What Does the Bible Say About Thieves?

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A person stealing an item from a store

The Bible, the holy book of Christianity, offers profound insights into many aspects of life, including guidance on moral questions such as theft. An act universally condemned, theft is discussed comprehensively in both the Old and New Testaments. This article aims to explore what the Bible says about thieves, the consequences of theft, and how repentance and redemption are possible for those who have strayed.

Understanding the Biblical Perspective on Theft

Before delving into the specifics, it is vital to understand the general biblical perspective on theft. The Bible condemns theft, considering it a violation of divine law. It not only entails the illegal taking of one’s property but also hampers the principles of trust, fairness, and integrity that underpin societal interactions.

The biblical perspective on theft is deeply rooted in the belief that every individual has inherent value and that their property should be respected. When theft occurs, it not only disrupts the balance of justice but also damages the very fabric of human relationships.

Understanding the biblical perspective on theft requires a comprehensive examination of the Ten Commandments and the various narratives found throughout the Bible that shed light on this issue.

The Ten Commandments and Theft

The belief that theft is morally wrong is one of the doctrines laid down in the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15) is explicitly mentioned as the eighth commandment, implying the prohibition of theft in any form.

However, the commandment goes beyond forbidding the physical act of stealing. It encompasses a broader principle that discourages all forms of dishonesty and the violation of others’ rights.

By explicitly stating the prohibition of theft, the Ten Commandments establish a clear moral framework for individuals to follow. This framework not only guides personal conduct but also shapes the overall ethical standards within a community.

Biblical Stories Involving Theft

There are numerous biblical narratives that touch upon theft to illustrate the resulting effects and the redemptive steps taken by the characters. These stories provide practical insights into how theft affects not just material possessions, but relationships, community unity, and spiritual health.

One such story is the account of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who was known for his corrupt practices. In Luke 19:1-10, Zacchaeus encounters Jesus and experiences a transformation of heart. As a result, he pledges to give half of his possessions to the poor and repay anyone he has defrauded four times the amount. This story emphasizes the importance of repentance and restitution as a means to restore what was taken through theft.

Another example is the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37-50. Joseph’s brothers steal his coat of many colors out of jealousy, leading to a series of events that ultimately result in reconciliation and forgiveness. This narrative highlights the destructive consequences of theft within a family and the power of forgiveness to heal broken relationships.

These narratives often underscore the importance of acknowledging and repenting for the act, facilitating personal transformation and societal healing. They serve as cautionary tales, encouraging individuals to consider the consequences of their actions and seek reconciliation when theft occurs.

In conclusion, the biblical perspective on theft is rooted in the belief that it is a violation of divine law and disrupts the principles of trust, fairness, and integrity. The Ten Commandments explicitly prohibit theft, setting a moral standard for individuals to follow. Biblical stories involving theft provide practical insights into the effects of theft and the steps taken towards redemption and restoration. By understanding the biblical perspective on theft, individuals can strive to uphold the values of honesty, respect, and justice in their interactions with others.

Old Testament Teachings on Theft

The Old Testament provides detailed instructions regarding theft. Multiple texts distinctly articulate the prohibition of stealing, pointing out its incompatibility with a righteous life.

The concept of theft in the Old Testament goes beyond a simple prohibition. It delves into the consequences, both earthly and spiritual, that arise from such actions. Let us explore some specific teachings on theft found in the Old Testament.

Theft in the Book of Exodus

The Book of Exodus is particularly instructional in conveying the principles associated with theft. Besides having theft explicitly mentioned in the Ten Commandments, Exodus also lays down laws detailing how to handle theft situations, indicating the severity of this particular crime.

One significant aspect of theft addressed in Exodus is the differentiation between theft caught in the act and theft discovered after it has occurred. According to Exodus 22:2, if a thief was caught in the act and killed, the defender was not guilty of bloodshed. This highlights the seriousness with which theft was regarded in ancient Israel, with the protection of property being of utmost importance.

