One helpful way to step ‘beyond the Bible’ faithfully responds to the first issue we considered in the previous post. It is also hidden in how I presented the problem.
When moving from the message of a biblical passage for its intended recipients (the message back then) and its message for us we noticed the importance of identifying the theological idea or principle that that message expressed or on which it was based. In the examples concerned with charging interest in the previous post, perhaps we can take this idea of identifying the theological idea or principle a step further and mitigate our issue. What is the direction in which the biblical teaching was pointing? What was/were its goal(s)?
When considering Bible teaching on interest it is probably helpful to know a little of the socio-economic background to lending and borrowing in the ancient world. In the period before money, 1 Roughly from 600BC – conveniently about the time of the Babylonian exile. and even for some long time after, ‘interest’ in our modern sense (e.g. 5% per year) was not charged. Rather one ‘borrowed’ the item, and then repaid it after the agreed period with an added amount. This added amount was known as neshek. from a word meaning ‘bite’.
In normal lending between family and friends (or neighbours in the village) one does not expect such a ‘bite’ – though sometimes a token one is given, when I lend my chainsaw to a guy from church I am often happy to receive it back with the petrol tank full :)
In loaning larger amounts (or for loans that were not within a community relationship) the ‘bite’ could be large usually 20% per year. An amount that could easily drive a poor borrower into slavery.
The Bible passages seem to be addressing such ‘friendly’ or community lending, not the business of lending. So Ex 22:25 speaks of lending ‘to one of my people among you who is needy’, the situation in Lev 25:36 is setup in Lev 25:35 ‘If any of your kin fall into difficulty…’
The goal here seems to be to avoid profiting from helping someone who is disadvantaged. We can be far from sure that if Moses were delivering God’s laws for the 21stC he would say ‘Do not take interest’ as most translations render Lev 25:36, but for sure he would abject to profiting from others misfortunes.
But that’s not ‘going beyond the Bible!
At this point some may object that this is not ‘going beyond the Bible, but merely identifying what the biblical text ‘was really saying’. To them I’d say, notice what we have done, we have moved from ‘Do not take interest ‘ (Lev 25:36 ) to ‘do not profit from those who are needy’.
That may be a small step for someone, but it is a huge leap for humanity! Because it keeps God’s word living and active today – and probably all my readers can think of examples in their town where people do profit from the needy. If you can’t just examine the effect of your desire for lower prices in the supermarket on the people enslaved to make the Thai fishing industry ‘competitive’!
Nor does it solve all the difficulties
The other objection is that this approach only solves a small proportion of our needs. Of course this is true, but in something as necessary yet dangerous as ‘going beyond the Bible’ small steps are significant.
|↑ 1||Roughly from 600BC – conveniently about the time of the Babylonian exile.|