There is an interesting blog post by James Bradford Pate about there being a possibility of an elitist mentality by the authors of biblical wisdom literature (such as the book of Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom by Ben Sira). In his blog post, James postulates how an elitist milieu behind the authorship of the biblical wisdom literature plays a role in how the biblical wisdom literature addresses evil. Another example given is how the biblical wisdom literature addresses certain social practices, such as Proverbs and Ben Sira saying that people shouldn’t provide surety for someone’s else’s debt. Indeed, one verse that puzzled me when I read the book of proverbs is the repeated advice by the author not to pledge security for the debts of another (see Proverbs 6:1, Proverbs 17:8, Proverbs 22:26). It is an advice which does not seem to be characterized as an instruction on morality but more of an advice on practical dealings. But does the author intend for his words to be an blanket exhortation against engaging in the practice of suretyship, and is this a view that culminates from elitist mentality? For instance, I do know that the provision of certain scholarship or training bonds requires the signee to obtain the signatures of guarantors who risk having to pay the cost if the signee forfeits in his contract. I suppose this will help ensure that the signee is of reputable character and to further hold him to his obligation to stay in a programme. But according to the proverbial advice, should one stay out of being a guarantor under all circumstances?
Matthew Henry’s commentary on Proverbs 22:26-27 seems to have curtailed the wide-stroke nature of those Proverb Passages. He interprets the passage as conditional on whether the pledger first knows whether he is able to pay for the debts, and that the one who is being pledged for is not trying to take advantage by getting to pledge for his broken fortune. An excerpt of his commentary below.
“We must not associate ourselves, nor contract an intimacy, with men of broken fortunes, and reputations, who need and will urge their friends to be bound for them, that they may cheat their neighbours to feed their lusts, and by keeping up a little longer may do the more damage at last to those that give them credit…For, if a man appeared to be so poor that he had nothing else to give for security, he ought to be relieved, and it was honestly done to own it; but, for the recovery of a debt, it seems it might be taken by the summum jus—the strict operation of law. 3. We must not ruin our own estates and families. Every man ought to be just to himself and to his wife and children; those are not so who live above what they have, who by the mismanagement of their own affairs, or by encumbering themselves with debts of others, waste what they have and bring themselves to poverty. We may take joyfully the spoiling of our goods if it be for the testimony of a good conscience; but, if be for our own rashness and folly, we cannot but take it heavily.”
I found the post by James interesting because I don’t usually consider biblical authorship or agendas when I read the bible. My current take on the bible is that it is the inspired word of God, although I have read that this is a matter of dispute amongst the theological circles. And there are probably differing views on how biblical divine authorship works. Do the bible authors write with their own personal style and inclinations featured into the texts? And what about their personal prejudices, such as this allegation of elitism of the biblical authors of the wisdom literature? And does it remain divinely inspired even under such subjective authorship?