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. Dereze

    This whole story is so synical. I don't think he was saying that to be a direct Quote from the bible. The bible does speak about faith without works is dead. Also it does state if a man does not work, he does not deserve to eat. You should also look that up too.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • pfft

      or the myriad of verses regarding proper treatment and usage of your slaves!

      November 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  2. DumbAmerican

    Even those who profess to knowing christianity get confused by the bible...please get another version revised!

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

      it's easy to get confused when the book you supposedly base your entire life off of has too many contradictions to count.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Jim

      I love it when people like pf bump their gums and make idiotic comments without knowing what they are talking about. Just like George H W Bush talking about economics...

      November 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  3. Marina

    OK – how many of you thought it was from the Bible until you read this article?

    November 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • vbscript2

      I didn't. But, then, I actually read the Bible.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      Why would you waste time reading the bible?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Answer


      It's a required reading for atheists to understand and counter the idiocy of all religions. If you do not understand the underlying falsehoods about how stupid people in our past have come to explains things in nature then we as a whole will not understanding what is real. If you give up in REAL understanding -in favor of creating fairy tales- to tell your children then mankind is simply going the wrong way in true understanding. That is why you should dissect the idiocy that is coming out of the morons who are religious.

      If you have a firm notion of how ridiculous the bible is then you are better off for not following the garbage that it represents.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Jim

      I knew it was wrong because I actually read the Bible.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  4. Jose

    The phrase originated in ancient Greece, occurring as the moral to one of Aesop's Fables, and later in the great tragedy authors of ancient Greek drama. (Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_helps_those_who_help_themselves )

    November 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  5. Jeremy S.

    Who really gives a crap? Is the sky going to fall? Hard day for news....

    November 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  6. David

    I would prefer a Ben Franklin quote to a Biblical quote any day.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  7. jimbo

    The bible is all wrong anyways, it was written by kings long after all the non-believable stuff supposedly happened. It was an excellent opportunity for the rulers to throw in their own 2 cents to better themselves. It find it humorous that people believe this stuff at all.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • razmataz

      I'm an agnostic, myself, but your take on how the Bible was written only shows off your ignorance. You really ought to do a little research before embarrassing yourself like that.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Truth Squad

      Actually Kings from the beginning of time have tried to eliminate the Bible from public life, only a few have embraced it.

      You really should know what you are talking about before you say things that aren't true. But I guess you obey the father of lies and most of the liberals viewing CNN believe it without question.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • GEM

      So, jimbo, what is the source of YOUR 2 cents in providing us with this enlightening information?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • pfft

      the bible was not written by kings, but rather for kings.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Ching Chang Chong

      Jimbo just got ownedddddddddddddddddddddd

      Boooyaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Typical atheist on these boards, extremely ignorant while acting like their intelligence is superior.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Jimbo, You should really look into Biblical history. The Bible was neither written long after the events nor by kings nor for kings. The latest NT writing (Revelation) was written in the 90's AD, only about 60 years after Jesus' ministry by one of His inner circle (John.) The earliest NT writing was less than 30 years after the events it described and, again, was written by eyewitnesses. The whole "Bible being changed over time" is a common misconception, but is completely and provably false. We have copies of most of the NT dating to the 200's AD. We have copies of several books dating to the 100's AD (only a few decades removed from the original writings themselves.) The very latest of the earliest copies we currently have of any NT books date to the 300's AD. Contrary to what atheists or other people uninformed about the Bible like to claim out of ignorance, there has not been "2000 years of changes" to the Bible nor has it been translated through several languages. All of the primary modern versions of the Bible were translated directly from the original Greek using copies that dated very close to the time of the original writings.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Jim

      Your clarion call to discredit the Bible is....an abject failure by any measure. Your ignorance of history, archeology and reality is simply stunning.

      November 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  8. Tgfree

    If Washington Politicians are going to quote the Bible...let them start with a few of these verses from the New Testament:

    2 Thessalonians 3:10 – For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
    1Timothy 5:8 – But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Rebecca

      Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her: and also let some of the handfuls fall on purpose for her, and leave them, so that she may glean them, and do not rebuke her.” (Ru 2:15, 16) The right of the poor and strangers to glean the fields after the harvesters, so that they might eat was Biblical law. The rich were required to allow this and were never to allow people to starve to death.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Truth Squad

      Interesting that the Government at that time was a Theocracy.

