November 3rd, 2011
12:21 PM ET

White House press secretary misquotes the Bible

By John Blake, CNN

As President Ronald Reagan used to say, “There you go again…”

When White House press secretary Jay Carney was giving a press conference Wednesday touting President Obama’s jobs bill, he invoked a popular saying that he said comes from the Bible.

That’s when things got twisted.

Earlier that day, President Obama had urged passage of a provision in his job bill by saying, “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”

A reporter later asked Carney if Obama crossed the line by bringing God into the jobs debate. Carney’s response:

“I believe that the phrase from the Bible is, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.' ”

Carney was wrong. That phrase is what I called a “phantom Bible scripture” in a story I wrote earlier this year called, “Actually, That’s not in the Bible.”

The “Lord helps those who help themselves”  is actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The story was first reported by Politico.

Misquoting the Bible is one of those rare bipartisan issues. Politicians have been misquoting the Bible for years. But ordinary people – coaches giving pep talks, motivational speakers, even preachers – do it all the time.

The White House, to its credit, corrected itself later on Wednesday. When it released the official transcript of Carney’s daily briefing, if posted a correction at the top saying that the phrase about self-help “does not appear in the Bible.”

Next time you want to go biblical on someone, help yourself by actually looking in the Bible to see if it’s really scripture – or just another phantom Bible verse.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Bible • Christianity • Obama • Politics

soundoff (555 Responses)
  1. Carlton

    If figures!!! Quoting and talking about something you don't know because it's not in your heart!

    November 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Davethecanuck

      OH MY GOD!

      You gonna be okay Carlton?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      What a croc, Carlton. Sheesh. Anyone can misquote anything (and we often do) without it having anything whatsoever to do with what is "in our hearts." Get down off that high horse before you hurt yourself. That's your pride talking, and pride is one of the seven deadlies.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Jake

      I just wish our leaders and their staff would stop quoting from fairytales about sky faries. It makes them look stupid.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  2. Peter

    Who care? The Bible is full of inconsistencies, itself. What's one more? Non-story.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  3. Chris

    Good grief. Do people really have nothing better to do than hang on every word of every human being on the planet?

    November 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  4. tbreeden

    What's the difference?

    November 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  5. Alien Orifice

    I really wish Al Gore was our president. obama is so stupid it hurts. What a fool. WORSHIP THE ALMIGHTY SUN!

    November 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      The above post is not me. My stalker is back. The Orifice will post no more today.

      November 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • D

      You're a tool sit back down on the short yellow bus.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  6. jwas1914

    I have to commend Mr. John Blake for his comment when he said "help yourself by actually looking in the Bible..." Sadly many of us probably own a Bible and yet we do not open it. The Holy Scriptures has good healthy teachings for every one of us. “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The world today is in a lot of trouble because we refuse to follow Bible counseling and feel that its knowledge has no place in our days. Well look at the outcome for such reasoning. Who has the rationale?

    November 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • dionysus

      Which of the thousands of interpretations are we supposed to follow? One of the Universalist interpretations? The Catholic interpretation? One of the Orthodox interpretations? One of the Evangelical interpretations? Westborough Baptist Church's interpretation? One of the Gnostic interpretations? The pro-slavery or anti-slavery interpretation? The "everyone is saved" or the "only a select few are saved" interpretation? The pro-gay or anti-gay interpretation? The liberal or conservative interpretation? Do all of the Old Testament rules apply or is there a new covenant that ignores most of the OT? Are works important or are they "merely filthy rags"? If Christians can't even agree on the Bible's major tenets how in the world is anyone else supposed to use the Bible as a guide?

      November 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Even if one were to answer that question for you, (which one to accept), it would solve NOTHING, as the term "inspired by god" is meaningless. Any word, or set of words is filtered through YOUR unique set of, and combination of, brain cells. Thus there are as many interpretations as there are brains hearing/reading the materials. And as far as "inspired" means, what DOES that actually mean ? Does that mean god changed their brains electrical pathways ? Is that not "unnatural" ?

      November 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      jwas1914, are you telling the rest of us how we should live? Seriously? Your values and beliefs should be everyone's values and beliefs. If they're not, you blame that for the world's problems. Very simplistic, IMO. Not to mention arrogant.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Answer


      "The Holy Scriptures has good healthy teachings for every one of us. "

      What you do not want to type out about your precious bible are the portions of the book you do not want to read. You simply can not even fully acknowledge ALL of your book. You are only looking for the areas that appeal to you. Like most theists who can not think and use their own minds to see the various falsehood about what your book really preaches.

