Jubilee and Social Justice
Michael A. Harbin
**The following paper is reprinted with permission of the Evangelical Theological Society and was originally published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.**
In the United States, the biblical year of Jubilee has long been associated with issues of social justice. During the nineteenth century, the focus was on slavery as reflected by a number of Civil War era songs. This seemed to be a very logical connection since one of the parameters of the year of Jubilee was the directive to “proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev 25:10 NASB), a phrase understood by many abolitionists as referring to the freeing of slaves. More recently, the subsequent phrase in the Leviticus passage for “each of you” to return to “his own property” in the year of Jubilee has been used as an argument for “redistribution of wealth.” Ron Sider calls this the “Jubilee Principle” and uses the year of Jubilee as an important underlying principle for his view of Christian social justice. This Jubilee principle has been expanded in a number of directions, perhaps most notably in terms of international debt. Jubilee 2000 called for the cancellation of third world debt by the year 2000 claiming that in the biblical year of Jubilee, “all debts are cancelled.” In the same vein, Jubilee USA Network advocates what it calls “Jubilee justice,” which it defines as the forgiveness of international debt.
This raises a number of questions regarding Christian social justice. The present paper focuses on just two: “Is this concept of social justice a valid understanding of the OT institution of Jubilee?” and “Is the OT institution of Jubilee applicable today?”
Michael A. Harbin (ThD and ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is the chair of the biblical studies, Christian education, and philosophy department at Taylor University. The author of To Serve Other Gods, Michael lives in Upland, Indiana.