How many Bible Verses Talk About Debt?
Christians frequently ask: “Does the Bible forbid going into debt?” But the Bible doesn't spend much time talking about this question.
A better question would be, “Does the Bible allow making loans? And if so, what type of loans are allowed.” The Old and New Testaments both answer this question pretty clearly.
This chart breaks down Biblical passages on debt into 5 main categories.
Number of Passages
Lend for charity & generosity, not profit
Don't co-sign for a loan
Debt as spiritual analogy
The most common thing the Bible says about debt is that lenders should lend for generosity, not for profit. This includes the Mosaic Law’s prohibition of charging interest. Over 50% of the Biblical references to debt fall into this category. These statements come from almost every genre of Biblical literature: the Law, Historical Books, Prophets, and Gospels.
Jesus summarizes the entire Bible’s attitude towards debt, borrowing, and money in this statement:
I tell you, make for yourselves friends by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when you fail, they may receive you into the eternal tents. 10 He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. He who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? (Luke 16:9–11)
This was the take-home lesson Jesus gave after telling the Parable of the Dishonest Manager in Luke 16:1-8.
In contrast, consider the command to "avoid debt." This is the most common thing Christian financial teachers focus on. But this category makes up just 5-6% of Biblical passages on debt. Furthermore, even those few passages are not black-and-white commands to avoid debt. More on this later.
The Bible Says Debt is For Charity
Making loans is meant to be an act of generosity, not a way to make money or engage in business.
What Does the Mosaic Law Say About Debt?
The Law was clear that charging interest is wrong. In fact, no lending with the intention of profiting from the debtor was allowed. (With the possible exception of lending to foreigners.)
Some people argue that these commands should be translated "do not charge usury," where usury is "excessive interest." But this is unlikely, as we will see by considering all of these passages in context.
- If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor. You shall not charge him interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s garment as collateral, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down, 27 for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What would he sleep in? It will happen, when he cries to me, that I will hear, for I am gracious. (Exodus 22:25–27)
- If your brother has become poor, and his hand can’t support himself among you, then you shall uphold him. He shall live with you like an alien and a temporary resident. 36 Take no interest from him or profit; but fear your God, that your brother may live among you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. (Leviticus 25:35–37)
- You shall not lend on interest to your brother: interest of money, interest of food, interest of anything that is lent on interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest; but you shall not charge your brother interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you put your hand to, in the land where you go in to possess it. (Deuteronomy 23:19–20)
Accepting collateral for loans was usually ok. But it was to be avoided when the debtor is very poor, like the widow in this example:
True justice must be given to foreigners living among you and to orphans, and you must never accept a widow’s garment as security for her debt. 18 Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from your slavery. That is why I have given you this command. (Deuteronomy 24:17–18, NLT)
What Does the Wisdom Literature Say About Debt?
The Psalms and Proverbs echo this view about debt and interest.
- O LORD, who shall dwell in your sanctuary? Who shall live on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right, and speaks truth in his heart; 3 he who doesn’t slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his friend, nor casts slurs against his fellow man; 4 in whose eyes a vile man is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; he who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and doesn’t change; 5 he who doesn’t lend out his money for usury, nor take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be shaken. (Psalm 15:1–5)
- The wicked borrow, and don’t pay back, but the righteous give generously. (Psalm 37:21)
- All day long he deals graciously, and lends. His offspring is blessed. (Psalm 37:26)
- It is well with the man who deals graciously and lends. He will maintain his cause in judgment. (Psalm 112:5)
- He who increases his wealth by excessive interest gathers it for one who has pity on the poor. (Proverbs 28:8)
What Did Jesus Say About Debt?
Jesus affirmed the same view of debt described in the Law, Prophets (next section), and Wisdom Literature. We already quoted Jesus statement to "make friends for yourself" using this world's goods. The following sayings of Jesus make this point even more clear.
- Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)
- Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)
- If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. (Luke 6:34–35)
The Law Says to Forgive All Debts Every 7 Years
This stance toward debt as charity is even more striking when we consider the sabbatical laws. In addition to allowing the land and people to rest, every 7th year was a time for forgiving debts.
At the end of every seven years, you shall cancel debts. 2 This is the way it shall be done: every creditor shall release that which he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not require payment from his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’s release has been proclaimed.
