What Does The Bible Say About Interest?

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The question of interest, long a topic of debate among economists, politicians, and theologians alike, is one which the Bible illuminates from various perspectives. In a world where moneylending and borrowing are common, it is vital to understand the biblical take on this matter.

Understanding the Concept of Interest in Biblical Times

The concept of interest, as understood during biblical times, is quite different from the prevalent notions of the term today. Interest, in the olden sense, was broadly related to the idea of usury – providing a loan and charging the borrower upon repayment.

In order to fully comprehend the significance of interest in biblical times, it is essential to explore the role of money in ancient societies. Money, in these societies, held a function much more than that of a mere medium of exchange or a storehouse of value. It was a tool intricately tied to honor, respect, and social status – principles held sacrosanct. Additionally, money was deemed a stewardship from God, to be employed with caution and care.

Loans, therefore, were often seen as an act of kindness or charity to those in need. The lending of money was considered a way to assist others in times of hardship or to support entrepreneurial endeavors. However, the charging of exorbitant interest rates was frowned upon as exploitative practices by the rich on the poor. This gave rise to the moral and religious dilemma associated with interest.

The Biblical Perspective on Lending and Borrowing

Throughout the Bible, lending and borrowing hold a significant space within its social teachings. As the Scriptures often portrayed, lending was seen as an act of neighborly love, a way to extend a helping hand to those in need. However, drawing a profit from this act seemed contrary to the spirit of charity.

Passages in both the Old and New Testaments express discontent towards the interest-charging practices of the time. These passages highlight the importance of treating others with fairness and compassion, urging individuals to consider the well-being of their neighbors above personal gain. It is clear that the biblical perspective on lending and borrowing emphasized the principles of justice and mercy.

However, it is crucial to understand these views in their original context and socio-cultural environments. The economic systems of biblical times were vastly different from those of the present day. The lending and borrowing practices were deeply intertwined with the social fabric and religious beliefs of the communities.

Exploring the concept of interest in biblical times provides us with valuable insights into the historical and cultural context of financial transactions. It allows us to reflect on the evolution of economic principles and the moral considerations associated with money. By understanding the biblical perspective on lending and borrowing, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of interest and its impact on society.

Old Testament Views on Interest

The Old Testament’s view on money lending and interest forms the ancient backbone of biblical financial wisdom. Its stress on just economics, fair trade, and protection of the vulnerable against exploitation contribute to its ethical insights on interest.

Interest in the Book of Exodus

In the book of Exodus, the Mosaic law clearly prohibits the charging of interest to a fellow Israelite in need. The reasoning being, a loan was often an act of mercy, and charging interest was akin to exploiting a brother’s hardship.

However, understanding the context of this prohibition is crucial. The Old Testament’s prohibition on interest specifically addressed an aberrant form of interest – exorbitant or usurious rates that could ensnare the needy in a cycle of debt. The intention behind this prohibition was to protect the vulnerable and ensure economic justice within the community.

Furthermore, the prohibition on charging interest to fellow Israelites did not extend to foreigners. This distinction reflected the Israelites’ responsibility to care for their own community while allowing for fair and just economic interactions with those outside their tribe.

Proverbs and Interest: Wisdom Literature’s Take

The literature of Proverbs offers a wealth of wisdom on a range of life topics, including finance. Its advice consistently backs ethical dealings and warns against exploitative practices. “Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor,” warns Proverbs 28:8.

This verse highlights the interconnectedness of wealth and social responsibility. It emphasizes that accumulating wealth through exploitative means, such as charging excessive interest to the poor, ultimately benefits others who will show kindness to the poor. This aligns with the overall biblical theme of responsibility towards less fortunate neighbors and the importance of fair economic practices.

Proverbs also emphasizes the importance of generosity and compassion towards the less fortunate. It encourages lending without expecting anything in return, particularly when lending to the poor. Proverbs 19:17 states, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”

These passages from Proverbs reinforce the Old Testament’s emphasis on just economics and the ethical treatment of others, particularly those in vulnerable positions. They serve as a guide for individuals to approach financial transactions with fairness, compassion, and a mindset of helping those in need.

