What the Bible actually says about mortgage forgiveness
(RNS) — Wednesday, President Joe Biden introduced a sweeping plan to handle the US scholar mortgage disaster, together with provisions for debt forgiveness and an extension of the federal fee pause.
This announcement generated polarizing Christian responses on social media with #studentloanforgiveness as a high trending hashtag on Twitter. Many Christians applauded the proposal, citing manumission legal guidelines from the Pentateuch corresponding to, “Each seventh yr you shall grant a remission of money owed,” (Deuteronomy 15:1, all Bible quotations from NRSV). Others condemned the proposal, stating that it violates accountability and fairness, and turning to such texts as, “The depraved borrow, and don’t pay again” (Psalm 37:21). One of many extra outstanding Christian voices in opposition to debt forgiveness, Albert Mohler, claimed that student loan forgiveness is a violation of justice and a “moral hazard,” as it incentivizes bad behavior.
So what precisely does the Bible actually say about mortgage forgiveness? Earlier than tweeting your sizzling take, you must keep in mind that faculty scholar loans weren’t a factor in Historic Israel. In truth, the financial worlds of the Bible are overseas to our fashionable sensibilities. For many of biblical historical past, cash had not but been invented. Financial choices on points like vocation, housing and marriage had been largely predetermined in accordance with kinship wants. A family’s best asset was a modest plot of land. Agriculture dominated financial manufacturing.
Bible verses in regard to mortgage forgiveness should be interpreted on this context. Each testaments present that loans had been widespread. However these loans had been largely directed at subsistence survival. Agrarian life was unstable and topic to the whims of rainfall. Pestilence was a continuing fear. On this setting, loans had been a security measure to supply a point of financial safety for households throughout years of disaster. Ideally, a household may borrow silver or grain with the hope that the surplus from the following harvest may pay again the loans.
However folks steadily defaulted. Droughts may final a number of years in Israel. Wars may deplete labor provide whereas additionally destroying crops as a casualty of siege fight. Kings may levy burdensome taxes. In instances of economic duress, folks turned to mortgage agreements. Typically that they had egregiously excessive rates of interest, as households had been determined for provisions. Complete debt would improve exponentially. There have been no chapter protections, and upon dying, loans would simply go to the following technology. Mortgage default would result in enslavement.
Inside this context, Deuteronomy 15:1 presents a substitute for the debt cycle, calling for a daily “remission,” or forgiveness. The passage provides justification to this debt easement, “As a result of the Lord is bound to bless you” (Deuteronomy 15:4b). The broader context of Deuteronomy states that obedience to God and the dedication to at least one’s neighbor is central to the covenant with God. An identical spirit of compassion as a part of the divine covenant seems in different debt aid legal guidelines within the Torah, corresponding to Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35 and Deuteronomy 20:19.
The identical spirit is embedded in narratives just like the fourth chapter of two Kings, when Elisha provides vessels of oil to a widow so she will rescue her two youngsters from debt slavery. The Judeans embrace the same sentiment in Nehemiah 5:1-13 as they commit to finish forgiveness of debt as a result of “a few of our daughters have been ravished” (Nehemiah 5:5). This spirit of compassion undergirds the road from essentially the most well-known prayer of the Gospels, “And forgive us our money owed, as we even have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Are these biblical examples additionally violations of justice?
Conversely, Psalm 37 is a unique style and a unique context. As a Psalm, it’s poetic, with charged language and wealthy imagery. This Psalm addresses those that undergo because of the “depraved” (37:1ff). These “depraved” torment the marginalized, particularly those that are “poor and needy” (37:14). “The depraved borrow, and don’t pay again” (37:21) is neither a command nor a proverb, however simply an statement about these “depraved” folks, who trigger violence and oppress. No matter one can extrapolate in relation to scholar mortgage forgiveness, it’s inaccurate to equivocate the “depraved” as somebody struggling beneath mounting scholar debt. Reasonably, on this Psalm, God is reassuring the one who’s oppressed.
Biblical texts shouldn’t be proof-texted to help opposite opinions on this scholar debt aid proposal. We should always not deal with the Bible like an enormously thick reference textbook, searching for the singular verse to weaponize in opposition to ideological opponents. The Bible is a lot extra subtle and sophisticated and nuanced and mysterious. The Bible isn’t even a ebook, however a group of books, written and edited over many centuries in three totally different languages throughout three totally different continents. Our readings of the Bible ought to be delicate to the varied views and distinctive historic contexts inside mentioned readings. Taking one single verse to help or protest any fashionable laws violates the very character of the Bible.
On the similar time, biblical interpretation doesn’t need to be that difficult. Maybe studying the Bible ought to merely start as studying any literature. We learn for enjoyment and enrichment. As Christians, we must always learn the Bible in order that we will higher flourish as human beings beneath divine creation. We should always learn the Bible with consideration to its personal genres, whether or not narrative, poetry, authorized texts, liturgical laments, and even (gasp!) census accounts. Most significantly, we must always learn the Bible in group with others and generously take note of those that might perceive the identical textual content in numerous methods.
Then, we will recognize that the Bible delivers theological sophistication within the easiest methods. In these readings, broader themes and motifs emerge. Some examples? How concerning the name to compassion, covenant, loving-kindness? How about embracing the function as our brother’s and sister’s keeper? These are the biblical values that ought to inform Christian views on scholar debt aid … and another concern.
(Roger S. Nam is professor of Hebrew Bible, Candler College of Theology. A monetary analyst earlier than turning his consideration to biblical research, Nam focuses his analysis on the economies of the traditional Close to East. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)