What is the New Testament Biblical basis for making restitution? I've read the story of Zacchaeus, and it's not completely set in stone as to what the structure is. The biggest question I have is if you've tried making restitution and the involved party won't accept your offer, should you do it anyway or is that "dishonoring" in any way?

  • I think you might need to narrow this down just a hair. Are you talking N.T. or O.T., or how they relate to each other? Commented May 27, 2012 at 1:00

7 Answers 7


The basis for making restitution is an Old Testament idea that is explicitly reiterated in the New Testament by Jesus. When asked to summarize the law (the same law that he said he came to fulfill, not to abolish), Jesus uses an interesting formulation. He said,

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

(This is in both Matthew and Luke)

In using this formulation, he was clearly drawing from Leviticus, a book we know he was thoroughly intimate with. (Not only here, but when he was tempted, etc...) In using this formulation, he is explicitly pointing out that sin is sin against God and your neighbor, and as sin, it must be paid for. There are offerings, mentioned in Leviticus which come into play.

The OT basis for restitution

The biblical basis for restitution stems primarily from levitical law, and specifically, Leviticus 5 - 7. Leviticus 6, in particular looks to both the reasoning and the implementation of returning that which was taken, plus extra, to both the one offended and to the Lord against whom also the offender has sinned:

6 [a]The Lord spoke to Moses: 2 “When someone sins and offends the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in regard to a deposit, a security,[b] or a robbery; or defrauds his neighbor; 3 or finds something lost and lies about it; or swears falsely about any of the sinful things a person may do— 4 once he has sinned and acknowledged his guilt —he must return what he stole or defrauded, or the deposit entrusted to him, or the lost item he found, 5 or anything else about which he swore falsely. He must make full restitution for it and add a fifth of its value to it. He is to pay it to its owner on the day he acknowledges his guilt.

6 Then he must bring his restitution offering to the Lord: an unblemished ram from the flock according to your assessment of its value as a restitution offering to the priest. 7 In this way the priest will make atonement on his behalf before the Lord, and he will be forgiven for anything he may have done to incur guilt.”

Restitution is a fairly simply property idea in law - a thief (however he took it) - should not be allowed to keep what he took, otherwise it makes a mockery of property rights. Furthermore, the purpose of the law to is keep people from sinning against their neighbors as well as the Lord, so on the one hand, you don't want an incentive to sin, and on the other, you want clear consequences.

The Levitical approach, you will note, deals with both halves of the crime.

First, the victim gets his property back, plus profit (20% to be precise). Not only does the thief not profit, he loses. I find it interesting that the 20% "penalty" is equal to "two tithes," namely one for the Lord, plus one for the neighbor.

Restitution for God is required

In addition to the victim's payment, however, restitution demands a sacrifice. The linkage between the restitution offering and the sin offering is explicitly the same. As it says in Leviticus 7:

The restitution offering is like the sin offering; the law is the same for both. It belongs to the priest who makes atonement with it.

The idea in making the parallel explicit is that it highlights that sin is sin against both your neighbor and the Lord. After David got Uriah killed so as to cover up his affair with Bathsheba, David makes an interesting statement:

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Now, I'll admit, I tend to think that David also sinned against Uriah, but the point is that David realizes the Lord is equally a party that need be satisfied for this sin.

Human forgiveness is optional. God's forgiveness is what counts

So, why do I keep hammering home the idea that one must "Love the Lord ... and Love your neighbor?" Because, quite simply, forgiveness comes from the Lord. If he has been satisfied with your attempt at restitution, you are forgiven. When you sinned, you sinned against two. If the greater one forgives, the lesser one's forgiveness isn't really that relevant. Sure, its nice if you can make up - but the sin was against the Lord, not your neighbor.

I doubt, for example, that Zaccheus was able to return an exact accounting for the extra taxes he swindled in a precise 120% return to each individual that he had wronged. Logistically, accountingwise, pridewise (on the part of the victims) - it would have been daunting. But as Zaccheus proclaimed that he would give restitution, surely the Lord the was pleased. That's the point.

Restitution is an outward manifestation of an inward desire for repentance. It is a sign before God and man that the heart has changed. God forgives, man benefits. Both are offended, and the bigger one is clearly reconciled.

  • 1
    Excellent answer! Trivial point: You don't know that Zaccheus DIDN'T keep sufficient records. The Romans were very bureaucratic, so as the taxes were collected for Rome he might well have kept detailed records. Would he have had columns for "Actual tax due", "Tax I really collected", and "Difference = amount I stole"? Maybe not. But he might have kept records for the Romans of what he claimed to have collected and separate records for himself of what he actually collected. The idea of "two sets of books" has been around for a while. Not an important point, just chatting.
    – Jay
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 18:08
  • 1
    Another trivial point: Zacchaeus said that he was going to restore not just 120% but 400%. (Luke 19:8) Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 14:14

Christ himself says that we should try to come to an agreement with anybody who has anything against us (Matthew 5:23-24)

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Paul says, in Romans 12:18:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

The big part here is the "if possible" and "so far as it depends on you."

