The Seventh Commandment: “Thou Shall Not Steal” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

The 7th Commandment of the Decalogue — found in Exodus 20:15 and Deuteronomy 5:19 —  is formulated in the negative form as “Thou shall not steal.”  “Respect the goods of others” can be one of its positive formulations.

Some Biblical scholars say that because of the peculiar grammatical construction in Hebrew, this Commandment “does not refer so much to stealing property as it does to kidnapping people.”  According to Ian Knox, “the question of property is more clearly dealt with the tenth commandment” (“Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods”).

In early Biblical times, kidnapping was a crime as real as it is today.  Joseph, for example, was kidnapped and sold to traders by his own brothers (cf. Gen 37). To kidnap someone was to steal the freedom and liberty of the person and his presence from those who loved the person.

In the light of an expanded understanding of the Seventh Commandment as not limited to physical goods, the said Commandment can be considered as encompassing all the other Commandments. “To use the name of God in vain” is to steal the reverence that rightly belongs to God.  “To commit an adultery” is to steal the wife or husband of another.  “Killing another person” is to steal the sacred life of the person concerned.

An expanded understanding of the 7th Commandment covers not only the other Commandments clearly stipulated in the Decalogue but also the other implications, coverages and consequences of all the Commandments.  To spread fake news is to deprive others of the truths and to steal the same from them. We may not kill another person literally, but we can be “killing” the same with our judgmental and condemning thoughts. This is still stealing the fundamental goodness present in every person.  This even becomes worse when we spread gossips and calumnies about the person and, consequently, steal his or her good image or reputation.

We also need to reflect on the Seventh Commandment in the light of the so-called sins of commission and omission.  We do not only outrightly steal the goods of others, be they physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual and other classifications of goods.  To deprive someone of what rightly belongs to him or to her is to steal from the person.  Every person deserves respect even if we have to disagree with him or with her.  To not give due respect is to steal that which the person deserves as a child of God made in God’s image. To abuse Mother Earth is to steal from God, the rightful owner of the cosmic world, and others with whom we share our common home.   

From the Franciscan spiritual point of view, everything belongs to God.  Everything comes from God’s goodness and love.  To appropriate anything for oneself that ultimately belongs to God is to steal from God.