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Closely related posting: Does Proverbs 26:18-19 condemn tricking people for a joke?

Proverbs 26:18-19

New American Standard Bible 1995

18 Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death, 19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?”

English Standard Version

18 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death 19 is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”

New King James Version

18 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, 19 Is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “I was only joking!”

I can think of some specific real-life scenario cases that are quite relevant to the Proverbs 26:18-19 bible passage:

  • A Boss/Supervisor/Manager who mockingly laughs and/or behaves in an offhand manner as he hands a job termination letter to a subordinate employee. (I mention said case because firing/laying off someone is a very serious issue)

  • A lady who mockingly rejects and/or behaves in an offhand manner as she rejects a man who sincerely and politely asks her for courtship or asks her out on a date.

However, would Proverbs 26:18-19 bible passage be relevant when it comes to bullying/hazing/ragging in University/school/military?

I bring up University/school bullying/hazing/ragging because in University/College fraternities and in the military, bullying/hazing/ragging are part of an initiation process.

To elaborate, the freshman and/or the private soldier who is being inducted into the organization in question is just expected to take it by laughing it off. However, that's not always the case. Sadly in some cases, you might have a freshman and/or the private soldier who suffers from depression/anxiety and therefore they might have a tough time when they undergo bullying/hazing/ragging.

Therefore, would Proverbs 26:18-19 be relevant to scenario cases that involve bullying/hazing/ragging?

2 Answers 2

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A good rule of thumb in hermeneutics is "one meaning, but many applications." I think that rule is applicable to your question.

There are certainly elements of bullying/hazing/ragging in Proverbs 26:18-19. What differentiates the scenario in the passage with the phenomena you describe are the key words deceives and neighbor. At the core of bullying is an element of sadism that delights in the suffering, embarrassment, and demeaning of a victim. At the core of deception is the deceiver's use of friendship or acquaintanceship to put one over on a neighbor.

A good neighbor wishes only well for their neighbor. Like the good Samaritan whom Jesus lauded in his story, a good neighbor sees a need and attempts to meet that need, even at great expense to himself or herself. A bad neighbor takes advantage of a neighbor's gullibility. There is certainly an element of sadism involved, but more significant is the mental disturbance that informs the madman's crazy behavior.

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The key element in this proverb is deceiving one's neighbour for a joke. A neighbour could be anyone you are currently having dealings with, not just people who live close-by to your home. So, if you were in the military, it could be fellow soldiers or officers, or someone else working in the kitchens or doing cleaning. If you were at school, it could be fellow students, or teachers, or someone serving you food or doing the cleaning.

Deception is done in order to trick them. But this is not a harmless trick. This is a deceitful trick that could be dangerous or deeply hurtful to the other person. Yet the deception was done in order to create a laugh. The person it was aimed at was expected to just take it in the spirit of a joke. The joker expects to get applause (in the sense of garnering the approval of others seeing it happen) even if the other person is made to look foolish.

Now, you ask if this covers bullying / hazing [whatever that is] and/or ragging. Really, is there any need to set down in writing all contingencies it is meant to cover? The principle is crystal-clear. It's about having respect for your neighbour and never wittingly doing anything to deceive or hurt them (either physically or mentally).

If you want to apply this Proverb to any situation in the world, just ask yourself, "Is deceit required to get a laugh out of what I'm wanting to do?" No Christian who has the mind of Christ would want to be guilty of that. Nor, indeed, would lots of other people of different religions, or no religion. But Christians are explicitly warned not to do any of the things involved in this, even to strangers, let alone their neighbour.

However, the two scenarios you suggest hardly fit the bill. Nobody is being deceived (unless the boss wasn't going to fire the employee at all, only handing the written notice to get a reaction and then laugh at the person for believing what was a deception.) The lady rejecting a polite offer of courtship / a date in the way you suggest is being rude, insensitive, and a man seeing such a response should consider himself fortunate for not getting involved with her. There is no deception here, nor anything done for a laugh.

The Bible has plenty other Proverbs and commands for Christians that would fit those two scenes. Again, once biblical principles are grasped, a person can apply them to any situation without needing a written-down rule book with every contingency covered. Loving one's neighbour as ones'self, and doing unto others as you would wish them to do to you would eliminate all disrespectful, hurtful words and actions to your neighbours, nor would deceit find any place in a Christian's life. Jesus said that our 'Yes' is to mean 'Yes', and our 'No' is to mean 'No'.

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