Recently Eerdmans Publishing Company discovered that a commentary on Ephesians and another commentary on Philippians by the same author contained a considerable amount of material that was not written by the author.  The trouble was not that author made use of the work of other authors to make his book better. Rather, the problem is that he didn’t properly acknowledge his sources and give credit where credit was due. This is known as plagiarism. Plagiarism happens in high schools and colleges across this country. It turns up in research papers, books, magazine articles and online materials. Sometimes this happens accidentally because someone is tired or pressed for time and doesn’t take the time to make sure that quotations from another authors’ work are accurately and properly acknowledged. Other times people plagiarize deliberately. They steal material written by others, perhaps so that they can appear more intelligent and sophisticated, or perhaps to save themselves from doing the hard work it takes to do it oneself.
Regardless of the motive plagiarism is wrong. The trouble with plagiarism is that it’s theft and it’s condemned by the 8th commandment. “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15). Plagiarism is also condemned by the 9th commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). Purposely presenting someone else’s materials as your own is deception. “Lie not to one another, seeing ye have put off the old man and his deeds” (Col. 3:9). Authors who deliberately (or inadvertently) plagiarize someone else’s work can lose their jobs, lucrative book contracts, or professorships at colleges and universities. As for students, you can get kicked out of college for doing this. God has given us minds to write books, articles, and blog posts, and to deliver speeches. Making use of the work of others is not wrong and can be very profitable. However, Christian honesty demands that the sources we use in our work always be acknowledged. When we borrow from the work of others, we must properly give credit where credit is due. Where such acknowledgement is inadvertently omitted, it should be corrected immediately. This is a good reminder. Those of us who are students must be honest and must not engage in this kind dishonest intellectual theft. Even when we are in a pinch and deadlines are pressing down on us, sinfully stealing others work is never the solution. Those who intentionally present another’s work as their own need to repent of this sin and seek forgiveness. May God help us be honest Christian witnesses in all our research and school work!