The book “Shepherd The Flock Of God” combines “greed, gambling, and extortion” into one and the same point. The reason may be that early in the organization’s history, gambling was originally considered to be a form of extortion, but later it was viewed as greed. In the Shepherd book, greed is only connected with two actions, namely, gambling and taking too high a bride price (chapter 12, point 34). But “greediness” in the term “uncleannes with greediness” is an umbrella term under which eight actions are subsumed.
The basic meaning of the Greek word translated as “extortion” (harpax) is “living by preying on other animals especially by catching living prey.” Applied to humans, it refers to someone who “is given to extortion and robbery.” The NWT13 renders the word as “extortioners” in 1 Corinthians 5:10, and this is an accurate rendering.
In the Watchtower literature, the noun harpax has been applied to two different actions. From at least 1961, “extortion” was applied to gambling. However, in 1972, this definition was rejected, and gambling was said to be the same as greed.
At least from 1956, exacting too high a bride price was viewed as extortion, and according to the Shepherd book, this viewpoint is still extant. Nevertheless, I show that this view is wrong and that while too high a bride price can, in some situations, be an expression of covetousness, it is never a form of extortion. I do not use the word “greed” because there is no Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic word with the meaning “greed” (“an insatiable desire for more”) See the article “Greed” in the category, “The eleven disfellowshipping offenses.”
The book for elders “Shepherd The Flock Of God” 12, point 31, says regarding extortion:
- Greed, Gambling, Extortion: (1 Cor. 5:10, 11; 6:10; , 21; 1 Tim. 3:8; it-1 pp. 789, 1005-1006) Elders do not generally involve themselves in what an individual does with regard to petty gambling solely for entertainment. However, if such petty gambling affects his spirituality or becomes a cause of stumbling for others, counsel should be given. If he does not respond favorably to the counsel and his conduct continues to have a negative effect on him or others, he could not be viewed as exemplary in the congregation. (Isa 65:11; w11 3/1 pp. 12-14; w02 11/1 p. 31; g 3/15 pp. 14-15) If an individual’s gambling reveals a course of greediness, perhaps causing harm to himself or others, and he ignores repeated counsel, judicial action would be appropriate.
- A Christian who greedily and unrepentantly extorts a high bride prize may be dealt with judicially–1 Cor. 5:11, 13; 6:9, 10; Heb. 13:5; w98 9/15 pp 24-25.
THE MEANING OF THE GREEK ADJECTIVE HARPAX
Disfellowshipping a person from the Christian congregation is an extreme measure that has immeasurable consequences for the disfellowshipped person and for his family and friends. Therefore, it is important that only practices that qualify and are confirmed to be disfellowshipping offenses in the Christian Greek Scriptures are used as a basis for disfellowshipping.
It is also important that the real meaning of the Greek words that express disfellowshipping offenses are clearly understood. But unfortunately, some of these words are not understood by either the members of the Governing Body or by the elders. In this context, we need to consider the word harpax, the plural of which is translated as “extortioners” in NWT13. Mounce’s Greek-English Lexicon has the following definition of the Greek word harpax:
ravenous, ravening, as a wild beast, Mt. 7:15; met. rapacious, given to extortion and robbery, an extortioner, Lk. 18:11; 1 Cor. 5:10, 11; 6:10.
The adjective harpax occurs five times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Three of these occur in 1 Corinthians 5:10, 11, and 6:10 in connection with disfellowshipping. One example is found in Luke 18:11, but the context does not indicate its meaning. The last example occurs in Matthew 7:15, which is quoted below.
15 “Be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous (harpax) wolves.
