Apologetics scales-of-justice

Published on May 12th, 2010 | by Gary DeMar

39

The Biblical Doctrine of Restitution

Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil only cheated “rascals.” Like George C. Scott’s character Mordecai in the “The Flim-Flam Man,” Weil maintained that “You can’t cheat an honest man.” One of his devilishly simple and effective cons was to bring a dog of questionable ancestry into a bar. He would then show the bartender a forged set of pedigree papers and ask him to care for the seemingly prized pooch while he ran an important errand. During Weil’s absence an accomplice would enter the bar and offer to purchase the mutt for a substantial sum. When Weil returned, the bartender, hoping to make some fast money, offered to buy the dog for a few hundred dollars. Weil accepted, and the second man, of course, never returned.

Sixteen-year-old Stephen Dennison stole a five-dollar box of candy in 1925. As punishment, he was given a ten-year suspended sentence and required to report to a local minister once a month. When he failed to make his obligatory visits, young Stephen was sent to Elmira Reformatory in 1926 where he was confined for thirty-four years. It took his brother ten years to secure Stephen’s release. Stephen eventually sued the state and was awarded $115,000 for this miscarriage of justice. The presiding judge commented that “No sum of money would be adequate to compensate the claimant.”

No one could have guessed that mild-mannered Edward Mueller was a counterfeiter. But for ten years he eluded government authorities while he printed and spent fake $1 bills in his New York neighborhood. The funny thing is, Mueller was not very good at his craft. He used regular paper and spelled the name of the first president “Washsington.” Although a crook, Mueller was not greedy. He spent no more than two dollars in a day, never passed his bogus bucks to the same person twice, and used the fraudulent currency only for the bare necessities of life. The grandfatherly Mueller was eventually caught and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. He was also fined one non-counterfeit dollar.

In each of the above cases, people were defrauded. The bartender was probably too embarrassed to report the incident to the police. Stephen Dennison received only token compensation for his extended incarceration. Mr. Mueller was punished, but his victims received no compensation. In fact, tax payers had to foot the bill for the time he spent in jail.

The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15). Voluntary restitution required the return of the item plus “one-fifth more” (Lev. 6:1–7). In most cases double restitution is required (Exodus 22:4, 7–9). Some crimes required payment of four (22:1; 2 Sam. 12:6) or five (22:1) times the loss or injury. Multiple restitution was usually mandated for items that had extended value. Sheep reproduce at a high rate and their wool can be made into clothing. To steal a sheep is to rob its owner of present and future productivity. An ox has similar value plus the added ability to pull plows and carts, essential functions in an agrarian society.

In all cases, laws of restitution placed a limit on revenge and a burden on the lawbreaker. Roger Campbell writes in his book Justice Through Restitution, that in each of the biblical cases, the “result was that the victim was restored to a better position than before his loss and the lawbreaker was punished by having to make right his wrongs in a manner that cost more than his potential gain.”

Many Christians believe that laws governing restitution are relics of Old Testament law that no longer apply. The New Testament tells a different story. Zaccheus promised to make four-fold restitution because of his abuse of power as a “chief tax-gatherer” and being an oppressor of the poor (Luke 19:8). While restitution did not save him, it was evidence that he had truly repented in the way he abused his power. For this Jesus could say, “Today salvation has come to this house” (19:9). The Apostle Paul instructs the thief to “steal no longer; but rather . . . to labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need” (Eph. 4:28).

Laws of restitution have been abandoned by the courts largely because crimes are perceived as ultimately against the State. Campbell points out that “As the power of government increased, crimes were considered not so much as injury to the victim but as violations of the king’s peace. Laws were enacted that made it a misdemeanor for a victim to settle with an offender without bringing him to court. Instead of restoring the injured party to his condition before being wronged, fines now went into the government coffers and the attention of society turned to ingenious punishments for lawbreakers.” Contrary to the humanistic theory of punishment, laws of restitution remind the criminal that he ultimately is responsible to God for his actions (Ps. 51:4), and his victims, created in God’s image, must be compensated in the manner prescribed by the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25).

And where are policy makers on this issue? Charles Colson, president of Prison Fellowship, describes the time he addressed the Texas legislature and outlined the Bible’s view on how to deal with non-violent criminals.

