Eight Arguments Against Debt 2 – Slavery Prohibited

There are Biblical grounds for staying out of debt. Any one of these is sufficient reason for people to avoid debt, as much as it is within their power. When put together, they become a formidable array of reasons why debt should be avoided.

2. Slavery Prohibited

Think about words. Without them we'd find it difficult to communicate with others (even though some people are quite articulate with their hands). What do words mean? Who decides what they mean? What is the origin of language? If language comes from God, as our doctrine of creation implies, then it follows that the meaning of words must also come from God. Our basic definitions thus should come from God and not from man himself.

This idea is not new. It represents an older view, demonstrated in the original Noah Webster Dictionary of 1828. Webster, a Christian, sought to clarify the language so that it would aid in the propagation of the Gospel. What makes his original dictionary unique is the number of times he took basic definitions, or meaning of words, from the Scriptures.

I wish to follow this procedure here. There are two verses in the Bible that, when seen together, provide a basic definition and understanding of the word "debt" when used in the context of a financial obligation.

The first of these verses is Proverbs 22:7, "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." The word here for servant can also be translated slave, and has the meaning of someone who has become a bonded servant to another. In Hebrew it means to become enslaved to, or to be kept in bondage. Taken by itself, the verse says that a borrower becomes a servant, or a bondslave, of the lender. In a New Testament passage we are told, "you were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men" (1 Cor. 7:23). Since we are purchased by the precious blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, we are His bondservants. We do not have the liberty, therefore, to enslave ourselves voluntarily to any other master, since we are the servants (or bondslaves, if you prefer) of Jesus Christ. The Greek word translated as "slave" is doulos. It denotes the idea of compulsory service. (1) So we are not to voluntarily put ourselves into the compulsory service of others. Rather, we should keep ourselves as free people ready to serve our true Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

If we take these passages together, we find that in the Proverbs passage we are given a definition of how we can become bondservants. We are informed that the borrower is a bondservant to the lender. In the First Corinthians passage we are instructed that we may not voluntarily enslave ourselves to any man. We have another Master whom we must obey at all times. We cannot be the servant of two masters, as Jesus tells us in a well-known passage from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:24). It appears we are not capable of split allegiance; we must have one Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Scripture, financial debt is a form of slavery. It is too easy in the current climate of opinion to think of slavery as only a political manifestation. The Bible clearly links slavery to economic matters and debt in particular. We become slaves by borrowing things then promising to repay that which we borrow. Clearly this is not the only kind of slavery spoken of in the Bible, but it is one form of slavery. If this is the case, on what grounds can we exclude financial debt from the meaning of slavery when we come to the New Testament? It is illogical for us to reduce the meaning of the word "slavery" in the New Testament, so that it does not support the concept of financial debt, spoken about so clearly in Proverbs. Not only is it wrong, but it is all too easy to do.

Based on the evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that Christians may not enslave themselves to any person. This means we must avoid placing ourselves in debt in any form with one exception: we have a debt to love one another.

(This is the 2nd of 8 weekly excerpts, from Dr Ian Hodge's book, Making Sense of Your Dollars, available from www.readwriteplay.com/Books.php)

1) See Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume by Geoffrey W. Bromily, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1985), p. 182f.

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