1. Stealing Human Beings
This commandment was always understood to mean, before anything, we are not allowed to steal human beings. The early rabbinic tradition interpreted this commandment as specifically referring to kidnapping.
That is one reason no one with even an elementary understanding of the Eighth Commandment could ever use the Bible to justify the most common manner by which people became enslaved: kidnapping.
Kidnapping and the Bible
Kidnapping people and selling them into slavery, as was done to Africans and others throughout history, is forbidden by the Eighth Commandment. Critics of the Bible who argue the Bible allowed such slavery, and defenders of such slavery who used the Bible, were both wrong.
And lest there be any confusion about this issue, the very next chapter of the Torah specifies a person who kidnaps another—particularly when done with the intention of selling the victim into slavery - “shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16).
2. Stealing Property
Of course, the most obvious meaning of the Eighth Commandment is a prohibition against stealing property—and that, in turn, means God sanctifies personal property. Just as we are forbidden to steal people, we are forbidden to steal what people own.
It has been shown over and over that private property, beginning with land ownership, is indispensable to creating a free and decent society. Virtually all tyrannies, especially totalitarian regimes, take away private property rights. And in the ancient and medieval worlds, almost no one had property rights: a few rich people owned all the land.
Then, in nineteenth-century Europe, many socialists argued for confiscating private property and giving it to the “people.” Where that advice was followed, in what came to be known as the communist world, theft of property quickly resulted in a total theft of freedom, and ultimately a massive theft of life.
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