I told them that the only answer to the crime problem is to take nonviolent criminals out of our prisons and make them pay back their victims with restitution. This is how we can solve the prison crowding problem. The amazing thing was that afterwards they came up to me one after another and said things like, “That’s a tremendous idea. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that?” I had the privilege of saying to them, “Read Exodus 22. It is only what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.”

A question, however, still remains: Should restitution be made for wrongs done hundreds of years ago? For example, should present-day Americans pay restitution for slavery? My grandparents immigrated to the United States at the turn of last century, long after chattel slavery was abolished. Where is their guilt and the guilt of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren? If biblical laws governing restitution teach us anything, they teach us that the guilty should pay and victims should be compensated by those who brought on the harm.

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About the Author

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).



39 Responses to The Biblical Doctrine of Restitution

  1. bl1955 says:

    I have been talking about this for years. The results of crime always translates into a dollar figure, the cost of the police, the courts, the judges, the prisons, the guards, on and on. But what about the personal cost of the victim. Not only does the victim lose the use of the item but their is another cost that really is higher and not only affects the victim but everybody else, the cost of insurance goes up. Lawlessness cost everyone, it not only cost us money it cost us our freedoms. Washington rightly said, 'You'll be either ruled by the BOOK or the bayonet' When a people become lawless it is a natural process for the government to become more oppressive to control a people gone wild.
    While this is not the desired situation it is a natural response to a people that can't govern their self.
    Let's look at the benefits of a thief that is caught, he would repay the damages but how? We would put a tracking device around his ankle, we would find a job for him with an employer that would be part of this program and the thief would learn several things. Their is a price to pay for doing the wrong thing and he would get his self respect back by learning a craft and becoming a productive part of society. Anyway this is my thinking on the subject.

  2. Boris says:

    I'm a Jew and the Bible I'm using is the Masoretic text. That's a little more accurate than your KJV and your silly concordance.

    • If you were using the Masoretic text then it wouldn't say "miscarriage." I don't use the KJV. The Hebrew word used is "yasa" which means "to come out."

      It's obvious you don't care about truth but to only affirm your own worldview.

      • Boris says:

        My worldview isn't based on the Bible. That's because I do care about the truth. I made the case that the Bible supports the pro-choice position. Your argument has to do with semantics and has nothing to do with the point I made. Therefore what I said still stands.

      • Dan says:

        To the antitheist, his worldview and truth are one in the same.

    • Erik says:

      Boris, while it is true that some rabbis interpret this Exodus passage as referring to a miscarriage and do not count the fetus as 'nefesh', this in not always the case. For example, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Yishmoel disagrees. Commentary on his teachings include the following: "He cites the verse in Gen. 9:6 'Whosoever shall spill the blood of human in human, shall his blood be spilled'. Who, R. Yishmoel asks, is 'human in human'? None else but the fetus inside its mother. Since in cases of murder, Torah call for capital punishment only when an actual human being is killed, then a fetus must be a human being…Because R. Yishmoel considers a fetus a human being – a nefesh – he necessarily interprets the verse in Exodus in a different manner…The fetus in the Exodus passage is not characterized as nefesh because it is less than 40 days old, and has not yet formed (a'son)". Philo of Alexandria also agrees with this interpretation.

    • Erik says:

      While it is true that some rabbis interpret this Exodus passage as referring to a miscarriage and do not count the unborn as 'nefesh', this in not always the case. For example, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Yishmoel disagrees. Commentary on his teachings include the following: "He cites the verse in Gen. 9:6 'Whosoever shall spill the blood of human in human, shall his blood be spilled'. Who, R. Yishmoel asks, is 'human in human'? None else but the (unborn child) inside its mother. Since in cases of murder, Torah call for capital punishment only when an actual human being is killed, then (the unborn child) must be a human being…Because R. Yishmoel considers (an unborn child) a human being – a nefesh – he necessarily interprets the verse in Exodus in a different manner…The (unborn child) in the Exodus passage is not characterized as nefesh because it is less than 40 days old, and has not yet formed (a'son)". Philo of Alexandria also agrees with this interpretation.

    • Erik says:

      You might be reading the Masoretic text but you are obviously disregarding all Talmudic teachings on the issue of abortion. Even though there are some rabbis that would allow for abortion in the case of life endangerment or rape, the overwhelming consensus is against the feminist abortion-under-any-circumstance notion – abortions of convenience are forbidden. Jewish Law is very clear that both women and men cannot do whatever they want with their bodies – the Bible and the Talmud are very much anti-choice.

