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What Does the Bible Say About Thieves?
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What Does the Bible Say About Thieves?

Stealing and theft are issues that God takes seriously throughout Scripture. As followers of Christ, it’s important for us to understand what the Bible teaches about stealing, thieves, and handling stolen property. In this comprehensive overview, we’ll explore numerous passages that address these topics and provide key takeaways for applying biblical principles to our lives.

Introduction

Theft has been a problem ever since the fall of man brought sin into the world. As long as greed and covetousness infect the human heart, people will be tempted to take what rightfully belongs to others. From petty shoplifting to brazen bank heists, thieves undermine the wellbeing of society by unjustly depriving others of their possessions.

As the divine Author of Scripture, God cares deeply about justice and righteousness. So it should come as no surprise that the Bible contains many verses about stealing, protecting property rights, making restitution, and dealing with thieves. While the cultural dynamics of ancient Israel don’t directly correlate with modern societies, the principles revealed in God’s Word remain relevant. By carefully studying these passages, we can gain timeless insight into how God views stealing and how He expects His people to handle theft.

Key Takeaways:

  • Stealing violates God’s commandments and is inherently sinful.
  • Ignoring or excusing theft brings harm to society.
  • Restitution demonstrates repentance and responsibility for wrongdoing.
  • Civil authorities have a role in punishing theft.
  • Believers should take reasonable precautions to protect property.
  • Dealing with theft requires wisdom, discernment and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the sections that follow, we’ll explore each of these takeaways in depth. Let’s begin by looking at what the Bible teaches about the sinfulness of stealing.

What does the bible say about thieves?

Stealing Violates God’s Commandments

The Bible clearly condemns stealing as morally wrong behavior that violates God’s commandments. The 7th commandment given to Moses declares, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15 NKJV). This prohibition against theft is repeated verbatim in Deuteronomy 5:19 and Leviticus 19:11. By explicitly commanding His people not to steal, God establishes that appropriating someone else’s possessions unlawfully is sinful.

This commandment applied not only to Israel but to the whole human race. As Paul explains in Romans, even Gentiles without the Mosaic Law have the work of the Law written on their hearts and know instinctively that stealing is wrong:

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)” (Romans 2:14-15 NKJV).

Stealing is an inherently unrighteous act that violates the image of God within us. Our consciences testify to this truth. Those who dismiss stealing as acceptable behave in a lawless manner that suppresses the inner knowledge of right and wrong that God has placed inside every person.

Furthermore, stealing demonstrates a lack of love for our neighbor. We are called to love others as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Taking from others what does not belong to us is the opposite of biblical love. It prioritizes personal greed over the good of community. Even if the theft seems minor, it deprives the victim of possessions, security, and peace of mind. This contradicts Christ’s command for His followers to do unto others as we would have them do to us (Luke 6:31).

Key Takeaway:

  • Stealing violates God’s commandments and is inherently sinful.

Ignoring Theft Harms Society

Since theft is morally wrong, a just and stable society cannot treat stealing as acceptable behavior. Ignoring or excusing theft, whether out of indifference, moral relativism, or misguided sympathy, causes harm on multiple levels.

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At an individual level, excusing theft fails to recognize the pain it causes victims. Imagine waking up and finding your car stolen from your driveway. Or discovering that the heirloom jewelry passed down in your family for generations is missing from its box. You would feel violated, unsafe, and angry. Failing to hold thieves accountable trivializes the personal trauma stealing often inflicts.

More broadly, overlooking theft erodes the health of the community. Rampant stealing makes people suspicious and distrustful, disrupting the bonds of goodwill. When stealing becomes endemic, people take extreme measures to safeguard possessions. They install elaborate security systems in their homes and businesses. Public areas feel dangerous. Such an environment undermines human flourishing.

Additionally, excusing theft can breed more criminal behavior. When there are no consequences for stealing, people become emboldened to take advantage of others. Petty theft leads to more audacious crime. Breaking into houses escalates to armed robbery. As unjust behavior is allowed to fester, the rule of law collapses. Chaos and disorder reign.

For all these reasons, the Bible consistently depicts overlooking theft as an injustice that undermines society. In his rebuke of Israel, the prophet Jeremiah declared:

“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13‭-‬14 NKJV).

Excusing wrongdoing as harmless may seem like an easier path in the moment but ultimately enables unrighteousness to multiply. As Ezekiel 22:29 states, “The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger” (NKJV). Failing to protect the vulnerable from theft violates the commands of Scripture.

Key Takeaway:

  • Ignoring or excusing theft brings harm to society.

Restitution Demonstrates Repentance

Given the Bible’s stern warnings against theft, what should be done when stealing occurs? Is there any place for mercy and second chances? Or should we demand “an eye for an eye” style retaliation?

A key principle that emerges in Scripture is the importance of restitution to make wrongs right. When people steal, they should demonstrate the genuineness of their repentance by returning what was taken or providing compensation.

For example, after the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, Moses called them to repentance and instructed:

“Now if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV)

Zacchaeus exemplified this response after coming to faith in Luke 19:8, declaring, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (NKJV). Restoring what was stolen demonstrated the transformed heart produced by God’s grace.

