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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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LOANS.—There are frequent references to money, and many illustrations suggested by financial obligations, in the teaching of Jesus. These have been gathered together as indications of ‘the economic background of the Evangelical history’ (Hausrath, NT Times, i. p. 188 f., quoted also in full by Bruce in Parabolic Teaching, p. 243 f.). We learn from Tacitus that the year 17 was marked by great discontent in Judaea and throughout Syria, on account of the burdensome taxation, and that the year 33 was one of financial crisis throughout the Empire. There is thus full justification for the numerous Gospel intimations of hardship and debt, and impoverishment generally. See Debt.

But the relation of debtor and creditor is so obviously adaptable to moral obligations, that under any social condition the use of this figure is to be expected. The very terms for financial obligations are freely used to express the obligations of moral life. Thus the same Gr. verb (ὀφείλω) is variously rendered in the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘owed,’ ‘owest,’ ‘that was due’ (Matthew 18:28; Matthew 18:30; Matthew 18:34, Luke 7:41; Luke 16:5; Luke 16:7 of financial obligation); ‘debtor’ (Matthew 23:16; Matthew 23:18 [Authorized Version ‘guilty’]), ‘duty’ (Luke 17:10), ‘ought’ (John 13:14; John 19:7), ‘indebted’ (Luke 11:4; all of moral obligation); and the noun (ὀφειλέτης) is translated ‘owed’ (Matthew 18:24 of money debt), ‘debtors’ (Matthew 6:12 of moral debts), ‘offenders’ (Luke 13:4 [Authorized Version ‘sinners’] of guilt before God). Financial obligations afford also a ready measure of moral indebtedness; our sins against one another are as debts of £50 or £5 (Luke 7:41), but our sin against God runs into ‘millions sterling’ (Matthew 18:24).

The very naturalness of these illustrative uses of money values and financial relations makes it obviously wrong to press them into the support of economic theories, e.g. the justification of commercial loans from ‘Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and then at my coming I should have received back mine own with interest’ (Matthew 25:27 = Luke 19:23). In parables any relations may hold which the story demands. In Christian economics only moral relations are to be tolerated. Because then, in the Gospel narratives, debtors and creditors, borrowers and lenders figure largely, we are not able to say that the teaching of Jesus either supports or condemns modern commercial arrangements. The true basis of Christian economics must be found in the ethical teaching of the Gospels as a whole.

Apart from incidental references in parables, there is one saying of Jesus which calls for fuller notice. ‘If ye lend (δανείζω, lend upon interest; contrast κίχρημι, of a friendly loan, Luke 11:5 only) to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much. But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil’ (Luke 6:34 f., cf. Matthew 5:42). The difficulty, in part one of textual reading, but mainly of interpretation, finds adequate representation in ‘hoping for nothing again’ (Authorized Version ), ‘never despairing’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ), ‘despairing of no man’ ((Revised Version margin) ). This uncertainty cannot, however, affect the meaning, which is determined by the preceding verses, and though the rendering of the Authorized Version must be rejected on critical grounds, it may well stand as an adequate gloss. On the authority of this saying the unlawfulness for Christians of receiving interest on loans has been based; and, rightly understood and applied, the inference is just. The commandment is one of benevolence. Christian charity is not to be by way of loans at interest. It is the duty of giving Jesus teaches, as if He said, ‘Let your lending be giving’—a rule of charity which experience justifies, and which, from the would-be borrower’s side, receives support in St. Paul’s saying, ‘Owe no man anything, save to love one another’ (Romans 13:8).

W. H. Dyson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Loans'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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