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Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. —Romans 13:8 (ESV)

The most immediately obvious exegesis of this verse would be to take it to be prohibiting monetary debt. However, in the preceding verses, Paul is not so much discoursing on money as on obedience to authority. Verse 7 is particularly important to understanding 8:

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. (ESV)

Thus, on a closer look, it seems that verse 8 is not focusing on taking loans. But even though I don't take that to be the focus, the question remains, to what degree or in what manner does it apply to loans? What clues do we have from chapter 13, the rest of Romans, or the wider body of Paul's writings to determine whether Paul is speaking hyperbolically as a segway into a discourse on love, or whether these words are to be attended to literally?

At face value, this is a very strong statement—but I want to be careful to interpret in the full light of context.

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Fabulous question –  swasheck Sep 29 '12 at 15:09
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Without any broader context my first reaction to these verses is that he's saying "don't delay payment" (possibly hearkening back to torah passages requiring that workers be paid the same day). –  Gone Quiet Sep 30 '12 at 1:34
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The answer is in verse 13:11, "In all this, remember how critical the moment is...". That generation lived in a state of heightened Messianic expectation, of final judgement, a kind of unscheduled Yom Kippur. Paul's exhortations are in this context. He is telling people to "put their houses in order" as Tacitus would say, square their books, avoid distractions, to rise to the occasion. Some of the teachings of 12 and 13 would probably be the same without this imminent expectation, but others likely not. For example, if Paul knew that we would have to contend with a protracted period of Communist rule, or Nazi rule for that matter, then verse 13:1 would probably be drafted differently.

Regarding verse 7, the question is whether the first clause of the verse refers specifically to financial obligations or to obligations in general, as indicated by other translations such as the Cambridge NEB.

Paul himself comes from a tradition of charity, as indicated in 12:13. An important part of this tradition was granting interest-free loans to the needy.

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So too, this generation is (and many generations have been) living in heightened messianic expectation. So much so, that many messianic expectators/spectators have indulged in despoiling the environment believing that there is no point in conserving the planet - nonchalantly consequently killing millions thro climate change because a messiah is coming to repair the planet and because their messiah says that they will always have the poor. –  Blessed Geek Sep 30 '12 at 20:20
    
@BlessedGeek: Well, this isn't exactly what I had in mind. Paul lived in tumultuous times that were hard to comprehend and had himself witnessed miracles. He was by all accounts a responsible leader. –  Eli Rosencruft Oct 1 '12 at 16:35
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