Question: "What does the Bible say about bribery / giving or receiving a bribe?"
Answer: A bribe is money, favor, or other consideration given in exchange for one’s influence against what is true, right, or just. The Bible is clear that giving or receiving a bribe is evil.
God’s Law, given to Moses for the people of Israel, forbade the taking of a bribe, “for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous” (Exodus 23:8). The same rule is repeated in Deuteronomy 16:19: “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.” The negative effects of taking a bribe are clearly outlined in these two passages. Bribery perverts justice. It is a blinding influence upon wisdom and discernment. It clouds the truth and perverts or twists the words of those who would be righteous in the sight of God.
The Law went even further in the case of a bribe involving the killing of an innocent person. A judge who takes a bribe to condemn to death an innocent person was as guilty as a paid assassin—he was to be “cursed” (Deuteronomy 27:25). There were incidents where this law against bribery was broken, to disastrous effect. The two men who testified against Naboth (1 Kings 21:4–16) and those who testified against Stephen (Acts 6:8–14) were probably bribed; in both instances, an innocent man was killed. When high officials give and receive bribes, it causes evil in a society. “The king establishes the land by justice, but he who receives bribes overthrows it” (Proverbs 29:4). Bribery is one characteristic of a corrupt society.
Isaiah prophesied against the evil of Israel when they had turned from the one true God and His laws. Isaiah likened the city of Jerusalem to an unfaithful harlot; the city was once full of justice, but it had become a place of rebellion, murder, and thievery. Her leaders were those who loved bribes and chased after the money bribery brought them (Isaiah 1:2–23). The people of Israel were not to follow the ways of evil but were to emulate God in their dealings with one another: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17).
The most heinous example of a bribe in the Bible is the thirty pieces of silver that Judas received to betray the Lord Jesus. A direct result of Judas’s treachery was that Jesus was arrested and crucified. Eventually, even Judas realized that his acceptance of a bribe was evil. But when he tried to return the money to the chief priests and elders, they refused it, calling it what it was—“blood money” (Matthew 27:3–9).
Delilah was bribed to entrap Samson (Judges 16:5). Samuel’s sons disrespected their office by taking bribes (1 Samuel 8:3). The wicked Haman bribed King Ahasuerus in an attempt to destroy the Jews in Persia (Esther 3:9). Felix left Paul in prison, hoping to receive a bribe from Paul (Acts 24:26). And the soldiers charged with guarding Jesus’ tomb were bribed by the chief priests and elders to spread a lie about the disappearance of Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:12–15). In each case, those receiving the bribes cared nothing for truth or justice.