inwardly full of greed (Luke 11:39). They even robbed poor people and took advantage of them. Jesus said, “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (Luke 20:47 NIV).

Some preachers steal sermons.  It is not wrong to take an idea here or there and using it but some pastors have taken an entire sermon off the Internet and preach it word-for-word as their own by copy and paste.  My wife told me that she heard a sermon on the radio early in the week and heard the pastor on Sunday preach the entire sermon point by point.  Some pastors have been fired for that.  It is plagiarism in the pulpit.

Some Christians have stolen from churches.  It is called church fraud.  Judas did it and some have taken church money for personal reasons.  Christians can steal from churches in other ways.  They can steal from others by not using their gifts.  Those gifts are given not for themselves but for the body.  When you do not use your gifts, the body suffers.  We rob God when we do not give.  God prospers and blesses us and we do not give anything back to Him.

[1] is one example.

[2] Dan Ariely, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves, p. 31.


[4] There are ten planks in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.  The first plank says “Abolition of private property and the application of all rent to public purpose.”

[5] “And (as for) the man who steals and the woman who steals, cut off their hands as a punishment for what they have earned, an exemplary punishment from Allah, and Allah is Mighty, Wise” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:38-39).


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