|Easton's Bible Dictionary|
The Mosaic law encouraged the practice of lending (Deuteronomy 15:7; Psalm 37:26; Matthew 5:42); but it forbade the exaction of interest except from foreigners. Usury was strongly condemned (Proverbs 28:8; Ezek. 18:8, 13, 17; 22:12; Psalm 15:5). On the Sabbatical year all pecuniary obligations were cancelled (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). These regulations prevented the accumulation of debt.
Noah Webster's Dictionary
1. (n.) That which is due from one person to another, whether money, goods, or services; that which one person is bound to pay to another, or to perform for his benefit; thing owed; obligation; liability.
2. (n.) A duty neglected or violated; a fault; a sin; a trespass.
3. (n.) An action at law to recover a certain specified sum of money alleged to be due.
Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia
det, det'-er: It is difficult nowadays to think of debt without associating with it the idea of interest, and even usury. Certain it is that this idea is associated with the Old Testament idea of the word, at least in the later period of Old Testament history. This is true of the New Testament entire. The Hebrew word (neshi) always carries with it the idea of "biting interest" (compare 2 Kings 4:7). The Greek words daneion (Matthew 18:27), and opheile (Matthew 18:32), may point only to the fact of indebtedness; the idea of interest, however, is clearly taught in the New Testament (compare Matthew 25:27).
Quite extensive legislation is provided in the Old Testament governing the matter of debt and debtors. Indebtedness and loaning had not, however, the commercial aspect among the Jews so characteristic of the nations surrounding Palestine. Indeed the Mosaic legislation was seemingly intended to guard against just such commercialism. It was looked upon as a misfortune to be in debt; it indicated poverty brought on probably by blighted harvests; consequently those in debt were to be looked upon with pity and dealt with in leniency. There must be no oppression of the poor under such circumstances (Exodus 22:25 Deuteronomy 23:19, 20 Ezekiel 18:18). Even where a pledge is given and received, certain restrictions are thrown around it, e.g. the creditor must not take a mill, nor a necessary garment, nor a widow's ox, etc., in pledge (Exodus 22:25-27 Deuteronomy 24:6, 10-13 Job 22:6 Amos 2:8). And further, the pledge is to be restored in some instances "before the sun goeth down" (Exodus 22:26, 27), and in all cases full redemption in the seventh and jubilee years (Nehemiah 10:31, etc.). The Jews were strictly exhorted to take no interest at all from their own nation (Exodus 22:25 Deuteronomy 23:19, 20). Strangers, however, might be charged interest (ibid.). A devout Jew would not lend money to another Jew on interest.
It would seem that as Israel came into contact with the surrounding nations, debt became increasingly a commercial matter. The Mosaic laws regarding clemency toward the poor who were compelled for the time being to become debtors were utterly disregarded, and the poor were oppressed by the rich. An illustration of the severity with which debtors came to be dealt with is to be found in 2 Kings 4:1-7, in which, because of the inability of a widow to pay a small debt contracted by her dead husband, the woman complains to the prophet that the creditors have come to sell her two children in order that the debt might be paid. Strangely the prophet, while helping the widow by miraculously multiplying the oil in order that the debt might be paid, says nothing by way of condemnation of such conduct on the part of the creditors. Are we to understand by this that commercialism had already so powerful a grip upon Israel that even to a prophet the practice had come to seem proper, or at least expected? The debtor himself or his family might be sold for debt, or the debtor might become a slave for a certain length of time until the debt was paid (Leviticus 25:39, 47 Isaiah 50:1). So oppressive had the commercial system in Israel become that the debtor cursed the creditor and the creditor the debtor (Jeremiah 15:10). Sometimes debtors were outlawed, as in the case of the men who came to David in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:2). That the matter of borrowing and lending had assumed very grievous proportions is evident from the very sharp warnings concerning the matter in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 6:1; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 20:16, etc.).
The teaching of the New Testament on this subject is confined very largely to the parables of our Lord. Some think that the expression, "Owe no man anything" (Romans 13:8), is an absolute warning against indebtedness. Quite a noticeable advance in the matter of debts and debtors is noticed as we enter the time of the New Testament. We read of bankers, exchangers, moneychangers, interest, investments, usury (Matthew 25:16-27 John 2:13-17). The taking of interest does not seem to be explicitly condemned in the New Testament. The person of the debtor, as well as his family and lands, could be seized for non-payment of debt (Matthew 18:21-26). Indeed, the debtor was often cast into prison and tormented because of non-payment (Matthew 18:30, 34). That compassion and leniency should be exercised toward those in debt is the clear teaching of Christ in the parables of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-35) and the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-43).
Figurative: Debt and debtor are used in a moral sense also as indicating the obligation of a righteous life which we owe to God. To fall short in righteous living is to become a debtor. For this reason we pray, "Forgive us our debts" (Matthew 6:12). Those who are ministered to in spiritual things are said to be debtors to those who minister to them (Romans 15:27). To make a vow to God is to put one's self in debt in a moral sense (Matthew 23:16-18; the Revised Version, margin "bound by his oath"). In a deeply spiritual sense the apostle Paul professed to be in debt to all men in that he owed them the opportunity to do them good (Romans 1:14).
The parables of Jesus as above named are rich with comforting truth. How beautiful is the willingness of God, the great and Divine Creditor, to release us from our indebtedness! Just so ought we to be imitators of the Father in heaven who is merciful.
