The Biblical Comparision of Debt and Slavery

(This was a post I wrote for onemoneydesign.com)

I know, I know, it seems like this topic is a little “overdone”, but I think at times us crusaders of Christian finance often make a statement connecting debt to slavery without really explaining it.  We sometimes assume our Christian brothers and sisters already understand what we are talking about.  What I have found is: the average believer sees the connection of debt and slavery as a figurative description—almost a metaphor.  This is the purpose of today’s post.  The biblical connection between debt and slavery is far more than mere metaphor.

What is slavery in the Bible?

First things first: when we say “slavery” and the Bible says “slavery”, we often mean very different things.  Our first thought of the word brings to mind the cruelties of the African Slave Trade.  The atrocities of the 1600-1800′s are an unthinkable stain on world history (and sadly, the Christians that supported it).  Millions caught up in the trading of men, women, and children into a life sentence of cruelty and forced labor.  The Bible does address this type of slavery:  “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Ex. 21:16)  Plain and simple, anyone who stole another man/woman and sold them was to be put to death.  This is the Biblical stance on chattel slavery.  Regrettably, Christians in this time period of history misused and distorted scripture to justify this type of slavery.  Moving forward, we must recognize that the Bible’s use of the term “slavery” is often not what we think.

What is the Bible’s usage of the term? 

The best comparison in our vocabulary is the concept of indentured servitude (though not necessarily in all cases).  This is the reason more modern translations of the Bible replace the word “slave” with “servant”.  Essentially, if a person was unable to pay their bills, then they must honor their debt by the sweat of their brow.  This type of service had certain constraints on it in the Old Testament law, and—most importantly—the service was completed when the debt was repaid through labor.  In light of this, we can begin to understand the famous (and sometimes infamous) proverb:  “The borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” (Prov 22:7, NASB).  This passage is literal.  It simply means what it says.  There is no metaphor hiding underneath Solomon’s words.  He plainly states that the borrower will in fact become the lender’s slave in the event the debt cannot be paid off.  Therefore, the Bible is describing a literal type of slavery (servant-hood, if you prefer) when debts could not be repaid.

What does this mean for me?

Aside from being a neat spiritual nugget to chirp out at our next Bible study, we must seek to apply this portion of God’s word to our life.  What principle, if any, is to be found in this passage for the contemporary Christian?  A simple answer is this:  Debt will cause your productivity to belong to another.  In biblical times, this was more of an all or nothing thing—slave or free.  Today, however, the lines are a lot less clear.  We fail to see that debt places our productivity into the hands of our creditors.  Because this process is gradual, we lose sight of the fact that as debt increases, our ownership of our own productivity decreases.  Our prosperity loses its potential to be invested in God’s kingdom as debt increases. 

The further we trudge into debt, the more our efforts, income, and assets come under the ownership of our creditors.  This could be everything from money going out in interest payments to garnished wages to liens on our possessions and properties.  The more we leverage the more our resources belong to someone other than us.  (I know God owns everything, but follow my argument here.)  Bound by integrity and biblical instruction (Ps. 37:21), we must pay back what we have borrowed and thereby have little control or say as to where our money goes.  Our influence over our money has disappeared.  On the other hand, the further we get out of debt the more our freedom increases to invest in God’s kingdom.  Our choices—to avoid debt or get into it—will have a remarkable effect on our freedom financially and beyond.

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