      Allot would chance were we to run the US as a Christian Theocracy.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Tgfree

      So Rebecca, I take it that you would agree that the Bible clearly expects the poor to be aided...but the lazy, who are able to work but refuse to work and live off of the government because they just think everyone "owes them", should not be aided or empowered to continue to live off the government?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • david

      And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Mathew 19:24

      November 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  9. webspy

    After Constantine little get together, back in his day a person of means would be the official copier that went to the wealthy businessman in town. He produced 50 copies and went on to print another 30, and he took stuff out and added stuff that he saw fit, and you can quote me on this!

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


      November 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • razmataz

      Don't know why anyone would quote you, you obviously don't have a clue what the h3ll you're talking about,

      November 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Jim

      I'll quote you webspy!

      It is a good thing to quote those who speak confidently but completely ignorantly. You give creedence to the other side when you write...

      November 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  10. James V.

    Christians have been doing that for thousands of year... nothing to see here.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  11. Josh

    "Let those without sin cast the first stone"

    Or, in other words, CNN should not make a major story out of someone misquoting, because CNN (as most other news sources) are as guilty themselves of misquoting.

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

      Hey Josh,
      Is that a biblical qoute?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  12. Pete

    Nice. Now more people are talking about how the press secretary messed up than the actual jobs issue from whence the god talk arose. Mission accomplished Mr. Secretary.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  13. John Musgrove

    I always heard that it was 'God help those who get caught helping themselves.'

    November 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  14. Sean Russell

    President Obama didn't bring god into the jobs debate. The GOP does nothing but talk about religion constantly. They've been worrying more about our national motto than they have about the economy or jobs. They need to do their jobs and leave religion to preachers.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  15. Joe Sixpack

    No surprise. Everyone knows Democrats are godless communists.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      If only Democrats were godless! Then we would have a clearly rational party to vote for!

      November 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      I am a godless communist, but NOT a Democrat. Does that work for you?

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

      Bet you thought it was from the Bible – until you heard this article, hypocrite.... and by the way – being judgmental is a sin so good luck with that..

      November 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Pokey

      Your comment is ignorant. Part of the reason we can't get anything accomplished is because we spend too much time demonizing others that don't believe the EXACT same thing we do. I'm a republican and I find your comment ridiculous!

      November 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Doc M

      Funny you would call the party that defends the middle class and poor as "godless". Where did you get your description? So, the party that represents big money is "godly"? Nonsense.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  16. whata

    Maybe Obama was referring to the Koran.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      Maybe understanding that the White House Press Secretary is not Obama would behoove you?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • whata

      Obama did mention God ... probably referring to Allah.
      Then the press secretary got all mixed up. Ha ha!

      November 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      Yes, Obama did refer to god, he never said it came from the bible.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  17. Ron Lang

    How can we get ahold of your story, "Actually that is not in the Bible"?

    November 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  18. Truthteller

    Oh please, the bible is misquoted by everyone, especially by those who claim to know it and follow it. The bible is fiction anyway so who cares.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      I'd like this if I could.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Dereze

      actually there is historical proof that Jesus did walk the earth. You may want to look that up

      November 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • ihtfpaeoh


      November 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      Yes, there is a historical record of a political agitator named Jesus. There is NO historical record verifying the claim of some that he was "the son of God."

      November 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • GEM

      OK, because you've said it makes it true - if you say something stupid often enough, it becomes truth. This is YOUR "truth" and how ironic that your name is "Truthteller." Maybe you should look up the definition of "truth."

      November 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • SteverB

      Yeah, and maybe you should look up the meaning of GEM!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  19. Al-NY,NY

    why don't they leave the misquoting of the Bible to the real zealots....the GOP. They do it all the time

    November 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • iamacamera

      Name one; idiot!

      November 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Brendan

      That's so true. It's not, but I'd like it to be, so it must be. That's the way facts work, right?

      I like the way you can make even a story about a Democrat being an idiot a story about Republicans being idiots. It's quite impressive how delusional you guys are.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  20. CPW

    You said the B work in Washington. All heck's gonna break loose. To phrase a verse from a band "you gotta keepem seperated"

    November 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
About this blog

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.