The first bankruptcy law
There was no such thing as bankruptcy in Ancient Greece. If a man owed money and couldn’t pay it back, he and his family, including his wife, children, and servants, were placed into “debt slavery” until the creditor recouped his losses via physical work.
According to the Torah, or Old Testament, every seventh year is a Sabbatical year, during which all community debts must be forgiven, but not those due by “foreigners.” However, every 49th year, at the Year of Jubilee, all debts must be forgiven, both for fellow community members and for foreigners, as well as all debt-slaves. The sounding of trumpets throughout Israel heralds the start of the Year of Jubilee.
An insolvent person was deemed to be permitted time to pay back his debt under Islamic teaching, according to the Quran. “And if someone is in need, postpone till a better moment.” However, if you give from your right as charity, it is better for you.”
In the years 1557, 1560, 1575, and 1596, Philip II of Spain had to declare four states bankrupt. Spain is the first sovereign nation to declare bankruptcy in history.
The Bankruptcy Act of 1542 in England was the earliest piece of recognized bankruptcy legislation. Bankrupts were seen as criminals, and the Act declared that its goal was to prevent “crafty debtors” from fleeing the country.
In the United States, the United States Constitution, Art. 1, Section 8(4), expressly authorizes bankruptcy.
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
– Jack London
WHAT ARE THE LESSONS OF OUR RELIGIOUS TEXTS FOR US?
Many of my clients are ashamed and self-conscious about the prospect of declaring bankruptcy.
I remind them that the Bible advocates debt forgiveness and that our bankruptcy rules are based on this idea. Since Moses’ time, there has been a philosophy of consumer protection —
• Do not mistreat any widows or orphans.
• If you lend money to a poor person, do not charge any interest.
• Do not mistreat any foreigners among you.
• Leave part of your harvest in the fields for the poor to glean.
• Do not spread false rumors.
• Do not give false testimony in court.
• Make no false accusations.
• Do not accept bribes.
• If you take a poor man’s cloak as surety for a loan, give it back to him when he needs it to keep warm.
• If your enemy’s animal is running loose, return it safely to him.
Leviticus – “If a fellow Israelite living near you becomes poor and cannot support himself, charge no interest on any money you lend him and take no profit on any food you sell him.”
There are numerable Biblical references regarding the evils of greed (Proverbs 30:15, 1:19; Luke 11:39; 1 Timothy 6:10, 3:3, 6:10).
We are stewards of God’s wealth, according to Scripture. As a result, misusing, squandering, or misappropriating it would constitute a sin. This isn’t to say that interest isn’t a valid expense. Excessive interest charge, on the other hand, is usury, which is a kind of robbery. (Proverbs 11:26; 1Timothy 6:17; Luke 19:46; Matthew 21:10-17). This sin created excessive consumerism that gave birth to a false god in violation of the First Commandment.*
God gave us this wisdom in the Bible: “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” (Romans, Chapter 13, Verse 8.)