Charging Interest and usury – What does the Bible say?


I have a question referring to money and interest fees. Someone told me that it is a sin to deposit money in the bank and collect interest off of it because the Bible says that it is not right to receive interest off of lent money. Is this true or not?

It is not a sin to deposit money in the bank in order to draw interest off of it. Those who call it a sin do not have Biblical support for their reasoning. In order to understand this subject better, let us turn to the source, the Bible, to see what God has to say on the subject of charging interest and usury.

Do not try and profit from your brother’s misfortunes.

This law can be found in the Old Testament.

Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. ‘Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. ‘You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain. ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. (Leviticus 25:35-38)

God did not allow the children of Israel to make a profit (draw interest or usury) from the money lent to their brothers who were suffering through misfortune or became extremely poor. Why would God not allow that to happen? The reason is that there was a group of people in the Old Testament who were called “predators” because they were so obsessed and driven by the love of money that they could not wait for misfortune to strike so that they could make a profit off of the vulnerable ones suffering through the terrible circumstances. One time my aunt was telling me about the time of famine in Moldova. The year was 1947. Our grandparents no longer had any more food to give to their children so they appealed to a rich family living close to them. They went seeking food and took their last “nice” rug from the house to trade for the food. When they got to the house, the rich family was sitting down to a meal. My grandparents had my father in their arms and he was crying because of hunger. The family never thought twice about giving my father, who was a baby at the time, one bite of their food even though they had more than enough. The rich family “traded” with my grandparents. They took the nice rug and in return gave my grandparents a string of dried hot peppers. Who would possibly be able to eat dried hot peppers by with nothing to go along with them? This is the way the “predators” are. They have no shame in benefitting from the misfortunes of others. God did not give this law just to keep His people from drawing interest or usury, but instead, He did it to prevent evil people from profiting off of the misfortunes of others.

Charging interest or usury is not a bad thing in itself

There is another law in the Old Testament where God share the following with the children of Israel:

“You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. “You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess. (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)

As you can see, God allowed the children of Israel to charge interest on money lent to a foreigner (those who were not part of the children of Israel). Money is designed to be invested in order to produce more of it. If a person decides to invest money in lending and charging a reasonable interest rate then that is his choice, as long as he does not try to benefit from the misfortunes of others. The entire Bible teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to do good to him. Someone once asked Jesus Christ who our neighbor is and He responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan so that we can understand the fact that anyone who is suffering through misfortune needs our help if we are able to offer it. We find the following in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians:

9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)

Nehemiah’s example

In the 5 chapter of Nehemiah, there is a situation recounted to us about a person who benefited from his brothers’ misfortunes.

Nehemiah and his brothers together with their servants, people with good hearts, decided to give money toward redeeming their Jewish brothers from captivity in the surrounding nations. They began this project after they were freed from captivity themselves and sent back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. These newly freed people came home to Jerusalem and received homes and fields to work. The problem was, they did not have any food stored up or money because they just came out of slavery so they were starving because there was a famine at the time as well. This is why they appealed to their countrymen for help (the ones who had been freed earlier and came back to rebuild the city) who had been there longer and had a surplus. They asked for wheat so that they could survive and work the fields and begin to produce for themselves. Their countrymen, contrary to the teachings of the Law in the Old Testament, forced these newly returned brothers to mortgage their homes and fields as collateral. These newly freed people also had to pay taxes to the king and did not have the means to mortgage anything else. They appealed to their fellow countrymen once again and they set a rate of 1%, which was also contrary to the Word of God. When Nehemiah learned of what was going on, he immediately called an assembly and severely rebuked those who were dealing with their fellow countrymen contrary to the Word of God by trying to take advantage of their misfortunes during their time of great need. These wicked men had forced their freed countrymen back into a kind of slavery. They were benefiting from the misfortunes of people in need. The fields were the only way that these people could make a living and have a future and that was being stolen from them because they had no other choice during the famine. Nehemiah reminded the people of how he and many of the likeminded people among them had sacrificed much to rescue their fellow countrymen from captivity, as well as how he had already been giving them grain in their time of need and asking nothing in return. After that, he reminded the people that he had served them as governor for 12 years and had not taken the normal salary which he deserved, even though he was feeding over 150 workers on a daily basis. He was doing this because he wanted to lighten the burden on the people who already did not have much to give. He also reminded the people that during his time of service he did not buy land (which he could have done and become rich off of the backs of those in need). He did not want to take advantage of the misfortunes of others. In fact, he did all that he could to help restore the financial situation of all. What a contrast between Nehemiah and those who were trying to profit off of those who were in need because of misfortune. This story helps us clearly understand why God did not allow the Israelites to charge interest and practice usury among their fellow countrymen.

The way that you treat a person suffering through misfortune will directly affect you

In Psalm 15, the author begins with this question:

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent ? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? (Psalm 15:1)

Later, after listing a number of qualities and characteristics of the type of person who may approach the Lord, the author shares the following:

He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. (Psalm 15:5)

In the prophet Ezekiel’s book we find the following:

“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die. “But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness, and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period – if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing, if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man, if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully –he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord GOD. “Then he may have a violent son who sheds blood and who does any of these things to a brother (though he himself did not do any of these things ), that is, he even eats at the mountain shrines, and defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols and commits abomination, he lends money on interest and takes increase ; will he live ? He will not live ! He has committed all these abominations, he will surely be put to death ; his blood will be on his own head. (Ezekiel 18:4-13)

It is shameful to profit off of the misfortunes of others. God’s verdict in the case is that the one who practices this wicked way of life will pay with his own.

There were bankers during the time of Christ

In the parable of the talents, the Lord Jesus says that when the master returned he approached the servants and said the following:

26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. (Matthew 25:26-27)

Putting money in the bank and drawing interest on it was a practice that was known of and used during the time of Jesus Christ. The bankers would take the money at an interest rate and then they would invest the money somewhere else, also with an interest rate. This was their business. This is the same thing that banks do today. Jesus does not condemn the bankers of His day. In fact, He condones it by sharing that the one servant was so lazy and short-sighted that he did not think to at least put the money in the bank in order to draw a little interest on it.

I would like to know the thoughts of the readers in this case. This is a delicate subject but I still want to know your point of view and opinion. Please share them in the comments that you leave.

Translation by: Erik Brewer