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Baptism of the Dead

By Peter Eng
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Baptism for the Dead

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29)

This is one of the more enigmatic verses in the Bible. I have been talking about the resurrection, and even though we did not come to this text, I would be remiss not to address it.

The plain reading of the text suggests to us that the Corinthians were practicing some type of vicarious baptism for the dead.  This resulted in the Mormons practicing such a baptism for their ancestors who are already dead. They think this avails salvation to them. In order to do this, they need to know who their ancestors are. Consequently, as a group, the Mormons have better genealogical records than anyone.

All Christians, however, reject this reading.

While the plain reading suggests vicarious baptism, it simply cannot mean that because:

  1. There is an absence of such a practice in the main Christian community from the earliest times. We know about this because writers from the historic Christian church wrote to denounce those who practice vicarious baptism. So it is clear the historic Christian faith did not read the verse this way.
  2. It is extremely unlikely that Paul would not comment of this practice which is essentially magic through the sacrament. This is contrary to everything in Scripture about the sacrament of baptism.
  3. Such a teaching makes it totally unnecessary for a person do respond to God. All he needs is for his descendants or some other person to be baptized on his behalf. It is not a benign practice, but one fraught with assumptions that there is something magical in baptism. It contradicts the tenor of Scripture.

There are myriad views on what the verse means, and there is no commonly agreed interpretation on this verse. If you wish, you may find them in critical commentaries that will list the views and reasons for them. What I want to do here is to let you know which view I find the most feasible.  I can’t claim credit for this view, I can only claim credit not to add another view to the existing ones.

I think the view that is most straightforward is to take the preposition “for” as “for the sake of.” This is a viable use of the Greek preposition. The text then reads: “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the sake of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for their sake?”

This reading is natural without forcing the text. It simply uses the preposition in a way that is commonly used by Paul in other places.  There is nothing metaphorical or symbolic in this reading and it coheres well with what we can expect in the Corinthian situation. So what does this mean?

This is a phenomenon quite commonly seen even today in Singapore. This happens when a believer has departed in the Lord. He is saved, his soul has gone to Jesus, and his body is waiting for the resurrection. He leaves behind family members who are reluctant to convert. When the living see that if they want to be with their loved one beyond the grave, they have to also embrace the faith as their loved one. So they make a commitment of faith and get themselves baptized for the sake of those who are dead. So they are baptized “for the sake of the dead.”

Let me illustrate from my own life experience. My own paternal grandmother understood that her son (my dad) had died in the Lord. Even though she has been practicing traditional Chinese religion, she wanted to be with her son. She believed in Jesus, but found the social ties of her religion too strong to sever. Yet on her death bed she decided she wanted to be with her son, and was baptized for the sake of her dead son.

I like to suggest this is the simplest, grammatically correct without any contortion of language, and culturally probable explanation for this enigmatic verse.

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Who is a Witness?

By Peter Eng
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Proposition

This is a short fact-sheet to demonstrate that the term “witness” in the Bible is used as we would normally mean witness: someone who sees an event in person and testifies to it. In this regard, the term to “witness for Christ” is fundamentally flawed. The Bible itself uses the term “to evangelize” or to “proclaim the Good News.” While we appreciate the attempt to make the work of proclamation for the good news the joy and privilege of every Christian, the term “witness” is still the wrong term. We may substitute “proclaim the Good News” with “sharing the Good News” or “sharing how Jesus saved me” etc. But witness should be removed from our vocabulary when we talk about the proclamation of the Good News. Bearing witness was the work of the Apostles who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus.

You are invited to check out all the references in the Bible to see if there is any justification to suggest we can be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. Below are all the references to the word “witness” in Acts.

