Usury In The New Testament

When it comes to the New Testament, the situation is complicated by differences of interpretation. A key passage is Jesus’ “parable of the talents”, which is recorded in Matthew 25,14-30 and in a slightly different form in Luke 19,11-27. The story describes a rich man who goes on a journey and entrusts his money to his servants. When he returns, he praises the servants who have invested the money at interest but berates the servant who has not done so.

Common interpretations of this passage see the rich man as representative of God. In the nineteenth century, it was often read as a parable encouraging people to invest money wisely. Later, this was broadened out to the idea that it is about God encouraging people to use their skills well.

However, a number of biblical scholars point out that Jesus is unlikely to have encouraged usury and that the rich man appears to be a tyrant. They suggest that the rich man does not represent God and that the parable is about the injustice of the rich accumulating wealth at the expense of the poor. Under this system, “to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Luke 19,26). By this reading, the hero of the story is the servant who avoids usury and who stands up to the rich man, telling him “you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow” (Luke 19,26).