    • Erik says:

      You might be reading the Masoretic text but you are obviously disregarding all Talmudic teachings on the issue of abortion. Even though there are some rabbis that would allow for abortion in the case of life endangerment or rape, the overwhelming consensus is against the feminist abortion-under-any-circumstance notion – abortions of convenience are forbidden. Jewish Law is very clear that both women and men cannot do whatever they want with their bodies, it is even forbidden to remove an organ or amputate a limb just because you want to. The Torah and Talmud are very much “anti-choice”.

  3. Gary DeMar says:

    To "Boris." If this is the Boris (Fred W.) who's always trying to horn his way onto Christian websites, there is no use arguing with the guy. But for those who are unaware of the arguments, here is some helpful information: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage. . . .” This is a very poor translation. The Hebrew verb 'yatza' (“come or go out”) refers to a live birth, not a miscarriage (Gen. 25:25, 26; 38:28–30; Jer. 1:5; 20:18). “Harm” has reference to both the mother and the child since the Hebrew word 'yeled' is used for children already born. Notice that it's a plural: "children" ("so that her children ['yeladim' in the plural] come out") not "child." The text covers all cases, thus, "case law." The mother and the baby are given equal status before the law. The text does not say, “yet there is no further injury to the mother” (Ex. 21:22). “Further injury” refers to the mother and children since the children are designated as 'yeled.' If it is first established that 'yeled' means “child,” which it does, then the case laws referring to persons, whether children or adults, must be applied. If the harm does not lead to the death of either the mother or the child, then a fine is paid to compensate the injured, either mother or the children who “come out” prematurely (21:18–19). If either the mother or the child is harmed in any way, the lex talionis applies. Meredith G. Kline offers a helpful summary of the passage:

    "This law found in Exodus 21:22–25 turns out to be perhaps the most decisive positive evidence in scripture that the fetus is to be regarded as a living person…. No matter whether one interprets the first or second penalty to have reference to a miscarriage, there is no difference in the treatments according to the fetus and the woman. Either way the fetus is regarded as a living person, so that to be criminally responsible for the destruction of the fetus is to forfeit one’s life…. The fetus, at any stage of development, is, in the eyes of this law, a living being, for life (nephesh) is attributed to it…. Consistently in the relevant data of Scripture a continuum of identity is evident between the fetus and the person subsequently born and Exodus 21:22–25 makes it clear that this prenatal human being is to be regarded as a separate and distinct human life."

    'Boris' might notice that I'm using the Hebrew text. As a Jew, he should know the material I just presented. The KJV, while not always an accurate translation, does get Exodus 21:22 right: "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart. . . ." Notice the use of "child" and "fruit." "Fruit" is used elsewhere by the KJV translators to designated a born child (Gen. 30:2; Luke 1:42). Boris, it looks like it's back to Hebrew school for you!

    • Boris says:

      I learned the difference between a noun and a verb in English first. The word yalad is a verb that describes the process of something coming out in this case the departing of a fetus. Since it describes the process and not the result it is being used to describe either a live birth or a miscarriage. And the word nefel is not even a verb. It's a noun. As a noun it is the term for a miscarried fetus except the writer wasn't using a noun. He was using a verb to describe the coming out of the fetus. For example I could use the word swim to describe a person swimming or to describe someone who went for a swim. Only someone unfamiliar with the nuances of this ancient language would mistake a verb for a noun and come to the wrong conclusions about this passage.

  4. Restitution = returning to the state that would have been apart from the crime.
    Justice = paying the penalty for the crime.
    Restoration = returning to society transformed from criminal behavior.
    Salvation = having the penalty paid, justice served, restored to the state as if the crime had never taken place (The Gospel of Jesus Christ).

  5. Erik says:

    You might be reading the Masoretic text but you are obviously disregarding all Talmudic teachings on the issue of abortion. Even though there are some rabbis that would allow for abortion in the case of life endangerment or rape, the overwhelming consensus is against the feminist abortion-under-any-circumstance notion – abortions of convenience are forbidden. Jewish Law is very clear that both women and men cannot do whatever they want with their bodies, it is even forbidden to remove an organ or amputate a limb just because you want to. The Bible and the Talmud are very much anti-choice.

