The Bible and Debt

This is a very controversial topic in Christendom and amongst Christians today. There are so many different interpretations among various passages of scripture. Some have a very conservative position--that it is a sin to take on debt of any form (even house and car loans)--and yet others believe that it is okay to incur lots of debts as long as they continue to pay on them.

There are arguments in the Bible that allows debt and other passages that strongly speak against it. But hyper-conservative opponents of debt cannot see things from the worldview outside of their perspective. For example, I know personally of a brother who is living in Redding, CA having an extremely rough time finding a job. This particular brother has applied to dozens of companies in his 3-4 months of being unemployed, and at the time of this writing he has not been hired. He has a ton of debt to pay off, yet cannot find work. What can he do? He has prayed and prayed and still has not found a job. Perhaps God is giving him a trial, I do not know. But I do know that the people that accuse him of being irresponsible really do not know what they are talking about. This man is not lazy by any means, and successfully graduated from two colleges. But the job market is rough, and being located in Redding, CA makes it all the more difficult to find work. I have suggested to this brother that he move to a better job market, but this costs money that he does not have at this time.

Typically hyper-conservative opponents of debt that believe it is a sin to have any type of debt usually fall into several categories.

1. They live in a depressed job market where the cost of living is very low, so it's easy to avoid debts.
2. They have a high income or have family/friends that do.
3. They have perfect health and a perfect running car.

But for many people, avoiding debt is impossible. However, those living in depressed job markets usually cannot understand this or understand the world outside of their economic depression. There are many rural areas in the US where the cost of living is so low that many can avoid debts. On top of this, the lack of department stores and places to spend are few and far between. So it makes sense that these people are able to avoid debts, and are all too often judgmental towards those living in expensive areas. The truth of the matter is that these people cannot see life from the perspective of those living in expensive areas where the cost of living is very high. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, which is among the most expensive areas to live in the Unites States. However, for 4 years I lived in the Shasta County Area of far Northern California (which is a very depressed economy). Many of the people in these areas lived simple lives, and could live and feed families on "low income jobs." Retail, fast food, and gas station-type jobs were the dominant employers in Shasta County. I have talked with many individuals in this area, many of whom were completely opposed to debt. But it made perfect sense why they would be, as the way of life was so much different in Shasta County than in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sure, there are many in the Bay Area who live beyond their means (and this is usually the typical argument that the anti-debt crowd uses against those in debt). But the anti-debt crowd never takes into consideration that there are many honest, hard working and frugal people living in expensive economies like the San Francisco Bay Area that do not live beyond their means, but yet have mountains of debt to pay off. Yes, since those totally against debt have never lived in expensive areas they could never understand this.

I will be focusing on several passages of scripture that are commonly used in the debt argument.

Verse #1
Romans 13:8

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." (NIV)

"Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law." (KJV)

"Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law." (NKJV)

Romans 13:8 is a very controversial passage. I think that when one reads it one must take the entire chapter into context. In the first part of the chapter Paul is referring to paying taxes to the authorities. But it’s interesting how some articulate this verse as being strictly about debt. Some KJV only Christians infer that this verse is saying that it’s a sin to use a credit card, take on a loan or borrow money in anyway.

Some use Matthew 6:24 as backing to their argument that it's sinful to use a credit card, take on a loan, or borrow in anyway. In this verse Jesus says that one cannot have two masters, and it's impossible to serve both God and money (the KJV uses the original Greek word in this passage). So in their argument Romans 13:8 is indeed suggesting that one cannot be a slave of debt. There are many problems with their argument, since it usually bypasses the cultural context, demographic, grammatical and theological hermeneutical factors to interpreting a translation. One must always consider such issues when interpreting the scriptures, even more with controversial verses and passages such as Romans 13:8. The more liberal side of the argument does not interpret Paul as saying that debt is prohibited, so they very easily abuse their credit cards and take on many loans so quickly that they have a massive debt that they cannot hope to repay in their lifetime. Obviously there are different extremes of interpretation of this verse.

I think that it's interesting that the KJV seems to communicate that it's perfectly okay to be in debt to a woman, while the NIV says to let no debt remain outstanding, indicating that one can have debts. The NKJV eliminates the singular noun voice in this verse and changes it to the plural "no one" instead of "no man." While the NIV limits the passage to debt, it's again interesting how the NASB translates the verse in a similar fashion as the NKJV and does not bind debt to financial obligations, because what most people will conjure when the word debt is used will always be financial debt. So many that read this passage have concluded that Paul is prohibiting Christians from using credit cards, taking on loans, or borrowing money.

Verse #2
Proverbs 22:7

"The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is servant to the lender." (NIV)

This verse is not forbidding debts. It is saying that the borrower should examine his/her ability to repay their debts, because indebtedness will make one a slave to the lender. In our culture it seems perfectly normal to take on huge house, car and school debts. While there's nothing wrong with this, one must consider a life of owing money to a lender. In our society however, it seems all the more difficult to live without huge debts. Life seems more difficult for some people than for others, or some people live in remote areas where jobs are scarce and hard to find. When I lived in Shasta Lake City, CA my local job market was two fast food restaurants, a few gas stations, and a supermarket. These jobs sound low paying, and indeed they were, and finding one was very difficult! People in this area worked in these types of jobs as careers, and that made it all the more difficult to get hired. While living in this area I was out of work for 3 long months. While I tried everyday to find work, it was difficult and unfortunately I had to rely on my credit cards more than usual. I am still recovering from that financial nightmare, and have not gotten back on my feet. My debts are still large, and I am unable to pay on all my student loans. It's not that I have no desire to do so, it's just that I have lacked the income to pay off my debts. But in due time the Lord will give me a job that can pay on my debts.

Verses #3 & #4
Deuteronomy 15:6 & 28:12

[Dt 15:6] “For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. (NASB)

[Dt 28:12] “The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. (NASB)

It is interesting that some isolate verses like this OUT OF CONTEXT and apply them to America and to their own situations. In both passages the Lord is addressing Israel and never once mentions America nor an individual. The Lord is addressing an entire nation, and neither America nor an American was whom the Lord was addressing. This alone is enough to pop the argument of those who use these verses to support their anti-debt argument. While they do have a point, that we should work on our debts and we let none remain outstanding, we also need to consider that some people go into debt beyond their circumstances. Some people have high medical bills, they lose jobs, they live in remote areas that lack good paying jobs, etc.The Lord wants his people to pay on their debts, but the Bible never forbids debts. I think it's very clear to most people that those who judge others for being in debt really do not understand and are often judgmental. People need to be "quick to listen" (James 1:19) and should try to understand each person's individual problems. Those who go into debt must seriously look at their reasons and their ability to pay on these debts.



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