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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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in the Bible was the function designed to provide for the custody, loan, and exchange of money.

Origins The first money was bits of metal; later coins were struck. The prototype of paper money may have been leather strips studded with precious metal as a legal medium of exchange. The records of banking are dated as early as 2000 B.C. among the Babylonians in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. By 1500 B.C. banking had spread eastward to the sea-traders of Phoenicia on the northern coast of Palestine. Banking spread to the Phoenician trade centers by 1000 B.C., including Rome, Athens, Carthage in north Africa, and Memphis on the Nile. The earliest banking functions were developed and conducted by the prevailing religious institutions among the Mediterranean nations. These institutions both pagan and Jewish had the general confidence of the people. Their priests usually had charge of banking. State or public banks developed in Rome and Athens. Private banks were organized but did not fare so well.

Bankers loaned money with land or persons as collateral. They usually charged a minimum of twenty percent interest and often much higher.

Old Testament The law protected the poor by forbidding a Jew to charge interest to a fellow Jew (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35:38; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; compare Psalm 15:5; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:8 ,Ezekiel 18:8,18:13; Ezekiel 22:12 ). Priests in the Temple set a standard for the weight of a standard shekel coin (Numbers 3:47 ). Still banking was carried out in transactions between individuals, not as an institution, as we see in an example from Nehemiah. As Nehemiah led in the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, he addressed the banking needs of the city (Nehemiah 5:1-13 ). Apparently wealthy individuals loaned money to poor farmers with children, land, and crops put up as security (Nehemiah 5:2-3 ). These wealthy nobles, including Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:10 ) and priests (Nehemiah 5:12 ), functioned as bankers. They lent money to let poor individuals have operating capital until they harvested their crops.

New Testament Banking is expressed by the Greek word for table, representing the table behind which a money changer stood. A familiar table in the Temple at Jerusalem was that of the money changers (John 2:15 ). Many salesmen often displayed their goods on the ground, but these men always put their coins on a table. They came to be known as “table-men,” money changers, or bankers. It was necessary to change foreign money into Jewish money to pay the Temple tax. Jesus sternly disrupted this business of banking in the court of the Gentiles (Matthew 21:12 ) because it went beyond the intended convenience and profaned the worship of God. Because of this challenge the Jewish leaders started looking for a way to destroy Jesus (Mark 11:18 ). In the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:23 ) Jesus refers to a bank, where deposits could be made and interest earned. Other banking terms and practices in the Bible include coins, exchangers, increase or interest, extortion, creditor, and debtor.

Lawson Hatfield

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Banking'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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