Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is Bribery Okay for a Christian? Understanding Proverbs 17:8

A friend approached me on Sunday about a verse in Proverbs. He remembered that I had written a book about Proverbs and confessed some confusion about a particular verse. It was Proverbs 17:8 and he was using the NIV.
A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds. (Prov 17:8 NIV 84)
My friend said that it appeared from this verse that bribery is okay for a Christian, yet he knew it was not. He had looked at some commentaries but they had nothing to offer about that verse. I told him I would be glad to do some research and get back to him. Here are the results of my study:

To me, by far the best resource for Proverbs is the dual book set by Bruce Waltke. Volume I gives a detailed and tremendous overview of Proverbs, and then provides a verse-by-verse analysis of chapters 1-14. The second volume in this set and the one I used is shown to the left. I have many other resources on Proverbs and none come close.

I gave my friend four points for his consideration. Most of this analysis comes directly from Waltke's book, pages 48,49.
  1. What the Pentateuch states
    Proverbs is consistent with the law that was given in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Here are the two main references from the law:
    And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. (Ex 23:8 ESV)


    You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. (Deut 16:19 ESV)
    Immediately we see that the law requires the avoidance of bribery. Remembering that the Lord is not a respecter of people, this would mean that He does not give preference to those that offer money. We are not expected to be that way either.

  2. Evidence within Proverbs
    The pursuit of internal evidence asks, "Is Proverbs consistent with itself?" or "What else does Proverbs state about bribery?" There are four references besides verse 17:8.
    He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts. (Prov 6:35 ESV)

    There are three characters in Proverbs 6: the seducing adulterous woman, the one being seduced, and her husband. In this verse, the husband will refuse any gifts that the tempted one might offer.


    Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live. (Prov 15:27 ESV)


    The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice. (Prov 17:23 ESV)


    A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath. (Prov 21:14 ESV)

    This last verse seems to offer some confusion as well. By looking at the surrounding verses, it is seen that the one offering the bribe is oppressing the poor (v13), and that evildoer will be brought to justice (v15).
  3. The Proverb itself
    My friend was using the NIV 1984 Bible. I believe that the newer NIV 2011 offers a better understanding of Proverbs 17:8 – it clarifies that it is the briber's thought process that is involved.
    A bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it; they think success will come at every turn. (Prov 17:8 NIV 2011)

    A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds. (Prov 17:8 NIV 84)

    Bruce Waltke suggested that the phrase "in the eyes of" (KJV) is the fool's opinion of himself, and therefore renders this verse with the word "think." I think that insight adds considerable value to this verse and the NIV 2011 leaned on that understanding.
  4. The Proverb in context
    Waltke also suggests that most of verses 7 through 28 in Proverbs 17 are teachings about foolishness. Here is my look at some of those verses.
    • It is foolish to have lying lips (v7)
    • The one who repeats a transgression is foolish (v9)
    • Rebellion is being foolish (v11)
    • An adverse brother is acting like a fool (v17)
    I had not seen this cluster of foolishness in my previous reviews of Proverbs; I found that was enlightening.

While Waltke offers other good points about this verse, I suggest that the above four points are sufficient in themselves to conclude it is incorrect to either offer or accept bribes. That is based on these selections from Proverbs or the Bible as a whole. As the adulterous woman offers temptation, the one being tempted should not present bribes, and the righteous spouse should not accept them.