Evidence

References in Acts Usage
Acts 1 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus talking to the disciples
Acts 1 21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” Very clear that witness refers to eye-witness, and that they understood the earlier commission to be the appointment of the witness of 12 apostles to the nation Israel and beyond.
Acts 2 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.  12 Apostles as eye-witnesses
Acts 3 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this 12 Apostles as eye-witnesses
Acts 5 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” 12 Apostles as eye-witnesses
Acts 6 They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  Eye-witness in court
Acts 7 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. Eye-witness in court
Acts 10 39 We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.  12 Apostles as eye-witnesses
Acts 10 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 12 Apostles as eye-witnesses, and others
Acts 13 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. 12 Apostles as eye-witnesses
Acts 22  15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’ Commissioning of Ananias to Saul/Paul who saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul as eye-witness to Gentiles.
Acts 26  16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me.  Paul as eye-witness of the resurrected Jesus
Acts 28 23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Paul as eye-witness of the resurrected Jesus

Conclusion

At no point can we be called witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. We should abandon the term “witnessing for Jesus” and use an alternate term.

This is just another example of our being biblical @theWell. We will say what Scripture says and not say what Scriptures does not say, regardless of our own preferences or popularity of an idea. We recognize the good intention of Christians who popularized the term “witnessing” to refer to the proclamation of the Good News. We support the intention and goal, but the term is misplaced.
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The Apostle Peter

By Peter Eng
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Apostle Peter – Part 1

Artist-perception-of-Peters-denial.jpg

Peter was probably the oldest of Jesus’ disciples. This led to a consistent portrait of Peter as an old man. In some instances, as a very old man. The artists seem to forget that he was young once!

Peter-deny-Jesus-2-Rembrant.jpg

When Jesus began his ministry, Jesus was about 32/3 years old. It is likely that Peter was not much older (if indeed he was older) than Jesus. At the time when Jesus walked the earth, we should expect Peter to be no older than his mid-thirties.

Peter-weeping-after-denying-Jesus.png

The representation of Peter in “The Passion of the Christ” is closer to the age of Peter at that time. It may still be a little too old, but that depends on how quickly an individual ages.

When Peter first met Jesus, he was living in Bethsaida. Not long after, he moved to Capernaum.

Peter was married. We do not have the name of his wife in the Bible. We also do not know if they had children. One possible reason for this silence is to protect them during this time when persecution, or the threat of persecution, was ever present.

Peter’s ministry started with the Jews, but it very quickly included Gentiles. He was originally based in Jerusalem, but eventually went to Rome where he served a significant length of time.

While in Rome, he bore witness for Jesus. Mark was this companion assistant and he recorded Peter’s account of Jesus. This eventually became the Gospel according to Mark. Mark’s Gospel is really Peter’s portrait of Jesus Christ. But in it, we also find Peter’s portrait of himself. It is a humble representation of his own foibles and Jesus’ greatness.

Matthew and Luke used Peter’s (Mark’s) account as their framework. John did not. So John’s representation of Peter is much kinder than Peter’s representation of himself.

Two things stand out in the early church. The individual who did wrong is most likely the one who made it public. The other Christians represented the failure more kindly than the person who failed.

This stands in contrast to the thinking of the world, which has also crept into the church. The wrong-doer denies fault or minimizes it, and third-parties, including Christians, can be vicious in their attacking the brother who has fallen.

Apostle Peter – Part 2

Bethsaida, about 2 km from the shore

Peter’s first hometown was Bethsaida (John 1:44; 12:21) before he moved to Capernaum (Matthew 8:5, 14). There is both historical and spiritual significance in this.

There is dispute on the location of Bethsaida [Aramaic: House of Fishing]. The traditional site of Bethsaida (Julias) was under the jurisdiction of and raised by Philip the Tetrarch. The chief problem with this site is that it is about 2 km from the shore of Galilee and it does not make a good fishing village. Some have suggested Peter’s Bethsaida is a location yet not discovered, or not yet identified among the excavated sites, but one that is much closer to Capernaum where Peter eventually moved. There have been some suggestions, but none is confirmed. So for now, we will work with Bethsaida Julias as the site of Peter’s first home (that we know of). John is the one who recounts this detail. And John and James were fishing partners with Peter and Andrew. As far as John was concerned, Peter and Andrew were the guys from Bethsaida. This suggests the move was fairly recent. In any case, it suggests they were adults when they moved.

We do not know why Peter and Andrew moved to Capernaum. If they had lived in Bethsaida Julias, it is unlikely that they were fishermen there as the coast was 2 km away. Of course it is possible that they were fishermen and were tired of making a daily commute and decided to move closer to the shore.

