Religious Interdictions of Usury and Interest

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Short overview of some citations from religious texts by Smari McCarthy:

"The term "usury" comes from latin "usura", meaning "interest". As per Wikipedia, at the first council of Nicaea in 325, usury was taken to mean "interest of any kind".

In most religious texts usury is taken to mean the same as interest and is downright forbidden.


In the Torah, "If thou lend money to any of My people, even to the poor with thee, thou shalt not be to him as a creditor; neither shall ye lay upon him interest." (Exodus, 22:25). See also Leviticus 26:36-37, Deuteronomy 23:19, Nehemiah 5:1-10, Psalm 15:6, Isiah 24:2, Ezekiel 22:12-22, and so on... My favorite scripture on this topic is from Ezekiel 18:13:

"If he has exacted usury Or taken increase -- Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him."

There's more on this at


The Qur'an is pretty strict about this too:

"And for practicing usury, which was forbidden, and for consuming the people's money illicitly. We have prepared for the disbelievers among them painful retribution." (Al-Nisa 4:161)

"O you who believe, you shall not take usury, compounded over and over. Observe God, that you may succeed." (Al-'Imran 3:130)

and so on.


If we go farther back, Sumerians had run-ins with usury... Urukagina [c.a. 2800-2300 b.c.] apparently "freed the inhabitants of Lagash from usury, burdensome controls, hunger, theft, murder, and seizure (of their property and persons). He established freedom. The widow and the orphan were no longer at the mercy of the powerful man."

(see Urukagina inscriptions, dead tree format at this side but seems googlable. e.g.


Now, to reach back to the beginnings of this debate, notice that the initial segregation between usury and interest begin to happen in the late 5th century in Europe at the behest of the Catholic Church, which is apparently becoming so rich and powerful that it's becoming annoying for them to not become more rich and powerful by cheating people. As per the aforementioned Council of Nicaea, the clergy was forbidden to perform acts of usury. However, later, it became acceptable for them to "take interest but not usury" - and likewise translations changed at the same time. In fact, even the most recent translation of the Bible into Icelandic (date 2006 or so) is much more tolerant towards lending at interest than the previous translation (since 1815): instead of saying "lán gegn vöxtum" it says "lán gegn okurvöxtum" in one place; "okurvextir" meaning "extreme interest" while "vextir" means interest...

To summarize: Interest and usury were the same thing originally, and are still the same thing etymologically and rightfully, and I for one use them as synonyms." (Oekonux mailing list, May 2009)

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