In a news conference after he was fired as head coach of the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka decided to quote the Bible.
“Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka offered. “This, too, shall pass.”
The only problem is that “This, too, shall pass” isn’t in the Bible. As a recent report by CNN noted, “The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted.”
Ditka’s misquote was a “phantom” passage, meaning quoted as Scripture when it’s not even in the Bible.
Want some more?
“God helps those who help themselves.”
“God works in mysterious ways.”
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
Sorry, not in the Bible.
And then there are verses that are in the Bible, but misstated. For example, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” That’s not in the Bible, either, but something close to it is: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24, NIV).
There are also times we read things into a passage that really aren’t there. For example, the reference to Satan tempting Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden. The serpent is never identified as the devil in Genesis, and we are never told that she ate an apple. Fruit, yes. But the kind of fruit? We have no idea.
The same is true for Jonah and the whale. Big fish? Yep. Whale? It never says.
And the three wise men? It doesn’t say three.
Such mistakes may seem trivial. I am less concerned about someone mistaking a proverbial phrase for a verse in Proverbs than I am about someone jettisoning Proverbs.
And that’s the real danger of our culture’s fast and loose play with the Bible.
For example, let’s say you‘re living with someone outside of marriage.
You start off justifying it with a casual, “God wants me to be happy” or perhaps, “Doesn’t the Bible say that as long as you love each other, it’s okay?”
When you discover God’s primary goal is not giving you license to pursue whatever you think brings temporal happiness, and that your current emotional feeling of love is not the same as the lifelong commitment of marriage, you move on to your next option.
“Well, that’s just your interpretation.”
In other words, if trying to quote the Bible to justify your lifestyle doesn’t work because the quote just isn’t there, then maintain that anyone can interpret it any way they want.
If that doesn’t work, you have one last weapon at your disposal. If the quote’s clearly in the Bible, and clearly spelled out, then you can just say that the Bible is simply wrong on this subject, or such a product of a bygone culture that it can’t possibly apply to our modern world.
This, then, is the real mistake when it comes to the Bible: it’s not about getting our quotes of the Scriptures just right, but failing to get right with the Scriptures.
James Emery White
“Actually, that's not in the Bible,” John Blake, CNN, June 5, 2011. Read online.
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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