I like to suggest that when Peter and Andrew moved to Capernaum, it was somewhat tied to their entering into the fishing business with John and James, with their father Zebedee. Perhaps Peter and Andrew relocated to be closer to their business partners who had a better location than their own. Perhaps they moved first and found James and John later.

At some point after they were business partners, Jesus called them to be his disciples. We do not know the interval, but when we factor in Peter and Andrew’s move from Bethsaida and their fishing partnership, it could have happened not long before Jesus called them to follow him.

Peter and Andrew, James and John could view the call to discipleship two ways. One is to argue that they have a newly formed and good business going on. God couldn’t possibly want them to put that on hold, or on the backburner to follow Jesus. The other way is to say that even though their aim was to build a business, and they came together for that purpose, God had a higher plan for them. He was redirecting them to follow Jesus and put their fishing business on the backburner — they should follow Jesus and just wait and see what would happen to their business.

Bethsaida - The Fisherman House

We know they decided to follow Jesus. Their cost was to become absentee business owners rather than owner-operators. They had to let go of their business operations. That too, was risk. That too was a step of faith. Especially for Peter and Andrew. They moved from Bethsaida to Capernaum for a reason, and it wasn’t Jesus. They had to make significant adjustments to follow Jesus.

Apostle Peter – The Fisherman

Peter and Andrew were brothers. James and John were also brothers. They were in the fishing business. That is to say they were fishermen who owned fishing boats, not fishermen who were employed to catch fish. In that sense, they were entrepreneurs or business owners.

We don’t know how many boats they owned, but there is a hint of it in John 21. After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter wanted to go fishing. It was night and about the right time to fish. When Peter was following Jesus, it is likely they employed others to fish for them. Alternatively, they could have leased out their boats to other fishermen. In either case, Peter should have a vacant and fully equipped boat that he could just take and go fishing. This suggests to us that he had at least one standby boat.

In this event, we learn there were seven disciples. They went fishing with Peter. This suggests to us the size of the fishing boats. Some fishing boats could take only two people. But this could accommodate at least seven people.

When Jesus was in a storm with his disciples, it is possible that this was a boat belonging to Peter and Andrew, or James and John (Mark 4:36-41). This boat was big enough to have a hold where Jesus could sleep. This boat cannot be an open boat for just two people.

1st century boat found

A first century fishing boat was excavated and it was length 26½ ft x width 7½ ft x height 4½ ft. There seems to be enough space for the description of activities on the boats, but it would be a tight fit. Josephus, the Jewish historian suggested that the boat can hold 15 people. Perhaps our understanding of space requirements today is different from that time.

Is it possible that this excavated boat is still a little small, and there may be bigger boats? For that we wait for future discoveries.

In Luke 5:10, we are told that Peter and Andrew, James and John with their father Zebedee were partners in the fishing business.

We do not have details about this business relationship, but it was a good relationship. They were hanging out together outside of their fishing business.

When they left their nets to follow Jesus, it does not mean they sold off their business. In all likelihood, they kept their business which provided a source of income for them and their families.

Reconstruction of Boat

Mark’s Gospel & Apostle Peter

There is significant early Christian record that Mark’s Gospel was a record of Peter’s preaching in Rome. Early Christian tradition is not to be regarded as the Word of God, or to be totally reliable. But they give us the background to things that the Bible does not talk about.

Mark_4x6 Papias was the Overseer of the church in Hierapolis, and he died as a martyr in Smyrna (AD 155). Many of his writings are no longer extant, but he was cited by Eusebius the church historian (d. circa AD 340) concerning Mark’s Gospel:

The Elder (John) said this also: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s sayings. So Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein. (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15)

We do not know who the Elder John was. Some believe it was the same person as John the Apostle, or it could be John Mark himself, or some unknown John. But this represents very early tradition.

There was strict journalistic rigor in the first centuries about representation, unlike the liberties some journalists practise today. The recording was not chronological probably because they were Peter’s preaching, which would not be chronological. But when the gospel was written, Mark did place the events in general chronological order.

We are told that Mark’s job was as an interpreter to Peter. It could well be that Peter did not speak Latin and Mark did.

