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. Everett Wallace


    November 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Ed

      Typing in all caps is like yelling. Its annoying and usually results in people discounting what it is you are trying to say as hysterical.



      November 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  2. beevee

    Who cares if the press Secretary's has misquoted the source of the statement, but the statement ifself in said by some one or written somewhere. Stop making mountains out of mole hills. Talk about things that matter to most americans. the jobs. now it is the jobs and the economy you nuts.

    November 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  3. PowerInTheBlood

    To everyone who is so against The Bible, God, and 'Organized Religion' I challenge you to say and believe for just one day that God IS real. Ask him to reveal himself through the Holy Spirit. You can argue with an opinion you CAN'T argue with testimony. Atheists your opinion to us Christian is about as useless as a car with no gas. I know that I know that I know God is real because I have felt Him and heard from Him. He sustains all my needs. People constantly misquote the Bible even Christians, Pastors and especially political leaders. Don't let it harder your hearts. Seek God for who HE says He is!

    November 4, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Dr. Pearlman is one of the best schitophrenic doctors around and really wants to help people who are hearing voices. I promise you, give him a call and you won't be disappointed.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • PowerInTheBlood

      Don't worry you'll meet him someday 🙂

      November 4, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Dr. Pearlman? Yeah, swell guy, helped me out a time or two with a couple of patients spouting some nonsense about muhammed.

      Ooooooooooh, you meant god? Yeah, I sure will kiddo, god and santa and the easter bunny (the holy trinity right?) are all up in heaven just itching for me to get there. I'll let you know what its like.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • PowerInTheBlood

      Does your present worldview provide you with an adequate sense of meaning and purpose? Where does your moral compass come from, mother nature? How do you explain the high degree of design and order in the universe if there is no God? How is that every prophecy in the Old Testament was fulfilled?

      November 4, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Chuckles

      This whole song and dance again? Really? Please take your nose out of the bible for a moment and actually do a little research on these questions if you're really interested. And when I say research, I mean real research, not just using christian websites to make you feel better and right. All these questions have been answered and much better than how a christian would answer it mind you.

      Just for funsies though, do you think the moral compass comes from god eh? Then that means the bible gives you an idea of whats right and whats wrong right? Aside from the horrific stuff thats totally cool with god in the bible, you might also be aware that christians are no better or worse than the rest of the populace when it comes to any moral conundrum that you can test and prove. Just ponder that for a moment, give it a think, use your evolved brain.

      November 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • PowerInTheBlood

      Correction I never said MY moral compass is any better than yours. I'm not any better or worse than you are! Let's clear that up. Second of all you are SO determined that your way is the right way I was simply stating ask God to reveal himself to you, so if you really want to validate what you are saying try and seek God for a day. The only difference between you and I is I WAS athiest an tried to disprove God and in turn he shattered all disbelief you can argue with an opinion but not a testimony. My life seems to get better and better each day. I've seen a cripple walk for the first time in 30 years because of the presence of God. Disprove that! Even if he does not exist but my life gets better what have I lost, if He does I gain everything. God Bless you Chuckles.

      November 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  4. Erik

    Stupid article about a non-issue

    November 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  5. WhereIsPalin

    Yes, it's a sure sign he's a muslim, just like Obama. Isn't that correct, whack jobs?

    November 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  6. Harry Katz

    John, it's not Ben Franklin either, so, as a reporter, why don't YOU look it up!

    November 4, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  7. v_mag

    The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek. Every quote that you hear in English is a translation. I've always wondered about people who "quote scripture" and believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, but they have no problem with someone distorting God's word by translating it into another language.

    Any translator will tell you that there is often no equivalent meaning in English of a statement made in Hebrew or Greek. So, technically, there is no quote in English that is actually in the Bible, and all those preachers who "quote scripture" are phoneys, unless they are quoting it in the original language.

    November 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Michael

      A million likes to your comment. Well said.

