“Do not steal.”
The usual understanding of this commandment is that it is speaking out against theft of all sorts of personal possessions such as animals, silver and clothing etcetera.
This traditional understanding is of course well attested to in Biblical law as is apparent from the following verses.
“A thief must make restitution;
so if he has nothing,
he himself is to be sold
to make good the loss from the theft.”
“But if the thief is not found,
then the trustee must state before God
that he did not take the person’s goods himself.
In every case of dispute over ownership,
whether of an ox,
a donkey, a sheep, clothing,
or any missing property,
where one person says,
‘This is mine,’
both parties are to come before God;
and the one whom God condemns
must pay the other one double.”
However, as seemingly straightforward as this 8th Word of God may seem, many scholars from antiquity to the present have noted that this commandment seems out of place in terms of where it’s ordered in the listing of the commandments.
This is because it follows right after the serious death penalty commandments of “Do not murder” and “Do not commit adultery”.
A command prohibiting the mere theft of property here seems a bit light in comparison to the immediate preceding commandments.
An alternative proposal which can be found in rabbinic literature is that this Word actually means “Do not kidnap”.
The Hebrew word used for stealing here is GANAB or גָּנַב.
It carries with it the idea of stealth or sneakiness.
And according to Strong’s concordance it can also indeed mean “kidnapping” or “to kidnap”.
This verb carries the sense in the story of Joseph, when he reports, “I was kidnapped (or stolen away) out of the land of the Hebrews”.
And the same sense in the following verses:
“Whoever kidnaps someone must be put to death,
regardless of whether he has already sold him
or the person is found still in his possession.”
“If a man kidnaps any of his brothers,
fellow members of the community of Isra’el,
and makes him his slave or sells him,
that kidnapper must die;
in this way you will put an end
to such wickedness among you.”
Notice also that it is the last and 10th Word of God that prohibits taking a fellow Israelite’s houses and this is expanded to include his wife or wives, his slaves, his livestock and other property.
It does NOT however mention the Israelite himself.
This is noticeably lacking.
I believe it is the Israelite’s personal freedom that is the subject of this Word of God.
Thus, this 8th Word should be rendered “Thou shall not kidnap”.
When understood in this way, this commandment logically lines up with those immediately preceding and following it, which all have to do with persons rather than property.
It is the 10th Word or commandment that deals with property.