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BANK. In its modern form banking is of recent origin (seventeenth century a.d.), but banking of a primitive kind was known in ancient times among both Jews and Gentiles. Money was received on deposit, loaned out, exchanged for smaller denominations or for foreign money. Israelites were not permitted to charge each other interest (Exod.22.25) but could lend with interest to Gentiles (Deut.23.20).

BANK, BANKING (τράπεζα, G5544, bench, table, Matt 21:12; Luke 19:23). A table, bench or counter on which ancient moneychangers (bankers) displayed their wares. English: “bank.” Also the shop or building in which financial transations were conducted.

During the Rom. empire in NT times the bank became prominent among the people of Pal. The banker’s bench or shop stood beside those of bakers, butchers, and fish vendors.

Jesus makes frequent references to the subject: “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” (Matt 25:27; cf. 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15). In Luke 19:23 the words “to give silver to the table” means “put the money in the bank to bear interest.” Roman law was more severe than Heb. law, and a creditor could put his debtor in bonds or in prison (Matt 18:25).

Most bankers, however, got into the banking business through moneychanging which was necessary in any city which used coins from other countries. In Israel much foreign currency was changed into the “shekel” for the temple tax. The great confusion of money systems in the ancient world allowed bankers to make easy profits which later were placed into loans and investments at high interest rates. Bankers (often called usurers) were generally wealthy people who would lend others money for mortgages, purchases, and emergencies. Interest rates were very high, generally between twelve and twenty percent. In times of high inflation interest rates in Rome and Athens reached as high as forty-eight percent.

In wealthy merchant centers in the Rom. world, one found many complex banking establishments. One could make deposits and make arrangements for foreign exchanges. Payment was authorized by a MS check. Bills could be drawn on a bank in one city and payment made in another, thus avoiding theft and robbery during travel. Bankers helped clients with investments and through foreign connections supplied travelers with what one might call a letter of credit today. The Jewish people became adept in the commercial enterprise. International loans were made by wealthy bankers in Israel and nearby cities. In fact, all the essential aspects of modern business are to be found in the old world of business 2,000 years ago. See TRADE, COMMERCE AND BUSINESS.


A. Bailey, Daily Life In Bible Times (1943), 218; F. H. Wright, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (1953), 224; A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in Bible Times (1954), 133; S. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (1960), vols. I-IV, see I. 255, 261. IV. 197ff., 338ff.; H. Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ (1962), 153, 249-251.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) (saphah, "lip," "edge"): "By the bank of the Jordan" (2Ki 2:13); "Upon the bank of the river were very many trees" (Eze 47:7,12).

(2) (gadhah, "cuttings"): Always of banks overflowed (Jos 3:15; 4:18; Isa 8:7), as also

(3) (gidhyah, 1Ch 12:15). (4) (solelah, "mound," "rampart"): "Cast up a bank against the city" (2Sa 20:15, the English Revised Version "mount," the American Standard Revised Version "mound"; compare 2Ki 19:32; Isa 37:33). "Banks of sweet herbs" (So 5:13); "the marginal rendering is the right one, `towers of perfumes,’ i.e. plants with fragrant leaves and flowers trained on trellis-work" (Speaker’s Commentary in the place cited.).

(5) (charax, "a stake," "entrenchment"): "Thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee" (Lu 19:43 the King James Version "trench"). It is probably a military term and stands for a "palisade" (so the Revised Version, margin), i.e. probably an embankment of stakes strengthened with branches and earth, with a ditch behind it, used by the besiegers as a protection against arrows or attacking parties (Latin vallum), such, no doubt, as was employed by Titus in the siege of Jerusalem, 70 AD (Josephus, BJ, V, vi, 2).

(6) BANK; BANKING (which see).

M. O. Evans

1. Introductory:

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 Palestine 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, Lu 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 Lu 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 Mr 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," Joh 2:14, and "changers," Joh 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 (Lu 19:23 f). It is noteworthy that the "tenminae" of Lu 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 (Lu 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

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