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Historical Error #8: The "Christian Bible" Prohibits Interest, but the "Jewish Bible" Doesn't.

Gary North
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Ellen Brown reveals her astounding ignorance about the Bible with these words.

"Usury" is now defined as charging "excess" interest, but originally it meant merely charging a fee or interest for the use of money. Usury was forbidden in the Christian Bible, and anti-usury laws were strictly enforced by the Catholic Church until the end of the Middle Ages. But in Jewish scriptures, which were later joined to the Christian books as the "Old Testament," usury was forbidden only between "brothers." Charging interest to foreigners was allowed and even encouraged. [Web of Debt, p. 59]

Let us examine these assertions. I put her statements in bold face.

1. "Usury" is now defined as charging "excess" interest, but originally it meant merely charging a fee or interest for the use of money. She does not define "originally." If we are talking about the earliest documents, we should begin with the Pentateuch: the five books of Moses. Was the prohibition against charging interest limited to charging a fee for borrowing money? Let the texts tell us.

Thou shalt not give him money upon usury, nor lend him victuals [food -- "vittles"] for increase (Leviticus 25:37).

Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother: usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury (Deuteronomy 23:19).

Lawyer Brown could have gone to any online Bible search program, selected "King James Version," and searched for "usury." Or she could have used any KJV Bible concordance. She didn't bother. She just made a pronouncement.

In this academic area, she doesn't know what she is talking about. She doesn't understand the simplest forms of Bible research.

2. Usury was forbidden in the Christian Bible. The word "usury" is mentioned only twice in the New Testament (King James Version). Both cases refer to a parable of Jesus known as the parable of the talents. In both versions, the rich man who represents God tells the servant who buried the rich man's coin (making no profit) that he should have invested the rich man's money with the moneylenders.

Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury (Matthew 25:27).

Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that as my coming I might have required mine own with usury? (Luke 19:23)

So, far from prohibiting usury or interest-taking, Jesus used the legitimacy of interest taking as a way to tell people that, as God's stewards, they owe God a positive rate of return.

In short, lawyer Brown did not do her homework. Thus, she concludes the very opposite of what the so-called "Christian Bible" teaches.

3. But in Jewish scriptures, which were later joined to the Christian books as the "Old Testament." . . . On the contrary, the early church adopted as authoritative the Hebrew Scriptures (in Greek called the Septuagint). Only after the four gospels, the Book of Acts, and the epistles were written did these documents become acceptable to the church as documents possessing equal authority to the Old Testament. That she could make a mistake this fundamental is mind-boggling.

Her most important error, however, related to the context of the prohibition on interest under the Mosaic law. It applied only to poor people who were seeking charitable loans. See Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35, Deuteronomy 15:7, Deuteronomy 23:20. There was no law against interest on loans for commerce.

Second, anyone who defaulted on a charitable loan that extracted no interest payment could be lawfully enslaved by the creditor until the beginning of the next year of release, which was up to six years away (Deuteronomy 15:12). These zero-interest loans were collateralized by the borrower's liberty. It was not cheap to declare bankruptcy.

Lawyer Brown understood none of this when she wrote Web of Debt.

We shall see if she retracts this completely wrong analysis in the next edition of the book. Or we shall see if she tries to explain it away.

Or perhaps she will just reprint it, as is. That would be the easy way out. It would also be intellectually dishonest.

She now admits she was wrong on this point: the New Testament church's opposition to interest.


For a detailed critique of Ellen Brown's economics, go here:

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