Identity theft is a major problem today, with criminals stealing personal information to access finances, accounts, and more. But identity theft is not just a modern issue – even in biblical times, there were examples of stolen identity and impersonation. In this blog post, we will explore several stories in the Bible that deal with stolen identity and what they teach us about protecting our sense of who we are in Christ.
Our identity – who we understand ourselves to be – is incredibly important. When others try to assume or steal our identity, it can leave us feeling violated and insecure. In the Bible, there are various instances where someone’s identity is taken or replaced in order to deceive and take advantage. Looking at these stories helps us see the importance God places on our sense of self and uniqueness. It also teaches us how to guard against letting others define who we are meant to be.
- Jacob stole Esau’s identity and birthright, showing identity theft motives are often rooted in greed and ambition.
- David feigned madness to conceal his identity when running from Saul, illustrating how we hide our true selves when afraid.
- Jesus was often mistaken for someone else, proving we can wrongly assign identities to others.
- Paul was misidentified as gods and other apostles, revealing our tendency to quickly slap labels onto people.
By studying biblical examples of stolen identity, Christians today can learn to protect who God made them to be and find their identity in Christ alone. When our sense of self is rooted in God’s love, we are less likely to be shaken by the identity tricks and confusion present in the world.
Jacob Steals Esau’s Identity
One of the most famous examples of identity theft in the Bible is the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s identity. As the older twin son of Isaac and Rebekah, Esau was entitled to the birthright and blessing of the firstborn. But Jacob conspired with his mother to trick his aging father into giving him Esau’s blessing instead.
The birthright was both material – granting a double portion of the inheritance – and spiritual, carrying the honour and legacy of the family line (Genesis 25:31-34). Jacob was greedy for what his brother had, and with his mother’s prodding enacted an elaborate scheme to steal Esau’s identity. We pick up the story in Genesis 27:
Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son…Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. He went to his father and said, “My father.”
“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”
Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” (Genesis 27:15-19)
Isaac was elderly and could not see well. Knowing this, Rebekah and Jacob disguised the younger brother with Esau’s clothes and the skins of young goats, lying to Isaac about his true identity. In the cultures of the day, the firstborn blessing was not reversible – so Jacob’s theft would have long-term consequences.
This story provides a strong warning about the motives behind identity theft. Like Jacob, identity thieves are often driven by selfish ambition, greed, and a desire for status or blessings that do not belong to them. The scheming and disguise required also reflects the premeditation of most identity theft today. Rarely is it a spur of the moment act, but carefully plotted out.
As Christians, we must guard our hearts against jealousy over what others have or a willingness to deceive to get ahead. Esau suffered an agonizing loss, crying out when he learned what happened:
As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me also, O my father!” (Genesis 27:34)
If our identity rests in Christ alone, we can learn to be content without scheming and imitation.
David’s Feigned Madness
Another biblical example of identity masking comes during the life of David. In 1 Samuel 21, David is on the run from Saul who seeks to kill him. To escape, David pretends to be mad in the presence of Achish, king of Gath:
So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands… Now he was afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their hands and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman. (1 Samuel 21:13-15)
Rather than proudly declare his identity, David hides who he truly is out of fear. He scrambles his speech, makes marks on the doors, and lets spit run down his beard until Achish curses him and asks why they brought this madman into his presence. Once he leaves, David resumes praying to God in sanity.
This story reveals our tendency to conceal our true identity when afraid or seeking to avoid harm. Just as David feigned madness, we are tempted to put on masks and play roles that keep us safe. We may even convince others we are someone completely different than who we feel we are inside.
But playing a false role prevents us from fully living out our authentic selves. The instance shows David’s lack of integrity in the moment, not relying on God for protection. As Christians, our identity rests in Christ – we do not need to hide who we are in Him, even when afraid or under threat. We can lean on God to uphold us, instead of scrambling our identity for self-protection.
Jesus Mistaken for Other Figures
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus Christ – the Son of God and Messiah – was often mistaken for someone else. People continued to misunderstand Jesus’ true identity, revealing that we can quickly slap incorrect labels on others.
For instance, some thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life:
But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. (Mark 6:16-17)
Others believed Jesus to be Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets:
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)
Despite seeing Jesus’ miracles and hearing his teachings, people continued to mistakenly assign other identities to Christ. They relied on their assumptions and surface-level understandings, rather than taking time to truly get to know who Jesus was.
We often do the same thing to others, hastily judging and applying labels before we know their story. As Christians, we must avoid this tendency to misname and pigeonhole other people based on outward factors. Just as others constantly misunderstood who Jesus was, we too face being stereotyped and mistakenly categorized when others do not take time to recognize our God-given identities.
Paul Misidentified as Other Apostles
The apostle Paul faced issues of mistaken identity throughout his ministries. In Acts, he is constantly confused with other apostles and religious figures.
For instance, after Paul and Barnabas perform a miracle, the crowds want to worship them as gods:
Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. (Acts 14:11-12)
Even Paul’s fellow believers sometimes confused him with others. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul references how he differs from the 12 apostles:
Am I not an apostle? … Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 9:1-2)
Despite his efforts, Paul was constantly grouped with other religious leaders, failing to be recognized as the unique person God called him to be.
We can learn from Paul’s experience. When we mistakenly lump others into limiting categories, we fail to appreciate their divine design. Instead of looking for outward similarities, we must seek to know people’s hearts as God designed them. Our identity rests in Christ, not earthly comparisons.
Protecting Identity in Christ
Through these examples and others, the Bible warns of the dangers of stolen identity, mistaken labels, false roles, and surface-level judgments. Our sense of who God created us to be is precious and should be guarded. When others attempt to misname us, impose limiting labels, or hide who they truly are, we must look to Christ.
As Christians, our true identity rests in God and His love for us:
But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
We are not defined by other’s opinions, assumptions, or deception. We are also free to drop any false identities, masks, and roles we hide behind, trusting God to keep us steady as we live openly as His beloved children:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
By finding our deepest sense of self in God, we begin seeing ourselves and others as He does. We can live securely in who He created us to be without fear, envy, or need for false identities.
- Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing warns us that identity theft is often motivated by greed and ambition over what does not belong to us. As Christians, we can resist jealousy and scheming by finding contentment in our identity in Christ.
- David’s feigned madness reminds us that we hide our true selves when afraid. Rather than performing false roles, we can lean on God to uphold us even in danger.
- Jesus was constantly misidentified, revealing our tendency to hastily apply inaccurate labels. We must avoid superficial judgments, taking time to appreciate how God uniquely designed each person.
- Like Paul, we face being mistaken for others and wrongly compared. Our sense of self comes not from earthly standards, but from knowing we are dearly loved children of God.
Understanding biblical examples of stolen and mistaken identity helps us be vigilant in protecting our identity in Christ alone. When our core sense of self rests in God’s love, we are secure despite others’ judgments, assumptions, labels, and deception. By keeping our identity rooted in who God says we are, we can live freely and authentically.