A precise understanding of the Bible is required for a successful Christian walk. It’s why the Bible enjoins us to rightly divide the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15) The Amplified translation says we must correctly analyse the Word of Truth. Restitution is a very big subject in certain Christian circles. Unfortunately many people have not taken time to study the subject and so they’re uninformed about what the Bible actually says. Some Christians don’t take time to study the Bible for themselves. In this article we will lay out the truth about restitution plain and simple.
Contrary to widely held belief restitution is not a moral philosophy. It was a plank of the legal system of the Law of Moses. Under Mosaic law restitution is a system of civil compensation for economic felonies – fraud, stealing, misappropriation (including appropriation of lost but found items), and loss of economic asset occasioned by negligence. In essence, restitution was treated as a tort in the property law of the Mosaic judicial system. The passages on restitution under Mosaic Law are Exodus 21: 33-34, Exodus 22: 1-15, Leviticus 5:14-16, Numbers 5:5-7 and Leviticus 6:1-7. We find references and applications in 2 Samuel 12:5-6 and Proverbs 6:31. Exodus 22 lays down different scenarios, while Leviticus 6 focuses on financial crimes like malappropriation of securities for deposits, stealing, fraud as well as lost but found properties. Compensation and the atonement accompanying restitution are discussed in Numbers 5:1-8.
The idea of restitution under Mosaic law is very simple: a thief, fraudster or misappropriator must not be allowed to keep what he took. Otherwise property rights will make no sense. And the man who suffered loss of asset by fire occasioned by the negligence of his neighbour must be compensated for his loss. Same for maimed livestock. A civil loss or tort must be compensated. Moreover, a civil penalty in the form of percentage of value is also attached to disincentivise fraud, misappropriation and negligence.
Now, ancient Israel was a theocracy. Even though these felonies have been dimensioned into civil liabilities the fact remains they were still offences against the State – God. God was the head of government. God was the State. And so these torts and criminal liabilities were also deemed sins against God. Therefore the State (God) mandated absolution. For that very reason, a restitution offering must be made. Blood was required to absolve sin hence the law specified that “unblemished ram from the flock” must be offered to the priest. In this way the priest will make atonement on behalf of the culprit “before the Lord, and he will be forgiven for anything he may have done to incur guilt.” (Leviticus 6:7) The “unblemished ram” of course points to Jesus the Christ, the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29) In Leviticus 7 restitution offering is equated to sin offering.
Restitution under Mosaic Law is therefore a statutory provision for loss of economic assets. Now, here’s the problem: we have expanded the idea of restitution beyond the contemplation of Mosaic law, and in the process generated contortions. Our extensions and extrapolations are beyond the purview of the Law of Moses. The problem with these extrapolations and extensions is that they often lead to convolutions, inconsistencies, importations and absurdities. How for example do you restitute sex? And how do you restitute murder? These were not contemplated in the original statutes. They’re not economic crimes. And so we’ve had to resort to creative convolutions and contortions, leading to uneven application of the principle. Now, we talk of restitution “where feasible.” But it’s either the law applies across board or not. We can’t pick and choose, or the law is no longer objective, it is subjective. In any case, we as Christians are not subject to Mosaic Law. We’re not under the jurisdiction of the Law; we’re under the dispensation of grace. (Romans 6:14) No one can find justification under the Law of Moses. (Galatians 3:10)
The one instance of “restitution” in the New Testament is the case of a rather diminutive figure named Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10) That passage has somehow morphed into a very extensive and pervasive doctrinal scaffolding because we struggle with grace. Zacchaeus was a tax collection agent for the oppressive Roman Empire. He had the designation of “Chief Tax Collector.” The public relations equity of Zacchaeus was understandably miniscule, shorter than his height some might say. So much so the people referred to him as Notorious B.I.G. Okay, that was a joke but the Bible records the people referred to him as “notorious sinner” and since he was a BIG player in the tax collection business… Never mind! Zacchaeus offered to give half of his immense fortune to the poor. This is akin to the Giving Pledge initiated by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two of the wealthiest billionaires in this age. They and about 128 others have pledged to give more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will. Zacchaeus would have joined their rank were he alive today. Zacchaeus also offered to return illicit gain from tax extortion. In fact he pledged to give back four times what he extorted, referencing Exodus 22:1 about restituting four sheep for each sheep stolen. It is to be noted that Jesus referred to Zacahaeus as a “son of Abraham” for this magnanimity of spirit. We’ll soon see why.