      November 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Believer

      Then throw out all classical liturature that was not written in modern english. Throw out Archemedies, Plato, Freud, Marx, Mao, etc. You cannot successfully argue that we cannot translate meanings from one language to another without also nullifying our ability to convey any rational thought from one person to another.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  8. Dave Harris

    The Republican god certainly does not want to put people back to work. He wants them to be miserable and blame Obama so they'll vote for Republicans. Since Democrats are all going to Hell anyway, they're wasting their time misquoting the Bible.

    November 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • inTheDogHouse

      I thought it was the Republicans who were going to hell for giving the nation's wealth to the rich and not spreading it amongst the poor.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Bob

      This implies that Repuplicans do not want people to work and want people to be miserable. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is why Republicans propose ideas that have proven to create jobs in the past and oppose Obama's proposals that don't do so.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • inTheDogHouse

      George Bush passed tax cuts for the wealthy that failed to generate jobs while we lived on borrowed money. That's what led us into this mess. The Wealthy have been fighting a class war against the middle and lower classes, but the middle and lower classes have been voting in favor of it due to twisted thinking like Bob's.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Steve McGrew

      I wrote http://slashdot.org/~mcgrew/journal/273082 this yesterday, is John Blake reading slashdot now? At any rate, the Republicans are in fact against everything Jesus taught, which was (besides the "Obama's staff needs to read their bibles) a key point in my essay.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • tickethead

      Steve get that self promoting crap off this board. NOBODY wants to go to your page to read your nonsense. If they did, you would be debating over there. D A

      November 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  9. Gauis Caesar

    I am more impressed that a Democrat is actually saying this, instead of a Republican. I didn't even think this stance was a Democrat stance! Obama said something like this during is campaign in 08, and Jesse Jackson wanted to put vicegrips on his...well you remember. Good to hear common sense playing out in this circle....It is true, help people help themselves instead of govt programs designed to keep them voting for the left.

    November 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  10. JPX

    Who cares if a book of fairy tales is misquoted?

    November 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • ASC

      Amen to that!

      November 4, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • zb

      CNN considers this news? Based on that standard the whole Republican/Tparty has been misquoting everything.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Steve McGrew

      I pity you. One can never find someone he's convinced doesn't exist. Arguing with an athiest about God is like a 17th century man arguing with a man blind since birth about the color red.

      Seek and you will find.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • shut_up

      your the fairy, go chase some guys tail....................

      November 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  11. brett

    He needs to be fired for misquoting the Bible.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Ken in MD

      I can only hope this is supposed to be a joke...

      November 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  12. emma

    The idea expressed was a call to action to improve life in America. Nit-picking seems to me to not help the process.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Gordon

      –The idea expressed was a call to action to improve life in America. Nit-picking seems to me to not help the process.

      You split an infinitive.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • hahaha

      Gorgon.... who cares its a blog not english class

      November 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Jan

      To hahaha: People who care about communicating well. That's who cares. And it's English class, you twit, not "english" class. People like you who promote (even worship) ignorance are the worst kind of blogger.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • What ever!!

      To Jan: Get a LIFE!!!

      November 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  13. Lisa P

    "Politicians have been misquoting the Bible for years. But ordinary people – coaches giving pep talks, motivational speakers, even preachers – do it all the time."

    Great! I expect to see a similar story when Senator X, Representative Y or Governor Z does the exact same thing, not to mention all those celebrities, pundits and "ordinary people." Because clearly this misquote is a VERY BIG DEAL and such misspeaking MUST STOP.

    Where were you guys when the Bush Administration was mangling the Bible, anyway?

    November 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Bob in LA

      He actually gave the Obama camp credit for correcting itself. Bush era mistakes were far bigger and this, so they didn't need to pick on these things

      November 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  14. Mr. Moderate

    Yet again proving that the liberal bias in the media is largely a myth. If it were true, this would have been ignored or explained away.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  15. Emma, San Jose

    Nitpicking of an expression of an idea which carries with it a call for action. How does that help us move out of the dilemma the country is confronted with?

    November 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Gordon

      You ended your sentence with a preposition.

      November 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • v_mag

      Yes, you ended with a preposition. That is something up with which I will not put!

