Did Christ Condone Usury?

Over the years I’ve had many conversations with fellow Christians about usury. When people find out that I believe the charging of interest is a sin, most folks demand an explanation. I explain my position, spending a good deal of time in the Old Testament. Without fail, the person I am speaking with smiles and says, “now Scott, you make a good argument except you fail to explain why Jesus condones usury in the parable of the talents. My response is simply that Jesus did not condone usury but condemned it! Lets look at the text in Luke 19 verses 21-23.

For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’

And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, [you] wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.

Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’

You see that the wicked servant was “Judged out of his own mouth”. He is saying “look if I’m a wicked austere man who reaps where I do not sow, why did you not put my money out at interest Just Like The Wicked Do”. You see Christ is hardly condoning usury but rather condemning it as sin, just as the rest of the Bible dose!

The notes on Mathew 25:27 from the Geneva Bible are very telling.

Bankers who have their shops or tables set up abroad, where they lend money at interest. Usury or loaning money at interest is strictly forbidden by the Bible, (Exo_22:25-27; Deu_23:19-20). Even a rate as low as one per cent interest was disallowed, (Neh_5:11). This servant had already told two lies. First he said the master was an austere or harsh man. This is a lie for the Lord is merciful and gracious. Next he called his master a thief because he reaped where he did not sow. Finally the master said to him sarcastically why did you not add insult to injury and loan the money out at interest so you could call your master a “usurer” too! If the servant had done this, his master would have been responsible for his servant’s actions and guilty of usury.

I wish the modern church would get up the guts to address this issue. I’m not holding my breath. After most of my usury conversations the person walks off like the rich young ruler, sad because of all the money he has drawing interest. One in ten cares enough to act on the Truth.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting thoughts, Scott. I had always thought that ‘usury’ was ‘excessive interest’ although I am not sure what the definition of ‘excessive’ would be. I will have to take a look into this. I know we have been committed to operating debt free ourselves since returning to Georgia. We had mortgage debt before that.

    At any rate, my main questions would center around the idea of what would the practical application be of this idea/principle. How would we ‘do it right’? What would it look like? How would we prepare the way for our children in this regard?

    Reply

    • Posted by Al Gyorgy on January 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

      Dear Scott,

      You are right more than 100 percent ! Adding some interest to it -:)

      The issue of the interest is the most important question in our usury civilisation.

      Jesus condemns it, that is clear. If he would not have spoken about it, it would be still a sin.
      But he does of course. Bankers gained the power over governments only by the interest system trumping down all human rights for life and happiness.

      The churches mostly are very quiet today concerning bank interest, but you can continue with:

      income tax on labour, property tax on family houses, private concessions of national natural resources so and so, which are all of a kind of violating the 10 commandments, or at least one:
      you shall not steal.
      THANKS !

      Reply

  2. Posted by Dave on January 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    What do you do with the treatment of the other two servants? Do you really think this parable is dealing with monetary policy?
    Just asking.
    peace

    Reply

  3. Posted by mark eugene on January 6, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Mr.Terry,

    Good thoughts. The Reformers aren’t the only ones who came to this. This is seems to be the consistent voice of most Christians at least prior to the Enlightenment. Dante puts usurers prior far down in his conception of hell. The Orthodox and Church Fathers have strong feelings as well. One Orthodox blogger has done a good job compiling quotes and thoughts from Christians throughout history.

    http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2008/12/entries-on-interest-usury-in-1917.html

    This post is interesting as well: http://ancientchristiandefender.blogspot.com/2008/04/calvinism-usury.html

    I would be interested in checking out some of the Early Church fathers reading on that particular passage as well. I never it thought of it that way before.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Scott Terry on January 7, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Stephanie

    The “excessive interest” idea is commonly taught today. It has more to do with what Webster’s dictionary says than what the Bible says.

    We pulled all our money out of any interest drawing accounts and got out of the inflation indexed bonds. I have a friend who called his banks and told them to not pay interest on his money. They thought he was nuts but did it for him. What if we took this money and invested it in like minded saints that were in need of capital? I hear from 18 year old young Christian men that want to start businesses but lack the capital to get started. I think people could be partners, sharing the risk and the profit, with a plan for the young man to buy out your share when they could afford to. I think there is an awful lot of potential use for money that Christians have invested with our enemies, it would be a novel idea to invest in our own people. The fact is, usury oppresses people and we should be about loving our neighbors; even economically.

    Dave

    Not sure what your getting at. Defenders of usury use this passage all the time to “prove” their point, and the text clearly condemns it.

    Mark

    For 1500 years the church catholic has condemned usury. As your second link rightly points out, it was John Calvin who changed the world for the worse with his endorsement of usury in a letter that he never intended to be published. I’ve read the letter and it hardly makes a very good case to change the church’s long standing teaching. This coming from me, a “Calvinist” ! Luther stood strong against usury, writing against the practice often. I have seen some writings by various church fathers against usury but can’t remember the details right now. Thanks for commenting and sharing the links.