When I preach with an interpreter, I give him a detailed outline so he knows ahead of time what I will be saying. Perhaps Peter did that also. If so, Mark would have the preaching notes of Peter.

The Anti-Marcionite Prologue (AD 160-180) has a surviving fragment that reads:

“… Mark declared, who is called `stump-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”

This tradition affirms Markan dependence on Peter and places the composition somewhere in Italy.

Irenaeus (c. AD 180) a church father when writing to refute heresies mentioned Mark’s Gospel thus: “And after their [Peter’s and Paul’s] death, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things preached by Peter.” (Contra Haereses 3.1.2).

When we read Mark’s Gospel with this awareness, it is really not difficult to see Peter as the content provider. For e.g. Simon Peter was the first disciple in Mark 1. This is Simon Peter’s point of view.

st-peter-preaching-in-the-presence-of-st-mark (caption)

Peter’s Home, Jesus’ Base

We don’t usually pay attention to place names in the Bible because there is no image in our mind’s eye when these places are mentioned, and we do not move from one place to another as we read the story. If I were to tell you I left Pasir Ris and went to Tampines, those of you who know these places would know it is only one subway stop. But when we read that Jesus left Capernaum and went to Bethsaida, it makes no impression on us because we don’t know these places.

When you read the gospels, you will constantly come across the town called Capernaum. This is because it was Jesus’ home base when he first started his ministry. When Jesus began his ministry, he spent time in Capernaum and Nazareth (his own hometown). But the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus (Luke 4:23ff; Matt 4:13).

Capernaum was the hometown of many of his disciples. From what we know, it was the hometown of Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew, and others.

What escapes some of us is that Jesus was operating from the home of Peter, the leader of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

In Mark’s gospel, you will notice a constant reference to Capernaum. This is because Peter was recounting the things closest to his heart and home.

Peter and Andrew were not rich people. They shared a home, which was usually not large. You should not expect anything larger than a two bedroom apartment of today. Andrew was probably not married but Peter was. We do not know how many people lived in this house, but we know Peter’s mother-in-law lived there with him. His father-in-law might be expected to live there if he were alive. Perhaps his own parents also lived there. Perhaps Peter had children and they also lived there. At least 4 adults lived there (Peter, Peter’s wife, mother-in-law, and Andrew), perhaps there were as many as 7 adults. If Peter had children, say 3 of them, with 7 adults, the home could have as many as 10 people (Mark 1:29f).

It is almost certain that the place Jesus used as home base in Capernaum was Peter’s home. It is therefore likely that Jesus lived in the home of Peter and Andrew and the ministry of Jesus operated mainly from Peter’s home.

After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, we notice Peter’s home became the place from which Jesus taught and healed (Mark 1:29-34). When he left and returned “the house he was staying” probably Peter’s home, became packed with people (Mark 2:1-2). So the story of the men who dug a hole through the roof to let in their invalid friend, dug through Peter’s roof (Mark 2:1-5).

We do not know all the details in Peter’s home. Perhaps we can indulge in a little imagination.

Peter’s mother-in-law might have been quite pivotal in how the home was used. She was severely sick with fever and after Jesus healed her, she was so well, she got up and prepared food for Jesus, and his disciples. If she had objected to the intrusion into their life, we get the sense that from that time, she facilitated the use of Peter’s home.

There is an important take-away for us. In Singapore, we are limited in how we can use our homes for religious purposes. But the lesson of Peter was how his home became a vital resource in Jesus’ ministry.

We can imagine Peter telling Jesus, “Come to my home and stay with me. Use my home as the base for your teaching.” Peter did not emphasize his sacrifice but we can see that he was leading the others by example of how he used his resources to promote Jesus’ ministry.

Gaulanitis Capernaum Bethsaida

— Click on map to get clearer picture —

Capernaum, in Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, the Herod who executed John the Baptist. Bethsaida, Peter’s hometown before he moved to Capernaum, was in Gaulinitis, under the jurisdiction of Herod Philip. Antipas had stolen Philip’s wife and you can guess that they are not on friendly terms. When Jesus wanted to get out of the way of Antipas, he would go to Bethsaida which was under Philip’s control.

