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14554Re: Usury or the Charging of Interest on Money Lent

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  • multiplose
    Apr 19, 2006
      Dear Chris,

      With regards to your positive argument for the charging of interest
      on money lent, I believe that the text of Deuteronomy 23:19,20 does
      not support your cause, and for two reasons:

      1. Since strangers and sojourners are already described and dealt
      with in the Law of Moses as being protected from interest on loans
      (Lev. 25:35), I think the best interpretation of this text is that
      the "strangers" referred to here are the nations whom Israel was to
      drive out of Canaan. God had promised to destroy these nations
      little by little, over a long period of time, and to accomplish this
      utter destruction he permitted the Israelites to charge usury on
      loans lent to these nations. This was God's specific judgment on
      those nations. I highly recommend Calvin Elliot's which I mentioned
      and provided a link to in a previous post. The third chapter deals,
      in my opinion, effectively with this issue.

      2. Even if this passage allows us to charge interest from
      strangers, it does not necessarily follow that we can charge
      interest from non-Christian countrymen. The prohibition of usury in
      its context of Deuteronomy 23:19,20 was annexed to the political
      economy, not religion, as is clear from the blessing promised to
      ensue upon its being adhered to. It would appear from this that the
      commandment was not intended for the Israelites as God's covenant
      people from a religious standpoint, but of God's covenant nation.
      This means that intra-usury in God's chosen nation is prohibited on
      political grounds, and therefore, the same applies today through the
      same reasoning. What I am trying to say is, we would not be
      permitted to charge interest from fellow countrymen, even if they
      were non-Christians.

      And since at that time, Israel was God's chosen nation, and now, all
      nations are welcomed and invited to the Gospel, it would seem that
      interest charged on any loan to whomever it be, is contrary to the
      Gospel principles.

      If you need any clarification of what I am trying to say, please ask.

      Secondly, I find your argument from Deuteronomy 15:6 inconclusive.
      In my opinion, it is referring to the utter destruction of the
      Canaanite nations, as I described before. But I could also see it
      referring to charitable zero-interest loans.

      Furthermore, you made the point that loans for the poor were to be
      charitable, but that this should not be a limit to commercial
      loans. I must disagree, however. The prohibition in Deuteronomy
      23:19,20 makes no qualification, and neither does Ps. 15:5.
      Stealing from the rich is not lawful even though stealing from the
      poor might be much worse. If it can be shown that usury is a moral
      evil, as I have endeavored to show, it being placed among the
      abominations of the Israelites (Ezekiel 18), then it does not matter
      to whom money is being lent. It only matters that something is
      being lent at all. Besides, the law is to be taken at its spirit,
      and its letter. No one would suppose that because the Ten
      Commandments prohibit murder, that is therefore lawful for me to
      beat someone as long as I don't kill them. Neither should we think
      that the prohibition of charging interest on loans should be limited
      to the poor, but to all lending for any purpose (btw, to clarify, I
      consider loans to be only charitable, so the idea of a "commercial
      loan" is not present in my vocabulary, it being a violation of
      economic justice, although I understand the concept full well).

      I hope you are able to make some sense out of my scrambled
      thoughts. I will await your reply to my other points.

      Thanks,
      your humble servant in our Lord Christ,
      Julian R. Gress


      --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, "forisraelssake"
      <c_tylor@...> wrote:
      >
      > 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
      > circumstances.
      >
      > 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
      > RPNA
      >
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