3 Of a foreigner you may require it; but whatever of yours is with your brother, your hand shall release. 4 However there will be no poor with you (for the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess) 5 if only you diligently listen to the LORD your God’s voice, to observe to do all this commandment which I command you today. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. You will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.
7 If a poor man, one of your brothers, is with you within any of your gates in your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, which he lacks. 9 Beware that there not be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,” and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing; and he cry to the LORD against you, and it be sin to you. 10 You shall surely give, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because it is for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you put your hand to. (Deuteronomy 15:1–10)
The Bible Says Disobedience Of The Debt Laws Is A Serious Offense
We've already mentioned several Biblical genres. Next we hit two more: the Prophets and Historical Books. These two genres have a lot to say about disobedience of the debt laws.
What Did the Prophets Say About Debt?
As usual, the Prophets make the most extreme, even hyperbolic, statements about debt. Amos and Ezekiel both put making loans for profit on the same level as sexual sin. The mechanism for this sinful profit could be through charging interest (Ezekiel) or taking possession of the debtor's collateral (Amos).
Habbakuk is not as specific, saying that the lender has taken "that which is not his." The debtors will eventually rise up to give testimony against their unrighteous lender:
- The LORD says: “For three transgressions of Israel, yes, for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they have sold the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals; 7 They trample the heads of the poor into the dust of the earth and deny justice to the oppressed. A man and his father use the same maiden, to profane my holy name. 8 They lay themselves down beside every altar on clothes taken in pledge. In the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined. (Amos 2:6–8)
- One has committed abomination with his neighbor’s wife, and another has lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law. Another in you has humbled his sister, his father’s daughter. 12 In you have they taken bribes to shed blood. You have taken interest and increase, and you have greedily gained of your neighbors by oppression, and have forgotten me,” says the Lord the LORD. (Ezekiel 22:11–12)
- Won’t all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, ‘Woe to him who increases that which is not his, and who enriches himself by extortion! How long?’ 7 Won’t your debtors rise up suddenly, and wake up those who make you tremble, and you will be their victim? (Habakkuk 2:6–7)
The Prophets' most comprehensive passage on debt is Ezekiel 18. This is a long one, so let’s break it up section by section. Notice the bold text which highlights the parts of this prophecy that deal with sins related to debt.
Suppose a certain man is righteous and does what is just and right.
- 6 He does not feast in the mountains before Israel’s idols or worship them.
- He does not commit adultery or have intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period.
- 7 He is a merciful creditor, not keeping the items given as security by poor debtors.
- He does not rob the poor but instead gives food to the hungry and provides clothes for the needy.
- 8 He grants loans without interest,
- stays away from injustice,
- is honest and fair when judging others,
9 and faithfully obeys my decrees and regulations. Anyone who does these things is just and will surely live, says the Sovereign Lord. 10 But suppose that man has a son who grows up to be
- a robber or murderer and refuses to do what is right. 11 And that son does all the evil things his father would never do—
- he worships idols on the mountains,
- commits adultery,
- 12 oppresses the poor and helpless,
- steals from debtors by refusing to let them redeem their security,
- worships idols,
- commits detestable sins,
- 13 and lends money at excessive interest.
Should such a sinful person live? No! He must die and must take full blame. 14 But suppose that sinful son, in turn, has a son who sees his father’s wickedness and decides against that kind of life. 15 This son
- refuses to worship idols on the mountains and does not commit adultery.
- 16 He does not exploit the poor, but instead is fair to debtors and does not rob them.
- He gives food to the hungry and provides clothes for the needy. 17 He helps the poor,
- does not lend money at interest,
and obeys all my regulations and decrees. Such a person will not die because of his father’s sins; he will surely live. (Ezekiel 18:5–17, NLT)
The main two issues here are charging interest on loans and keeping the security or collateral for the debt. And again, it should shock us that these debt-related sins are placed on the same level as idolatry, adultery, and murder!
Historical Examples of Disobeying The Debt Laws
Despite these warnings from the prophets, Israel frequently disobeyed the law. The next example takes place after the exile to Babylon. Even though the exile was a direct result of disobeying the law, wealthy Jews who had returned to Israel immediately started disobeying the law again, including the prohibitions against charging interest.