But why did Zacchaeus make this giving pledge? Was it in diffidence to the Law of Moses and all those commandments on restitution? The answer is no. Zacchaeus’ offer was technically not restitution under the Law of Moses. Note that he didn’t state he would make a sin offering to the priest. Restitution in the Old Testament was accompanied by guilt offering. (Leviticus 5:15, 6:7) Zacchaeus was ACTUALLY responding to the sermon of John the Baptizer (aka John the Baptist, though he wasn’t a member of the Baptist Church.) John was the fiery eccentric preacher who took on the Establishment of ancient Israel and literally lost his head. He was beheaded by Herod the Tetrarch. John the Baptizer was the forerunner of Jesus.
John had told the people who came to hear him preach: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, “We’re safe, for we’re descendants of ABRAHAM.” That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” (Luke 3:8) When Jesus called Zacchaeus a “son of Abraham” he was also referencing John the Baptizer as a follow up to the reference made by Zacchaeus. The passage goes on: “Even now the axe of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” (Luke 3:8-13) Zacchaeus was acting on this teaching by John the Baptizer when he made his extraordinary proposal to give half his fortune away to the poor, and offered to return the proceeds of corrupt enrichment and extortion. Zacchaeus was apprehensive of the dire warning of John the Baptizer – “The axe of God’s judgment is poised.”
John’s sermon was in turn based on the writing of Prophet Ezekiel: “If I tell a wicked person, “You’ll die for your wicked life,” and he repents of his sin and starts living a righteous and just life – being generous to the down and out, restoring what he had stolen, cultivating life-nourishing ways that don’t hurt others – he’ll live. He won’t die.” (Ezekiel 33: 14-15) No wonder Jesus declared salvation has come into the home of Zacchaeus! His life was spared. At best this is anticipatory salvation since Jesus had not gone to the cross.
The following questions arise from the Zacchaeus story:
- Is restitution a basis of new birth salvation? The answer is no. The New Testament doctrine of salvation is predicated on Romans 10:9 (NLT): “If you openly declare Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you’re saved.” Restitution is not a condition precedent for salvation.
- Is a Christian REQUIRED to do restitution? Restitution is a legal provision under Mosaic Law. We are not under Mosaic Law. (Galatians 3:10) Or we will also need to make a sin offering in the form of a ram for any restitution we do. Jesus already did restitution for us on the cross. He was our sin offering. He paid the wages for our sin with his death. He was the unblemished Lamb of God who became the ram sacrificed for our sins. “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid by mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days has been revealed for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT)
- Should a Christian seek to make restitution? There’s a difference between remorse and restitution. Remorse is not restitution. Saying “I’m sorry” is not restitution. It’s just expression of remorse. You can’t have restitution without atonement. It’s why restitution under the Law of Moses (which was limited to economic tort) entailed the shedding of blood. A ram was killed as restitution. Christ did restitution for us by shedding his blood. (Hebrews 9:13-14) It’s why the writer of Hebrews cross-referenced the blood of animals shed in the Old Testament with the blood of Jesus. The blood of animals could not cleanse guilt AND conscience. Could only cover sin for a limited period. (Hebrews10: 2-3) The Christian who wants to do restitution for his sins must be prepared to go to the cross – a physical, time reversal and conceptual impossibility since such a person must be sinless and spotless. The very IDEA that a Christian can seek to make restitution for his sins is utter ridicule of the sacrifice of Jesus. Restitution is not mandated or mandatory in the new birth. Most people do to clear their conscience. But that guilty feeling for past sins post salvation is not of God. Not according to scriptures. The writer of the Book of Hebrews addressed the issue of guilty conscience vis a vis atonement. Unlike the blood of bulls and goats under the Law of Moses the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sins and cleanses your conscience once for all time: “The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshippers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. “ (Hebrews 10:2-3 NLT) “If under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of heifer could cleanse people from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our conscience from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.” (Hebrews 9:13-14 NLT) You need not carry that guilt anymore. The sacrifice of Jesus has cleansed your conscience. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)
- Will a Christian go to hell if he does not do restitution? The answer is no, a Christian will not go to hell for not doing restitution. Eternal life is not a conditional gift. It is a free gift from God: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT)
If you’ll like to give your life to Christ please pray this prayer: “Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I know that I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me and that you raised him from the dead. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Christ is Lord and I receive him as my Lord and my Saviour. I am now born again. Amen.”
If you have any questions you can write me. Just mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to answer your questions.