The Christian and Bribery

Biblical ethics would never allow the faithful Christians to engage in practices commonly known as bribery.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

You don’t have to search very long to find cases of bribery in American politics.

From the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s to the Gulf Oil and Exxon bribes of the 1960s to the Abscam corruption of the 1970s to the sweetheart deals of politicians in more recent days. Bribery seems to be a normal and customary part of business and politics.

Many Americans voice outrage when they hear of big business bribes or fat-cat politicians taking advantage of their position to load their own wallets.

Bribery is a serious moral and ethical problem that exists wherever a man or woman has a price to trade for their integrity.

A Brief History of Bribery

The corruption of bribery is hoary with antiquity.

Despite the fact that there were heavy fines against bribery in ancient Rome, the practice of a political candidate buying support was common.

Leading politicians were frequently deep in personal debt, which made them ripe targets for bribery.

For example, in 62 B.C. Julius Caesar’s debts amount to what would be about $500,000 in American currency.

At the age of twenty-four, Marcus Antonius owed $100,000. Fourteen years later his liability as no less than $600,000.

Cicero was constrained to comment: “Bribery is at boiling point.”

In the antique world of the Greek Empire things were better. Political bribery seems not to have prevailed, at least on a large scale in Greece.

But in commenting upon the situation in Carthage Aristotle reflected: “It is natural that a man should make money of his office if he has to pay for it.”

A study of multiple ancient cultures will reveal that bribery has consistently been condemned by civilized peoples as a corrupt practice.

Attempts have been made to address this great evil. In that landmark document of English history, the Magna Charta, it was stated: “To none will we sell, to none will we deny or defer, right or justice.”

A noble idea that has yet to be fully realized.

Bribery And The Old Testament

The Old Testament vigorously condemns bribery.

The Hebrew term sho'chad, frequently rendered “gift” (KJV) or “bribe” (ASV), denoted “a present” and generally had to do with a gift presented to a judge to obtain a favorable verdict.

Properly, though, a bribe is “anything given to a person to induce him to do something illegal or wrong, or against his wishes.”

Old Testament writers associate it with several base attitudes and attendant evils.

Bribery was considered a perversion of justice because it often caused the innocent to be condemned and the guilty released.

Moses declared: “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).

Again: “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).

David praises the man who refuses to take reward against the innocent (Psa. 15:5) and condemns as “wickedness” the reception of bribes (Psa. 26: 10).

The wise man wrote: “The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice” (Prov. 17:23).

Isaiah saw the problem in his day. He issued a dire woe to those "who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right (Isa. 5:23).

Bribery and Other Evils

Bribery is a companion of numerous forms of evil. It goes hand-in-hand with extortion and oppression.

“Surely extortion drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart” (Eccl. 7:7).

It is an associate of thievery.

“Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.” (Isa. 1:23).

Bribery is not uncommonly connected with murder.

“In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord God” (Ezek. 22:12).

In connection with the sin of bribery, Moses extols the holiness of Jehovah when he affirms that the Lord “regards not persons, nor takes reward” (Deut. 10:17; cf. 2 Chron. 19:7).

Accordingly, those who would “dwell on high” with Jehovah must shake their hands from taking bribes (Isa. 33:15).

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, bribery beyond the bounds of Israel was not condemned.

Bribing non-Jewish rulers, officials, and judges was regarded as legitimate at all times. In view of their bias against Jews, it is not difficult to understand· such an attitude. Not only was it quite usual to bribe kings (1 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 16:8; Ber. 28b,, but expenses involved in bribing judges and sheriffs were often expressly included in the expenses recoverable from debtors."

Whether the above is an accurate reflection of true Jewish law is really beside the point here, for Israel had trouble aplenty with bribery within their own ranks!

Prior to their fall to the Assyrians, Amos indicted Israel for their bribery practices.

“For I know how manifold are your transgressions, and how mighty are your sins—ye that afflict the just, that take a bribe, and that turn aside the needy in the gate from their right” (Amos 5:12).

Some contend that the Jews had no formal penalty for taking bribes. Modern Jewish authorities assert that such practices were “in the nature of unethical misconduct rather than of a criminal offence.”

It is alleged that a bribe-taker could have been flogged, but it is more likely that a bribed judge’s decision would have simply been rendered invalid; possibly he might also be assessed some liability.

However, Josephus declared: “If any judge takes bribes, his punishment is death” (Against Apion 2:28).

The Law clearly pronounced a curse upon any who took a bribe to slay an innocent person (Deut. 27:25).

