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. Descarado

    Maybe Obama's White House should stick with something they know and understand like the woman-stoning Koran?

    November 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |

    "help yourself by actually looking in the Bible to see if it’s really scripture – or just another phantom Bible verse." who cares if its real or not religious people would have never known. they believe just about anything you tell them

    November 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  3. erich2112x

    You both got it wrong. It appears earlier than Benjamin Frankln in Algernon Sidney's work.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Hasenfratz

      Truly, what do these goons in Washington really know? All they do is lying about everything. The only thing that is true about Washington is, they are all corrupt.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  4. Atheists < Poo

    MY NAME SAYS IT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Chuckles

      religion <atheists <poo

      I guess we all stink.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • grumpy

      No need to get hysterical.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • ......

      Lying is a sin

      November 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • sans diety

      god is a joke and the believers are the punchline

      November 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  5. Rich

    The true quote is "heaven helps those who help themselves"

    November 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  6. Wyatt Buchanan

    I have heard the President misquote scripture. Once he said "the Bible says, Do unto others as they do unto you." In reality the Scriptures say "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you"Again, at the National Prayer Breakfast in quoting Isaiah 40:31 He said. "Those who wait on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles, and they will run and not be weary, and they will walk and not faint," When in reality the scripture says "But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Leaving out the whole renew their strength part.

    I guess anyone can butcher a passage ( preachers incldued) but where is the sinsiter intent?

    Or as it says in II Hezekiah 11:47 If you live in glass houses don't let your chicken croos the road.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  7. Xeo

    He would likely be more comfortable quoting the Communist Manifesto than quoting the Bible. He should stick with what he knows best.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      There you go again.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm |

    This quote is from the Holy Quran:

    "Verily, God does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves." –– Chapter Ar-Rad (13:11).

    It is known fact the founding fathers kept a copy of Quran and read it. Since you are saying this quote came from Benjamin Franklin, he might have quoted it from Quran.

    Best current example for this quote is the Arab Spring situation in Middle East. People were robbed of their freedom for decades with help from other powerful nations. The people took it on themselves to liberate from these cruel dictators and then help come from God.

    Have a good day,

    November 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      Then help came from god? Uhh... no, they achieved what they achieved without god.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • sans diety

      variations of the golden rule, categorical imperative or what have you have predated the quran and bible by hundreds of years, eg, Confucius, Hammurabi code, etc...so to quote the bible or quran is actually plagiarism

      November 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      @ialsoagree, How do you know that help did not also come from God? Do you have private, special knowledge about God's doings? Can you not allow others the courtesy of a healthy spiritual life? Consult with the psychiatric community if you do not believe that human beings have an innate need for a religious community in order to have a stable emotional life. It is one of the requirements on their list of things people need for mental health.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  9. PappaZ

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

    How do you twist that into, "Religion does not belong in politics!" The Press Secretary was making no law and was freely exercising...

    November 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • vbscript2

      The Press Secretary is also not Congress.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  10. Gwen

    After you check the Bible to see if the passage is really in there, check the Bible to see who wrote it. Thanks to Gutenberg and King James (NOT Saint James) the Bible most people use today is full of poetic incaccuracies. Or not the Bible at all. I had a prof of Victorian Lit actually use Milton's Paradise Lost as the reference for all of the religous passages by Victorian writers. As if they didn't have a Bible handy back in the day.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • vbscript2

      That is simply not true. First, most people don't use the KJV nowadays. Second, almost all common modern versions were translated directly from Greek manuscripts (many of which date within about 100 years of the original writings.)

      November 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Ben

      Yeah, thats true about a variety of the old translations, but thats why scholars are continually translating and re-translating actual original or second-gen texts that still exist at places such as Cambridge, Oxford, et al. As much as language and understanding of language change, so do translations of the Bible need to be revisited and revised. That doesn't make old translations inaccurate, though, just no longer clear.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  11. Brandon

    Oh Lawdy Lawdy someone made a mistake, lets give him crap about it.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  12. Rich

    He works for Obama so he is a socialist commie pinko black guy with white makeup and he should be crucified on live TV for being a REGISTERED DEMOCRAT! They are all socialist pinko commies and should be removed from office! Look at this economy! How did it get like this?? Stop blaming Bush and Wall Street. They didn't do ANYTHING at all to cause this. It was all those socialists pinkos who like people who look like obama that did this. The SOUTH shall rise again. Honey, is my white sheet washed yet? I gotta get to Washington right away!

