I would just like to know what the Bible says about lending money with interest in return.—a disciple in Manila

The Old Testament absolutely forbids this form of exploitation (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:37; Deuteronomy 23:19; Nehemiah 5:7; Psalm 15:5; Provides 28:8; Ezekiel 18:8, 22:12). The Israelites were not permitted to charge interest on loans to the poor among their people, although on loans to foreigners permissible.

However, we live under the new covenant. Since there is no prohibition against usury, most Christians think this is okay today. The early church had quite a different view:

  • "His money he will not give on usury and will not take interest"... These words contain a description of the conduct of Christians.—Clement of Alexandria, c.195 AD.
  • Let it suffice to say that the Law prohibits a brother from taking usury.-Clement of Alexandria, c.195 AD.
  • You must not take usury... "You will not lend to your brother with usury of money."—Cyprian, c.250 AD
  • If a Christian has lent any money, he will not receive interest—so that the benefit that relieved necessity may be unimpaired... For it is his duty in other respects not to be sparing of his property, in order that he may do good. But to receive more than he has given is unjust!—Lactantius, c.310 AD
  • Let an overseer, elder, or deacon who charges usury to those to whom he lends either cease doing so, or else let him be deprive of his office.—Apostolic Constitutions, c.390 AD.

The culture of the early church (first to fourth centuries) was not terribly divergent to that of Israel in O.T. times. Yet so much has changed since then!

For one, unlike ancient Israel, we are not a single people living in a single church-state with a single economy. Although there was inflation in ancient times, it was minor, and did not take place on the scale it does in today's world of multinational banking, investment, and lending.

Let's also consider the most important angle. Psalm 15:5 praises the one “who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Charging interest doesn’t necessarily hurt the borrower. There is a difference between lending money to one who is making an investment, or practicing conspicuous consumption. But charging interest to someone who is desperate, or financially barely squeaking by, is another matter. In that case, the lender is profiting off the pain of the borrower. Not good.

(c) 2008, Douglas Jacoby. Do not copy without prior permission from the author.