If you've tried to make restitution, and somebody has not accepted your offer of restitution, they've not accepted for one of two reasons:

  1. First, they might be too angry to accept your offer of restitution. In that case, sometimes they just need time and space to forgive you. Sometimes, they may never forgive you. While that's unfortunate, some people prefer holding a grudge to forgiving. It's not the place of the one owing restitution to force the hand of the one sinned against to forgive. Forgiveness must come from the heart, and some people just can't, or won't do it.
  2. They may be forgiving you, but they might not be willing to accept your gift of restitution, as an act of grace on you. They understand that you've taken something from them, but they're more concerned about the relationship than the thing they've been deprived of, and, in an effort to show grace, they refuse the repayment.

In the former situation, there's really nothing you can do. You're up against a hard heart, and the best thing for you to do may simply be avoiding that person. There's no grace there.

In the latter situation, accepting the grace is the right thing to do. There's no way that we can possibly repay God himself, so he offers us grace. Some people choose to extend that grace to others, because of the grace they themselves have been given.

As for giving restitution when someone is refusing, I think that comes down to the individual situation. Some people may take it as dishonoring, some may not. If in doubt, I'd say it's a good move to love the person the way they've asked to be loved. If they refuse any restitution, honor their wishes and don't give the restitution.

In this situation, loving a person the best has more to do with how they want to be loved than with how you want to love them.


Briefly, we know from Scripture that:

  • God's desire is that you repent from your wickedness and follow Him

  • Following Him includes loving your neighbor

  • God is concerned about the heart first and foremost

Seeking to make restitution is evidence of a truly repentant heart; the true value is in the motivation leading to the action more than the action itself. A person sincerely seeking to make restitution is a person who is:

  • Willing to give up those things he once valued more than God's ways

  • Seeking peace with his brother in love

If you repent and seek to make restitution, and the other person refuses you and chooses to hold your sin against you, that is on them. You can't force love and peace on others... to try would be foolish. If your heart is sincere, God sees it, and that's ultimately what He cares most about. In love, the most you could do at that point would be to pray for them.

  • Sorry no references yet - gotta jet.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 2:39

Restitution is made not just to another person, but also to God.

I wish I could explain in my own words, but it's explained so well in the Catechism that I simply feel like quoting-

(comments in italics are mine)

"Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much (this means one doesn't need to be told by God to do this, but it's written in our consciences (Rom 1:15); it is natural law). But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance".

The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all (1 John 2:1-2). They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with him" (Romans 8:17).

The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of "him who strengthens" us (Phil 4:13). Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ (1 Cor 1:31, 2 Cor 10:17, Gal 6:14). . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth "fruits that befit repentance" (Luke 3:8). These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father."

Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1459-1460)


Restitution is mending a broken spirit caused by sin against a fellow being, which results in anger, pain, hate, which love has been far gone in this action. Jesus Christ redeeming the sins of our first parents and he died in this cause, which is why his doctrine was based on love. Which is in the scripture: love your neighbor as yourself; a precaution against the sins that we will continually commit as we were born unto sin. Christ simply advised that we must flee from sin as forgiveness comes from God so that our sins may be forgiven. Restitution is a tool for which repentance is foremost, then acknowledgment, acceptance for the broken spirit. Then we hope that God has granted us mercy.

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    – user3961
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 17:09
  • This question is what the community calls a "Biblical Basis" question. This means that the asker wants answers that show how Christians use the Bible to support a specific position. Please see the Types of questions that are within community guidelines for reference.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 17:14

Restitution conveys the idea of justice, of man making right the wrong done to a fellow man. Atonement though similar to restitution is the innocent party accepting the judgement due to the guilty one.When Adam sinned God drove him away from the garden (separation from God)Jesus reconciled man back to God by His atoning sacrifice, this doesn't cancel restitution, it conveys the message that if God could forgive us our trespasses, we ought to do the same. God initiated restitution, we ought to do the same.

  • Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Please see What this site is about and How this site is different to help you learn how the site works. Also see the help center and take the tour to learn the site functions. I hope to see you post again soon.
    – user3961
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 15:38
  • I don't think you're answering the question, which is "what is the biblical basis for restitution?" That means the question wants to know how the bible is typically used to defend restitution practices.
    – user3961
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 15:40

Restitution is Jesus Christ puchasing back to us all that the devil has stolen from us . I used the word purchase because he paid a huge price to achieve this; his blood. There are alot of sins that man commits against God and man which he can not restitute for.ex:A young girl aborted a 5month old pregnancy, a man that murder an only child of a widow, a tanant tha carelessly burnt down a building of a landlord etc. Come on lets face it! No man can restitute fully for his sinful actions. Be it taken life , possesions or taken someones self estime. All these are why Jesus came to do the full pay back time. But most importantly the law has been fullfilled and done away with.(Rom.3:19&20); (Rom.7:6) ( Gal.2:21) We live in and by trusting Jesus to make us what he talks about .He is the one that took all that had been stolen from us back from the devil. Not you nor me . We will live in Peace with our fellow brothers and God by the gift of rightouseness which was given to us freely by Jesus. This spirit of rightousness super naturally causes us to live right.(Rom.2:4),(Rom.5:1,7-21).

  • 3
    Hi, and welcome to Christianity.SE! I like how you begin with the cross as the basis for restitution, but you may want to take a look at the tour page and what we are. Do you think you could edit this to stay on topic a bit more and answer the question more directly (what in the New Testament tells us to make restitution with others?)?
    – Ryan Frame
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 13:22

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