You Shall Not Steal: Bible Lesson and Life Application

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

It is hard to find anyone who has not been a victim of theft. Yet, despite the nightly news reports and the stories of those who are victims of theft, most people think that when it comes to stealing, it is something that other people do. However, God’s definition of stealing is quite a bit broader that what most people would consider. For this reason, a Bible lesson and life application study of the eighth commandment, you shall not steal, is in order.

What does the word steal mean? 

The word steal is commonly defined as (1): Verb 1. “Take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.” 2. “Dishonestly pass off (another person’s ideas) as one’s own.” 3. “Take the opportunity to give or share (a kiss) when it is not expected or when people are not watching.”

From these definitions, we see three key points:

  1. Taking something without permission.
  2. Dishonesty and
  3. Doing something that may not be generally acceptable in public.

You shall not steal

What does God say about stealing?

The eighth commandment reads like this: “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). The word steal in this verse is the Hebrew word ganab (2), which is used 39 times in the Old Testament. This Hebrew word is used in the following ways: to thieve (literal or figurative); by implication to deceive, carry away. Additionally it communicates to secretly bring, steal (away), or get by stealth. The Greek word that has the same meaning is klepto (3).

Biblically, we see the same three points as were mentioned in the common definition: Taking without permission, deceit (dishonesty), and doing something in secret. We find the word steal used in these capacities in the following verses:

  1. Taking without permission: Genesis 44:8; Exodus 22:1; Leviticus 19:11; Matthew 6:19-20; Matthew 27:64; John 10:10; Romans 2:21; Ephesians 4:28
  2. Deceit or dishonesty: Leviticus 19:11
  3. Doing something in secret: Genesis 31:27; 2 Samuel 19:3; Job 27:20

Is stealing ever justified?

In Proverbs 6:30-31 God says, “Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house.” We see from this verse, used as a comparison to the difficult restitution for adultery, that the reason behind the theft does matter when it comes to it being right or wrong.

This passage is of particular note because many people will excuse stealing if the reason for it is what they determine to be reasonable. For example, many will steal from their employer if they feel that their pay should be higher. Others will steal from someone because they think that the person is rich and owe it to others who are less wealthy or because they will never miss it. The fallacy of these arguments is that anyone can use any excuse to justify stealing, which denies what God says about stealing. No matter what the reason, stealing is taking something from someone that does not belong to you. 

What is the Spiritual perspective of stealing?

The Bible is very direct about stealing and God’s displeasure of those who steal (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). However, what is even more offensive to God is the stealing of a person as found in Exodus 21:16, “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” This verse speaks volumes about the evils of slavery and how many, even those who called themselves Christians, claimed slavery was a Christian value.

The reason God is so adamant about the penalty for stealing a man in the Old Testament is because Satan steals men. We find this in John 10:1-16 where Jesus discusses how He is the Good Shepherd and came to provide protection for believers, referred to as sheep. Jesus makes specific reference to thieves and robbers who came before Him (John 10:9-10) that kill, steal, and destroy.

The context of these verses tells us that Satan is a thief and murderer who comes to steal people away from being saved. This concept is mentioned in the parable of the sower in Luke 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15. In Mark 4:3-4, Jesus describes how the sower sows the seed and the fowls of the air devour it. In Mark 4:14-15 and Luke 8:11-12, Jesus explains the parable by saying that the seed is the Word of God and people hear it, but the devil comes and takes it away out of their hearts so that they cannot believe and be saved.

Additionally, in John 10:11-13, Jesus makes mention of the hireling that is hired to tend the sheep, but runs away and when “the wolf” comes to attack the sheep because they do not care for the sheep. Jesus is referring to false teachers here, which are not there to do the work of God (John 8:44; Romans 16:17-18; 2 John 9-11) and are cursed by God (John 1:8-9). 


God commanded us not to steal in the eighth commandment. Although this was an Old Testament commandment, it pointed to the fact that stealing is not in keeping with loving our neighbor. More so, when it came to stealing a person, the penalty was death. This is because stealing a man models how Satan steals away men through theft of the word from their hearts through deception and dishonesty. Those who steal on behalf of Satan do so through false teaching and deception.

Read more from Dr. Mike: You Shall Not Commit Adultery

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Google. (2014). “Steal”. Retrieved from Google: (2) Strong, James, (2014). “Steal”. Strong’s number H1589. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. (3) Strong, James, (2014). “Steal”. Strong’s number G2813. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony Reese October 29, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I had never thought of false teachers being thieves of God’s word before. Bravo. Well written and enlightening Dr. Williams. I love the scripture in Exodus about stealing men. I knew God did not delight in slavery, but so many christian haters are fond of saying we supported slavery and genocide. They just don’t know the fullness of the scriptures. Amen!
Keep up the great work.


Dr Michael Williams October 30, 2014 at 12:53 am

Thanks for your response Tony. Yes, it is hard when so called “theologians” and heads of the largest of churches endorse things not only contrary to God’s Word, but beliefs that are totally contrary to the nature of God.


Jack Wellman October 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Amen Dr. Williams. So true about stealing is not loving our neighbor as we are commanded. Thank you sir.


Dr Michael Williams October 30, 2014 at 1:04 am

Thanks for your comment brother. Love is a powerful motivator (1 John 4:19).


Edith July 15, 2015 at 8:40 am

“Although this was an Old Testament command…” What exactly do you mean by this?


Dr Michael Williams July 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm

Thanks for your comment Edith. The context of your question was from the conclusion: “God commanded us not to steal in the eighth commandment. Although this was an Old Testament commandment, it pointed to the fact that stealing is not in keeping with loving our neighbor.”

As believers we are no longer under the law, however, what we see is that we are now led by the Spirit. In the the Old Testament, the law said not to do things. In the New Testament, we are told to do the opposite. The Old Testament law obviously convicts the world of sin. It also seves as “fences” that control behaviors. When we are led by the Spirit, we are free from the law, yet the Spirit’s role is to lead and convict. The Old Testament said do not steal. The New Testament says “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.” (Ephesians 4:28) The emphasis is not on focusing on not stealing, the emphasis is following the leading of the Spirit that will convict you to work to earn money so that you will provide for others. Another example is why are there speed limits? Because some people have no consideration for the safety of others and need a law to control their behavior. If I drive with an attitude of loving my neighbor because I love God, then I will desire to drive a safe speed and have no need of a law to slow me down. I realize there are road hazards that the speed limit will warn us about as well, but the point is that when we follow the Spirit, we establish the law by faith. In other words, when we follow the leading of the Spirit, He will never lead us to do anything that is against the law that we are no longer in bondage to. So, instead of focusing on not lying, the Spirit inspires us to “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and in doing so, we “establish the law” (Romans 3:19-31).

FYI, the founders of America saw this as foundational to living in freedom. If the hearts of the people we ruled by the Holy Spirit, then laws did not have to be passed to control the people. This is why we have so many oppressive laws being passed today, because of the vast number of people that do not love God first and their neighbor as themselves.

Blessings, Dr. Mike


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