Borrower is Slave to the Lender | The Point

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If I had one follow-up question on my original article that asked the question is the borrower slave to the lender, my question would have been – what’s the point?  Craig, what are you trying to say?  What is the application?  Honestly, until I read all the comments, I don’t know if I could have answered that question.  I was just thinking on paper.  However, I’m slowly starting to develop a point.

The point – In today’s culture, saying “A debt = slavery” is melodramatic.

The Bible does not promote the notion of debt.  Nor does it forbid borrowing.  I think the best way to summarize what the Bible has to say is a debt is an obligation.

Deut. 28:43-44 highlights a rise to domination.  A part of the rise to domination will include lending.  On the flip side, it seems like the demise will come from more and more borrowing.  In the process of borrowing, we sink lower and lower into subjection.

The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail. (Deuteronomy 28:43-44 NIV)

A debt is an obligation.  One obligation, appropriately in line with your income, is not slavery.

During the Biblical times, when you borrowed it was because you had nothing (no equity/no collateral), and thus one debt could result in slavery.  When the collector came to collect that debt, if you didn’t have the money you could be (literally) enslaved.

Today, however, people borrow for many reasons. Often, with only one debt, if someone were to collect they could sell something to cover the debt.

The problem is today one can stack and accumulate too many debts.  With each debt, you lose a bit of freedom.  At some point you inevitably come to a place where you can be enslaved (in a way) to the debtor.  You have lost your ability to make decisions over your personal assets.

Borrowing is an obligation that, if continued excessively, can result in a type of servitude, but never, in my opinion, slavery.

The issue is ultimately how much freedom one still possesses when they borrow.

On the line below, a first debt is at the far left – an obligation.  The more debts you take, the further you move to the right.  Eventually, you can come to a place of servitude with your debt, but I’m personally uncomfortable saying in our current culture you can ever come to a place of slavery.  I believe that slaves are stripped of almost all their freedom to make choices.  People with massive amounts of debt today can still choose where and when to work, how many kids they have, their spouse, the location of their house (even those in Section 8 housing get to choose their actual apartment building), who they want to be President (or Prime Minister) …  I find it difficult to call that slavery.  Servitude yes, slavery no.

———————————————————————————————————–

Obligation Servitude                             Slavery

Even the Bible highlights different eras of slavery (as the Bible covers several thousands of years of history).  In the simplest terms, slavery is an almost complete removal of rights.  I think people with debts will never come to a point where so many of their rights and freedoms could be removed that its should be called slavery.  Clearly, in both the NT and OT, a person could be in prison because of debts.  Even that is not slavery.  Slavery is when someone owns your freedom.   You can not choose to work.  You cannot continue family life.  You have no means necessary to control your current situation.  We can experience servitude today, but not slavery.

In this case, we would need to ask the question: if I have credit card debt, what freedoms or personal rights can Visa remove?  As far as I understand it, they can demand that you pay what you owe plus other fees you have agreed to.  They can even get a court order and garnish your wages, but they still have not removed any personal rights – have they?

In my case, I do have a house loan.  I think it would be completely inappropriate to say that I am in slavery.  I don’t think a biblical writer would ever indicate that I’m in slavery.  The debt is proportional to my income and it is small enough that it doesn’t affect any decisions of consequence.  However, if I started getting more and more debts, I could eventually get to a point where I could no longer afford to live on a missionary salary.  I would then be required to serve my debt instead of my God.

Multiple debts do lead to a type of slavery – better called servitude. Alright, now we’re starting to get on the same page.  It is a fine distinction, yes, but at least Christians won’t be petrified if they want to go out and get a car payment.  Look, getting a car payment makes absolutely no mathematical sense.  I don’t do car payments.  But, if someone in my church has no other debts and gets a car payment, I can’t in good conscience say they are in slavery.  I can’t say that car payment will be their master.  I can’t say God is shaking his head in heaven.  I will say they have made an obligation that they must keep.

Yet, to be fair, in the words of my precious wife – it’s all just semantics – and perhaps she’s right (she usually is).

