BreakPoint: The Most Republican Book of the Bible?

Proverbs and Politics

Solomonic wisdom or partisan politics? Here’s a word to the wise about Proverbs.

If the books of the Bible could vote, which would be most likely to cast a Republican ballot? According to one professor at Yale Divinity School, the book of Proverbs would be a card-carrying member of the GOP.

Joel S. Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible, calls the Old Testament’s largest collection of wise sayings “the most Republican book of the entire Bible.” Writing at Politico, he rakes Florida senator Marco Rubio over the coals for tweeting verses from Proverbs.

Rubio’s tweets include verses like Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed,” and Proverbs 26:11: “As dogs return to their vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”

Of course, anyone who’s read Proverbs knows that it’s more than a collection of pithy sayings under 140 characters. It’s a treasure trove of inspired wisdom on trusting God over our own understanding, of raising godly children, and even finding a spouse, of avoiding the devastation of sins like anger and promiscuity.

It’s part of the biblical genre called wisdom literature, which contains maxims for shrewd and righteous living. This is why they’re called “proverbs,” not “promises.” The point of a proverb is to communicate a general truth about God’s world, and how it typically works. You would think a professor of Hebrew Scripture would understand this. But Baden treats the teaching of Proverbs as a kind of right-wing, alternative worldview, divorced from the rest of the Bible:

In Proverbs, explains Baden, “the righteous are rewarded, and the wicked are punished…everyone gets what is coming to them…[and those] who succeed in life must be more righteous than those who struggle.”

He contrasts this with passages about caring for the poor in Ecclesiastes, Amos, and the gospels, implying (though never saying) that the Bible as a whole leans left.

Pointing to past presidents like Gerald Ford and candidates like Ben Carson, he concludes that Republicans have a long-term love affair with Proverbs, and that they ought to “read, and tweet, more widely.”

First of all, no one who has ever heard Senator Rubio talk about his Christian faith could suggest with a straight face that he doesn’t know the Bible beyond Proverbs. I’m thinking in particular of a meeting with pastors in Iowa during caucus season, where Rubio gave one of the most eloquent explanations of the Gospel I’ve ever heard from a politician.

I do wonder, though, why in his article Professor Baden ignored those New Testament passages that sound every bit as “right-wing” as Proverbs. I think of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, in which servants who invested their master’s money wisely were commended, or 2 Thessalonians 3:10, in which Paul writes, “If anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

This Old Testament scholar even insists that Jesus “repudiated” a portion of the Mosaic Law when He instructed His followers to “turn the other cheek.” Never mind that Moses was talking about civil justice while Christ was talking about personal revenge. Isn’t it worth noting that earlier in the very same chapter of Matthew, Jesus says that “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law…”?

Now, I’m not going to pretend either major party is a model of biblical faithfulness. I’m also not going to pretend they’re identical, nor am I suggesting that proof-texting is a responsible way of living out your faith in the political sphere.

But perhaps Professor Baden is doing precisely what he is suggesting the Republicans do: that is, “concentrating exclusively on the parts of [The Bible] that affirm one’s own perspective.”

The Most Republican Book of the Bible?: Proverbs and Politics

As Eric points out, the Bible doesn’t have a political slant, whether quoted by politicians or pastors. Check out Proverbs, and then discover the story arc of the whole Word of God beginning in Genesis.

Resources

Marco Rubio Is Tweeting the Most Republican Part of the Bible
  • Joel S. Baden | Politico.com | July 09, 2017
Marco Rubio shares about his Christian faith
  • Youtube video | November 30, 2015

July 20, 2017

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  • Darin

    Ecc. 10:2. The heart of the wise leans right, the heart of the fool left.

    • Just One Voice

      A few chapters earlier, in 7:16-18, it says, “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.” (English Standard Version)

      • gladys1071

        This is very good, I will look up these verses , great wisdom in these verses.

  • Donna

    Definitely a difference in the party platforms of the two parties. It would be awesome if the republicans would just follow their party platform. Even better if everyone knew and followed the Bible. As Matthew 6:33 states “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” It’s not just talking the talk, but it’s walking the walk and actually Living the God’s Word daily in our hearts & deeds!

  • Roodog

    The Bible is neither Democrat nor Republican.

    • Steve

      No it is not, but the Democrats did “boo” God at their 2012 convention.

    • RobertArvanitis

      Correct, it is Conservative, which is a set of principles, not a party that includes selfish interests,

  • Scott

    I really like this article… we all look at the world around us with our own bias, this includes how we read scripture.

  • RobertArvanitis

    Properly speaking, the Bible is conservative, which is a set of principles.
    Parties include selfish interests.

    More conservative principles are at II Thess. 3:10 – For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. That was learned at Plymouth.

    Also Matt. 20:15 – Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? That of course is of special interest to bakers, pizza parlors, photographers, hobby stores, and certain fast food restaurants.

  • Just One Voice

    Heh, based on the language of their comments, it seems a few people didn’t even read the whole article.

    Eric says, “Now, I’m not going to pretend either major party is a model of biblical faithfulness. I’m also not going to pretend they’re identical…”

    Last paragraph, “As Eric points out, the Bible doesn’t have a political slant…”

    To be sure, this very dangerous territory. The Bible MUST be read separately from politics (the main point I believe Eric’s trying to make). People like Baden (and many others) who try to use the Bible as a political tool bring a wicked stench to the gospel. No wonder it turns people away.

  • Todd Shope

    Gods word must not be copy/ pasted to fit a particular point of view, or party affiliation, that would constitute a sin. The Bible is a instruction manual given to us by the Great Teacher, and as students we have no authority to edit anything!

  • disqus_MG7XgmMuEx

    “But perhaps Professor Baden is doing precisely what he is suggesting the Republicans do: that is, ‘concentrating exclusively on the parts of [The Bible] that affirm one’s own perspective.’ ”

    Luke 6:42 (ESV): How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

    I read Professor Baden’s article from the provided link, and I agree with Mr Metaxes’s analysis. It seems that Baden is writing from a smug self-righteous view that subtly assumes his points of view as unquestionable truth.

    “He [Professor Baden] contrasts this with passages about caring for the poor in Ecclesiastes, Amos, and the gospels, implying (though never saying) that the Bible as a whole leans left.”

    C.S. Lewis said that the most dangerous ideas in society aren’t those that are argued, they are those that are assumed.

    This practice is common (although not exclusive) to the political left, and now most of them can’t understand why half the people in this country chose to blow past them (and Marco Rubio) to take their chances on Donald Trump.

    • Scott

      I liked every thing you said (especially the part about C.S. Lewis)… right up until this “and now most of them can’t understand why half the people in this country chose to blow past them (and Marco Rubio) to take their chances on Donald Trump.”

      Don’t worry, I’m not a hater… just say’n. : – )

  • jason taylor

    Pro 6:6-8 and 30: 27 are not Republican but are sort of republican. However ideological disagreement as we know it didn’t call the tune in politics then, social networking did. The Classical Greeks were an exception but Solomon lived centuries before and in a different cultural sphere.