Bribery And The New Testament

Though bribery is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament, it is certainly condemned both by principle and by implication.

A few cases of bribery will serve to illustrate the point.

Judas, the Traitor

Perhaps the most notable case of bribery was that of Judas, who for the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver was “bought” to become “guide to them that took Jesus” (Acts 1:16).

And with that “reward” (Acts 1:18), he obtained a hole in the ground for his body.

His judgment about Jesus formed over a three-year span was completely perverted by his greed (cf. Jn. 12:6).

The Sleeping Witnesses

Another such instance involves the bribing of the Roman soldiers who stood guard at Jesus’ tomb.

On the Sabbath after Christ’s crucifixion, his body was still in the tomb. A group of Pharisees thus visited Pilate warning him that the deceiver, Jesus, had promised to rise from the dead after three days.

They requested that the tomb “be made sure” lest his disciples steal the body and fabricate a tale of the resurrection.

The governor assigned them a guard urging them to “make it as sure as ye can.”

After the Lord was raised, some of the Roman guards went into Jerusalem and reported the dramatic events to the Jewish rulers.

A hasty meeting of the Sanhedrin was called resulting in a large bribe being paid to the soldiers with the charge: “You say, ‘His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.’” (cf., Mt. 27:62-66; 28:11-15).

How much money would it take to get someone to stick with a story that ridiculous? The very idea—a sleeping witness!

The very fact that the officials sealed the soldiers’ mouths with a bribe is proof that the affixed Roman seal had been broken. But by whom?

Simon, the Trickster

When the apostles, Peter and John, came down to Samaria to impart spiritual gifts to the people Philip had converted, we are told that:

“[W]hen Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money [a bribe], saying, Give me also this power” (Acts 8:18, 19).

Peter promptly responded: “Your silver perish with you, because you have thought to obtain the gift of God with money.”

From this incident, the term “Simony” was coined. It describes the practice that arose in later church history of bribing one’s way into religious office. See that word discussed in various books on church history and encyclopedias.

Spiritual Principles Condemning Bribery

The New Testament condemns bribery from both the positive and negative viewpoints.

Bribery actually is the offspring of covetousness.

Therefore, every passage dealing with covetousness is also an indictment against bribery.

Prohibitions against covetousness (Rom. 13:9) and the penalty attached to such (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:5) are grave warnings to those who would accept bribes or patronize the weakness of others.

Additionally, Jehovah makes it incumbent on us that “we take thought for things honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:21).

The word “honorable” in this verse is the Greek halos, of which W. E. Vine says: “good, admirable, becoming, has also the ethical meaning of what is fair, right, honourable, of such conduct as deserves esteem.”

Bribery violates every principle of honesty and integrity set forth in the Word of God.

Bribery of Religious Leaders

The tendency of men to bribe and to accept bribes has been characteristic of all areas of life. Not even religion has escaped this spiritual disease.

In the era of the Old Testament, Balaam, who lived in the time of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and who is called a “prophet” by inspiration (2 Pet. 2:16), was persuaded by means of a bribe attempted to place a curse on the people of Jehovah (Num. 22-24).

Though a religious man, his love of the hire of wrong-doing was his undoing!

Apparently bribery was not an uncommon practice among religious leaders in the time of the Judges of Israel. Samuel, near the end of the days, challenged:

“Here I am: witness against me before Jehovah, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I taken a ransom to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you” (1 Sam. 12:3).

Though this great prophet was not one who could be bought (vs. 4), his evil sons were not of the same character for the record says:

“And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted justice” (1 Sam. 8:3).

Bribery appears to have been commonplace among Israel’s prophets and priests in the declining years of Judah’s reign for Micah fearlessly attacks the practice:

“The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet they lean upon Jehovah, and say, Is not Jehovah in the midst of us? no evil shall come upon us” (Micah 3:11).

Again, “Their hands are upon that which is evil to do it diligently; the prince asks, and the judge is ready for a reward” (Micah 7:3).

The task of being a spiritual leader and teacher is indeed awesome. Religious guides are charged with the solemn responsibility of directing people in the way of truth — without addition, subtraction or alteration.

This vocation calls for singleness of purpose and total dedication for there are great dangers along the way.

There have always been those (even in religion) who “hate him that reproveth)” and “abhor him that speaketh uprightly” (Amos 5:10).

They have itching ears that cannot tolerate sound doctrine, they heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts (2 Tim. 4:3).

They say, “Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits, get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (Isa. 30:10, 11).

Men are basically religious. They want to be religious. They need it.