      Your book is the cream of the crop in hypocrisy. Every theist can follow his or her own brand of teachings and they always use it as their source of hate. For every stupid comment that comes out of a theist's mouth that one line of yours is the most idiotic!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • warmesTghosT

      When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl's owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

      Yes what a lovely book to live by. Thanks, I'll pass.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Sean


      You’re just taking it out of context!


      November 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Draz


      This is one of the dangers of referring to carelessly translated modern versions. The word "slave" as we know it only appears once in the Bible. The Scripture you're quoting actually uses the word "maidservant." Servanthood in Bible days and culture, for the most part, was not the same as the wicked slave trading that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries here in America. The compulsory service that we see in the Bible was not based on race or skin color. Many times, compulsory service in the Bible was similar to people today going into the military. Once they sign on the dotted line, they become the property of the military, and they are told exactly what they must do and where they must go. Their service is compulsory. They cannot just choose to come and go, or leave when they want to. They are under the authority of the officer that is over them. If a person today commits crimes and has court-ordered community service, it is compulsory service. It could also be for the sake of paying off a debt, or even voluntary for the sake of providing for yourself or your family. It was more of a legal or contractual employment deal, and servants in those times were typically well cared for. This is the historical context (Sean!) of the passage you've quoted.

      November 4, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • The One True Steve


      Leviticus 25:44-46
      King James Version

      44. Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.

      45. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.

      46. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor.

      A Slave by any other name ... is still a Slave.

      Also, as to the phrase in question, the concept is not biblical ...
      Jeremiah !7:5
      King James Version

      Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

      November 8, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  7. calvin

    I believe the reference from Obama's speech was due to something the house was debating something about God instead of Jobs. Not really all that important...

    November 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  8. Winterscoming

    Obama says, is about as worthless as CNN says. From Pass this bill,to Congress is Dysfunctional to now God wants Congress to pass what??

    November 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Anton Crowley


      November 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  9. Bo

    How can it be called a misqoute from the Bible. It is at best, a misreference.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  10. SharplyRight

    Carney is nothing but Obama's talking monkey anyway....both of them deserve to get blasted for trying to invoke God as part of the propaganda to pass another Obama stimulus.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Robert

      Don't get too sharp, you'll cut yourselves. Sorry, but he wasn't trying to bring God in, just say that we need to start helping ourselves before solutions just start falling out of the sky. But thanks for bringing your partisanship. Here's your year's supply of Rice-a-Roni... You've been a great contestant...

      November 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • dionysus

      Because conservatives never invoke god to further their own agenda. No siree!

      November 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Peter

      Yeah, correct. Invoking God, misinterpreting the Bible, those are Republican methods.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      I wasn't aware that the GOP had exclusive rights on invoking god for their own agenda.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Jake

      You can't be sharp and on the political right at the same time. Your name is as self-contradictory as the Bible.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  11. DamianKnight

    Yeah that happens. People misquote the Bible all of the time and/or take it out of context.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Sean

      I’ve never seen/heard anyone actually take the Bible out of context. When that defense s invoked it’s always been some thumper defending his/her interpretation of the verse. Seeing as how must are COPY/PASTED.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Twifiter

      You're talking about the Christians right?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Twifiter

      You're talking about the Christians right?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Answer


      The usual defensive line used by theists to defend their bible: "you can not take the literal words of the bible", "you must interpret the meanings" "you just have to have faith" ...etc.

      As usual Damian – it's bollocks coming from your kind.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Anton Crowley

      Presumption I:4

      Yea, though I stumble through the alley of the Shudder of Dearth, I shall bear no weevils. Thy salt and thy flour they compote me".

      November 3, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  12. Dave in Portland

    I find it humorous when someone official uses a saying that is COMMONLY misused by the average person on the street and they get torn apart over it.

    I swear there are people just hiding in the bushes waiting for government officials to misstep so they can jump out and scream "WRONG!!!".

    November 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Well said, Dave. However, I for one no long find it amusing. I'm tired of the intellectually challenged jumping out at unimportant trivia like this and making something out of nothing. It just distracts us from real issues.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  13. Doc Vestibule

    Irregardless, Republican hyprocritizers misunderestimate Carney's refudiation.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • The Bobinator

      > Irregardless

      Really doc.... Really?