Nehemiah calls this "the hundredth part of the money," although it's not clear if that literally means a 1% interest rate or a general figure of speech referring to interest.
Then there arose a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brothers the Jews. 2 For there were some who said, “We, our sons and our daughters, are many. Let us get grain, that we may eat and live.” 3 There were also some who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses. Let us get grain, because of the famine.” 4 There were also some who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute using our fields and our vineyards as collateral. 5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children as their children. Behold, we bring our sons and our daughters into bondage to be servants, and some of our daughters have been brought into bondage. It is also not in our power to help it, because other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
6 I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. 7 Then I consulted with myself, and contended with the nobles and the rulers, and said to them, “You exact usury, everyone of his brother.” I held a great assembly against them. 8 I said to them, “We, after our ability, have redeemed our brothers the Jews that were sold to the nations; and would you even sell your brothers, and should they be sold to us?”
Then they held their peace, and found not a word to say. 9 Also I said, “The thing that you do is not good. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 I likewise, my brothers and my servants, lend them money and grain. Please let us stop this usury. 11 Please restore to them, even today, their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the grain, the new wine, and the oil, that you are charging them.” (Nehemiah 5:1–11)
Note that Nehemiah and his family was also lending money and grain to needy Jews. The difference is Nehemiah was not charging interest or taking possession of collateral. He was doing it in generosity, not as an opportunity for profit.
After Nehemiah called them out on it, the wealthy Jews resolved to do better in the future:
...and if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and that we would forego the seventh year crops and the exaction of every debt. (Nehemiah 10:31)
This concludes our discussion of the first main set of Bible verses on the topic of debt. These passages generally stated that debt and loans are for the purpose of charity or generosity to the needy. Debt is not intended to be a for-profit enterprise. As the chart at the top of this post shows, a little over 50% of the Bible's references to debt are in this category.
Next we turn to the other things the Bible says about debt. (Or if you've heard enough about debt and want to read about another topic on the Bible and money, check out one of these other articles.)
The Bible Says Cosigning Loans Is Foolish
Six different Proverbs warn against cosigning loans. To cosign a loan means legally obligating yourself to pay back someone else's debt. This can happen when the main debtor has little credit history or low income, so a lender cannot be confident they will repay the loan.
The cosigner tends to be someone who has a personal relationship with the person wanting a loan. The cosigner believes in the ability of their friend or family member to repay that loan, and so they don't worry about being on the hook for the debt.
It sounds generous, but the Bible says this is a foolish thing to do.
- My child, if you have put up security for a friend’s debt or agreed to guarantee the debt of a stranger— 2 if you have trapped yourself by your agreement and are caught by what you said— 3 follow my advice and save yourself, for you have placed yourself at your friend’s mercy. Now swallow your pride; go and beg to have your name erased. 4 Don’t put it off; do it now! Don’t rest until you do. 5 Save yourself like a gazelle escaping from a hunter, like a bird fleeing from a net. (Proverbs 6:1–5, NLT)
- There’s danger in putting up security for a stranger’s debt; it’s safer not to guarantee another person’s debt. (Proverbs 11:15, NLT)
- It’s poor judgment to guarantee another person’s debt or put up security for a friend. (Proverbs 17:18, NLT)
- Get security from someone who guarantees a stranger’s debt. Get a deposit if he does it for foreigners. (Proverbs 20:16, NLT)
- Don’t you be one of those who strike hands, of those who are collateral for debts. 27 If you don’t have means to pay, why should he take away your bed from under you? (Proverbs 22:26–27)
- A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge; but the simple pass on, and suffer for it. 13 Take his garment when he puts up collateral for a stranger. Hold it for a wayward woman! (Proverbs 27:12–13)
This last proverb needs a little more explanation. It’s asking you to get security or a deposit from someone, which seems to contradict the previous Proverbs.
By the way...
I usually prefer to stick with one version of the Bible. Almost always this means using the ESV or public-domain WEB throughout the post. I think it helps to avoid biases that are introduced by picking and choosing my favorite version for each quote.