  6. Boris says:

    Here's something interesting about the subject of restitution: What’s really dishonest and ironic about the anti-choice stance of Christian totalitarian fascists like Mr. DeMar, is that they cannot support their anti-choice stance biblically at all. The Bible clearly supports the pro-choice position. In Chapter 21:22-23 the Book of Exodus indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person. That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life. Verse 23 says that, “If further harm is done, however, you will award life for life…” which proves that the Bible does NOT consider a fetus to be life but only potential life. Case closed.

    • Boris, the Hebrew word used in Exodus that the Bible you are using translates as miscarriage literally means “to come out.” It's used over a 1,000 times in the Old Testament and, except for one instance in Numbers 12:12 where it explicitly states the child is dead, it always means something living.

  7. Jon Brodin says:

    As always, Mr Demar, you provide us with much to think about. I thank you for your insight as well as a clearly defined argument with Scriptural references in support of your position. So much more refreshing than most of what we see occupying the opinion / editorial sections in modern media today.

  8. Michael H says:

    So, let me take on " Restitution " for slavery. I fully believe in restitution for slavery. Every slave alive should be given 1 million for the use of their body. All others, including their family that have not been slaves, need not apply. Short and sweet! Those who were offended get compensation and nobody else! I'm sorry if all slaves are now dead, but America owes their generations a penny.

  9. Timothy May says:

    I believe it needs to be said that Mr. Demar was speaking of Restitution as a principle applicable in a limited form to our modern society; the readers of this post must therefore take into account that we are not theocratic ancient israel, where there were no prisons, where if a person was to be tried, there were no arresting authorities – it was up to the local citizens who had been wronged to push/pull/drag the miscreant before the elders, and where the standard of evidence required was at least as high, if not higher, in capital cases in particular, than we require today…
    Respects

  10. aseattleconservative says:

    I have issues with this part of Gary's article, as it doesn't appear that there is crimes of violence involved.

    The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15).

    Besides that, restitution (as I mentioned before) doesn't necessarily mean that justice has been served.

  11. aseattleconservative says:

    The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15).

    I have issues with restitution for violent crimes. Note the assault and bodily injury.

  12. Don't block my posts says:

    I had issues with this part of Gary's article:

    "The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15)."

    I noted the assault and bodily injury, hardly victimless crimes.

  13. warrenmh says:

    "Tell that to some 12 year old girl that has been brutally raped by a guy that can afford to pay the fine."

    Monetary restitution was not the only type of punishment for criminals under the Law of Moses, and Gary is not saying that it was. A rapist could be subject to physical punishment, possibly including execution, if that's what the victim wanted and the court approved: http://digestlawblog.christianciv.com/search/labe

  14. mwpatriarch says:

    Seattle,

    If a Biblical pattern was followed in the crime you suggest, the guy would be sentenced to the death penalty (Deut 22:25-28), not fined. I didn't get the sense that Mr. DeMar was suggesting that all crimes should be covered by restitution. The founding of this country was based upon common law which was influenced in large part by Christianity and acknowledged that there was a higher authority and the purpose of men was to discover, not create the law. We have abandoned that approach in favor of legal positivism which indicates that the State is the higher authority, laws are created not discovered by the State, and the State makes the sole decision as to what will be the law even if it is irrational. I would recommend a couple of books for further reading:

    - Whatever Happened to Justice? by Richard Maybury
    - The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State by Dr. Bruce L. Benson

    A general question for everyone: has anyone come across Scripture regarding restitution for what may be termed emotional suffering? By emotional suffering I mean any offense that does not involve physical harm of some type or theft or destruction of personal property.

  15. Don't block my posts says:

    The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15). Voluntary restitution required the return of the item plus “one-fifth more” (Lev. 6:1–7).

  16. aSeattleConservative says:

    The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15). Voluntary restitution required the return of the item plus “one-fifth more” (Lev. 6:1–7).

  17. Myop says:

    Gary, Why do you introduce the question about restitution for slavery in your concluding paragraph without answering the question? Will that topic be addressed at a later date?

    • Dr. Brooks (ret.) says:

      And remember, the perpetrators are long since dead. So why should current society be blamed for that and put through the guilt trip?
      What about white slavery, that has been concurrent with all the other forms of slavery? Very little is really fair in this sick world, so why expect things to be made right or the guilty punished in some hazy future?

