14525Re: Usury or the Charging of Interest on Money Lent
- Apr 15, 2006Dear Chris,
Thanks for your thoughtful replies up to this point.
Your first argument deals with the testimony of faithful church
courts, and uses the argument that because they never condemned
usury, it is therefore their testimony that it is allowable. Not
knowing a great deal about the operation of church courts, I am
hardly able to dispute the underlying assumption here (that a lack
of condemnation of a particular practice is equivalent to an
approval thereof), however, a number of responses come to mind.
1. Could not the opposite argument be made? Couldn't I say that
because usury was never authorized by faithful church courts, it is
therefore condemned by those same courts? And if this can be taken
to mean either, then is not your argument ambigious and inconclusive?
2. Don't church courts need an actual case in order to rule on a
particular issue? Wouldn't they need a particular example of the
practice of usury in order to condemn? Nehemiah condemned usury
when it arose in the Israelite society, but not before. So
likewise, civil courts in the U.S. cannot rule on an issue
arbitrarily, without an actual case. What makes church courts any
3. The testimony of the church for 100's of years was unanimously
against usury. It is needless to point to particular examples; the
plain and simple fact is that usury has only been commonplace for a
relatively short time.
So, in response, I would say that even if your argument could defend
its underlying assumption (that lack of a condemnation of a
particular practice is equivalent to an authorization of the same),
you still have some 1500 years of church history to refute your
4. You mentioned that the usury spoken of in Q142 of the Larger
Catechism refers to an exorbitant amount of usury. I answer that...
i. The original sense of the word usury had nothing to do with
exorbitant amounts of interest. It include all interest whatsoever,
anything beyond the principle (see Calvin Elliot's book
entitled "Usury: A Scriptural, Ethical, and Economic View," pages 7-
10, provided free at http://fax.libs.uga.edu/HB539xE46/1f/usury.pdf).
ii. Even if it did refer to exorbitant interest, are you prepared
to accept the consequences of that judgment? This would mean that
Israelites (and Christians) are forbidden from charging exorbitant
interest from one another, but that they are allowed (so far as I
understand your interpretation of the Deut. 23:19,20) to charge
exorbitant interest from strangers and non-Christians. But that
seems contrary to common sense; an exorbitant amount is by its very
definition avaricious and oppressive. Is this what you mean to say?
iii. The connotation of the word "bite" implies not huge bites of
interest, but small ones, which multiply exponential (as compound
interest does). Even a "moderate" amount of interest, as Gill calls
it, is sufficient to compound and increase exponentially. We tend
to view small amounts of money as almost having completely different
principles as larger amounts. But really this is ridiculous. If I
steal a penny from my friend, I am just as obligated to restore it
as I am to restore $100 stolen from the same friend. In fact, in
the case of $100, I am merely restoring 10,000 pennies, each,
individually, but as a whole sum. Remember, Nehemiah told the
Israelites to restore the "hundredth part."
iv. The qualification of charging interest not to the poor in the
passage does not lie in the actual passage. While certain texts
bring up the issue of a poor brethren, Psalm 15:5 does not, neither
does Deuteronomy 23:19,20, nor can it fairly be interpreted that way.
In response to Gary North's argument regarding renting money vs.
renting property, I say, that is the exact distinction to be made.
In the case of charging interest, you are charging interest on
money, and money is not a commodity, but a means of exchange.
Property is a commodity, and is subject to being lent, leased, or
rented. Money, on the other hand, is barren. But since I have not
studied this aspect of the issue enough to make a sound exposition,
I will save that for another time, and qualify what I have said
already with my relative ignorance on the matter. Suffice it to
say, seeing as I am young and only 17, I do not lease, rent, or do
any of the activities you mentioned. So that would make your ad
hominem argument to none effect :)! But I do support the
distinction anyway, so I will hopefully respond to that argument in
a future post.
Your last paragraph is troubling to me. In what way have I sounded
socialistic and Marxian to you? Are you drawing implications or
I suppose I ought to confess, I have not read a great deal about
economics. But I have read my Bible, and I try to base my economic
theories on its teachings. Furthermore, I have studied certain
economists and have discussions with one of my teachers on the
matter. But whether any of this really matters to the substance of
our debate, I think not.
May God richly bless you in all that you do,
Your brother in Christ,
Julian R. Gress
--- In email@example.com, "forisraelssake"
> > Do you mind expounding upon your position with historical
> > In particular, I want to know more about this, "I believe it iscourts,
> > contrary to the known historical testimony of faithful church
> > which never abolished commercial interest-bearing loans (soin
> > far as I know)."
