Thief (גִּנָּב, κλέτης). Among the Hebrews, the restitution that was required in case of theft was double the amount taken (Ex 20:3-8). If a sheep, however, was stolen, and had been slain or sold, fourfold was required; or if an ox, a fivefold restitution was to be made. The reason of this distinction was that sheep, being kept in the desert, were more exposed than other animals to be stolen; and oxen, being so indispensably necessary in an agricultural community, could not be taken from their owners without great injury and peculiar aggravation (Ex 22:1). In case the thief was unable to make the restitution demanded by the law, he was sold, with his wife and children, into servitude (ver. 3; 2Sa 12:6; 2Ki 4:1; comp. Ge 44:17). In later times, the fine is thought by some to have been increased (Pr 6:30-31). 'Whoever slew a thief who was attempting to break a house at night, i.e. any hour before sunrise, was left unpunished, since he did not know but that the thief might have a design upon his life, and he was unable also, owing to the darkness, to identify and thereby bring him to justice (Ex 22:2). — SEE THEFT.
"Men do not despise a thief," says Solomon, "if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry. But if he be found, he shall-restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house" (Pr 6:30-31). Bishop Hall is of opinion that Solomon, in this passage, does not so much extenuate the crime of theft as point out the greater criminality of adultery; but we have abundant evidence that theft, unaccompanied by violence, was viewed more leniently by ancient than by modern legislators. Wilkinson says, "The Egyptians held a singular custom respecting theft and burglary. Those who followed the profession of thief gave in their name to the chief of the robbers and agreed that he should be informed of everything they might thenceforward steal the moment it was in their possession. In consequence of this, the owner of the lost goods always applied by letter to the chief for their recovery; and having stated their quality and quantity, the day and hour when they were stolen, and other requisite particulars, the goods were identified, and on payment of one quarter of their value they were restored to the applicant in the same state as when taken from his house; for, being fully persuaded of the impracticability of putting an entire check to robbery, either by the dread of punishment or by any other method that could be adopted by the most vigilant police, they considered it more for the advantage of the community that a certain sacrifice should be made, in order to secure the restitution of the remainder, than that the law, by taking on itself to protect the citizen and discover the offender, should be the indirect cause of greater loss; and that the Egyptians, like the Indians, and, I may say, the modern inhabitants of the Nile, were very expert in the art of thieving we have abundant testimony from ancient authors" (Anc. Egyptians, 2, 216). SEE STEAL.
The criminals who were crucified with our Lord appear to have been, not "thieves" in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather public robbers or highwaymen (λῃστής is carefully distinguished from κλέπτης, Joh 10:8), 1. . fellow-insurgents with Barabbas; for it is said that he "lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him in the city, who had committed murder in the insurrection" (Mr 15:7). These malefactors, as bishop Maltby has well observed, "were not thieves who robbed all for profit, but men who had taken up arms on a principle of resistance to the Roman oppression, and to what they thought an unlawful burden, the tribute-money; who made no scruple to rob all the Romans, and when engaged in these unlawful causes made less difference between Jews and Romans than they at first meant to do" (Sermons [1819-22], vol. 1). SEE ROBBER.