A Question I Was Asked:

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be?

The Question:

Would it be true to say that Christians should simply never borrow money nor lend money?

I am reminded of this Bible verse:

'Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be...'

UK Apologetics Reply:

In fact, that saying is not from Scripture at all (although you are not the only person to have thought so), it was taken from a soliloquy by Polonius in Act I, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Polonius is giving advice to his son Laertes before Laertes heads back to school. Here is more of the quote:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Nevertheless, there is some sense in the quote, 'neither a borrower nor a lender be...'.

For its part, the pages of the Bible make several references to finance, interest, loaning and borrowing. It always advises caution in dealing with ones financial affairs. Yet, in His parables, Jesus sometimes appears more 'open' in matters of finance. For instance, Jesus often seemed to assume the existence of banks offering and receiving interest with a strong inference that Christians should take advantage of such opportunities where they might prove helpful. For example, see Luke 16:1-12 and Matthew 25:14-28. Of course, such parables go much deeper in their lessons than being solely concerned with money and finance, yet they remain intriguing choices to be presented as examples.

For sure, in an absolutely ideal scenario it is probably better never to loan nor to borrow money, however, in modern western society, it is virtually impossible to avoid this at all times, all one can say is that the Christian should be absolutely dillgent never to let such things get out of hand.

The Old Testament alone says a lot about finance and money but, of course, we have to understand that - technically speaking - that is the book of Israel and of the Old Covenant so we must carefully evaluate that section of the Scriptures rather than to think that we can simply apply everything therein to the Christian in our age. The primary document for the Christian is the New Testament. The Old Testament remains inspired Scripture, of course, but it is the book of a different, pre-Christian age - although it is only fully understood in the light of Christ. Generally speaking, its principles and lessons are always applicable, but not necessarily its specific laws; we simply do not live in such a society any longer, neither does the sincere believer live under the same (Old) covenant. This is pretty basic stuff really, milk rather than meat, but I am sometimes alarmed at how many do not seem to grasp this.

The principle, and indeed law, never to charge interest on loans to fellow Israelites can be found therein (in the OT, that is), and I think that we can and should apply that in situations in which one Christian may offer a loan to another believer - no interest should be charged in such a situation! I think that to be a fair application. Yet, quite obviously, if that Christian is employed by a major bank, he would not have the right to adopt this practice as an officer of that bank, only on a private, personal level.

There is also the matter of the Jubilee year in Israel in which, every 50th year, all debts would be cancelled, the slate simply wiped clean. That was absolutely fine back then, but could it be done now? I am not totally convinced that it could. It would probably mean that no loans would be offered up to five years before the Jubilee Year, by the cynical modern banker! I am not convinced one way or the other on this point, my mind is open. I have heard Christians argue both ways. I have heard the argument that the Jubilee Year would solve the modern debt/banking crisis, and, also, the argument that that system could only work in a small agragrian society (which Israel was). But - for sure - there is a spiritual principle here of a willingness to cancel debt wherever possible! Is that not what our Lord did for us? So the underlying principle is certainly biblical. Having said that, the 50-year Jubilee was specifically only applicable to Israel.

I have also heard it argued (almost invariably by Americans) that tithing is "God's way to support the church." Interestingly, there is absolutely no New Testament support for such an assertion and I am not convinced. Tithing was a very old system which predated the Israelites, It seems that the Lord simply showed the Israelites a system which - in their particular situation - could be used to support the Levite Priesthood and 'the church in the wilderness.' But more than that is never biblically claimed for tithing and it seems clear that neither Paul nor - as far as we know - any of the other Apostles ever taught the early Christians to tithe. So absolutely nobody - that is, who really knows the Scriptures - should ever make the claim that "tithing is God's way to support the church." That has no biblical foundation whatsoever! Several comments are made in the New Testament - primarily by Paul - which reveal that the early church clearly did not tithe. One must therefore assume that they were not encouraged to do so. I will not pursue that here since we have gone into the matter in much more detail elsewhere, here for example.

So to sum all of this up, generally speaking, it is wise to avoid borrowing and lending yet, in some circumstances, Christians would be eager to lend to a Christian brother or sister who needs a little help; in such a case, no interest should be charged. That is good and fine. But we also should note that our modern western society functions in such a manner that, unless one is wealthy, borrowing or lending cannot always be avoided. The Holy Bible has much to say on finance and on wise stewardship and it is always good to consult such Scriptures on a regular basis to see where there are lessons to be learned but we should never forget that revelation is progressive; never use a somewhat obscure Old Testament text to overturn a clear New Testament principle and teaching.
Robin A. Brace. July 25th, 2011.