Debt as a Theme in the Bible

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One of the main thematic underpinnings of the Bible is the credit and debt scheme. Man sins by disobedience and is now indebted to God for our sin. It is a debt too great for us to pay. Jesus, the Christ, pays the debt and we are thus set free.

When the Bible speaks of financial debt it talks about debt in a way that it disadvantages those who participate in it.

Deuteronomy 15:6 (NIV) For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

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

From my study the times when the Bible endorses debt is strictly in the case of poverty.  Those who are permitted to borrow are those who are poor because debt is a better alternative to death.  They are, financially, already disadvantaged – the loan does not put them there.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (NIV)  If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.

Mathew 18:23-35 is the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  Imagine what kind of a plot this story would have without the conflict of debt.  It is debt that drives this story.  The irony is such that the man has assumed so much debt he does not have the means to repay it and he is forgiven.  This story is chosen because people are able to identify with the burden of debt.  Perhaps too many vividly feel this weight of debt yet find that our modern creditors are not as forgiving as this parable.  Of course, the parable is completely about our sin debt.  But, without the parallel of our physical debt the parable would lose its impact. We wouldn’t identify with the power of the story.

Again it seems that when the Bible speaks of debt in any form, financially/spiritually/emotionally, it talks about debt in a way that is a negative thing for  those who participate in it.

Thematically and stylistically, the biblical position of being a debtor is seen as an inferior and negative thing to be avoided. Freedom is the goal, the aim, and thus the virtuous thing. Yet, our ‘enlightened age’ has inverted the credit and debt scheme. Debt is, in the minds of the masses, the vehicle to freedom, pleasure, and satisfaction. We go into debt to get things, and we entrust it will make things better. Thus, the bank or creditor, who extends a loan to us is greeted with a glorious grin, a hearty handshake, or even an hysterical hug. The creditor, in our view, has brought goodness to our lives. We assume being ‘in debt’ is a small price to pay for the house, the television, the couch, the car … the whatever that has now, supposedly, changed our lives for the better.              Photo by _StaR_DusT_’s

In fact, the current credit and debt scheme in our time punishes those who do not participate.  As an example, auto insurance companies can increase premiums based on credit score.  Of course there are banks that will not provide home loans if you have not accumulated debt to get a high debt score.

We say debt is good, but the Bible does to give debt it such an endorsement.  Yet, the Bible does not say debt is a sin.


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