The Bible and Personal Loan Debt
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UPDATED: May 16, 2012
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The King James Version of the Bible mentions the word “money” more than 120 times, the word “silver” more than 280 times, and the word “gold” more than 400 times. When other words relating to wealth, debt, and lending are added to the mix, some argue that the authors of the Bible — which contains scripture that Christians of all denominations study each and every day — mentions words synonymous with wealth more than 2000 times. Without a doubt, the Bible holds the concept of money in very high regard.
Given such a realization, let’s take a moment to reflect on what exactly the Bible has to say about debt, taking out personal loans, and charging our peers interest on borrowed money.
The Bible and Debt Regarding Borrowers
Like other seemingly ambiguous themes in the Bible, the acquisition of debt is viewed as both acceptable and unacceptable, prompting some personal loan borrowers to carefully consider their individual situations, their duty to their lender, and their duty to their faith.
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. – Proverbs 22:7 NIV
First and foremost, the Bible warns against taking on debt. The Bible instructs borrowers to repay their personal loan debts, since debt serves as a chainless prison in which one is roped down by his or her monetary obligations.
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously. -Psalm 37:21 NIV
Clearly this passage illustrates to readers that the Bible has a severe distaste for debtors who refuse or fail to repay their personal loan debts. Wicked is a powerful word, not used in hyperbole, but rather to describe with luster how exactly this verse views those who fail to make good on their promises.
When the subprime mortgage market collapsed in 2007, underwater homeowners began defaulting on their mortgages in droves. Consumer advocates encouraged this behavior, proclaiming that staying in one’s upside-down home was akin to financial suicide. Opponents immediately leapt for the moral argument, often citing the following verses:
Again, you have heard that I was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes the evil one. – Matthew 5:33-37 NIV
These verses in Matthew (which are paralleled by James 5:12) reiterate the importance of keeping one’s word. When a person makes an oath, it is evident that the Bible instructs them to keep it.
The Bible and Debt Regarding Lenders
But the Bible’s reference to personal loan debt does not place the burden entirely upon borrowers. Rather, lenders are under harsh scrutiny, as evident by the following:
He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head. – Ezekiel 18:13 NIV
While this is the tail end of a longer list of offenses named in this passage, lending personal loans at interest and taking a profit is clearly something that is not condoned, as evidenced by the consequence this man will face. Similarly, the following passage also warns against charging interest on personal loans:
If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. – Exodus 22:25 NIV
Exodus, the book depicting the marvelous journey of Moses and his freeing of the Hebrew slaves held captive by Egypt’s Pharaoh, records the laws that the Lord relayed through Moses to his people. When the issue of money came about, the Lord made it clear that his people should not lend money to the poor in return for interest (paralleled by Leviticus 25:38).
Yet this command has seemingly been disregarded by Christians throughout history. As the United States currently weathers the economic meltdown spurred by lenders touting low cost personal loans when they arguably shouldn’t have, it’s rather apparent that the Bible’s advice given thousands of years ago continues to radiate wisdom and relevancy today.
While the Bible contains passages specific to both borrowers and lenders of personal loans, it doesn’t expressly side with either party. There are commands set forth for borrowers and instructions for lenders. What can be gathered from this dichotomy, however, is that Christianity and lending can only co-exist under careful and responsible consideration.