Peter’s Babylon

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (1 Pe 5:13-14a).

Most scholars believe the Apostle Peter wrote from Rome and John Mark was with him. The term “Babylon” is not real Babylon, but it refers to another city, that is, Rome. Some believe that Simon Peter was writing from a small city called “Babylon” which existed at that time.

It appears to me that it is far more probable that Peter’s Babylon is Rome. We see the mention of Babylon in Revelation 14:8 and 17:5. It is a political code-speak against Rome and not the literal city of Babylon. John explains the Babylon is the city that rules over the kings of the earth (Rev 17:18).

This creative political rhetoric is necessary because Christians were facing increasing pressure as Peter was writing, and by the time John wrote Revelation, that persecution had come in full force. It is not expedient to antagonize the powers that be, yet people needed instruction. It is common for us to find ancient writers using a creative political rhetoric that allows his audience to understand him but causes the censor to dismiss the document as one that might harm the interest of Rome (codified in the Roman laws of treason [leges maiestatis]).

Babylon is synonymous to a city of exile. The Babylonians exiled the Jews in 586 BC. Peter writes to his audience as the Diaspora, the exiles that are scattered about. He sees Rome as the new Babylon and uses Babylon to identify Rome and its role. He turns to the experience of the Jews in exile under Babylon as a reference point for Christians in exile because of Rome.

The phenomenon of calling one city by another name is not new. For instance, Isaiah 1:10, calls Jerusalem “Sodom” and “Gomor-rah.” Two cities are used to refer to one. Isaiah does this to indicate the judgment about to fall on Jerusalem.

It is most probable that the majority opinion is right, that Peter’s Babylon is the city of Rome.


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Bribery

By Peter Eng

 

 

 

“Should I give a bribe?” the young businessman starts to sweat as the customs officer is obviously looking for a reason to deny the passage of goods even though everything is aboveboard. “Should I give a bribe?” the speeding driver deliberates when he is pulled over by a cop who talks about how tough it is for him to raise his family on a policeman’s salary. “Should I give a bribe?” the missionary asked himself as the immigration officer toys with the visa stamp while he talks about how “You rich Christians should help poor people like us.”

Bribery in the Bible

There are more than 20 verses where the Bible talks about bribery. Most of them concern the taking of a bribe. Every instance of bribe taking is condemned in the Bible.[1] We have clear condemnation for accepting bribes in sayings such as: ‘‘Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous” (Exodus 23:8); and “A greedy man brings trouble to his family, / but he who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27).

There seems to be two exceptions to the rule: “A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; / wherever he turns, he succeeds” (Proverbs 17:8); and “A gift given in secret soothes anger, / and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath” (Proverbs 21:14).

It is clear that the tenor of Scripture condemns the practice of taking bribes. Yet, these two verses seem tolerant of bribes. We can understand these verses and the subject at two levels: the interpretation of the specific texts, and the social-theological meaning of these injunctions.

Interpretation

Proverbs 21:14-15 reads: “A gift given in secret soothes anger, / and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath. When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous / but terror to evildoers.” From the start of the chapter, we find a juxtaposition of contrasts: The king’s heart is in God’s hand even though the king thinks he is directing it according to his own free will (21:1). A person thinks he is right, but God weighs the heart (21:2). The plans of the diligent lead to profit but haste leads to poverty (21:5); etc…

If we take Proverbs 21:14-15 as one unit rather than two different injunctions, it would mean a contrast in these two verses. Proverbs 21:14 speaks of how a gift that is given in secret soothes anger and pacifies great wrath. But when justice is done, the righteous rejoice and the evildoers are in terror. If we take Proverbs 21:15 as an adversative, as a “but,” rather than a new injunction, the act of bribery would be depicted as a judge who is indignant at the injustice done by the perpetrator, but a bribe given in secret removes that wrath and justice is perverted. However, when justice is done, the righteous rejoice and the evildoers [the giver(s) and receiver(s) of the bribe] will be in terror.

It is not possible to assert definitively that these two proverbs given without a connecting conjunction should be taken this way. But it is certainly possible given the pattern in the immediate context.

