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The 20:15 Project

What Theologians Have Written About Exodus 20:15

Commentaries
 
"Property was to be [as] inviolable [as the marriage relationship].  The command, 'Thou shalt not steal,' prohibited not only the secret or open removal of another person's property, but injury done to it, or fraudulent retention of it, through carelessness or indifference."
C.F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, volume 1, The Pentateuch.  Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989; reprint, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986. 124.

Theologies
 
"Personal property is guarded by [Biblical] laws regarding deposits, loans, pledges and interest, and theft.  A religious sanction is explicitly attached to many of these laws; to that extent the Old Testament sanctifies the right of private property."
Millar Burrows, An Outline of Biblical Theology.  Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, n.d.  301.
 
"'Thou shalt not steal' (Ex. 20:15) provides the Scriptural basis for the doctrine of property rights.  It establishes the principle of private ownership, for it condemns as criminal the attempt to take from a man that which is his own....  [This passage] can hardly be made expressive of the socialistic economic theory that men are entitled to the ownership of goods on the basis of their need... irrespective of prior, individualistic property rights.
[God] consistently limit[s] the Scriptural acquisition of property to one of two means.  1) Property may be acquired on a basis of reward....  2) Property may be acquired on the basis of assignment by those already possessing it, for example, through inheritance....  The reason that God demands such economic justice is not primarily because of expediency, or even for the general social good.  Honesty is rather required because of the moral character of God, which regenerated mankind accepts as the standard for its own conduct."
J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1962.  332-333.

Works on Religious Ethics
 
"Commandments six through nine have been aptly called 'a moral bill of rights,' giving expression to 'certain inalienable moral rights': life..., property..., and justice....
"The commandments as a whole summarize, to a considerable degree, the basic requirements of the moral law of the Old Testament.  'They are the rudimentary principles of morality, the germs of ethics, the... seed-plot of religion."
T. B. Maston, Biblical Ethics:  A Guide to the Ethical Message of the Scriptures from Genesis through Revelation.  Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989; reprinted from Word Books, 1979, copyright T.B. Maston 1967.  19-20.
 
"The prohibition of stealing (Exod. 20:15) recognizes the right of private property.  Virtually all societies have recognized the right to possess and have safeguarded that right.  Even communism does not do away completely with the right, since only the means of production and other specified properties are reserved to the state.
Some have held that taxation violates the eighth commandment, especially heavy taxation such as is necessary to the welfare state: 'Using the civil authority as an intermediary does not change an immoral act into a moral act.  If it is wrong for an individual to forcibly take from others to provide for his needs, then it is also wrong for him to use the power of government to do so.'"
Robertson McQuilken, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, 2d ed.  Wheaton, Ill:  Tyndale House Publishers, 1995.  381-382.

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