Fourfold Restitution?


I noticed something repeated in Scripture. When theft is involved, David mentions a 4 times repayment when being confronted by Nathan, and Zaccheus mentions that same 4 times repayment to bring restitution for the things he has stolen. Paul then says (post-Cross) let the thief stop stealing basically and work with his hands- no mention of singular, let alone quadruple repayment for restitution. So twofold question: what if any is/was the significance of a 4 times repayment (is the number arbitrary?) and is it presently incumbent upon repentant thieves to repay or to just cease and work with their hands?


In 2 Sam.12, Nathan was using a hypothetical situation to lead David into the realization the he had done something much worse than steal a sheep. David’s response that a man who steals and slaughters another man’s sheep must repay him with 4 sheep is from Exodus 22:1 where the penalty for such a crime was established.

In a case like that of Zaccheus where he had apparently been overcharging people on their tax bills the Law required restitution of the overcharge plus a 20% penalty (Lev. 6:2-5). Zaccheus went well beyond what was required.

In Ephesians 4:28 Paul was simply saying that Christians should not steal to meet their needs, but should find useful work so they could not only support themselves but also contribute to the needs of others.

While many teach the need for restitution in cases of theft by a Christian, the New Testament doesn’t include any clear guidelines for doing so. This is likely due to the fact that the emphasis in the New Testament is on forgiveness by the victim instead.