03 January 2016

Religions and Usury

Old and New Testament

Deuteronomy [Old Testament]
XXIII:19 Thou shalt not lend upon usury to a brother.
XXIII:20 Unto a stranger thou may lend upon usury.

Usury could be applied to a stranger, but not to a brother.  The New Testament proclamation of universal brotherhood negated the use of usury in any circumstance, separating Judaism and Christianity by economic philosophy.

The Idea of Usury by Benjamin N. Nelson, Princeton University Press, 1949
St. Jerome (340-420) contended that the prohibition of usury among brother in Deuteronomy had been universalized by the Prophets and the New Testament. There was, in short, no scriptural warrant for taking usury from anyone.

For some, usury was viewed as a weapon to be used against an enemy who could not be defeated in direct confrontation.

De Tobia by St. Ambrose (340-397)
From him, it says there, demand usury, whom you rightly desire to harm, against whom weapons are lawfully carried. Upon him usury is legally imposed. On him whom you cannot easily conquer in war, you can quickly take vengeance with the hundredth. From him exact usury whom it would not be a crime to kill. He fights without a weapon who demands usury: he who revenges himself upon an enemy, who is an interest collector from his foe, fights without a sword. Therefore, where there is the right of war, there also is the right of usury.

The 16th century Protestant Reformation made a distinction between interest and usury, thus not violating the scriptures against usury.

Usury (Random House Dictionary)
1. the lending or practice of lending money at an exorbitant interest. 2. The exorbitant amount or rate of interest, esp. in excess of the legal rate.
Usury (Dictionary of Cultural Literacy)
The practice of charging more than the legal interest rate.

Law separates interest and usury by defining what is exorbitant. From a mathematical perspective, the determination is arbitrary. Interest, at any rate, is still an exponential growth algebraic concept applied to money. Today, the mechanism of interest is omnipresent in the global monetary system.


Islamic Perspective

The historical importance of interest/usury is evidenced by its prominent mention in the Bible, Koran, and other religious texts. The Koran, the Holy Text of Islam delivered by the seventh century prophet Muhammad, mentions usury:

The Glorious Qur’an, Translation by Marmaduke Pickthall
Surah II – 275: Those who swallow usury cannot rise up save as he ariseth whom the devil hath prostrated by (his) touch. As for him who returneth (to Usury) - such are rightful owners of Fire. They will abide therein.

Surah II – 276: Allah hath blighted usury and made almsgiving fruitful.

Surah II – 278:O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remaineth (due to you) for usury, if ye are (in truth) believers.

Surah III – 130: Devour not usury, doubling and quadrupling (the sum lent).

Surah XXX - 39
That which ye give in usury in order that it may increase on (other) people’s property hath no increase with Allah; but that which ye give in charity, seeking Allah’s countenance, hath increase manifold.


It is interesting to note that the New Age translation of Surah III - 130 [above] incorporates the modern concept of usury as separate from interest.

The Essential Koran, Translation by Thomas Cleary
Faithful believers, do not take usurious interest, multiplied and compounded, and be wary of God, that you may prosper.

Today, the use of usury remains a source of contention within the Islamic world.


Jesus Casting out the Money-Changers, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1834 – 1890

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