But because many of them do not wish to surrender to the truth, their alternative is to find a leader or preacher who will tell them exactly what they want to hear.

The religious world is filled with racketeers who can be bribed into teaching virtually anything under the sun!

The Lord knew this would be the situation. This is why there is an abundance of Biblical material for spiritual leaders relating to money matters.

Spiritual Bribery

Among the divinely given qualifications for the overseer of God’s flock is the requisite that the Lord’s bishop must not be a “lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3) or “greedy of filthy lucre” (Tit. 1:7).

The latter expression is also used with reference to deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8.

These warnings imply, among other things, that there may be a temptation to bribery.

There might be those who would desire the work of church leadership but who, due to materialistic disposition, would be highly vulnerable to persons or groups who are accustomed to buying their own way in everything.

And if we may accept the testimony of church history, this is exactly what happened in the post-apostolic age.

The Apostolic Constitutions, documents from the fourth century A.D., warn against bishops accepting “shameful gifts” and thereby being influenced against exercising discipline against evil men in the church (Bk. ii, c. 9 ).

Another remarkable passage deals with those “pastors” who would, because of bribes, falsely accuse the innocent and have them expelled from Christian fellowship (Bk. ii, c. 42 ).

The truth of the matter is, this type of situation exists in principle in many congregations today. Consider some cases.

I recall a congregation on the West Coast whose eldership would not permit a gospel preacher to teach the Bible doctrine of marriage in their midst.

They claimed there are so many families in the congregation involved in the divorce problem that if it were taught, many would leave and the church budget would be ruined! That was an eldership that had been bribed by adulterers.

Has there ever been an eldership that was approached by a segment of the local church that did not care for straight-forward Bible teaching?

Their spokesman perhaps said, “Brethren, we do not like the way the preacher preaches, and we have decided that we can no longer in good conscience give our contributions here.”

And often elderships have bowed to such bribes and suggested to their preacher that it would be better if he found another work. If this is not a form of bribery, what is it?

And we might as well face it. Preachers are not above taking a bribe now and then.

Some take a bribe each time they receive a paycheck. If a minister refrains from teaching the whole truth* of God on such subjects as social drinking, immodesty, marriage and divorce, church discipline, covetousness, and other controversial topics because he knows that addressing these matters would result in his dismissal, he is being bribed as surely as if someone were slipping an envelope full of money under his door!

Perhaps this is why Paul warned the young Timothy about the numerous temptations that befall those who are minded to be rich (1 Tim. 6:5-10).

Preachers are human. We need a home, clothes, food, and other necessities. We even enjoy a few luxuries.

But let us never neglect the preaching of the whole truth. We must not allow our souls to be bribed by those who haven’t the slightest interest in going to heaven!

Special Problems

I believe a word of caution is appropriate in connection with some of the current popular practices in some churches.

Some religious folks are no longer of the persuasion that Christianity has the intrinsic merit to attract the attention of serious-minded people.

And so gimmicks and allurements (and, yes, even bribes) of a circus-like atmosphere are used to woo large numbers.

One denominational group initiated the practice of giving gift cards to visitors. Others have given financial rewards to members who could bring in the most new members for the congregation.

Surely, though, Christian people shouldn’t have to be bribed to carry out the Lord’s commission to the lost!

Or what about handing out gift cards and door prizes for visitors who come to our worship assembly?

Aren’t these novel forms of “evangelism” dangerously close to a form of bribery (and in some cases more than close).

What does it say about Christians when they have to resort to deception and bribery to bring in the people?

Would it not be better to motivate people by proclaiming the Lord’s grace rather than employing seducing gifts and lollypop theology?


Again, let it be stressed. Biblical ethics would never allow the faithful Christians to engage in practices commonly known as bribery (i.e., all attempts to pervert justice or bring about that which is immoral).

In those shady areas that might be occasionally confronted, the child of God will use his Scripture-seasoned judgment and attempt to practice the golden rule and provide for things honorable in the sight of all men.

  • Board, Stephen. “Influence For Sale,” Eternity. September 1976.
  • C. H. H. “Bribery,” Encyclopedia Judaica. New York: -Macmillian Co., 1971.
  • Hanke, H. W. “Bribery,” The New Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1975.
  • McClintock, John and Strong, James. Article “Gift,” Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968.
  • Murray, R. H. “Corruption and Bribery,” Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914.
  • Ross, Irwin. “Bribery Is Bad Business,” Reader’s Digest. September, 1976.
  • Smith, William and Cheetham, Samuel. “Bribery,” A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. London: John Murray, 1875.