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What is an extortioner in the Bible?

Bible extortioner

The words extortion and extortioner are used a number of times in the King James Version as well as in some modern versions. In many versions, the word creditor or usurer is used interchangeably with extortioner in the Old Testament.

An extortioner is someone who takes something by threat. The point of extortion is that a person must pay or do something in order to avoid a negative action on the part of the extortioner. Blackmail would be one form of extortion. Kidnapping for ransom would be a form of extortion. The plots of many thrillers are based on extortion—a person with security clearance must provide security codes to a mysterious villain who threatens to harm his family if he does not comply, etc.

The KJV uses extortioner in 1 Corinthians 5:10 and 6:10. Most modern versions use the term swindler. The Greek word used here refers to one who takes things out of greed and self-interest with no regard for the person being defrauded. In modern times we have specific terms for types of crimes: robbery is different from theft, assault is different from battery, manslaughter is different from murder, etc. Scripture is often less precise. Whether a person takes something by force or threat or deception, the heart attitude is still the same: “I will take what I want and I don’t care whom it hurts.” This sin, if discovered in a professing Christian, requires church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:10–11), and, ultimately, it is a mark of one who is not a true believer (1 Corinthians 6:10).

In the Old Testament, depending on the version, sometimes lenders or creditors are also called extortioners. Whether criminality is indicated depends on the context, and sometimes it is unclear or does not matter. In Psalm 109:10, David prays against his enemies. One of the things he prays is that “the creditor may take all [his enemy] owns.” In this context, it does not matter if this is a legitimate moneylender or an extortioner.

Today, the creditor and extortioner are sometimes melded into one individual—the “loan shark.” The loan shark loans money at an exorbitantly high rate of interest to someone who is desperate, even if there is no foreseeable means to pay back the loan. Threats of violence may ensue, followed by further crime to satisfy the debt. These types of actions are clearly condemned in Scripture.

Loaning money to someone who cannot repay and then extorting repayment is immoral. That’s why, in a legitimate loan, borrowers must provide evidence to banks that they have reasonable means to repay the loan, and the interest rate is heavily regulated. One cause of the economic crash of 2008—09 was that banks were approving loans for people to buy homes that were far more expensive than the borrowers could afford. Inevitably, there were mass defaults on those loans.

It has become a demand of “social justice” that student loans simply be forgiven. Some would say that any demand for repayment of a loan or any foreclosure on a home amounts to extortion: “If you don’t pay, I will take your house and put you and your family out on the street.” However, legitimate loans, agreed to by the borrower at the time of the loan, should be repaid. Demanding that loans be forgiven under threat of sanctions may itself constitute to a type of extortion. Proverbs 37:21 tells us that “the wicked borrow and do not repay.”

While the Bible warns about the pitfalls of debt, it does not forbid all money lending or borrowing or the charging of interest. Not everyone who loans money is an extortionist. However, even if no extortion or exorbitant interest is involved, Proverbs 22:7 warns that “the borrower is slave to the lender” (KJV).

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What is an extortioner in the Bible?
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This page last updated: July 11, 2022