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

      You wouldnt know a "pinko commie" even if he was giving you a reach around. You would attribute it to another government program.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Rich Is an A*Hole

      Calm down, chew on another Valium, put on your tinfoil hat and watch Fox News with your thumb in your mouth and it'll all be okay.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Al-NY,NY

      Hey Edith. You, the meathead and Gloria better make sure one of "them" ain't in our neighborhood....NOW GET OUT MY CHAIR AND GET ME A BEER YOU DINGBAT

      November 3, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  13. Chaz

    This is not a misquote. It's a misattribution.

    I don't think he's going to hell for this one.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Ah my friend, I see you are not of the true believers. He is going to hell just for working for Obama, the rest does not matter.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  14. Olaf Big

    Yep, this is one of those sticky false quotes. Not that there is anything wrong with not reading the Bible. I would worry much more that White House press secretary does not know that the words are Ben Franklin's (if they are indeed his).

    November 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  15. David M

    The Bible misquoted? By a politician? Never heard of such a thing.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • It has happened before, because...

      There is nothing new under the sun - Ecc 1:9

      November 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  16. Sandy

    I am a Baptist, born again.

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

      Im so sorry, are the drugs helping?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Joe

      I'm a Christian, born again 🙂

      November 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      I'm a free thinker, born once!

      November 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      And the psychiatric community states that one of the requirements for mental health is a healthy spiritual life. Humans need the sense of spiritual community, as well as familial community and social community. Kind of explains all the muggings, drive-by shootings, and foaming, hissing and spitting atheists.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Jean Sartre, Milwauke, WI

      Perhaps you need to be born again at least a few more times before you are fully cooked...

      November 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  17. Charmaine

    I think the point Obama was trying to make was that while he believes in God, he also believes we are expected to use our brains once in a awhile to make things happen and now is the time for Congress to get to work. And if I may offer a relevant scripture: "Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:17-18)

    A little prayer now and then can make a huge difference, so folks please pray for our President and Congress to make the right decisions that will create jobs for the unemployed.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      Or, instead of sitting around and talking to yourself, actually get out there and do something to help.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  18. Sandy

    I would rather be safe than sorry and have the son of God, Jesus as my Saviour.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • David, CA

      Well I'm sure God loves that you have such a self-serving acceptance of him.

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

      Pascal's wager fails. Firstly, you lose something by believing. You lose the freedom to be open minded to the likely scenario that the Christian god isn't real.

      Further, you can't eliminate the possibility that the Koran isn't the correct faith using Occam's razor, are you going to accept Allah and Jesus?

      Finally, if you only believe in a god to get eternal life, don't you think god will see through your little rouse?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Yes, you can believe in Jesus and Allah (who Christians refer to as 'the Father' or simply 'God.') Both Christians and Muslims believe in both Jesus and Allah (God the Father,) except that Muslims believe Jesus was merely a prophet.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      You missed my point entirely.

      You can't both believe Jesus was the son of god, and believe in Allah as described in the Kuran. The two are mutually exclusive, and Pascal's wager provides NO way of distinguishing which one is "more" right.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • TAK

      ialsoagree, you are making the mistake that a logical, well reasoned argument will work with these people. Also, do you think anyone that believes in an invisible bearded magic man in the sky is educated enough to have heard of Pascal's wager or Occam's razor?

      November 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • ialsoagree

      I was making such mistakes... boy do I feel silly. =(

      November 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      @ialsoagree, Why do you feel the need to belittle your fellow humans for something that is a basic need? To believe in something larger and more powerful than oneself, whether it be God, the moon, or science, or all three, gives a sense of stability that people actually need for mental health. Does it make you fell more secure in your own faithlessness to denigrate the beliefs of others? If so, your really might want to consult a counselor.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  19. John K

    And yea, Jesus looked upon the single payer healthcare system and proclaimed it good. Do unto the 1% as the 53% do unto the 99%, amen.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  20. jubei

    Intersting idea's on biblical perspectives. There is a source of the quote crrectly attributed to the Greeks, It is actually " God Help those who help themselves"..origin:
    whenever a man makes haste, God hastens with him – Aeschylus (persia)
    try first thyself and after call God – euripedes
    Heaven never helps the man who will not act – socrates
    I know we all like Benjamin franklin, he was a great person, so lets attribute the phrase to the correct person, and not the bible from now on. can we?

    November 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      I bet they stole it from the Persians.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:35 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.