Both Sides Guilty of Misquoting the Bible

Stephen Colbert echoes my sentiments exactly.

I wondered how long I could go without posting about religion.  I hoped Barack Obama would not evoke it in his public speaking because I knew that once he did the purported Christians in the wings would pounce like lions on an eland.  They smell blood.  They are waiting for any chance to denounce his Christian fervency and call him a…gulp…MUSLIM!  What would the founding fathers think?  I can imagine their responses, actually, but this topic is for another day, another post.

I do not purport to be a biblical scholar, but I know a misquote when I hear one.   Barack Obama is smart enough and has enough scholars in his administration to use correct language in his speeches, even from the Bible.  So, imagine my dismay when he gave Cal Thomas’ an opening at the National Prayer Breakfast to malign his evocation as sounding “a little like Karl Marx.”

What Obama was trying to say was that those who have been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.  But he used Luke 12:48, which is translated as: “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (King James Bible) and as “But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (American Standard Translation).

According to Thomas, “the President took a quote that was meant to mean something else and twisted it to service his political ends.”  He continues: “A conservative spinner might also wrongly use Matthew 13:12 to justify cutting taxes.  That verse says: ‘Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.’”  The same verse, according to the American Standard Bible says:  “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”  Might Thomas be wrong?  Could this translation and others justify tax policy?  Sounds plausible to me.

It would have been better for Obama to evoke Luke 20:22-25.  According to the Holman Christian Standard Bible: “22 ‘Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ 23 But detecting their craftiness, He said to them, 24 ‘Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they said. 25 ‘Well then,’ He told them, ‘give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’”

Thomas calls upon his pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, Maryland, to weigh in to what he suggests was the “president’s flawed exegesis”:  “There is an accountability for all that we have been given.  We are held personally responsible by God and not man for what is entrusted to us.  The knowledge, abilities, and resources we have come from Him and he holds us accountable for their use.”  According to Thomas:  “The problem comes when government seeks to replace God and this was the attitude conveyed in the president’s remarks.”

So only God can hold people accountable.  Humm.  This reasoning has been used by devout Christians to justify hoarding wealth since the dawn of Christianity.  Once I was accused by a Baptist of picking and choosing passages from the Bible to live life as a Catholic.

“Really?”  I asked him.  “You don’t pick?”

“No, we live by the letter of the law,”  he answered.

“How then do you justify not giving up everything you have to the poor?  That’s what Jesus said to do.  He said to take care of the poor and to give up worldly possessions.”  I had him there.

“He did not,” my friend responded.  “That’s not what Jesus meant.  He meant that you will be judged for your charity in heaven not on earth.  He didn’t mean you have to give up your wealth on earth.”

I still believe Jesus meant exactly what he said.  His followers did this.  Sounds to me as if even those who say they follow the Bible literally do not.  Thomas accuses the “religious and even secular left” of “commend[ing] religion when it suits their earthly agenda.”  He also interprets charity according to his own political agenda.  He says, “True charity has a purpose beyond the satisfaction of physical needs.  Its objective is to change hearts so that whatever is making someone poor will help them become less so.  Meeting physical needs is the primary work of the church and individuals, not government, which changes no heart and does a poor job of making people self-sustaining.”

I would like to know where Jesus admonished people to use “true charity” by helping people teach themselves to become less poor or where he specified the parsing out of responsibility to churches instead of collectively through the representative of the people (government).  I believe his words were pretty plain:

“Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” Matthew 19:21

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Luke 12:33

“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” Luke 18:22

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18

And finally, there is Psalm 82: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

By no means do I judge others’ giving.  (This, I suppose, is one thing on which I agree with Cal Thomas).  But I do not take hypocrisy lightly.  Unless you are a monk or cloistered nun, please do not claim to follow the Bible literally.  And for heaven’s sakes, stop interpreting the Bible to suit your own needs.  This admonishment includes the Left as well as the Right and the president as well as OpEd writers trying to make a point and further an agenda.




Add Yours
  1. 1


    Since I am a non believer I have never read the bible or follow any verses that are taken from it’s contents. So I am not one to open this conversation. All I know is the one that goes “love your neighbor as yourself and treat him/her as you would want to be treated. I think that covers it all. Both the left and especially the ultra right twist and turn to get to their own version and then they out it out there as if it were the gospel.
    Your column speaks to the heart of the issue of interpretation as no one takes the bible literally anymore (if they ever did). It will always be read by eyes that want to see it their way so that it makes them feel better about what they are doing with their lives.

    • 2

      Thanks for responding, Madgew! I appreciate your comments! I doubt I know much more Bible than you, but it was not hard to locate these verses. I also had help from a friendly Pastor. I can now say that in general (so with a few exceptions like the Pastor), the kindest, least judgmental, and most generous people I know are not religious. Now why would that be so if this Great Book had the prescription for righteous living? Emily

  2. 3
    Carroll Ray Thomas

    Emily, Well written account striving for balance, which seems to be a rare occurance nowadays… Madgew, Yep, The Golden Rule!!! Here’s a website everyone is probably familiar with that I particularly enjoy, especially, because I can go though each particular passage until I find one that fits my particular slant!!! o;))) Thanks, Carroll

    • 4

      Thank you, Carroll. I strive for fairness in my writing. I hope by calling both sides on misbehavior/misquotes/missteps, my viewpoints have more credence.

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