Debt (48 Occurrences)
Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. (Root in WEB KJV ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Matthew 18:24 And at the start, one came to him who was in his debt for ten thousand talents. (BBE DBY YLT)
Matthew 18:25 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. (See NIV)
Matthew 18:27 The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. (WEB KJV WEY ASV BBE WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Matthew 18:28 But that servant went out, and meeting one of the other servants, who was in debt to him for one hundred pence, he took him by the throat, saying, Make payment of your debt. (BBE)
Matthew 18:30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. (KJV BBE WBS RSV NIV)
Matthew 18:32 Then his lord called him in, and said to him,'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. (WEB KJV WEY ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Matthew 18:34 And his lord was very angry, and put him in the hands of those who would give him punishment till he made payment of all the debt. (BBE RSV)
Luke 7:41 "A certain lender had two debtors. The one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. (Root in WEB KJV WEY ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV)
Luke 7:42 When they were unable to make payment, he made the two of them free of their debts. Which of them, now, will have the greater love for him? (Root in BBE DBY NIV)
Luke 7:43 Simon, in answer, said, It seems he whose debt was greater. And he said, Your decision is right. (BBE NIV)
Luke 11:4 Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'" (Root in WEB KJV ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV)
Luke 16:5 Calling each one of his lord's debtors to him, he said to the first,'How much do you owe to my lord?' (Root in WEB KJV WEY ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Luke 16:7 Then he said to another, What is the amount of your debt? And he said, A hundred measures of grain. And he said to him, Take your account and put down eighty. (BBE)
Acts 24:3 In all things and in all places we are conscious of our great debt to you, most noble Felix. (BBE)
Romans 1:14 I am debtor both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to the wise and to the foolish. (Root in WEB KJV ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT)
Romans 4:4 Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as debt. (WEB KJV WEY ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT)
Romans 8:12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (Root in WEB KJV ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT RSV)
Romans 13:8 Be in debt for nothing, but to have love for one another: for he who has love for his neighbour has kept all the law. (BBE NIV)
Romans 15:27 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 fleshly things. (Root in WEB KJV WEY ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV)
Romans 16:4 Who for my life put their necks in danger; to whom not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are in debt: (BBE)
Colossians 2:14 wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us; and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross; (See NAS)
Philemon 1:18 And if he was ever dishonest or is in your debt, debit me with the amount. (WEY BBE)
Philemon 1:19 I, Paul, writing this myself, say, I will make payment to you: and I do not say to you that you are in debt to me even for your life. (BBE)
Leviticus 6:2 If anyone does wrong, and is untrue to the Lord, acting falsely to his neighbour in connection with something put in his care, or something given for a debt, or has taken away anything by force, or has been cruel to his neighbour, (BBE)
Leviticus 25:10 And let this fiftieth year be kept holy, and say publicly that everyone in the land is free from debt: it is the Jubilee, and every man may go back to his heritage and to his family. (BBE)
Deuteronomy 15:1 At the end of every seven years there is to be a general forgiveness of debt. (BBE NAS NIV)
Deuteronomy 15:3 A man of another nation may be forced to make payment of his debt, but if your brother has anything of yours, let it go; (BBE NIV)
Deuteronomy 24:6 No one is to take, on account of a debt, the stones with which grain is crushed: for in doing so he takes a man's living. (BBE NIV)
Deuteronomy 24:10 If you let your brother have the use of anything which is yours, do not go into his house and take anything of his as a sign of his debt; (BBE YLT)
Deuteronomy 24:17 Be upright in judging the cause of the man from a strange country and of him who has no father; do not take a widow's clothing on account of a debt: (BBE)
1 Samuel 22:2 Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered themselves to him; and he became captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
2 Kings 4:1 Now a certain woman, the wife of one of the sons of the prophets, came crying to Elisha and said, Your servant my husband is dead; and to your knowledge he was a worshipper of the Lord; but now, the creditor has come to take my two children as servants in payment of his debt. (BBE)
2 Kings 4:7 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." (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
Nehemiah 5:3 And there were some who said, We are giving our fields and our vine-gardens and our houses for debt: let us get grain because we are in need. (BBE)
Job 22:6 For you have taken your brother's goods when he was not in your debt, and have taken away the clothing of those who have need of it. (BBE)
Job 24:3 They send away the ass of him who has no father, they take the widow's ox for debt. (BBE)
Job 24:9 The child without a father is forced from its mother's breast, and they take the young children of the poor for debt. (BBE NIV)
Psalms 56:12 I keep the memory of my debt to you, O God; I will give you the offerings of praise. (BBE)
Psalms 66:13 I will come into your house with burned offerings, I will make payment of my debt to you, (BBE)
Proverbs 13:13 He who makes sport of the word will come to destruction, but the respecter of the law will be rewarded. (See NAS)
Proverbs 22:7 The man of wealth has rule over the poor, and he who gets into debt is a servant to his creditor. (BBE)
Jeremiah 15:10 Sorrow is mine, my mother, because you have given birth to me, a cause of fighting and argument in all the earth! I have not made men my creditors and I am not in debt to any, but every one of them is cursing me. (BBE)
Ezekiel 18:7 and has not wronged any, but has restored to the debtor his pledge, has taken nothing by robbery, has given his bread to the hungry, and has covered the naked with a garment; (Root in WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV)
Ezekiel 18:12 Has done wrong to the poor and to him who is in need, and taken property by force, and has not given back to one in his debt what is his, and has given worship to images and has done disgusting things, (BBE)
Ezekiel 18:16 Or done wrong to any, or taken anything from one in his debt, or taken goods by force, but has given food to him who was in need of it, and clothing to him who was without it; (BBE)
Ezekiel 33:15 If the evil-doer lets one who is in his debt have back what is his, and gives back what he had taken by force, and is guided by the rules of life, doing no evil; life will certainly be his, death will not overtake him. (BBE)
Amos 2:8 By every altar they are stretched on clothing taken from those who are in their debt, drinking in the house of their god the wine of those who have made payment for wrongdoing. (BBE)