Proverbs 17:8 is more subtle. Among other literary features, proverbs are expressions of social realities and have to be applied appropriately. The classic example is Do not answer a fool according to his folly, / or you will be like him yourself” immediately followed by an opposite assertion, “Answer a fool according to his folly, / or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4-5). Proverbs concerns the wise application of truths in differing situations, and sometimes opposite principles must be applied to the same situation but on different people.

Proverbs 17:8 expresses the reality of bribery in many cultures. In some cultures, bribery is the way of life and its evil is so entrenched that life becomes impossible unless one pays bribes. The text does not openly approve the giving of bribes, but it does suggest a concession that believers sometimes have no choice but to offer a bribe.

The social-theological point is that while the accepting of bribes is always prohibited, the giving of bribes is not openly condemned. There is some suggestion that in certain contexts, it can be tolerated.

The crux of the issue is what constitutes choice. Before that question is addressed, one needs to ask if there is any gap between the ideal and the concession. The logical ideal does not support the giving of bribes. Since the Bible says the taking of bribe is unethical, the giving of bribes which makes the taking of bribes possible, cannot be considered righteous conduct. In addition, we have a clear instance in the New Testament of a refusal to give a bribe. Paul was imprisoned and Felix the governor wanted a bribe from Paul before he would set him free (Acts 24:26). Paul refused to give the bribe and so remained in prison and was eventually sent to Rome for trial. It would be easy for Paul to say he had no choice but to give a bribe, but Paul did not make that choice.

When do we have no choice except to give a bribe? Strictly speaking, there is always a choice. Paul made the choice not to give a bribe, but to remain in prison and to risk execution. But some would say they have no choice but to give a bribe because it affects their business profits. What does this mean for Christians today?

It appears to me that the biblical ideal is quite clear. A believer must not accept bribes. A believer should not offer bribes. But we bear in mind that the giver of bribes is usually the powerless or the victim. It is inconceivable that a person wants to give a bribe if he does not need to do so to achieve his objective. The bribe giver is a victim turned perpetrator. His moral culpability remains, but his role as victim deserves special consideration.

The believer who gives the bribe should not think that is the norm. He should diligently seek the Lord’s wisdom of how he can extricate himself from this unhealthy transaction. The stronger believer must not be judgmental but be supportive. It is not the duty of the stronger Christian to condemn or to lay guilt on the weaker Christian. He should recognize that his brother is at a different point in his spiritual growth. It is God who causes the growth and the increase. We do not determine where another person’s spiritual level should be. The Christian community should be firm in rejecting the taking of bribes. But let us embrace the weaker brother who is stuck in the quagmire of giving bribes. He is not someone in an ideal situation, but someone who needs our support to become stronger so he is no longer a victim-perpetrator.

Conclusion

The Word of God does not give any provision for the taking of bribes. Bribes are received to change the course of events which would naturally go in a certain direction. Receiver of the bribe is in some position of authority and can choose to decide for or against the giver. By the giving of the bribe, the course of justice is perverted.

However, there are times when the person in authority refuses to act in the interest of justice, and want a bribe before he will execute justice. The biblical example for us in the action of Paul is to stand firm and refuse to give the bribe. However, there seems to be a concession to the weaker brother who chooses to give the bribe. This is a form of extortion, and the giver is a victim of the one in power. We need to be gentle to such people. They need our encouragement and not our condemnation. They are not promoting injustice, they are trying to secure justice in a fallen world, and their method falls short of the ideal. God has a concession for them in their weaknesses and we ought to do no less.


[1] In the OT, the word regularly translated as “bribe” (SHoĤaD) is used more than 40 times in more than 20 verses. It refers primarily to personal bribes (Ex 23:8; Dt 10:17; 16:19; 27:25; 1 Sa 12:3; Jb 6:22; 15:34; Ps 15:5; Pr 6:35; 17:23; etc.). It is used secondarily for a gift or national payment to buy peace from an impending invasion (1 Kgs 15:19; 2 Kgs 16:8; Isa 45:13; Eze 16:33). The sense with which this word is used is clearly negative. There are other words used for bribe in the OT, but their uses remain consistent to the negative connotations associated with the practice of receiving a bribe.


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