The act or practice of taking or obtaining anything from an unwilling or reluctant person by illegal use of fear, whether by force, threats, or any other undue exercise of power. The basic sense of the Greek word rendered ‘extortioner’ (harʹpax) is “snatcher.” (1Co 5:10, Int) The Bible repeatedly warns against any seeking of unjust gain, particularly on the part of those in responsible or official positions.—Ex 18:21; Pr 1:19; 15:27.
Nevertheless, under Roman rule over Palestine, Jewish tax collectors were often guilty of extortion. Their position provided them with wide opportunities to enrich themselves unjustly (and undoubtedly their Roman masters also) at the expense of the people. In an illustration Jesus may have alluded to this when he spoke of a self-righteous Pharisee praying alongside a tax collector and commending himself to God as not being an extortioner. (Lu 18:11) The tax collectors who came to John the Baptizer asking what to do were counseled: “Do not demand anything more than the tax rate.”—Lu 3:13.
When Zacchaeus, a rich chief tax collector, was entertaining Jesus as a guest in his home, he repented and turned from his bad course, saying: “Whatever I extorted from anyone by false accusation I am restoring fourfold.” (Lu 19:2, 8; see ACCUSATION.) The Law, however, required in such cases of repentance and admission of guilt that only 120 percent be restored to the defrauded one.—Le 6:2-5.
Extortion is listed in the Christian Greek Scriptures along with fornication, adultery, idolatry, greediness, thievery, drunkenness, reviling, and homosexuality as things that will prevent the one who makes a practice of them from entering the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, writing to the congregation at Corinth, said that formerly some of them had done such things, but were now washed clean. Therefore, although they could not avoid some contact with these kinds of persons in the world, they must quit associating with any of such ones claiming to be a “brother,” and they must remove them from the congregation.—1Co 5:9-11; 6:9-11.
The Christian attitude toward paying extortion in the form of a bribe is illustrated in the apostle Paul’s case. The Roman governor Felix attempted to extort money from Paul by prolonging Paul’s detention in prison for two years. Of this, Paul was aware, but he offered Felix nothing. Eventually Felix was succeeded in office by Governor Festus.—Ac 24:26, 27.