    Here is a link that might be helpful to folks. USURY, A Scriptural, Ethical and Economic View
    published in 1902 by the THE ANTI-USURY LEAGUE of Ohio.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21623/21623-h/21623-h.htm

    Reply

  5. Jct: Ezekiel condemned usury on money and excessive interest on cows or grain. The parable of the Talents is a condemnation of the master loanshark. And if the servant were really lazy, he’d have put the money with the bankers and brought back the principal and the interest. Instead, he got called lazy and thumped out though there was a lazy way out. See my exegisis at http://johnturmel.com/poembibl.htm

    Reply

  6. Posted by Matt Colvin on January 9, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Scott, one of Calvin’s arguments was that the schoolmen were mistaken to call money sterile. If this point is granted, there seems to be little moral difference between renting someone’s draught horse or oxen, and renting his money.

    Or do you also oppose rental of equipment? Of houses? Fields?

    I ask sincerely. I have long considered it possible that Calvin was wrong.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Scott Terry on January 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Hi Matt

    As a matter of fact I do oppose rent, and it was Calvin’s letter that had a great deal to do with me coming to that conclusion. I think rent and usury are equally oppressive to the poor.

    Reply

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    Reply

  9. Scott, have you had time to read Belloc’s Economics for Helen yet? I’m interested in your take on his definition of usury. He calls usury interest on a non-productive loan. So capital that is lent in a business venture isn’t the same thing, and the person who lent the capital is entitled to a share of the profits — IOW, a percentage of the profit is his interest in the business. This means that the relationship is much more like a partnership than our current practice.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Scott Terry on January 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Hi Kelly

    Great to hear from you.

    No, I haven’t. I need to get a copy of that book, its been on my list of “to reads” for a while. Sounds interesting and makes sense. One question, Is the person lending the money sharing the risk?

    Reply

    • Well, he stands to lose his whole investment. He gets a percentage of profits, or he loses everything along with the borrower, so I’d call that sharing the risk, which is quite different from the way we do it.

      He illustrates the point by describing a merchant who wants to borrow a ship along with its crew and supplies to make a voyage in which he expects to trade something and come home with a huge profit. The ship owner might agree, but request that he receive half the profit since it was his ship and crew and food et al that allowed the merchant to make the trip in the first place. If the ship is sunk, then they both lose out. If it only turns a small profit, then they each only gain a little.

      If you substitute money for the ship, it’s the same principle operating.

      HTH

      Reply

      • Posted by Scott Terry on January 20, 2010 at 7:54 pm

        Thanks Kelly, that was what I figured you meant and it is much different than how we currently do things. I do have to get a copy of that book. I’m very interested in coming up with real life applications for what we have been discussing. Thanks again for your input!

  11. Posted by al gyorgy on November 26, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I respect Jean Calvin, but Aristotle is right, the money is sterile, because it is nothing else but a legal system, you can say it is the way of distribution wealth in the society.
    We create wealth through our work, and they distribute it by the money and credit system.
    THANKS BE TO GOD , our Lord Jesus Christ turned over the tables of the moneychangers.
    That’s the Lord, I have always wished to serve.

    Reply

  12. St. Thomas in verse 95’s where Jesus said it best:
    “If you have money, do not lend it out at interest,
    Also:
    EZEKIEL
    Ezekiel 3:18 adds responsibility,
    God states his laws for life with his expected certainty:
    “And when I tell the wicked man that “You will surely die,”
    You will be held accountable if you don’t warn the guy?
    But if you speak up and he doesn’t change his wicked way,
    You will have saved yourself and he will be the one to pay.”
    In 18:5: “Suppose a man takes not much interest,
    He takes no usury. He’ll live! His actions I have blessed.
    Suppose he has a son who takes excessive interest,
    And lends at usury. He’ll die! His actions I detest.
    But if this son too has a son who doesn’t do the same,
    He does not take the pledge for loans, his greed he overcame.
    He takes no usury nor interest that is too high,
    He will not die for his father’s sin, the soul that sins will die.
    But if a wicked man turns from the sins he did commit,
    He gives back what he took in pledge. His sins I will acquit.
    Forgotten will be his offences when I come to judge,
    Because of good things he does now, I will not hold a grudge.
    But if a righteous man turns from my law to evil way,
    None of his righteous deeds will count. He’ll die! I do inveigh.
    So cleanse yourselves of all your sins and cease to be such fools,
    I take no pleasure in the death of men who break my rules.”
    Ezekiel declared that usury and interest,
    Could have a different effect, there was a simple test.
    If interest demanded is of something that can breed,
    Such interest is payable and not sin I concede.
    So if you lend a hundred head and ask to get two more,
    That might not be excessive action that he would abhor.
    But if you gain all of the calves and he still owes you some,
    That would be judged excessive. That is more than maximum.
    And if the interest is on some silver or some gold,
    It’s usury because there are no babies to behold!
    It’s interest if principal can breed to multiply,
    It’s usury if principal cannot so classify.

    From: http://johnturmel.com/poembibl.htm and my KingofthePauper youtube videos.

    Reply

  13. Posted by No Stranger on March 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Scott Great Insight,
    The usury you speak of is charging your brother or but not stranger?
    In Deuteronomy 23:19-20
    God Tells the Children of Israel to go and posses the land and charge strangers Usery, but not thy brother.
    19 Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: 20 Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
    Scott who are strangers? And who are our brothers? Is it safe to say a brother is someone who has a relationship with God and calls him Father like you? Is a stranger someone who doesn’t know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and not thy brother?
    This question is merely looking for some insight due to

    Reply

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