The means of restitution may vary based on the situation. Returning stolen property expresses a repentant conscience. Monetary payments replace what cannot be recovered. In some cases, community service makes amends for harm done. Any genuine attempt to undo the damage of theft through restitution is better than excusing the sin.

Of course, restitution is only effective when paired with true repentance. Without inward change, external actions are meaningless. As the Prophet Ezekiel declared to Israel:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.”‘” (Ezekiel 14:6 NKJV)

Outward actions cannot substitute for the inward transformation God desires. But restitution remains an important scriptural principle for taking responsibility when theft has occurred. It protects the rights of victims and limits the harmful consequences of wrongdoing.

Key Takeaway:

  • Restitution demonstrates repentance and responsibility for wrongdoing.

Civil Authorities Punish Theft

While seeking restitution is an appropriate individual response to theft, the Bible also discusses the crucial role civil authorities play in punishing stealing. God delegates oversight of justice to human governments to promote the public good.

The Apostle Paul explains this purpose of authority:

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:3-4 NKJV)

Verses like this do not justify tyranny. But they establish that just governments have legitimacy in penalizing criminal acts like stealing. Through fines, community service, and prison terms, civil justice systems deter theft and punish those who disregard the law.

Of course, civil punishment can only restrain outward actions, not inward sins. So biblical justice should demonstrate discernment, avoiding excessive penalties that embitter people. The punishments for theft under Mosaic law provide a balanced benchmark. For example:

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.” (Exodus 22:1 NKJV)

Punishments like restitution deter future theft while avoiding extreme retaliation. They aim to repair harm rather than merely inflict vindictive suffering. When civil authorities exercise justice wisely, they help protect the innocent from thieves who disregard conscience and community standards.

In summary, civil punishment has a legitimate, biblical role in restraining theft and maintaining an upright society. But punishments should be reasoned and bounded, not arbitrary or vengeful.

Key Takeaway:

  • Civil authorities have a role in punishing theft.

Believers Should Take Reasonable Precautions

How should Christians respond personally when faced with the reality of theft? Does upholding biblical principles mean taking no common-sense precautions? Or refusing to report crimes?

Scripture calls believers to exercise wisdom in navigating a fallen world. An overly naive approach can enable wrongdoing and injustice. As Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NIV). Avoiding theft, when possible, is prudent.

For example, the book of Proverbs offers many practical recommendations for protecting possessions, such as:

“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.” (Proverbs 22:28 NIV)

“Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23 ESV)

Ignoring property lines invites conflicts. Failing to diligently shepherd animals risks their loss. Claims that these verses endorse “blaming the victim” miss the point. Rather than excusing theft, they recommend reasonable care.

Likewise, taking advantage of legal protections shows wisdom. Reporting thefts to governing authorities fulfills the purpose of civil justice. As Paul explains after being wrongly imprisoned:

“They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.” (Acts 16:37 NKJV)

Paul understood that governing authorities, when functioning justly, can help protect people from harm. We should not hesitate to seek their intervention when wronged.

Of course, believers must balance prudent precautions with reliance on God’s sovereign care. After taking action, we trust Him for the result. As Proverbs 21:31 declares, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But deliverance is of the LORD.” Our protection ultimately comes from the Lord, not mere circumstances. But faith does not require passivity in the face of wrongdoing.

Key Takeaway:

  • Believers should take reasonable precautions to protect property.

Dealing with Theft Requires Discernment

Navigating situations impacted by theft requires much wisdom, discernment and reliance on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. While Scripture gives us principles, applying them well in complex, real-world contexts demands sensitivity to nuance and circumstances.

For example, consider a teenager from an impoverished background who shoplifts a pair of shoes. The theft should not be excused due to difficult circumstances. But a constructive path forward may emphasize mentoring, counselling, and restitution over harsh punishment.

Alternatively, disciplining an unrepentant serial thief within the church may require removing them from fellowship after multiple attempts at restoration (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Their stubborn impenitence requires bearing the consequences of choices. Loving concern for their soul continues, but without affirming their sinful behavior.

No formula can substitute for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom in each unique situation impacted by theft. As James 1:5 reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV). God promises to provide discernment if we seek it.

By listening to His promptings, we can uphold what Scripture teaches about theft while also extending the mercy and patience that He has demonstrated to us. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1 ESV)

As believers, we combat theft by living out countercultural values of honesty, integrity and community responsibility. And we point thieves to the only one who can ultimately transform human hearts: Jesus.

Key Takeaway:

  • Dealing with theft requires wisdom, discernment and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

In summary, the Bible contains invaluable instruction about how God views theft, dealing with thieves, and handling stolen property. The principles revealed in Scripture remain extremely relevant in modern societies impacted by different forms of stealing each day.

As we have seen, the Bible clearly prohibits theft as a violation of God’s law. Overlooking or excusing theft brings harm, while restitution demonstrates repentance. Civil authorities have a role in punishing stealing, but punishments should aim at justice not undue vengeance. Believers can take reasonable precautions while ultimately relying on God’s protection. And navigating each situation requires careful discernment through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The more we internalize the values taught in Scripture, the more we can shine as lights pushing back against the darkness of deceit and selfishness. By God’s grace, may we live and promote the righteousness that comes from Him alone. The church must model the repentance, restoration, and renewal only possible through Christ to turn thieves from taking to giving.

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Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.