Bribery and Corruption (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

The effectiveness of property rights and workers’ protections often depends on law enforcement and judicial systems. Moses’ charge to judges and officials is especially important when it comes to work. “You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Deut. 16:19). Without impartial justice, it would be impossible to “live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 16:20).

Modern workplaces and societies are no less susceptible to bribery, corruption, and bias than ancient Israel was. According to the United Nations, the greatest impediment to economic growth in less developed countries is lapses in the impartial rule of law.[1] In places where corruption is endemic, it may be impossible to make a living, travel across town, or abide in peace without paying bribes. This statute seems to recognize that in general those who have the power to demand bribes are more at fault than those who acquiesce in paying them, for the prohibition is against accepting bribes, not against paying them. Even so, whatever Christians can do to reduce corruption—whether on the giving or the receiving end—is a contribution to the “just decisions” (Deut. 16:18) that are sacred to the Lord. (For a more in-depth exploration of economic applications of the rule of law, see “Land Ownership and Property Rights” in Numbers 26-27; 36:1-12 above. 

United Nations Development Programme, Issue Brief: Rule of Law and Development (New York: United Nations, 2013), 3.



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