The adjective rapacious in Mounce’s definition has the meaning “living by preying on other animals especially by catching living prey. This is the literal meaning of the adjective harpax, and in connection with humans, it can be used in the sense of “being given to extortion and robbery.” The marginal explanation in the NWT13 Reference Bible is excellent:
Extortioners: Or “swindlers; robbers.” Extortion is the act or practice of improperly taking or obtaining anything from a person by use of fear, whether by force, threats, or any other undue exercise of power. The basic sense of the Greek word for “extortioner” (har’pax) is “snatcher.” (Kingdom Interlinear), the same Greek word is rendered “ravenous.” Paul said that some of the Christians in Corinth had formerly done such things but were now washed clean.—1 Co 6:11; compare study note on Lu 18:11.
THE APPLICATION OF THE ADJECTIVE HARPAX TO DISFELLOWSHIPPING OFFENSES
The definition of harpax by Mounce and the marginal note of the Reference Bible agree, and so the definition of the word is clear. But how is this word applied in the Watchtower literature?
The application of harpax to gambling changed
The first time, of which I am aware, that gambling was classified as extortion was in the book Questions in connection with the Service of the Kingdom, 1961, page 60. It was written for judicial committees and traveling representatives.
Selling lottery tickets or having a gambling enterprise for betting in connection with money is a form of extortion.
The Watchtower of October 15, 1970, page 614, says directly that gambling is extortion.
Once again, that liberating force is the Word of God at work in the individual. The truth is that gambling is extortion, has its roots in greed and laziness, and is demoralizing, often leading to other wrongs. Knowing that all these are things condemned by God, the person wanting His approval has no difficulty in deciding to rid himself of such an undesirable habit.—1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Prov. 21:25.
Several brothers, including myself, had problems with the definition of gambling as extortion, and in 1972 there was a change in viewpoint. Now, gambling was viewed as greediness, as we see in The Watchtower of October 1, 1972, page 592.
9 Gambling is not mentioned specifically in the Bible. What, then, should be the Christian’s attitude toward it?
10 Some might link it to extortion, mentioned at 1 Corinthians 6:10. However, the objection may be raised that “to extort” (a word having the same source as the word “torture”) carries the basic idea of using force, threats or other pressure (as by the abuse of official authority) to obtain something from an unwilling person. While individuals who lose money in gambling are not pleased to lose it, they generally gamble willingly and with full recognition that they run the risk of losing money. So, then, if gambling is not extortion, on what basis would the Christian refuse to approve it?
11 There is more than one Scriptural reason for doing so. Gambling certainly merits being classified as a form of “greediness,” and greediness and covetousness are classed along with idolatry in God’s Word. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Col. 3:5)
The view of gambling has changed several times over the years:
Gambling certainly merits being classified as a form of “greediness”
“Gambling in any form appeals to one of the worst qualities in humans—greed.”
“Elders do not generally involve themselves in what an individual does with regard to petty gambling solely for entertainment.”
If an individual’s gambling reveals a course of greediness, perhaps causing harm to himself or others, and he ignores repeated counsel, judicial action would be appropriate.
We see that in 1972, The Watchtower said that gambling is a form of greediness, and in 1980 The Watchtower said that any form of gambling leads to greed. But the Shepherd book says that petty gambling for entertainment is not wrong, but in some instances, gambling can reveal greediness. In that case judicial action must be taken.
My web article “Greed” in the category “The eleven disfellowshipping offenses” shows that greed (pleonexia) is not a disfellowshipping offense. But pleonektēs in 1 Corinthians 6:10, that NWT13 translates as “greedy person,” is a disfellowshipping offense. The definition of pleonektēs is “a person who is permeated by the seeking or pursuit of dishonest gain by exploiting and cheating others, an incorrigible pursuer of dishonest gain.” This shows that the translation of pleonektēs should be “exploiter” rather than “greedy person.” Such persons deserve to be disfellowshipped.
The application of harpax to a high bride price
The only article I have found that the Watchtower literature qualifying an action as extortion is taking too high a bride price. The Watchtower of October 15, 1970, page 614, says:
So there is nothing improper in giving a bride price to the father for the loss of his daughter whom he reared and educated. What is wrong about a bride price or lobola is the abuse that is made of it. It is wrong, unchristian, untheocratic, to treat it, not as a compensation, but as a means of making money off one’s own child or children, and then charge excessively or extort more than what is right or require what works a hardship.
