Matthew Henry John Bartlett

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Monday 07 March, 02005

by Matthew Bartlett @ 4:40 pm

Yesterday evening at Substance we read Psalm 15 together. The line about not lending money at interest struck me. I wonder how all the Christian and Jewish bankers have got around that.

18 responses to “”

  1. Lynton says:

    I recall that passage or one very similar that change my views on my money lending. Well I dont think i have ever charged interest at all but i certainly shall refuse any offered. I am more into debt forgetting, partially due to my dodgy memory and because I reckon if i help people out in their need, when i am need of something people will be more likely to be there to help out.

  2. Ben Hoyt says:

    Good thoughts, but perhaps just as provocative today is Romans 13:8, “owe no one anything”, so ideally there’d be no debts to charge interest on.

  3. Deborah says:

    I can see a (perhaps imaginary) distinction between an individual lending money to another individual (likely in the historical context – prohibition in scripture because of the way the poor might have been exploited) and a bank charging for a service – and them looking after your money, lending you money you don’t have, paying staff for people to yell at in queues, giving you convenient access with a card and creating and maintaining all the surrounding infrastructure is a service that costs them money.

    Up till quite recently, my dad worked in business banking at one of the big four banks in Australia. At one stage, he had almost all the Muslim financial business on the Gold Coast, because they knew he was Christian and that meant he could be trusted. He was told some interesting things about zaqat.

    Quite easy to bash bankers.

  4. Deborah says:

    And, reading around the verse and looking at the context, it seems like exploitation of the poor is the issue. I can’t stop thinking about this now, dammit.

  5. richface says:

    not sure that i have a biblical justification for saying this but in my books the charging of interest is a-ok. our economy is pretty much founded on it. roughly along the lines of what deborah intimates, perhaps this admonition should apply only to individuals within the covenant community.

    should the same apply to holding bank accounts which accumulate interest? should christians not hold savings accounts? when opening a bank account should a christian stipulate that they don’t want to accumulate interest on their account? a bank account is strictly speaking a form of loan–you don’t ‘own’ the money in your bank account, what you own is a ‘chose-in-action’. the bank is obliged to return the money you gave to them upon demand. when you earn interest on your account you are actually charging interest on a loan. of course no one questions the ethics of this because banks love it–it is how they earn their money.

  6. john steenhof says:

    chose in action – the new black?

    In strict Muslim societies I understand that they comply with the prohibition on charging interest, but they get around it in many ways such as – when you buy a house with bank assistance, the bank pays the purchase price (say $200,000)and then sells the house to you for a higher price (say $300,000) to be repaid over a 30 year period. Thus, no interest is charged and the law is obeyed.

  7. Mmm… perhaps keeping that rule strictly doesn’t work outside of a society that also forbids the selling of family land.

  8. Nice question, Matthew. I did further digging.

    Ezekiel 18, v. 8-9:
    “He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgement between man and man, hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgements, to deal truly; he is just.”

    Likewise, Psalm 15 makes more of this “judgement between man and man” part, than the financial side of things. If we are to look at men as either being morally bankrupt, or spiritually prosperous, we must not ‘charge interest’ in our heads: indebting them further, in our own minds, to our perception of ungodliness or supergodliness that we originally had in mind for them.

    Take, for instance, one’s thoughts of someone walking down the road wearing a t-shirt that loudly states “I love Satan, I hate Jesus”: I would instantly loathe this person, and maybe dwell on how silly this bloke is for a whole day and night. Imagine, the next morning he’s now wearing a shirt that says “I love Jesus. Sorry for my reckless behaviour.”

    I’d be skeptical of his born-again attitude… because over the course of the evening I would have been brewing over how gross and disgusting this person is. And thus, wouldn’t welcome his change as easily.

    In the end, interest is bad. In my viewpoint, in this day and age (as others have more eloquently put it), I don’t think it applies to finance as much as it does to spirit.

  9. It may be that Ezekiel’s definition of the just, or the Psalm-writer’s description of the upright is no longer accurate or no longer applies for some other reason, but I think that your ‘spiritual’ approach might be a way of feeling just/upright, while ignoring the actual definition/description given.

    Hmm… can I think of an illustration? Try this: Mum tells James to clean his room. James goes into his room and visualises cleanliness, and rids his mind of all unclean thoughts, and leaves his room as it was, returns to Mum with, “You will be glad to know in a spiritual sense I have cleaned my room.”


  10. Hahaha. Excellent reply. I was just being a stirrer.

  11. ru says:

    Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm isn’t reward for risk and profit the great motivator at work here,nothing much to do with the banks in particularly but more to do with the “capitalist society” we live in.
    And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions,who would sell their words for your labour

  12. Matthew the Baird says:

    Hebrew people didnt have to get round this issue. Infact this was one of the reasons that Jews became so wealthy (and somewhat disliked) for in the middle ages. They could lend money at interest to us Gentiles, just not to each other. Whereas us Christian Gentiles could not (or atleast did not to my knowledge) charge interest, so they had cornered the lending market.

  13. Aaron says:

    Hmm. Context is king; the point seems to be that one must not exploit one’s own people.

    It is not exploitation/usary if someone asks to borow money to start a speculative business venture and you say “yes, at 10% per annum”.

    But if they come to you and say “please give me some bread, or money to buy it. My family has none”, it would be entirely wrong to say “Certainly. At 10% interest”.

    Justice – the putting of things to rights – requires that one gives to others to alleviate their suffering. It does not require that one subsidise their get-richer business ventures.

  14. Dear Aaron,
    You’re the awesome,
    From Daniel

  15. Hans says:

    Not sure if Daniel is serious…………but that was a good summary Aaron, thank you.

  16. I was being utterly serious Hans. Maybe someone should come up with a sarcastic indent, or italics style to indicate when we want to be silly and when we’re being honest.

    Aaron continually proves his awesomeness on the interweb. I should probably be vocalising this on his site though…

  17. ru says:

    Aaron its called “Reward for Risk” and I guess lending money to the foodless is really a gift is it not,I would hope one wouldn’t expect to have that “loan”repaid if one was a true christian.

  18. Aaron says:

    Daniel I won’t be awesome for long if you give me a big head. But thank you.

    ru, exactly right. A ‘loan’ to the foodless should be a gift. Well said.

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