Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
"Banking" in the full modern sense, of taking money on deposit and lending it out on interest, is of comparatively recent origin. A few "banks of deposit" were founded in Italy in the Middle Ages, but the earliest "banks of issue," of the modern sort, were those of Amsterdam (1609) and Hamburg (1619), beginning in the 17th century. The law of Moses forbade Israelites to charge each other interest (Ex 22:25; Lev 25:35,37; Dt 23:19), but let them lend on interest to Gentiles (Dt 23:20), though this law was often evaded or disregarded (Neh 5:10,12). Banks and banking, however, are found in operation in the Greek cities; "moneychangers ," sitting at their tables (trapezai) in the market place, both changed coins and took money on deposit, giving high interest; and banking of a sort, in its incipient stages, existed among the ancient Hebrews. But the Phoenicians are now thought to have been the inventors of the money-changing, money-lending system which is found in more or less modified and developed forms among ancient peoples and in full development and operation in the palmy days of the Roman Empire. In the Greek-Roman period, without doubt, bankers both received money on deposit, paying interest, and let it out at a higher rate, or employed it in trade, as the publicani at Rome did, in farming the revenues of a province (Plumptre).
2. Banking among the Ancient Hebrews:
(1) The Hebrew money-changer, like his modern Syrian counterpart, the saraf (see PEFS, 1904, 49 ff, where the complexity of exchange in Israel today is graphically described), changed the large coins current into those of smaller denominations, e.g. giving denarii for tetradrachms, or silver for gold, or copper for silver.
(2) But no mean part of his business was the exchanging of foreign money, and even the money of the country of a non-Phoenician standard, for shekels and half-shekels on this standard, the latter being accepted only in payment of the temple dues (see MONEY). The "money-changers" of Mt 21:12, as the Greek signifies, were men who made small change. Such men may be seen in Jerusalem now with various coins pried in slender pillars on a table (compare epi trapezan, Lk 19:23), ready to be used in changing money for a premium into such forms, or denominations, as would be more current or more convenient for immediate use.
(3) "Usury" in English Versions of the Bible is simply Old English for what we today call "interest," i.e. the sum paid for the use of money, Latin usura; and "interest" should take the place of it in all passages in the Old Testament and New Testament, where it has such significance.
3. Banking in New Testament Times:
The Greek word rendered (tokos), "usury" in the New Testament (see Lk 19:23 f) means literally, "what is born of money," "what money brings forth or produces." "Usury" has come to mean "exorbitant interest," but did not mean this at the time of the King James Version, 1611.
(1) In Christ's time, and immediately following, there was great need for money-changers and money-changing, especially on the part of foreign Jews whom custom forbade to put any but Jewish coins into the temple treasury (see Mk 12:41). It was mainly for the convenience of these Jews of the Dispersion, and because it was in order to a sacred use, that the people thought it proper to allow the money-changers to set up their tables in the outer court of the temple (see Mt 21:12 ff).
(2) The language of Mt 25:27, `Thou oughtest to have put my money to the bankers,' etc., would seem to indicate the recognition by Christ of the custom and propriety of lending out money on interest (compare 19:23). The "exchangers" here are "bankers" (compare Mt 25:27). The Greek (trapezitai) is from a word for "bank" or "bench" (trapeza), i.e. the "table" or "counter" on which the money used to be received and paid out. These "bankers" were clearly of a higher class than the "small-change men" of Mt 21:12, etc. (compare "changers of money," Jn 2:14, and "changers," Jn 2:15, English Versions). Christ upbraids the "slothful servant" because he had not given his pound to "the bank" (or "banker," epi trapezan, literally, "on a banker's table"), who, it is implied, would have kept it safe and paid interest for it (Lk 19:23 f). It is noteworthy that the "tenminae" of Lk 19:24 are those acquired by "the good servant" from the "one" which was first lent him. So these wealthier bankers even then in a way received money on deposit for investment and paid interest on it, after the fashion of the Greeks.
4. Interpretations, Figurative Uses, etc.:
(1) In Christ's parable (Lk 19:23 ff) "the bank" (literally, "a bank," "table") is taken by some to mean "the synagogue," by others to mean "the church" (Lange, LJ, II, 1, 414); i.e. it is thought that Christ meant to teach that the organized body, "synagogue" or "church," might use the gifts or powers of an adherent or disciple, when he himself could not exercise them (compare DCG, article "Bank").
(2) Then some have thought that Christ was here pointing to prayer as a substitute for good works, when the disciple was unable to do such. Such views seem far-fetched and unnecessary (compare Bruce, Parabolic Teaching of Christ, 209 f).
(3) The "money-changers," then as now, had ever to be on guard against false money, which gives point to the oft-quoted extra-scriptural saying (agraphon) of Jesus to His disciples: "Be ye expert money-changers" (Greek ginesthai trapezitai dokimoi; see Origen, in Joam, XIX), which was taken (Clem., Hom.,. III, 61) to mean, "Be skillful in distinguishing true doctrine from false" (HDB, 1-vol).
George B. Eager
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'BANK; BANKING'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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