Politico Demonstrates a Shortsighted View of the Book of Proverbs

The way the news media approach scripture is always interesting.

Quite often, the only time you’ll see a reporter or author quoting scripture in the media is when they are using a verse against a conservative, to call him or her a hypocrite or to throw a verse or two in his or her face (often out of context).

The latest example? Over at Politico, Joel Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, has noticed that Marco Rubio has been tweeting scripture verses lately, many of them from Proverbs. So Baden decided to hold forth on what he calls “probably the most Republican book of the entire Bible.” Here’s a taste:

Some of the statements in Proverbs look strikingly similar to those made by modern-day conservative policymakers. Take, for example, Representative Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who, arguing that poorer people should pay more for health care, recently said, “Those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy.” It’s not quite a direct quote from Proverbs, but it’s not too far from these: “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry” (Proverbs 10:3) and “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4).

With all due respect to Professor Baden, that comparison doesn’t exactly make sense. Those verses from Proverbs, which express the wisdom that God takes care of those who follow Him and that laziness leads to destitution, don’t exactly correlate to Brooks’ vague statement that good people lead healthy lives. Oh, and Proverbs doesn’t have anything to say about federal government health care policy. I’m not a biblical scholar, and I can see that.

Baden plays his political hand when he looks at the fact that Republicans tend to quote Proverbs more often in inaugural speeches than Democrats, and he points out Donald Trump’s illiteracy when it comes to scripture, as though he’s representative of rank-and-file conservative Christians.

Most interestingly, he shows the left’s shortsighted tendencies to politicize scripture when he oversimplifies entire book of Proverbs:

In the understanding of Proverbs, everyone gets what is coming to them; behavior is directly linked to reward or punishment. This worldview has social consequences: Those who succeed in life must be more righteous than those who struggle.

Baden also plays one of the left’s favorite tricks: suggesting scriptures for Republicans to read. (And he projects a little when he accuses only Republicans of confirmation bias: “concentrating exclusively on the parts of it that affirm one’s own perspective…”)

One might advise Rubio to read, and tweet, more widely: from Ecclesiastes, perhaps, or from prophets such as Amos: “Because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of stone—but you shall not live in them” (Amos 5:11). Maybe Leviticus: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33–34). Or even the gospels of the New Testament: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24/Mark 10:25/Luke 18:25).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Bible is not a political book. There’s very little in the Bible that applies to government policy, because it’s meant to be a guidebook on how we are to conduct ourselves in our individual and family lives.

Yes, both sides of the political aisle use and misuse scripture, but in Baden’s case, he shows a shortsighted view of the Bible. Maybe he just doesn’t understand Proverbs, even though he’s a professor of the Bible, but I don’t think that’s the case. More likely, he’s applying his own political biases to the timeless truth of God’s Word.

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