Money Matters!


1. Is it wrong for Christians to accept ‘interest’?

2. Is it wrong to invest in ‘Premium Bonds’?

3. Is it wrong to buy ‘National Lottery’ tickets?

We are, of course, discussing where the Christian stands in relation to these issues, in the light of New Testament principles. We aren’t discussing the attitudes of non-believers.


Interest at unreasonably high rates

When we look at the Old Testament reference to ‘usury’, it’s the word found in the ‘Authorized Version’, where it’s the translation of half a dozen closely-related Hebrew words. It doesn’t occur in the revised versions, where, instead, we find the word ‘interest’. So, ‘usury’ is quite simply the obsolete word for ‘interest’, although, it should be said that, over the years, this old word has acquired a rather unpleasant connotation and there lingers about it the suspicion of unsavoury business dealings.

The Old Testament attitude towards ‘Usury’.

There are, in fact, several words which, in the Hebrew Scriptures, are used in connection with the lending of money at interest. For instance, in Exodus 22:25

‘If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.’

Here we find that the children of Israel were forbidden to take interest on loans made to poor fellow-Israelites.

But this law didn’t apply to money lent to a ‘foreigner’, as Deuteronomy 23:19-20 plainly states, so that an Israelite incurred no guilt, if, when lending to a

‘Gentile’ he imposed an interest charge. ‘Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.’

This law was laid down prior to the entry of Israel into the land of Canaan.

Sometimes it is pointed out that the prophet Nehemiah angrily condemned those who ‘exacted usury’, in Nehemiah 5:1-13,

‘Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So, I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. So, I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.” “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!’ At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.’

But when we read the prophet’s scathing words we should understand that he wasn’t condemning the practice as sinful in principle. The passage reveals that his anger was directed against those of his fellow-Jews who were imposing interest on loans made to their poorer brethren, in defiance of God’s law. In other words, the prophet was warning those who behaved in this manner, that they were disobeying God.

In the New Testament Age

When we turn to the New Testament we find that the lending of money at interest continued to be a common legitimate practice in Jewish society. In fact, since in those days the Jews were under Roman occupation, life in Palestine reflected Roman commercial practices generally, and banking, credit and interest, were everyday realities.

In the New Testament, the English word ‘usury’ occurs only twice, and the original Greek word, ‘tokos’, has a slightly amusing meaning. It means ‘to bring forth’, ‘birth’. You will probably recognise it as part of the word ‘prototokos’, which is translated ‘firstborn,’ ‘proto’, ‘first’, and ‘tokos’, ‘born’ the thought behind ‘usury’ is that it multiplies, or, in other words, it ‘breeds’. In ‘usury’, then, money begets money!

Matthew 25:27 and Luke 19:23 are both helpful here. These are the two verses in which the word is found, and they occur in the Lord’s parable about a master who calls his servants to account for their handling of money he had given them to use on his behalf.

Matthew 25:14-28 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So, I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So, you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “‘So, take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

When speaking to the ‘one talented’ servant, Jesus puts these words into the master’s mouth,

‘You should have invested my money with the bankers, and, at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest’.

‘Interest’ is the translation of the word for ‘usury’ and there is nothing in the Lord’s parable to suggest that the master was acting in an unjust or improper manner. He expected his money to have ‘worked’ for him and to have earned ‘interest’.

Luke 19:12-26 ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So, he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’

This illustration introduces another question which must be considered.

How may money be honourably obtained?

I can think of only three basic ways

1. It may be received as a gift.

2. It may be earned as payment for either labour or service rendered.

3. It may be obtained by way of barter or sale that is, by offering something in exchange for money.

If we look at the questions in the light of these basic principles, I think that we see that.

1. To use wealth to produce ‘interest’ is perfectly legitimate and permissible.

To put money to ‘work’ doesn’t involve wrong-doing, providing the nature of the investment is morally acceptable. Consider this illustration.

If a farmer owns a tractor or some other piece of machinery, and a neighbour asks if he may borrow it on payment of a fee, in other words, hire it, would it be wrong for the farmer to agree to this transaction?

Or, if the farmer is approached by the same neighbour with a request for a financial loan, promising to repay the capital with interest, would it be wrong if he agreed to make the loan? Of course, not, because both the machinery and the money are assets which the farmer has the right to use in a fair and honourable way. They are both ‘working’ for him.

But let us take this a step farther. If the farmer deposits his money in a ‘savings Account’ and, of course, the bank will use his money in its own business transactions, and his savings attract interest, would this be immoral?

I think not, because, again, his assets are being put to work for him. This is surely what the Lord Himself implies in His parable. The one-talented man was clearly condemned because he failed to act prudently with the asset which his master had committed to him.

2. Now consider the ‘Premium Bond’ and the ‘Lottery’ questions.

Here the situation is different, because both are forms of gambling. Perhaps we should first ask the question, what is gambling? The simplest answer is that, to gamble is to risk money on the outcome of an event, in the expectation of gaining a larger sum. In the case of ‘Premium Bonds’, as everyone knows the ‘event’ involved concerns a sequence of numbers.

According to this definition, the purchase of

‘Premium Bonds’ is nothing more than a modern form of gambling, because when a person invests money in the Bonds, he does so knowing that the interest his investment would normal attract, will becomes his ‘stake’ and part of the collective prize-money, from which he hopes to win an amount much larger than his ‘stake’.

The ‘National Lottery’ is an even more obvious form of gambling. Everyone surely knows that the total income from the sale of National Lottery tickets is used, first, to provide a profit for the organisers, who ‘cream off’ a certain percentage of the sale for whatever purposes they have in -mind, leaving-the remainder to be distributed as prize money.

The only major difference between the ‘Premium Bond’, and the ‘Lottery Ticket’, is that whilst the purchaser of ‘Bonds’ is assured that his initial investment will remain intact, any money expended on the ‘National Lottery’ is a straightforward wager, from which a financial gain, whilst theoretically possible, is highly unlikely.

As in most forms of gambling, the organisers risk nothing. It’s always the gambler who is more likely to lose than to win! From this standpoint alone, leaving all moral and religious considerations aside gambling is a foolhardy business.

How do people defend gambling?

Someone will say, ‘I never wager, more than I can afford!’ But not everyone can truthfully say this, and it’s an undeniable fact that there are people who are so strongly addicted to gambling, that they wager all their income, causing serious hardship for their families.

Children have often suffered because a father or a mother, has become unable to control the urge to gamble, and very often, people have found themselves drowning in the debt which their addiction has created.

Just consider!

Money which forms the ‘National Lottery’ win, is often money which has been lost by people who can ill afford to lose it. Concerning gambling, Mark Twain once said,

‘there are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate, when he can’t afford it and when he can’.

Do not expect to find a verse in the Bible which states,

‘Thou shalt not gamble or buy Lottery Tickets’,

because, as you know, it isn’t there. What we can find in abundance, are verses which warn us against the danger of covetousness, and just as many verses which teach us as Christians, to depend, not on ‘luck’ or ‘chance’, but on the care and providence of our heavenly Father.

Remember that the Lord Jesus said,

‘Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him’. Matthew 6:9

Hebrews 13:5 ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.’

1 Timothy 6:8, ‘Having food and clothing, let us be content’.

1 Timothy 6:6, ‘There is great gain in godliness with contentment’.

But may I suggest that you read, and think about, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, there is a blessing in these verses for every one of us, whoever we are.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’



"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

1 Corinthians 10:13