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14529Re: Usury or the Charging of Interest on Money Lent

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  • forisraelssake
    Apr 16, 2006
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      Hello Julian

      You raise a number of interesting criticisms of my position which I
      will endevour to answer in a biblical way, time permitting. However
      first I would like to present a positive biblical argument justifying
      usury in some (but not all) contexts.

      Defintion of usury: usury is any positive rate of return taken from a loan

      There is no universal prohibition in the Bible against interest. This
      is clear from the text in Deuteronomy that authorizes covenant-keepers
      to make interest-bearing charitable loans to covenantal strangers.

      Deuteronomy 23:19-20 "You shall not charge interest on loans to your
      brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything
      that is lent for interest. (20) You may charge a foreigner interest,
      but you may not charge your brother interest, that the LORD your God
      may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are
      entering to take possession of it.

      This text means your position (viz. that interest is always
      prohibited) cannot be correct. V.20 authorizes usury on people outside
      of the covenant people, which is unfathomable if usury is a moral evil
      like murder, adultery or stealing. We need to explore exegetically the
      distinction being set up by Moses here between the two groups and the
      motivation for it, but it is plain that usury cannot be an
      *unconditional* moral evil but one conditioned on a specific set of

      Next, God positively commends the institution of loans as an example
      of how blessed and rich he will be making the commonwealth of Israel:
      Deuteronomy 15:6 For the LORD your God will bless you, as he
      promised you, and ***you shall lend to many nations***, but you
      shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they
      shall not rule over you.

      To make your point, you would have to argue this verse speaks only of
      charitable zero-interest loans to foreigners (for when interest is
      prohibited, all legal loans become charitable). Yet the Moses texts
      are clear, "covenant-keepers do not owe interest-free charitable loans
      to those who are not under the jurisdiction of either God's
      ecclesiastical covenant or God's civil covenant." (North.) Since God
      in Deut 23:20 authorizes commercial non-charitable legal loans to
      foreigners, and it likewise does not obligate you to charitably loan
      (interest-free) even if they are desperately poor when they are not a
      brother (i.e. fellow covenant-keeper), it does suggest the loans in
      this verse are interest-carrying commercial loans being used as a tool
      of dominion.

      Usury being forbidden is always most strongly tied to the concept of
      taking interest on morally obligatory charitable loans to the severely
      distressed brother. For instance:
      Leviticus 25:35-37 "If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain
      himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger
      and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. (36) Take no interest
      from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live
      beside you. (37) You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor
      give him your food for profit.

      This was not to be undertaken lightly. If a person took an
      interest-free charitable loan and defaulted on it, he had to be
      willing to go into bondservice for up to six years. And the courts
      were required to enforce this. It was this being willing to risk
      bondservice that marked the loan as a charitable as opposed to a
      commercial loan. "Accepting such a loan was a last resort. It was this
      degree of poverty, and only this degree of poverty, that created a
      moral obligation on the lender to lend." (North, Commentary on
      Leviticus, ch.29).

      Consider this, in our context, where very few people in our lands have
      credible professions of faith and so are not within the
      covenant-community of the brethren, we have no obligation whatsoever
      to them to lend usury-free. That stipulation only applies to the
      brethren, and I submit, only to the desperately poor (through no moral
      fault of their own) who we have an obligation to help--and how in
      return become obligated to repay us or become for a limit time our slave.

      In response to your points,

      Pursuant to points one and two, as you yourself admit it doesn't work
      that way if they encountered the institution in their practise. Your
      reasoning only applies if this controversy didn't arise and so there
      is historical silence on this matter. However commercial loans are not
      a novel phenomenon, new to our modern industrial life. They go way
      back to ancient times. The Reformers were confronted with the topic
      and, as evidenced by the fact that the faithful Reformed Churches in
      their purer times did not forbid their members from loaning money at
      usury, (contra the Romish Church's law for its members), that is proof
      positive they rejected your view. Your view is certainly traditional
      in some quarters and has a long pedigree so I definitely don't want to
      make it sound like it is not worthy of consideration, but that it has
      been considered and was considered by the faithful contending
      church... and reject.

      There is no question (pursuant to your third point) that the
      Prereformation Church taught your position, beginning in a limited
      form in 325 AD at the Council of Nicea (clerics were prohibited from
      making interest-bearing loans) to later total prohibitions in the
      Second Lateran Council (1139) and the Council at Vienna (1311-12) (cf.
      http://www.entrewave.com/freebooks/docs/html/gnbd/Chapter29.htm -
      footnote #2). However, within the Reformed Church, the view of the
      medieval Schoolmen was not unanimous and many Reformed pastors and
      ministers spoke against Rome's view that all usury is prohibited in
      all contexts. So I strongly dispute your claim that your view is the
      traditional view of the Reformed Churches. It is not. You only need to
      look at the Geneva Bible's comments and Matthew Henry's to see the
      Reformers speak out against your view/the scholastic view.

      With regards to point four, while you say many things that I can agree
      with, I think you changed John Gill's polemic against extravagant and
      exorbitant usury to the poor, to just exorbitant interest per se. I
      can't say I endorse Gill's whole idea (I am more aligned with North)
      but I just wanted to show you a theologian from 400 years ago who is a
      representative Calvinist commentator who opposed the medieval
      scholastic view. I perhaps can reply more to this later when I have
      more time, but I have to make preparations for worship now. I'll talk
      to you later Julian, have a good sabbath day.

      Chris Tylor
      Edmonton AB
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