“Do not take Bribes (Ex 23,8)”

by John Wijngaards, LAWS FOR LIFE Series in the New Leader, 19 August 1973; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 5 October 1975

“You should never take a bribe for a bribe blinds the open-eyed and causes even just persons to tell lies.” (Exodus 23, 8)

The context of the verses in Scripture speaking about bribes normally points to jurisprudenee. It was especially in a court case that the bribe of a rich man could make witnesses change their testimony or make a judge change his verdict. This is the immediate meaning of the words quoted above. The judge, who is the open-eyed person in objective possession of all the facts of the case, can be made blind by a bribe. And even just persons, who normally would have given witness according to the best of their knowledge can be made to become liars because of financial profit. Therefore, taking a bribe implies the readiness to do an injustice to a person who has been accused before court because of the material advantage coming to us from the bribe. It was a great evil in ancient times and must have brought condemnation and punishment on many innocent persons,

Impartial Justice

Persons in authority, as the judges of old, should remember that they are exercising power over others because Almighty God has delegated it to them. in seeking the welfare of all and in proteetmg the justice of the weaker members of society leaders should imitate the justice of God himself. Scripture reminds us: “The Lord your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of lords, the great, mighty and awful God. He is never partial and never takes a bribe. He secures justice for the orphan and the widow. He loves the foreigner and gives him food and clothing” (Dt. 10, 17.18).

The law is therefore first and foremost an obligation on the persons in authority. They are told that they should not take bribes. It is first of all up to them not to continue any system of dispenslng justice in which gifts and material benefits play a partin the distribution of rights. What is said as a principle in jurisprudence obviously applies to other spheres of life too. If we wield authority over our fellowmen whatever our jurisdiction or competence may be, we are seriously at fault by accepting donations that will force us to become blind to the just demands of poorer people entrusted to our care. In granting permissions. allotting appointments, giving promotions and extending services. We have to look aiter the orphan, the widow and the stranger even though they may not be able to present us with bribes.

And giving bribes?

It is interesting to note that the Bible normally speaks about the prohibition to take bribes, but not of any prohibition to give bribes. This does not mean that giving bribes is not as wrong as taking bribes when through it we perpetuate the system of injustice, or when we actively seek to deprive other persons of their due. A wealthy man who considers his purse as the means to obtain privileges without consideration of others is just as wrong as the person in authority whom he is bribing to be on his side. They are the kind of people who “sell the innocent for silver” (Amos 2, 6). They have become as blind as the judge spoken of in our Scripture text.

But things can be different for the ordinary man. It may be that obtaining a position to which he has the full right, is yet made dependent, through the injustice of his employer or immediate superior, to the giving of a bribe. In such a case, the ordinary man may simply have to give the bribe, not beeause he agrees to the system or because he wants to deprive someone else of his due, but simply to obtain the job that he needs to remain alive. In this case he is not unlike a traveller who is robbed of his money by decoits or to a father who is forced to pay ransom for his child that has been kidnapped. In other words, such a person may simply be forced to give a bribe and is not directly guilty of the practice. He is robbed.

Moreover, not every favour we give to anothel person should be taken as a bribe. The Book of Proverbs says: “The generous man has many to court his favour, to one who gives everyone is friend” (Prov, 19, 6). This means: if we are not stingy with ous gifts it will help our relations with other persons. If our superior comes to visit and inspect us, it is but natural that we give him a good reception. As we should extend our friendship and generosity to other persons, so we should equally extend them to those who have authority over us, This is not a bribe, but a natural aspect of maintaining good relationships. The abuse comes in as soon as we start giving presents with the purpose of obtaining rights that are not ours. For then our gifts have become bribes. Then they do no longer maintain our good relationships for us, but pervert them into plots against our neighbour, Let us remember the advice of Scripture: “He who hates bribes shall have life” (Proverbs 15, 27).