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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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Does Romans 13:8 include a prohibition of taking loans?

Short answer NO.

In the gospel of Matthew and Luke, Jesus commands us to lend and to not turn away from (reject) the one that ask to borrow (a lender).


Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42 - BSB)

also;

34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:34–35 - BSB)


Romans 13:8–10 expands on Leviticus 19:9-17 how to love your neighbor. In Leviticus 19:13 You must not defraud your neighbor or rob him. You must not withhold until morning the wages due a hired hand.. The notion being represented in Lev 19:13 You must not defraud your neighbor or rob him. is to not withhold that which belongs to others,

  • Do not defraud your neighbor
  • Do not withhold others belongings

also Exodus 22:25-26 If you lend money to one of My people among you who is poor, you must not act as a creditor to him; you are not to charge him interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as collateral, return it to him by sunset,.

  • Do not take interest

  • Do *not take a pledge when lend (also; Deut 24:6,10-13).

    *not to take a pledge is Gods ultimate will and that one freely lend to his neighbor. This was harder said then done therefore God has commands for what not to take as pledge and when to return it.

If you are able to lend then you lend and if you own and are able to return, then do not withhold that which belongs to others.

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

“Owe no one anything” (verse 8a). In one vers earlier, Romans 13:7 ESV Paul says; 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.

Owe no one anything,” then, continues that thought. The word, “owe” ὀφείλετε strong's G3784 is present tense, which in Greek conveys the sense of continuing action, and could be translated, “Do not keep on owing anyone anything.”

As mentioned above the fact that Jesus permitted borrowing (Matthew 5:42). So we can conclude that Paul was not forbidding Christians nor neighbors or even "enemies" from borrowing or to give loan, but was rather saying that we must settle debts.

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:8-10 - ESV)

“except to love one another” + Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (verse 8b + 10). To love your neighbor, that is being fullfilled by not to defraud, rob, withhold, take interest, lie, steal from them. Let him who has borrow to the one in need without interest and pledge but have faith that God will to him return one way or another and to him that lends to not defraud his neighbor by stealing and lies in return but promptly return what he owes and to do right to his neighbor that is love.

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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. 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. Oct 1 '12 at 16:35

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