The rich rule over the poor

The passage in Proverbs 22:7 is written using a literary technique called parallelism.  With parallelism, the two parts either highlight the other, accentuate the other, or are even just rewording of the other part.  Proverbs is full of statements written parallel to each other.  Here’s the problem.  Google “the borrower is slave to the lender” and you’re going to get a lot of hits about bloggers, preachers, writers, and financial gurus who are devoting their passionate attention to this second part of the statement.   However, Google “the rich rule over the poor” and after a few online Bibles that include this passage, you’ll finally get to a few articles about the injustice of the rich ruling over the poor.  Shouldn’t we be as passionate about both parts of this passage?  Shouldn’t we talk about the destructive nature of debt and also the injustice the wealthy hold over the poor?

If there was any point to the post, I guess that was it.

Comments

  1. says

    Not sure how to reply. I keep starting over. lol. What do I say? How’s this…

    Isn’t a servant and slave pretty much the same thing, just worded a bit different?

    We can word it however we like… If I get $10,000 in credit card debt (which I did at one time), then the credit card company has some rights over me correct? They own me to some degree?

    Are you saying if I go buy that new $20,000 car I know I can’t afford, that I am not a slave to the lender but just a servant? To me it’s the same thing.

    Just thinking out loud here.. I’m not saying you’re right or wrong…

    • says

      @Financial Bondage
      Thanks for being the first to kick back some feedback …
      I think the distinction is one of degree – servitude vs. slavery. Essentially the question is how much freedom does one retain? (though to be exact different eras of slavery did afford different levels of freedom).
      Here is the one question I want someone to answer (so I know if I’m missing something) – If you get $10,000 in cc debt then what rights can Visa, Mastercard or Discover take away? How are you enslaved to them? You are required to make your payments, but can they control you in any other way? It seems like we still get to keep a lot of personal rights.
      The level of servitude is proportional to your income. If I make $150,000 a year and buy a car (on payments) for $20,000 I don’t think that person would be enslaved to the lender. It is not a good financial move and I don’t suggest it. I just don’t see someone in that situation as a slave to the lender. They have some obligations, but slavery is melodramatic.

  2. says

    Thanks Craig for the thought provoking posts on borrowing and debt!

    I do think we are guilty at times of exaggerating or mishandling the text of Scripture in order to drive home our pet peeve or overreacting to abuses. Certainly, there are many people who are abusing debt.

    Also, I do think there is a significant distinction between a servant and a slave. Check out this great message on “Slaves for Christ” by John MacArthur
    http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/80-321.htm
    It will change the way you view yourself in Christ!

    Point well taken Craig!

  3. says

    I think you discussed the difference between a slave and a servant very well. To me a slave has no rights whatsoever. A servant, on the other hand, serves willingly or by choice.

    In the majority of cases, people choose debt. And after checking the biblegateway, most versions of this passage use the term “servant” rather than “slave.” So I do think a lot of the debate is just over the issue of wording.

  4. Gholmes says

    I agree with Darren and your wife Craig.

    What I take away from this discussion is not to take scripture out of context to support my belief. In my zealousness against debt I could have been accused of being melodramatic. I need to temper my rhetoric.

    However, I am not dismayed at the number of posts on debt. My feeling is that all this consumption fueled by our economy’s addiction to debt is sin. For those of us that have the financial background we need to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ what being a good steward is.

    • says

      @Darren
      You bring up and interesting point with the wording. Translations have moved away from using slave in modern translations because it is offensive to our sensibilities and because in many ways biblical slavery was very different than slavery in America.
      Why then do most people use slave when quoting this passage? I’m not sure I’ve hear people say the borrower is servant to the lender, but always slave. I think it is to be melodramatic.
      Slave is more dramatic so we like it better.
      Let’s move the discussion beyond wording. If I have $10,000 in cc debt. How am I even a servant to Visa? In what why do they control me? What personal right can Visa remove? During the Bible time slave/servant was true, but is it today?

      @John
      Fantastic quote “exaggerating or mishandling the text of Scripture in order to drive home our pet peeve”.

      @Gholmes
      I would agree that no one has taken this passage ‘out of context’ but that they have misapplied it to a different cultural context. This is done by saying a borrowing from thousands of years ago faces the same risks as a borrower today. Again, I do not think the Bible supports the concept of debt. I’m just uncomfortable with how uncritically every quotes and applies this passage.
      I’m also not dismayed by the number of posts on debt. It is a serious, serious problem and a real challenge to Christian stewardship. I think as Christians we would be better served to make our foundational teachings against debt something like the Deut passage or even something from the perspective of stewardship.

