Jubilee And Social Justice -- By: Michael A. Harbin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:4 (Dec 2011)
Article: Jubilee And Social Justice
Author: Michael A. Harbin

Jubilee And Social Justice

Michael A. Harbin*

* Michael Harbin is professor of Biblical Studies and chair of the biblical studies, Christian education, and philosophy department at Taylor University, 236 West Reade Avenue, Upland, IN 46989-1001.

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.1 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),2 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.”3 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.4 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.”5 In the same vein, Jubilee USA Network advocates what it calls “Jubilee justice,” which it defines as the forgiveness of international debt.6

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?”

I. The Origin Of The Year Of Jubilee

The year of Jubilee is presented in Lev 25:2-46 as part of the Sabbatical year discussion. According to the Torah (or Pentateuch), Genesis, Exodus, and

Leviticus were given by God at Mt. Sinai (Lev 27:34).7 Within the context of the Torah, the primary purpose of Leviticus itself seemed to be to teach t...

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