The prohibition against theft in the Old Testament

Originally the prohibition against stealing was intended, above all, to outlaw kidnapping. The purpose of this was to protect free men from being kidnapped, sold, or held captive. In Israel, kidnapping was punishable by death–in contrast to property offences, for which one was able to atone by material compensation: "He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21: 16). This was therefore an offence that was punishable by the most severe of all possible penalties.


Beyond that, it was also a punishable offence to steal another person's property. The Mosaic Law required compensation to be made for stolen property. As a rule, twice–and in more severe cases even four and five times–the amount stolen had to be replaced (Exodus 22: 1, 4, 7, 9).