  5. says

    The only way that I think they could possibly “control” you is through increased interest charges on your account. Perhaps they could even close your account if they wanted to.

    If they have a right to collect their payments, don’t they have the right to keep calling you if you don’t pay? Can’t they even take some type of legal action? I’m not quite sure, but I vaguely remember hearing stories about this.

  6. Gholmes says

    @ Craig Yes there is no debtor prisons now in USA. However, I do think risks are the same, debt traps today as in Biblical times. As a nation there is talk now how our debt has put us at mercy of the Chinese’ government. Recently I read what would happen if Chinese wanted to devalue the dollar by flooding the bond market when we were trying to sell more debt.

    I like the scripture in Romans 13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuous debt to love one another…”: Jesus used parables and stories to drive home his points. Using word picture “slave” is getting the point home may be melodramatic and not work on you but for someone else it may be the motivation to break the cycle of debt our generation has been under.

  7. says

    Being in debt certainly makes you feel like a slave, so I’d say it makes you a slave. Having experienced debt & debt free living. I’ll go with debt free.

    Pay off your last debt after being deeply in debt and tell me that doesn’t feel like someone just broke your chains of bondage. Very freeing.

    One of the definitions I found for melodramatic was “over emotional”. I could easily apply that to my experience. Really though even if it is melodramatic why wouldn’t you want to push Christians with all your might towards debt free living. Being debt free I have more money to give than I have at any other point in my life, if I require health care in my old age I won’t be a burden to my children, and fear of lay-offs is a thing of the past.

    Live debt free people!

    Dave Ramsey for the win.

    • says

      @Jarrod
      Thanks for the comment.
      I do push people for debt-free living. I don’t think I’ve ever encouraged anyone to get a loan on this blog.

    • Steve m says

      I felt more like a slave renting (I guess poor being ruled over) than I ever had with a mortgage. The landlord could raise my rent, I would have to pay or move. I was even less mobile having to have a lease or pay more. My mortgage has never been greater than what rent would be.

  8. Clayton says

    Are borrowers slaves or servents? Well you don’t have to look very far to find the answer to that. Ask any divorced person, what the primary reson for their fighting was. Debt is never a good thing. It brings strife into a marriage, and tears down relationships. Sons and daughters have stopped communicating with parents because of the guilt of a debt owed., Houses, Cars and entire ways of life have been reposessed because of dept. If you owe a debt to the IRS, you can go to jail. The correct biblical translation is Slave , not servent. When God used the word servent in other parts of the bible, it isn’t the same word. It is good and Godly to be a servent to others, it Is not Godly to be a slave. Christians are to be servents to Jesus and his people, but not slaves to anyone. Depb almost always causes strife, or worry. If you buy a house with debt, you end up paying 2 to 3 times the purchase price by the time your done. If you buy a new car with debt, even if it is 0% you end up loosing 60 percent of the value before its paid off. I’m not wealthy, but I owe no man anything, and that is true freedom.

    • says

      Clayton,
      Thanks for your helpful comments.
      Debt is indeed often not a good thing. Debt can destroy. I don’t want people to get the impression that I’m promoting the use of debt on this website.

      “The correct biblical translation is Slave , not servent. When God used the word servent in other parts of the bible, it isn’t the same word.”
      Clayton, I’m not sure this is a correct statement. There are certainly occasions when ‘doulos’ is translated as slave and other times when it is translated as servant.

      My basic point is that not all debt removes freedoms. But, in the Bible when people borrowed it was their last resort and would be thrown in prison if the didn’t repay. That sort of think doesn’t happen today (unless I’m wrong) so I think we need to recognize we’re in a different cultural milieu than when the Bible was written.

    • says

      I don’t think the relationship of Jesus to his fellow man is in any way comparable to the relationship between a borrower and lender.

      What the Bible says about if you’re in debt or have cosigned:
      Proverbs 6

      4 Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.