> Well my friend, how can I expand on it--by pointing to the lack of
> examples of faithful Reformed churches judicially outlawing usury
> all cases everywhere? Well I just did that. Can you point to anargument?
> example where that did happen? Isn't it be more your job to find
> relevant sections from the subordinate standards of the RPNA that
> justifies your all-usury-without-exception-is-wrong line of
> The usury that is forbidden in Q142 of the Larger Catechism pointsto
> Ps. 15:5 where the term signifies unlawful interest, or that whichis
> got by taking advantage of the necessity of a distressed neighbor(and
> not 'interest' simpliciter).J,F,&B),
> In John Gill's commentary on that passage, which is certainly
> representative of the larger Calvinist community of thought (cf.
> Geneva Bible, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon,
> he writes:nations,
> Psa 15:5 - He that putteth not out his money to usury,.... To the
> poor, in an extravagant and exorbitant way, by which he bites,
> devours, and destroys his little substance, and sadly afflicts and
> distresses him; see Exo_22:25; otherwise, to lend money on moderate
> interest, and according to the laws, customs, and usages of
> and to take interest for it, is no more unlawful than to takeinterest
> for houses and land; yea, it is according to the law of commonjustice
> and equity, that if one man lends money to another to trade with,and
> gain by, that he should have a proportionate share in the gain ofsuch
> a trade; but the design of this passage, and the law on which it isand
> founded, is, to forbid all exactions and oppressions of the poor,
> all avaricious practices, and to encourage liberality andbeneficence;
> and such who are covetous, and bite and oppress the poor, are notfit
> for church communion; see 1Co_5:11loans (a
> The point is that while the bible outlaws usury on charitable
> charitable loan is not optional but morally compulsory) tobrothers in
> the faith and to aliens who voluntarily live under God's laws, itdoes
> not forbid interest-bearing commercial loans.is
> Interest on charitable loans forbidden:
> Exodus 22:25 "If you lend money to any of my people with you who
> poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shallnot
> exact interest from him.become
> Charitable loans declared morally compulsory:
> Deuteronomy 15:7-8 "If among you, one of your brothers should
> poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD yourGod is
> giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your handagainst
> your poor brother, (8) but you shall open your hand to him andlend
> him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.rent
> Gary North has a good observation on how the critics of interest on
> commercial loans don't seem to apply their same logic to opposing
> on land:use
> "...The critics of usury have generally viewed rent on land as
> legitimate. If I loan someone 20 ounces of gold and charge him one
> ounce per year in interest, I am viewed as a usurer and somehow
> morally questionable. If, on the other hand, I let the same person
> my farm land, which is worth 20 gold ounces, and I charge him onefor
> ounce of gold per year as rent, I come under no criticism. Why this
> difference in opinion? In both cases, I give up something valuable
> a period of time. I can either spend the gold or invest it in ause
> business venture. Similarly, I can either sell the farm or plow it,
> plant it, and reap a crop. In both cases, I allow someone else to
> my asset for a year, with which he can then pursue his own goals. Iis
> charge him for this privilege of gaining temporary control over a
> valuable asset. I charge either interest or rent because I do not
> choose to give away the income which my asset could generate during
> the period in which the other person controls it.
> "To expect me to loan someone my 20 ounces of gold at no interest
> the same, economically speaking, as to expect me to loan him theuse
> of my farm land on a rent-free basis."land,
> Do you require property must be bought outright or do you permit
> renting? Or to use an Ad Hominem Tu Quoque, do you rent or lease
> a house or apartment, a car or any other equipment? If so Julian,can
> you rebut North's argument?earlier.
> I strongly recommend reading North's paper that I linked to
> Unfortunately if I might say so, you don't seem very familiar withgoods
> sound economic writers, or the role interest plays in allocating
> and services between individuals with competing time preferences.You
> use phrases like economic justice (which is a perfectly fineconcept
> in theory when supporting the natural law rights of property ownersuncomfortably
> against tyranny, coercion, and fraud) in ways that sound
> socialistic and Marxian. I don't think you have any leg to stand oncommercial
> with the historical testimony of the faithful in condeming
> loans as a moral evil, and I am still interested in seeing if you
> condemn the institution of renting/leasing as well or if you are
> willing to rethink your entire economic paradigm. I pray you are.
> Edmonton, AB
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