This post is an exception. Most passages in this post use the WEB, but I've used the NLT for a handful of them. For this post, I believe this approach helps simplify the language. Many versions often use "security" or several other debt-related words without explicitly saying "debt."
In most debt-related contexts, the NLT is more uniform in using the word debt explicitly, and I think that helps add to the clarity of this post's Bible quotes.
The Bible Says It's Better Not To Be In Debt
We already quoted Deuteronomy 15:1-10, which included a brief statement in 15:6 that fits this topic: "For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. You will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you." This certainly implies it's better to be a lender than a borrower, but it wasn't the main point of that passage.
The next quote from Romans is similar. This statement came at the end of Paul's exhortation against rebelling against the authorities. He wanted Christians to pay taxes and generally live quiet lives by obeying the secular authorities (as long as their laws did not violate God's law).
He tells them to pay their taxes, customs, and other non-monetary "debts" like giving respect and honor where it's due. Some Christian teachers over-emphasize this verse as a binding prohibition against taking on debt. That might be a valid application of the verse...but for me it walks on the edge of taking it out of context.
Therefore give everyone what you owe: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if customs, then customs; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:7–8)
In my opinion, this proverb is the closest the Bible comes to saying debt is bad, stay out of debt at all costs. We don't want to put ourselves into the position of being slaves if we can help it. Therefore, avoid debt, because it sets up a master-servant relationship between you and your creditor.
The rich rule over the poor. The borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)
The Bible Uses Debt To Explain Spiritual Truths
Jesus and Paul both frequently used monetary debt in analogies or parables as an illustration of spiritual debt.
Debt in Paul's Epistles
- If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:10–13)
- Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 Yes, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4 You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:1–4)
The relation to debt in the next passage is a little clearer in the ESV, which replaces “handwriting in ordinances” with “record of debt.” Nonetheless, while the WEB doesn't use debt explicitly, it's still implicit in the argument:
You were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us. He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14)
Debt in Jesus's Parables
The first example is a short parable embedded in a much larger teaching about forgiveness
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” 40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.” “Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.” “That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?” 50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36–50, NLT)
This second example is also used to illustrate the need for forgiveness, this time in response to Peter's question.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he had begun to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!’ 27 The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you!’ 30 He would not, but went and cast him into prison until he should pay back that which was due. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord called him in and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.” (Matthew 18:21–35)
Miscellaneous Bible Verses That Mention Debt
For completeness I’m finishing this article with five other passages that reference debt. These don’t contain any overarching theme or commands about debt. They only mention it in passing as part of a larger story where debt is not really the main point.
- David therefore departed from there and escaped to Adullam’s cave. When his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 Everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered themselves to him; and he became captain over them. There were with him about four hundred men. (1 Samuel 22:1–2)
- Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead. You know that your servant feared the LORD. Now the creditor has come to take for himself my two children to be slaves.” 2 Elisha said to her, “What should I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She said, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a pot of oil.” 3 Then he said, “Go, borrow empty containers from all your neighbors. Don’t borrow just a few containers. 4 Go in and shut the door on you and on your sons, and pour oil into all those containers; and set aside those which are full.” 5 So she went from him, and shut the door on herself and on her sons. They brought the containers to her, and she poured oil. 6 When the containers were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another container.” He said to her, “There isn’t another container.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 Then she came and told the man of God. He said, “Go, sell the oil, and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.” (2 Kings 4:1–7)
- Behold, the LORD makes the earth empty, makes it waste, turns it upside down, and scatters its inhabitants. 2 It will be as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the creditor, so with the debtor; as with the taker of interest, so with the giver of interest. 3 The earth will be utterly emptied and utterly laid waste; for the LORD has spoken this word. (Isaiah 24:1–3)
- Now I don’t desire to have you unaware, brothers, that I often planned to come to you (and was hindered so far), that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am debtor both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So as much as is in me, I am eager to preach the Good News to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:13–15)
- But now, I say, I am going to Jerusalem, serving the saints. 26 For it has been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are at Jerusalem. 27 Yes, it has been their good pleasure, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to serve them in material things. (Romans 15:25–27)
Unless otherwise indicated, Bible verse quotations are from the public domain World English Bible (WEB). The WEB translation of "Yahweh" has been changed to "the LORD" which is more familiar to most readers.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.