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Is Loan Forgiveness Biblical?

“Taxation is theft!” is an enchanting rallying cry, but it is not nuanced enough to be fully embraced by Christians.

We have evidence in Scripture to be leery of taxation and its ability to be abused. The Bible suggests that even moderate taxation is akin to slavery (1 Samuel 8:15-18), and the sphere of civil government as defined by Scripture is very small (Romans 13:1-7).

That said, the Bible does not teach that all taxation is theft.

Not only was the Old Covenant economy established using taxation, but even in the New Testament Paul speaks of some taxation approvingly:

“For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed”

–Romans 13:6-7

This makes developing a modern “Christian theory of economics” difficult.

I do not pretend to be an expert. As a pastor, my expertise must be Word and Sacrament, not economic policy. But it doesn’t take an expert to spot obvious outliers. Some things are clearly beyond the pale, and President Biden’s recent Student Loan Forgiveness is an example of just that.

There is no justice in penalizing people who responsibly paid off their debts. There is nothing good or biblical about forcing people to pay for student loan debts who chose not to even go to college themselves.

As Paul understands in Romans 13, taxation offers a benefit to the taxpayer. We pay taxes for roads and police with obvious benefits not only to the community as a whole but to each individual.

Taxing all Americans to pay debts of the few does not benefit the community or the individual taxpayer. That sounds an awful lot like theft.

Sadly, against all of these common sense objections, there have been many attempts to Christianize loan forgiveness. Some have argued it’s a simple display of Christian grace, while others have more specifically tied it to the Old Testament Year of Jubilee where all debts were forgiven.

There are many reasons why these connections are spurious.

Freely forgiving debt is certainly a Christian characteristic, but forcing others to pay debt is not how the Bible presents forgiveness to us. When God forgives us our spiritual debts (Colossians 2:14) He does so as the one to Whom the debt is owed. He provides an alternative payment, and pays our debts Himself. This is not what Biden is doing.

The lenders are not eating the debt or finding a way to pay for it themselves. Rather, third parties who are neither lenders nor debtors are contributing to payment. Worse, they are doing it against their will.

The year of Jubilee is not analogous to this situation either–for the same reason. During the year of Jubilee, a tax was not levied to forgive debts. The lenders were forced to eat the debt themselves.

There is also an embarrassing hypocrisy among many who are appealing to Old Testament Laws to ground the justice of these taxes. If we want to establish a theonomic society based on the Laws of Moses, I will gladly assent. But we cannot pick and choose from Moses arbitrarily. If we want the year of Jubilee, fine, but we cannot take it without also taking the death penalty laws which apply to behaviors like adultery and homosexuality (Leviticus 20:10-21).

No Christian should support Biden’s plan to force unwilling taxpayers to pay off other people’s debts. Forgiving debts that people freely agreed to pay themselves is simple injustice. In this case, taxation is theft.

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