12 God hates all extortioners, including bride-price extortioners, who commercialize their own daughters. Any such greedy person that claims to be a Christian puts himself in the way of excommunication or disfellowshiping from the Christian congregation any and every time that he commits extortion in the case of lobola or bride price. Paul said: “Now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. . . . ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.’” (1 Cor. 5:11, 13, NW) The extortioner’s price is unreasonably high, inconsiderate of the circumstances and calls for more than a fair compensation for the loss of a daughter. The man’s greed for money will especially be shown up when his high price makes it impossible for a Christian to procure his daughter and he will hold out for his excessive price and marry her off to a pagan who can afford it. It displays a lack of love of the brothers, but an injurious love of money.—1 Tim. 6:10.
The whole issue is discussed in detail in my web article “A High Bride Price” in the category “Different actions.” The conclusion of this article is that a high bride price can hardly be classified as extortion. To drive home the point, I will apply to the situation of a high bride price, the reasoning behind the change from viewing gambling as extortion to viewing it as greed.
10 Some might link it [gambling] to extortion, mentioned at 1 Corinthians 6:10. However, the objection may be raised that “to extort” (a word having the same source as the word “torture”) carries the basic idea of using force, threats or other pressure (as by the abuse of official authority) to obtain something from an unwilling person. While individuals who lose money in gambling are not pleased to lose it, they generally gamble willingly and with full recognition that they run the risk of losing money. So, then, if gambling is not extortion, on what basis would the Christian refuse to approve it?
The reason why the Governing Body stopped classifying gambling as extortion was that it realized that gambling did not include “using force, threats, or other pressure…to obtain something from an unwilling person”—the very definition of “extortion”. But cannot the same reasoning be applied to a high bride price? Absolutely! There is no use of force, or threats, or other pressure in connection with a high bride price, and there is no “unwilling person,” and so neither can a high bride price be classified as extortion.
If the price really is “too high,” something which is difficult to say with certainty, it can, at most, be considered an expression of covetousness. Because greed is defined as “an insatiable desire for more,” it cannot be applied to a high bride price. This means that the Governing Body admits to wrongly classifying gambling as “extortion” at one time, but has yet to recognize that it is making the same mistake all over again in connection with classifying too high a bride price as “extortion”.
The discussion above shows that there are no particular actions typical of a Witnesses that can rightly be classified as extortion. But such actions can, of course, occur. If, for example, if a Witness is practicing robbery, this is harpax and can lead to disfellowshipping.
The action of extortion can be difficult to detect. For example, accusations of extortion can occur between business associates and other contacts. But because the elders are not educated in the handling of judicial cases, I would say that only when it is crystal clear that extortion has been practiced, should the elders take judicial action.
And as in the case with the other disfellowshipping offenses mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, one or even a few occurrences of extortion would not in itself warrant disfellowshipping. Only when a person is permeated by extortion, i.e., he has not just committed acts of extortion, but has become an incorrigible “extortioner,” can he or she rightly be thrown out of the congregation.
. The Watchtower of October 1, 1972, page 592.
. The Watchtower of December 15, 1980, page 29.
. “Shepherd The Flock Of God” chapter 12, point 31.
The Greek word translated as “extortion,” (harpax) has the basic meaning of “living by preying on other animals, especially by catching living prey.” Applied to humans, the word refers to robbery and extortion.
Gambling was earlier classified by the Governing Body as “extortion”. But this definition was changed to “greed”. Therefore, the only action that is now classified as extortion in the Shepherd book is demanding too high a bride price. But exacting too high a bride price is clearly not extortion, but it could, in certain situations, be an expression of covetousness. However, “covetousness” is not a disfellowshipping offense.
Because extortion is difficult to prove, and because the elders have not been adequately educated in handling judicial cases, extreme caution should be taken in connection with claims of extortion by a member of the congregation.