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THE CHARGING OF RIBIT (INTEREST) IN THE TRADITION AND TEACHINGS OF THE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH

[1]

Professor John Goldingay taught at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, at the time of authoring his research paper. The board of directors of LARIBA asked him in March 2002 to author a paper that summarized the laws and regulations regarding the issue of charging interest on loans in the Christian (evangelical) tradition, with an eye toward the history of the relaxation of the original Catholic Church's prohibition. The following is an abbreviated summary of his work.[2] Please note, in contrast to the Catholic thesis, Goldingay's reliance on Moses's (pp) teachings in the Old Testament in addition to the teachings of Jesus (pp) in the New Testament.

Lending tn the Poor

The exhortation in Exodus indicates that it is quite possible for creditors to keep the regulation forbidding lending with interest, yet still treat debtors oppressively. The Old Testament refers to this as a personal issue, a community issue, a national issue, and an international issue.

Individual lenders are not to take the necessities of life as pledges, such as an ox or ass, or a garment, or a millstone — or a baby (Deuteronomy 24:6, 17; Job 22:6; 24:3, 9). One oppressive lender is a man who insists on taking away a widow's children (so that they can work for him) because of the family's debt (2 Kings 4:1).

A story about community controversy in Nehemiah 5 concerns oppressive lending: It may refer to charging interest or to other tough actions, such as foreclosing on personal properties. It alludes to two reasons for debt: crop failure and imperial taxation. The two stories also make clear the results of default. One may forfeit fields, orchards, and houses, and/or one may end up in slavery.

The way imperial taxation burdens individuals and leads to debt was anticipated in the way national taxes burdened people. When Israel asked for stronger central government, the prophet Samuel warned them of the burden that such government would be on them (1 Samuel 8:10-17).

Internationally, Habakkuk 2:6-7 warns about the way a major power that has behaved like a creditor, accumulating pledges from weaker and poorer countries, will in due course become the victim of its debtors. The tables will be turned.

The passage in Exodus forbids Israelites to impose interest on poor members of “my people” when lending them “money” — literally, silver, for coinage was a development of the Persian period. Professor Goldingay highlights the fact that in his opinion the reference to the poor indicates that the text does not refer to regular commercial loans.

In Moses's (pp) teaching, Leviticus 25:35-37 expands on the point in Exodus.

If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as resident aliens.

Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit.

Professor Goldingay concludes that the passage supports the ban on lending with interest by speaking of the poor person as “your kin,” members of your family, and of the need to “revere God.”

Professor Goldingay also states that “people who are doing well are expected to lend freely to the needy and to accept payment in the form of labor, or of the eventual repayment of the debt in money that the person had earned through labor. So debtors would seek to work their way back to solvency by committing themselves to indentured labor for a set period or to paid employment in relation to someone who did have land — the equivalent to getting a job, rather than the norm of being self-employed.”[3]

Another passage in Moses's (pp) teaching makes explicit that people must not impose interest on any form of loan, in money or in kind:

You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent. On loans to a foreigner you may charge interest, but on loans to another Israelite you may not charge interest” (Deuteronomy 23:19-20 [23:20-21 in Hebrew Bibles]).

Professor Goldingay states — in contrast to what Rabbi Kanefsky stated (as summarized earlier in this chapter) — that the preceding passage explicitly states that Israelites are permitted to impose interest in lending to a foreigner, someone who is not a member of “the people.” This is an example of a number of obligations that did not apply to foreigners.

Beyond Moses's (pp) teaching, Proverbs 28:8 promises that someone who makes a profit by lending with interest “gathers it for another who is kind to the poor” (i.e., they will not see the profit themselves). It is a personal experience of something that the prophet Habakkuk (pp) envisages for the leading world power of his day. Psalm 15 asks the question,

LORD, who may abide in your tent? — [i.e., stay in your presence]

The answer includes the general requirement of a life of integrity and truthfulness, and also some concrete expectations, such as avoiding slander, keeping oaths, refusing bribes — and not lending money with interest. The prophet Ezekiel (pp) speaks in similar terms, listing obligations that people should fulfill if they wish God to treat them as righteous, such as not worshipping by means of images, not defiling their neighbors' wives, not robbing people — and not lending with interest (Ezekiel 18:8, 13, 17). Ezekiel implies that people were not fulfilling these obligations and later makes explicit that the well-to-do in Jerusalem have committed many of the wrongs he lists, including this one having to do with lending with interest (22:12).

Professor Goldingay goes further to say that Christians tend to understand Moses's (pp) teaching as “law,” but the word Torah has broader meaning. While Moses's (pp) teaching based on the Torah includes regulations that look designed for quasi-legal literal implementation, other material in the writings look more like illustrations of a particular lifestyle. Professor Goldingay argues that one would miss the point if he took it legally — we might fulfill the law's letter, but not its inner demand (the spirit of the law). Similar issues are raised by Jesus's (pp) Sermon on the Mount.

Exodus 22 begins “If you lend . ..,” but it presupposes that you will do so. To refuse to lend would contravene other exhortations regarding concern for the needy. The point is explicit in Deuteronomy 15, which urges people to lend generously to poor members of their “family.” Righteous people do well in life and are therefore in a position to give and to lend and thus to be a blessing (Psalm 37:25-26). The Bible promises that things go well for the person who deals generously and lends (Psalm 112:5).

The New Testament confirms the stance of the Old Testament without adding to it. Professor Goldingay opines that the New Testament refers to lending with interest only in the context of a parable, about a man entrusting his assets to his servants (Matthew 25:27; Tuke 19:23).

  • [1] Professor John Goldingay, Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, CA .
  • [2] Published by permission of Professor John Goldingay, Fuller Seminary.
  • [3] Based on the Islamic (Judeo-Christian-lslamic) law, it is preferred that the indebted work for a defined wage, then use the wage to pay the debt. This way, the indebted person would be treated fairly and equitably by marking the wage to the market prevailing rates charged in similar situations.
 
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