New Testament Interpretations of Interest

The New Testament’s teachings on interest, often forthright and compelling, provide an enlightening perspective on the practice.

Jesus’ Parables Involving Interest

Jesus’ parables convey complex spiritual truths through simple, everyday analogies. In the ‘Parable of the Talents’, the master appears dissatisfied with the servant who fails to even invest his money with bankers to earn interest (Matthew 25:27).

This does not mean Jesus endorsed usury, but suggests a prudent use of resources allotted to us.

Paul’s Letters and the Discussion of Interest

In his letters, the Apostle Paul never specifically addresses interest. However, he upholds principles of generosity, honesty, and consideration for the welfare of others – values that align with a balanced and careful approach to money lending and borrowing.

Paul’s teachings, while not directly concerning interest, promote a spirit of fairness in dealing with personal finances.

Theological Interpretations of Biblical Passages on Interest

The translation from scripture to doctrine has witnessed diverse interpretations of the biblical texts concerning interest. These interpretations have evolved over time, reflecting the changing social, economic, and theological contexts.

Catholic Church’s Stance on Interest

For many centuries, the Catholic Church maintained a firm stand against usury, often associated with charging any interest at all. This largely stemmed from their interpretation of biblical passages on lending and borrowing, and the ethical implications derived from them.

One of the key biblical passages that influenced the Catholic Church’s stance on interest is found in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 22:25, it is written, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.” This verse was interpreted by the Church as a prohibition on charging interest, as it was seen as exploitative and oppressive towards the poor.

However, in recent centuries, with the development of modern banking systems and economies, the Church started differentiating between usury and reasonable interest rates in keeping with the changing times. The understanding of interest shifted from being inherently sinful to being a necessary component of economic transactions.

Protestant Reformation and the Change in Views on Interest

The Protestant Reformation, led by figures like Martin Luther and John Calvin, represented a revised approach to Christian theology and consequently, interest. While Luther largely agreed with the Catholic stance against usury, Calvin’s views on interest were more nuanced.

Calvin differentiated between usury and justifiable interest. For him, modest interest rates were acceptable, especially when the lender bore a risk. He believed that lending money to support productive ventures and economic growth was not only permissible but also beneficial for society as a whole. This marked a departure from the strict prohibition of interest that had been prevalent in the Catholic Church for centuries.

In his influential work, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” Calvin argued that charging interest was not inherently sinful, but rather, the intention and purpose behind lending determined its moral character. He emphasized the importance of justice and fairness in financial transactions, highlighting the need for lenders to consider the well-being of the borrower and the overall welfare of society.

These theological interpretations of biblical passages on interest continue to shape the perspectives of various Christian denominations and individuals today. The discussions around interest reflect the ongoing dialogue between religious teachings, social realities, and ethical considerations in the realm of finance and economics.

Modern Christian Views on Interest

Modern Christian perspectives on interest represent a wide range of views. From outright rejection of any interest, to acceptance of interest within thought-through ethical constraints, Christianity today acknowledges the complexity of the interest dilemma.

The Ethics of Interest in Today’s Economy

In a world where interest-driven banking forms the backbone of national economies, the absolute prohibition of interest seems unrealistic. Many Christian thinkers now advocate for ethical lending practices — moderate interest rates, transparency of terms, consideration of the borrowers’ circumstances — thereby condemning exploitative usury, but permitting reasonable interest.

These nuances in Christian ethics of interest reflect an attempt to balance biblical teachings with the realities of modern economy.

Balancing Faith and Finance in the 21st Century

Striving to live out faith authentically in a complex, profit-driven world often challenges Christians. When it comes to interest, the challenge is to engage in and foster fair lending practices that do not exploit the vulnerable.

Re-examining the Bible’s teachings on interest in the light of current developments can offer invaluable insights on ethically navigating our financial interactions in the 21st century.

Ultimately, the principal biblical call remains unaltered – to act in love, integrity, and with a keen sense of justice.


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