      November 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Richp

      You pa dutchiess have a way with words thats for sure.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  16. steve

    best reason for keeping religion completely out of politics–it becomes side debates over which religion or doctrine is correct and generates serious conflcits over issues that have nothing to do with employment!

    November 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  17. Larry

    I could care less what it says in the Bible because I value truth over fiction. What a useless bag of garbage.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Steve McGrew

      You could care less? How much less could you care?

      November 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  18. Common Sense

    LOL @ The Bible as a reference for politics....

    November 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  19. ThinkAgain

    This is a non-story! If you want to get particular about misquoting the Bible, start with the "pro-life" Republicans who believe in capital punishment, in direct contradiction to the First Commandment.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Gordon

      The one that says "Thou shalt not commit murder"? Where's the contradiction?

      November 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • JPX

      Gordon writes, "The one that says "Thou shalt not commit murder"? Where's the contradiction?" The contradiction, you dope, is that it says don't commit murder yet they support the death penalty. If they really believe in "Thou shalt not kill" than they shouldn't embrace the death penalty.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Rom

      It doesn't say "Thou shalt not kill – unless it's legal"

      November 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Ken in MD

      Actually it doesn't say "thou shalt not commit murder" it says "thou shalt not kill". Capital punishment is killing. Symantics aside, at the very least it ends a life. How can you be "pro-life" but support ending a person's life? And how does the phrase "pro-life" relate to abortion anyway? Abortion ends a *possible* future life, not an actual life.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • v_mag

      I was taught in Old Testament class at Baylor that the closer translation is, "Thou shalt commit no murder". Which points up the fact that it's all a translation, and so it's going to be difficult to specifically quote the Bible, unless you use the original language.

      In some cases, parts of the New Testament may have been written in Aramaic and translated to Greek before being translated to English. And that King James English has been later translated to more modern English. In reality, the whole thing is at least 1900 years old, and nobody speaks those ancient versions anymore, so we don't know really what any of it meant to the original writers. You hear various versions of what "the eye of a camel" refers to, for instance. There are a million examples, and nobody really knows.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Bob

      Since the same Old Testament law thr includes the commandments provides for capital punishment, it should be apparent that "Thou shalt not kill" does not apply. As for aportion, it is a matter of judgement whether a fetus is an actual or a future life. My view is that a good scientific case can be made for the former. (An obviously living organism, with obviously human DNA which is distinct from that of the mother.)

      November 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • v_mag

      Since Bob brings up abortion/beginning of life issues, I'd like to put forward the idea that life begins BEFORE conception. If you've ever seen a sperm wiggling around under a microscope, you will be hard pressed to say that it is not alive. That gives us all kinds of possibilities for prosecution of people who wantonly destroy sperm, like every teenaged boy on the planet.

      That should clog up our court system nicely until Armageddon.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Steve McGrew

      Actually, those on both sides of the abortion debate are lying hypocrites. As you pointed out, if you're "pro life" you're against the death panalty (actually I am personally against the death penalty). But on the other side of the coin is just as hypocritical. If you're "pro-choice" you're against outlawing drugs. Your drug taking doesn't affect me. Yes, I'm pro-choice both on drugs AND abortion - with caveats. A minor who can't drive or enter a contract shouldn't be able to choose abortion without parental input. And your wife or girlfriend should not be able to abort YOUR fetus without your permission.

      I would be totally against your aborting MY fetus, but if it isn't mine, it's not my business.

      November 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • inTheDogHouse

      Once you read the scriptures a couple of times, you can start to see how it goes around in circles. The Bible says "Thou shall not kill," then it talks about how people should be put to death for things and talks about killing in wars. It's funny when you think about it.

      November 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  20. Beverly Tatum

    CNN – you're joking right? You write a story about a "misquote" when you have hypocritical Republicans running around every single day pretending to be "Christians" and not following one teaching or Commandment from the Bible???? Republicans make a mockery of Christianity and Jesus would view them as the moneychangers he threw out of the Temple. Care so much about the Bible? Then expose the Republicans who stomp all over its words every day.

    November 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Rom

      Republicans don't even have a clue about what Jesus would do.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:12 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.