  18. aSeattleConservative says:

    The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15).

    What part of physical harm and bodily injury is "non-violent" thirstyjon?

  19. aSeattleConservative says:

    thirstyjon writes:

    "Do you [sic: have] a scriptural basis why restitution based justice is not a good solution for non-violent crimes?? "

    Per Gary's article:
    The Bible outlines a way to deal with crimes like these: restitution. Restitution includes compensating a person for stolen or damaged property or physical harm done to someone. Restitution laws cover a variety of circumstances: assault (Exodus 21:18–19); bodily injury (21:26–27); liability (21:33–36); theft (22:1–4); property damage (22:5–6); irresponsibility (22:7–13); and the loss or damage of borrowed items (22:14–15).

    Tell me what part of assault and bodily injury is "non-violent"?

  20. Myop says:

    In response to the rape comment: We're talking about NON-violent crimes! Please don't change the subject.

  21. thirstyjon says:

    I often find that I'm the only person I know that thinks about certain things. One of the reasons I like reading at American Vision is because often times their are thoughts I haven't thought before. This is a very interesting article to me. I hear so much from day to day about what is wrong with society. It is encouraging to read some ideas from the Bible about real and practical solutions. Thanks!

  22. aSeattleConservative says:

    " But then again restitution is not about paying someone off. It's about restoring what rightfully belongs to the victim, plus suffering an economic set back equal to the one inflicted. "

    DEnick:

    Tell that to some 12 year old girl that has been brutally raped by a guy that can afford to pay the fine.

    • Erik says:

      Contrary to some opinion, Scripture does not prescribe a fine for rape. If you're referring to Deut. 22:28-29, this is talking about seduction, not rape. As John Gill notes: "and lay hold on her, and lie with her – she yielding to it, and so is not expressive of a rape, as (Deuteronomy 22:25) where a different word from this is there used; which signifies taking strong hold of her, and ravishing her by force; yet this, though owing to his first violent seizure of her, and so different from what was obtained by enticing words, professions of love, and promises of marriage, and the like, as in (Exodus 22:16,17) but not without her consent". This is the distinction between 'chazaq shakab' and 'taphas shakab'.

    • DEnick says:

      Restitution is to be imposed for crimes that have a negative economic impact on the victim. Some crimes, by their very nature, are not of a kind that do not permit what was taken from the victim to be restored…as in the case of rape.

      Under Biblical law, violent crimes that result in bodily injury have other and/or additional punishments. Depending upon what aggravations attend the crime, rape may even be punished with death.

  23. DEnick says:

    "Justice is incidental to law and order"?

    No, justice is the necessary precondition of law and order.

    You are right about one thing. Paying someone off with money isn't justice. But then again restitution is not about paying someone off. It's about restoring what rightfully belongs to the victim, plus suffering an economic set back equal to the one inflicted.

  24. aSeattleConservative says:

    The libertarian side of Gary DeMar finally surfaces (and I must say I am terribly disappointed).

    There are so many flaws in your article Gary, I wouldn't know where to start.

    How's this: "Justice is incidental to law and order."
    J. Edgar Hoover

    Paying someone off with money isn't justice. While crimes are indeed committed against an individual, the crime is also a matter of "public safety".

    I can't believe that the same God that authorizes man to put his fellow man to death for certain acts, would allow crimes against humanity to be "bought off" by simple monetary restitution.

    • thirstyjon says:

      Hello again Seattle.

      I personally don't care whether Gary is a "libertarian" or not. I am interested in whether or not his arguments are Biblcal and consistent with the Heart of God or not.

      Your objection seems to be based on "I can't believe" that God would do things a certain way. In other words, your argument appears to based on your personal preference.

      I don't care whether you believe it. I don't care whether or not you like it or prefer it or can see it, etc. I care about whether or not something corresponds with reality as defined by the Heart of God as revealed through the Holy Scriptures.

      Gary Demar gave a simple presentation clearly listing scriptural arguments for his point. You have responded with "I don't like it."

      Do you a scriptural basis why restitution based justice is not a good solution for non-violent crimes??

      • aseattleconservative says:

        TJ, with people leaving the Christian church in DROVES, you have to come up with something a bit better than "because the Bible told me so" in your arguments.

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