      November 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Love this, Doc! LOL!

      November 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • BRC

      All the words in that sentence and irregardless is the only one you focus on?

      November 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Irregardless is a perfectly cromulent word.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  14. Chuckles


    November 3, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  15. Aaron

    This is news???? I'm sorry CNN are the other interesting things in the world just not that important to you so now you have been reduced down to nit picking misquoted Biblical passages??? You ARE the weakest link, goodbye.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  16. Draz

    The phrase isn't Biblical, but the concept is.

    2 Th 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

    November 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Thank you, Draz. I read a bio of Benjamin Franklin many years ago and I believe that was the verse to which he was referring, and interpreted it to mean that god helps those who help themselves. I was going to look it up, but you saved me the trouble.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Sean

      The concept has been around longer than your Bible.. so no it is not Biblical.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Draz


      Your statement is the equivalent of saying that civil liberties aren't American because other cultures that predate ours had civil liberties. Civil liberties are part of the legal and social system in America, and therefore they are an American concept. That doesn't deny that there are other sources from whence civil liberties were derived. Working to support yourself is a concept espoused by the Bible, and therefore it is a Biblical concept. That's plain, common language usage.

      You seem to be one of those who is so completely blinded by your vengeful need to be anti-Bible that you'll argue ANY point made in association with the Bible, even basic syntax and grammar.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  17. BoldGeorge

    "But ordinary people – coaches giving pep talks, motivational speakers, even preachers – do it all the time."

    Yes, ordinary people do it all the time. But it takes an extraordinary person to read, study and believe God's word and its truth firmly.

    November 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Extraordinarily simple!

      November 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Again, the arrogance of Christians never ceases to amaze. You are saying that all Christians are extraordinary people. I know many very ordinary Christians, and quite a few extraordinary people who are non-Christians. Christianity does not have a lock on exceptional intelligence, sensitivity, kindness or ethical and moral values.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Jake

      Believing the Bible to be absolute truth and the work of God is not the mark of an extraordinary person. It is the mark of someone so intellecually and morally lazy that he or she will believe unsubstantiated fairytales instead of actually seeking truth and wisdom himself or herself. Quite pathetic, actually.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Answer


      Don't worry about your own stupidity! It's time now for your kind to attack back with: "why are you atheists so angry?" spiel.
      After comments like the above criticizing your religion you'll have no choice but to use that "angry" line. Or are you -theists- going to step it up some more and define that "atheism is a religion" once again?

      Your kind is so easily affronted but you do it to yourselves because you simply are too stupid.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Draz

      @Leaf on the Wind, re: You are saying that...

      He didn't say that at all and, without mincing words, he didn't even imply it. Every Sunday morning, I'm surrounded by about 1,000 people – most of them Christians in actuality, not just due to self-proclamation – but most of them do not take the time to read, study, and understand the Bible, as BoldGeorge is saying. The majority show up once per week on Sunday morning, play church, then go about their lives the other 6 1/2 days of the week without matters of God, Christ, or the Bible on their minds in any way, shape, or form. What BoldGeorge is saying is that it's that rare handful that actually DO take the time to listen, read, study, learn, and understand what it is that they claim to believe that are extraordinary. And, as you said, Christians don't have an exclusive lock on that trait.

      The people who post in these blog commentaries viciously support one view or another. Mostly anti-Christian, anti-Bible. But, I think it's fair to say that 95% + are staggeringly uninformed regarding their own purported causes. The vast majority of the atheistic, anti-Bible slander that I see on these pages exhibit total ignorance towards the Bible... and the statistics are no better for those who claim to be Christian and support the Bible. While I do not agree with statements made by posters who take an angry, anti-Christian stance, I will support the notion that those who have actually taken the time to educate themselves in support of their opinions are, in fact, extraordinary.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  18. kimsland

    Your president trusts in god?
    I could not live in a country like that.
    I trust in the people (he would supposedly call them the sinners of course!)

    November 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Yoda

      That is why you fail.

      November 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • XWngLady

      @Yoda: On the nose, hit it you did!

      November 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  19. clay

    Why is this an article?

    November 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Because its a slow news day.

      November 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  20. hippypoet

    saw that coming!

    November 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Mississippi

      I want a di.vorce

      November 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.