Thou shalt not steal
"Thou shalt not steal" is one of the Ten Commandments of the Torah (and by extension the Old Testament), which are widely understood as moral imperatives by legal scholars, Jewish scholars, Catholic scholars, and Post-Reformation scholars.
"Steal" in this commandment has traditionally been interpreted by Jewish commentaries to refer to the stealing of an actual human being, that is, to kidnapping. With this understanding, a contextual translation of the commandment in Jewish tradition would more accurately be reflected as "Thou shalt not kidnap", with kidnapping being a capital offence and thus included among the Ten Commandments. Nevertheless, and especially in non-Jewish traditions, the commandment has come to commonly and colloquially be understood or interpreted to prohibit the unauthorized taking of property, or theft, which is a wrongful action that does not ordinarily incur the death penalty and is prohibited elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.
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- Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shall not covet," and "Thou shall not steal," are not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
- John Adams, Ch. 1 Marchamont Nedham: The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government (1787).
- Who are the greedy? Those who are not satisfied with what suffices for their own needs. Who are the robbers? Those who take for themselves what rightfully belongs to everyone. And you, are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? The things you received in trust as a stewardship, have you not appropriated them for yourself? Is not the person who strips another of clothing called a thief? And those who do not clothe the naked when they have the power to do so, should they not be called the same? The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked, the shoes that are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none, the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy. You are thus guilty of injustice toward as many as you might have aided, and did not.
- Basil of Caesarea, Homily 6, “I Shall Tear Down My Barns,” C. P. Schroeder, trans., in Saint Basil on Social Justice (2009), p. 70.
- The stinking puddle from which usury, thievery and robbery arises is our lords and princes. They make all creatures their property—the fish in the water, the birds in the air, the plant in the earth must all be theirs. Then they proclaim God's commandments among the poor and say, "You shall not steal."
- Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.