However, if the theft was discovered after the fact, the criminal was expected to pay back multiple times the value of what was stolen, as stated in Exodus 22:4. This restitution requirement aimed to ensure that the thief faced the consequences of their actions and sought to restore what was taken.

Proverbs and Theft

Proverbs, a rich source of wisdom, encapsulates the moral and spiritual consequences of theft. Proverbs 6:30-31 says, “People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.”

This passage from Proverbs not only highlights the earthly consequences of theft but also underscores the fact that theft creates an imbalance, disrupting the harmony in relationships and society. It acknowledges that desperate circumstances may drive someone to steal, but it does not excuse the act. The thief is still held accountable for their actions and is required to make restitution, even if it means losing all their possessions.

Proverbs, with its collection of wise sayings, serves as a reminder that theft is not only a violation of the law but also a transgression against the moral fabric of society. It emphasizes the importance of honesty, integrity, and respect for the property of others.

As we explore the teachings on theft in the Old Testament, it becomes evident that the ancient Israelites placed great significance on upholding the principles of justice, fairness, and personal responsibility. The consequences of theft were not taken lightly, and measures were in place to ensure restitution and deterrence. These teachings continue to resonate today, reminding us of the importance of respecting the rights and property of others.

New Testament Teachings on Theft

The teachings of the New Testament echo the earlier condemnations of theft, with expanded teachings from Jesus and His apostles.

Jesus’ Teachings on Theft

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cautions against placing too much value on material possessions, as this can lead to unethical behavior, including theft (Matthew 6:19-21). He urges His followers to store up treasures in Heaven, indicating the importance of maintaining spiritual over material wealth.

Moreover, His instruction to “give to the one who asks you” (Matthew 5:42) lays the foundation for a society where stealing is unnecessary because generosity prevails.

Paul’s Letters and Theft

The Apostle Paul reiterated and expanded on Jesus’ teachings on theft. In his letter to the Ephesians, he discourages theft and advises, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

This passage suggests that conversion should result in a change of behavior, including the abandonment of theft and the adoption of labor and generosity.

The Consequences of Theft in the Bible

The Bible depicts theft as a damaging action that has far-reaching consequences, both spiritually and earthly.

Spiritual Consequences

The spiritual ramifications of theft are significant. Theft separates the thief from God, destroying the connection the thief may have with the spiritual realm. It is considered a sin and disrupts the purity of one’s soul, requiring repentance and forgiveness for reconciliation with God.

Furthermore, theft bears consequences on the community, creating an atmosphere of distrust and disharmony, thus going against the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19).

Earthly Consequences

Alongside spiritual damages, there are practical, immediate consequences of theft. These include the potential for legal penalties, the loss of trust and relationship with others, and the emotional burden of guilt.

The Bible explicitly states that restitution should be made for stolen goods, often involving repaying more than the value of the stolen item.

Repentance and Redemption for Thieves in the Bible

Despite the unequivocal condemnation of theft, the Bible teaches that redemption and grace are within reach for those willing to repent and change their ways. Two narratives provide powerful illustrations of this: the story of Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross.

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

Zacchaeus, a tax collector who had enriched himself by overcharging people, provides an excellent example of repentance. When Jesus visited his home, Zacchaeus was deeply changed and promised to give half his wealth to the poor and repay four times what he had stolen (Luke 19:8).

In response to Zacchaeus’s repentance and restitution, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9), affirming the power of repentance.

The Thief on the Cross

The most poignant illustration of redemption for a thief is in the account of the crucifixion of Jesus. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus openly acknowledged his guilt and expressed faith in Christ’s kingdom. To him, Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

This promise underscores that faith in Jesus, acknowledgment of sin, and genuine repentance, even in the final moments of life, offer a path to redemption.

In conclusion, the Bible offers not just unequivocal denunciation of theft, but also a path towards redemption for those who have committed theft. It emphasizes the importance of repentance, restitution, and a transformed life, indicating the possibility of reconciliation with God and society.


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