After teaching Bible Study and Sunday School for years in different churches throughout my Christian walk, I’ve noticed many misunderstandings concerning God’s Word center around specific words. The perplexed individuals often forget—in some cases never knew—that our versions of the Bible were translated from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The various English translations—especially those more interested in utilizing non-offensive terms to pacify present-day social sensitivities instead of remaining true to the original texts—further complicate matters. Plus, the words themselves—often having more than one meaning—add another obstacle to contend with.
Most Bible Study and Sunday School attendees don’t have the time or inclination to seek out scholarly texts, or even compare the words in question to the original Hebrew and Greek. That’s okay. In most circumstances the proper word use can be ascertained in the context it’s being used, along with comparing it to similar verses and topics in the Bible.
One example brought to my attention recently from a member in my class deals with the word bribe. While studying Proverbs they thought a few verses contradicted each other. The individual was reading The Living Bible; so, that’s the version I’m using for this post.
Proverbs 15:27 states, “Dishonest money brings grief to all the family, but hating bribes brings happiness.”
Proverbs 17:8 states, “A bribe works like magic. Whoever uses it will prosper.”
Proverbs 17:23 states, “It is wrong to accept a bribe to twist justice.”
Proverbs 18:16 states, “A bribe does wonders; it will bring you before men of importance.”
If you read each verse by itself without considering that there’s more than one definition or standard use for bribe, and you don’t compare it to similar verses on related topics, it appears that two of the verses favor the use of bribes while two condemn the use of them.
However, if you consider the fact that bribe is often used for the word gift, then Proverbs 17:8 and 18:16 no longer contradict the other two verses.
Some Bible commentaries and/or footnotes in some Bible versions choose to view Proverbs 17:8 as a statement of fact, but not one that should be encouraged. I don’t favor that interpretation, since the “gift” interpretation holds up far better when compared to God’s outlook in similar verses and topics.
For instance, a bribe is a form of cheating and dishonest, while a straight gift is not. It depends upon the circumstance in which it is being used. So, what do similar verses claim about cheating and dishonesty? We don’t even have to leave Proverbs to find out.
Proverbs 20:10 states, “The Lord despises every kind of cheating.”
Proverbs 20:21 states, “A fortune can be made from cheating, but there is a curse that goes with it.”
Proverbs 20:23 states, “The Lord loathes all cheating and dishonesty.”
It is very clear, using the comparison, that God hates cheating and dishonesty. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that He would favor bribes in any negative sense. But He does favor gifts.
Proverbs 21:14 states, “An angry man is silenced by giving him a gift!”
Finding the proper context by comparing it to similar verses and topics in God’s Word can settle most of the common misunderstandings Bible Study and Sunday School teachers encounter. And they need to remind those in their classes to consider Proverbs 19:27 — “Stop listening to teaching that contradicts what you know is right.”
If the contradictory interpretation goes against everything God stands for, you can bet it’s wrong. And to argue such points is a waste of time.