      5 Deliver thyself as a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.

      • says

        Jarrod,
        I agree that Jesus’ relationship to man is a completely different context.

        However, I don’t think we can say that the Bible verse in Proverbs applies to those “in debt or have cosigned”. The context seems to be discussing cosigning not taking on debt.

        • says

          All I know is that in five years from the moment the Lord opened my eyes to why we couldn’t prosper we went from six figure debt to six figure income. We’re now able to give where we couldn’t before.

          I’ve talked seven people into becoming debt free. Four Christian brothers by telling them about how we’re able to give and three non-Christians by comparing net worth. With those three I made it a point to point them to Ramsey or Burkett in hopes that they would get more than just financial freedom. I’ve never heard anyone that has experienced complete financial freedom say anything other than “I’ll never go back”.

          Money & money fights are the #1 cause of divorce in America. If you lose your job and are unable to make your house payments you can get foreclosed on. An overload of debt could force you into bankruptcy, thereby disqualifying you from certain jobs. If you are under obligation to several lenders, your fear of not being able to make payments might prevent you from leaving your job even if it means missing your dream.

          So it could be argued that debt could possibly take your marriage, home & opportunities.

  9. emma says

    certainly, debt does not make someone a slave rather, a servant. in the sense that a debtor can sue a creditor if he/she go beyond violating his fundamental right. A slave only has one choice while several choices are before a servant. my advice is, don’t borrow above what you can’t afford or borrow to buy a liability that is beyond your financial capability

  10. Bob Humphries says

    When I read Deuteronomy 28:43,44 I note that the chapter reads from verse 15 that if anyone doesn’t obey the Lord’s commands, then that person comes under the curses that follow in the rest of the chapter, including debt and it’s not an option. Whereas the apostle Paul points that the only acceptable debt that will always be outstanding is to love one another.

    Romans 13:8
    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

    Sadly we live in a society that peddles debt as the norm, however, Mortgage is made of two Latin words, Mort means ‘death,’ and Gage means ‘grip,’ therefore if you have a Mortgage your in a death grip of the Lender, which I feel is equivalent or worse than a slave

  11. says

    Considering the Bible’s teachings, debt is connected to “the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches and the lust for other things”. And according to Matthew 6, are three things that steal the Word of God from our hearts (the soil). A fundamental problem with debt is that it pressures the borrower spend too much or in an unwise, untimely situation, rather than learning how to depend on God and his Kingdom ways of doing and being. Matthew 6: 33 clearly addresses this dilemma saying, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all of these things will be added to you.”

    • says

      Larry,
      I do agree with you in general, but there must be room for exceptions. Not all debt is comes from a bad heart or a poor motivation. Lots of people incur debt because of sickness and medical bills. I actually just visited with a young lady who borrowed money to drive to see her money in the hospital. It’s quite unfortunate that she wasn’t in a position to just pay for the trip, but I think she borrowed with a pure heart as a way to seek God’s Kingdom.

  12. Steve m says

    Let’s remember the bible does not say anything (to my knowledge) positive about money or debt. Money is a false idol created by man that requires faith in something other than God. We live in a world that worships this idol, we can use money, but must not love money.
    We know this because people in the bible used money, were godly, and rich people were godly. In 2kings 4 the widows husband is discribed as a god fearing man and a servant to the lord. I see no reason to separate the use of money and the use of debt from a biblical standpoint.
    (money and wealth are different things.)

  13. neilrh says

    Being in debt is not just limited to the fact you owe money, it can also result in an emotional deficit too. You have an obligation to repay, that can eat away at you. An inability to make agreed payments creates emotional stress – you have a person on the phone saying rude things about your integrity, and a hungry kid screaming in the next room. An expensive emergency can be totally overwhelming and create much financial drama.

    You might not be working directly for your “master”, but the fruits of your labor are his. And when you borrow from friends and family, if they’re giving up something in order to help you, and you’re squandering your money on toys and vacations, resentment will build up and a relationship will be destroyed.

    When you’re in debt job security is a high priority, you cannot afford to lose your job, you cannot afford to take time off sick, you cannot afford to quit. Your debt is creating an emotional bondage to your source of income. The chains of slavery are not physical today, they’re emotional – and quite possibly as damaging as physical chains ever were.

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