“You shall not steal” is a fundamental biblical commandment that’s found in both Testaments (Ex. 20:15; 21:16; Lev. 19:11, 13; Matt. 19:18; Rom. 13:9). If property is theft, as one Christian stated on his Facebook page, then every person in the world is a thief because everyone owns something.
Property rights are fundamental in the Bible, so much so that they’ve been written into our nation’s laws:
Iron pins are a common and useful means of identifying property corners and they and other similar monuments serve a useful purpose. The installation and maintenance of permanent monuments identifying land corners even preserves the good order of society itself. From earliest times the law not only authorized but protected landmarks. Interference with landmarks of another was a violation of the Mosaic law. See Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28; 23:10. (256 Ga. 54, International Paper Realty Company v. Bethune. No. 43092. Supreme Court of Georgia, June 10, 1986).
In a list of those who do evil, the book of Job includes those who “remove the landmarks” and thereby “seize and devour flocks” (24:2). Note that theft by government is not an exception.
In 1 Kings 21, we read the story of the prophet Elijah who rebuked Ahab and Jezebel for the murder of Naboth and their theft of his vineyard. Did Elijah say that this was a way to achieve economic equality by diminishing the wealth of some for the benefit of others? He pronounced severe judgment on Ahab and Jezebel for their theft.
If property is theft and civil governments take property from some people and give it to other people, then these governments are guilty of theft by holding the property and giving it to other people. The people receiving the property and those who voted for politicians who support taking property from some people so it can be given to other people are engaged in violating the Eighth Commandment.
In addition to a specific commandment not to steal, there is the commandment not to covet:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Ex. 20:17). Covetousness is not just a sin of the wealthy. Anyone can covet. This includes the poor and governments.
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Thomas Sowell writes, “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.”
One of the most bizarre arguments for “Jesus was a socialist” comes from people who say, “Jesus healed and fed people for free, therefore, He was a socialist.” When governments can feed people for free by multiplying loaves and fishes, heal people by touch or a word from a government agency, or raise people from the dead, then I’ll become a socialist. The thing of it is, people who want free college and free healthcare and politicians who promise such things believe that government is god and can turn stones into bread. Our nation’s motto is “In God We Trust” which means in practice “In Government We Trust.” As often as they try, governments can’t perform miracles.
I consistently read from some Christians that under the New Covenant believers aren’t bound by God’s commandments, even though the New Testament says we are: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3; John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 2:3; 3:22, 24; Rev. 12:17; 14:12). It’s true that laws related to animal sacrifices are done away with in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the “lamb of God” (John 1:29), the temple made without hands (2:13–25), and the sinless high priest (Heb. 7).
The moral law as it relates to covetousness and theft has not been abolished. The apostle Paul writes:
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet” [the Ninth Commandment]. But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:7–12).
The commandments tell us when we are sinning. We have been freed from the curse of the law but not from obeying the law, because the law is good (Rom. 7:12, 16; 1 Tim. 1:8). If the moral law is done away with, then there is no such thing as stealing and it’s OK for the government and anyone else to take money from some people so it can be given to other people.
But if this kind of thinking applies to coveting and stealing, then it also applies to slavery and murder. If we evolved from a warm chemical soup billions of years ago, then anything goes, and that includes slavery and killing people for whatever reason. But these actions would not be considered moral evils since the evolutionary model advances by the survival of the fittest.
Paul writes, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Eph. 4:28). How can Paul tell someone not to steal if the commandments have been done away with? It’s not only wrong for individuals to steal, but it’s wrong for governments to steal.
Socialism is theft; it’s the transfer of wealth from some people to other people by force with the promise that wealth will be equalized. Socialism creates a ruling class that enriches itself in the name of the people and the promise of income equality. These rulers are government thieves, like the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18) and the rich chief tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10) who worked for the Roman State to help the rulers steal from his fellow Jews to empower the Empire.
The story of the Rich Young Ruler is not about socialism (Mark 10:17–27). Jesus didn’t use the example of the rich ruler (archon), strangled by his ill-gotten wealth, to appeal to Rome to tax rich people, so the poor will benefit. It’s possible that the rich ruler had inherited his title and fortune through fraud (Mark 10:19). Jerry Bowyer comments:
It involves the use of corrupt magistrates (who also often served on the same Sanhedrin on which the rich, young archon would have served). The lawyers, whom Jesus strongly denounced, had developed numerous tricks by which to defraud the poor in favor of the nobility. That seems to be the “defrauding” to which Jesus and his younger brother James [James 2:6] referred when confronting the Jerusalem elites.
Socialism is more of the same in the name of “social justice.” Why was it wrong for Zacchaeus, a representative of the Roman government, to defraud and not the civil government of today? The law must be applied equally.
By This Standard
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Jesus didn’t use the example of the rich man strangled by his wealth to appeal to Rome to tax the rich so the poor will benefit. “He was a ruler, a man of the state.” It is odd, Bowyer writes, “to see people who want to increase the power of rulers invoke Jesus' commentary against a ruler.” If that had been Jesus’ objective, then why didn’t He say the same thing to Joseph of Arimathea who is described as a “rich man” (Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:43)? If Jesus hated the rich, why didn’t he condemn Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57? Why did God enrich Abraham (Gen. 13:2) and Job (Job 42:12)? anyone who lived in any Communist nation.
Thomas Sowell, Barbarians inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press Publication, 1999).