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When Should an Overseas Missionary Pay a Bribe?
Image: James O'Brien

For the Sake of Justice

Gregory Koukl

The word "bribe" is ugly, with bad built into its definition. For many, bribes are synonymous with dishonesty, deceit, and corruption. But are all gifts that are meant to curry special favor actually immoral?

If bribes are immoral by definition, then the question is settled. Exodus 23:8 seems unambiguous: "You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just" (all from NASB). Deuteronomy 27:25 echoes, "Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person."

But some verses seem to commend bribes. Proverbs 17:8 states, "A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; wherever he turns, he prospers." Or consider 21:14, "A gift in secret subdues anger and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath"—a truism every spouse is familiar with.

How do we resolve the apparent contradiction? The fog clears considerably when we factor in two important pieces of information. First, virtually every Hebrew word translated as bribe can also legitimately be rendered gift, offering, or contribution—and often is. Clearly, Scripture teaches that gifts ("bribes"), properly placed, can create opportunities or pacify anger and alleviate conflict.

But there's also a dark side. Proverbs says: "A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice" (17:23); "The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it" (29:4); and "He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live" (15:27).

Did you notice something about every verse above condemning bribery? ...

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When Should an Overseas Missionary Pay a Bribe?
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May 2014

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