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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. Laura

    WHO CARES!!! My government has no business quoting any religious scripture. Seperation of Church and State.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Lee

      Relax. Geez

      November 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  2. Say What

    Thanks John for that wasted article.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  3. Sean in Texas

    This is not a headline story.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  4. Valkiria

    God, if he exists, is just an absentee landlord....

    November 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • bobmc

      Maybe we are the absentees, he who seems to be the Lords of the Land certainly is not to concerned with God, they are certanly not coincerned about the people.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Martha

      Al Pacino – The Devil's Advocate

      November 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  5. The Official Whitehouse Response Team

    Everyone,

    Please stop with the divisive vitriol. Our nation needs to rebuild at this time, yet we seem to be tearing each other apart. Jay Carney made a mistake, however that was not the point of the story. Be go be active, albeit peacefully, in politics and let your voice be heard! Let's turn this caboose around.

    Sincerely,
    Barack H. Obama – The President BlTCHES!

    November 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  6. Church of the Mongolian Beef

    So...the mideia has an exchange, a dialog with a politico & they look for some trite unimportant phrase or combonation of words on which to pounce & make meatballs out of.

    Thanx Main Stream News but I have to say you've given nothing to America over the last 12 years & I expect heaping helpings of more of the same.

    Don't care if it's WSJ, NY Times, CNN, FOX, doesn't matter, you're all controled by one thing, your perception of how to get money.

    Thanx gawd-DUH I don't rely upon MSM for anything except to know where the piles of poop are, just follow MSM anywhere, the poop is everywhere.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Kankles

      Could you please tell me some websites that you think are good and unbiased? I agree with much of your statement however do not know of many quality websites. Huffinton Post is not considered good so please so post that.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  7. bobmc

    Carney ... isn't that the guy at the Carnival that goes "Hey Rube, I gotta great show over here." Of course when we look at the economy, jobs, the whitehouse, and congress, it does resemble a Carnival, one that needs to get out of town when the public losse's interest.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  8. mindy

    REALLY PEOPLE? SINCE MANY HAVE BEEN DOING THE EXACT SAME MISQUOTE FOR YEARS, WHAT MAKE THIS GUY SAYING IT AN ISSUE? HEADLINE WORHTY? I THINK NOT!

    November 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  9. mike

    In other news, Obama gave Mexican drug cartels hundreds of assault rifles and they disappeared... :::POOF::: Just like the Solyndra money... ::::POOOF::::::

    November 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Dan of The Prophecy Society

      Don't you mean, just like the WMDs in Iraq that made 4,000 American soldiers and a trillion dollars go ... POOF!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  10. mike

    In other news, Obama gave Mexican drug cartels hundreds of assault rifles and they disappeared... :::POOF::: Just like the Solyndra money... ::::POOOF::::

    November 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • RasPutin

      Bush did that too, but you won't admit that, will you?

      November 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Al-NY,NY

      so did Duh Duh Duh-bya. It was called Operation Wide Receiver. Read much genious?

      November 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Josh

      "Obama gave Mexican drug cartels hundreds of assault rifles" Right, because the POTUS also acts as the head of the ATF in his free time. Stop trying to assign nonsensical blame to the President just because you don't like him or his policies. It's desperate and pathetic.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  11. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    Anthony, it would appear that you have never read the Bible. In fact, it is filled with violence of many sorts, as well as a great deal of pure nonsense and many contradictions. All too often, religions divide people into mutually hostile camps. Morality and good behavior, good treatment of others, come primarily from mature people who can think for themselves and do not need silly fairy tales to guide them.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Dan of The Prophecy Society

      Plesae give an example of one contradiction. One of the biggest falsehoods going around today is that the Bible contradicts itself.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Dan,
      Is this enough for you ? :
      TR6

      1. God is satisfied with his works
      Gen 1:31
      God is dissatisfied with his works.
      Gen 6:6
      2. God dwells in chosen temples
      2 Chron 7:12,16
      God dwells not in temples
      Acts 7:48
      3. God dwells in light
      Tim 6:16
      God dwells in darkness
      1 Kings 8:12/ Ps 18:11/ Ps 97:2
      4. God is seen and heard
      Ex 33:23/ Ex 33:11/ Gen 3:9,10/ Gen 32:30/ Is 6:1/
      Ex 24:9-11
      God is invisible and cannot be heard
      John 1:18/ John 5:37/ Ex 33:20/ 1 Tim 6:16
      5. God is tired and rests
      Ex 31:17
      God is never tired and never rests
      Is 40:28
      6. God is everywhere present, sees and knows all things
      Prov 15:3/ Ps 139:7-10/ Job 34:22,21
      God is not everywhere present, neither sees nor knows all
      things
      Gen 11:5/ Gen 18:20,21/ Gen 3:8
      7. God knows the hearts of men
      Acts 1:24/ Ps 139:2,3
      God tries men to find out what is in their heart
      Deut 13:3/ Deut 8:2/ Gen 22:12
      8. God is all powerful
      Jer 32:27/ Matt 19:26
      God is not all powerful
      Judg 1:19
      9. God is unchangeable
      James 1:17/ Mal 3:6/ Ezek 24:14/ Num 23:19
      God is changeable
      Gen 6:6/ Jonah 3:10/ 1 Sam 2:30,31/ 2 Kings 20:1,4,5,6/
      Ex 33:1,3,17,14
      10. God is just and impartial
      Ps 92:15/ Gen 18:25/ Deut 32:4/ Rom 2:11/ Ezek 18:25
      God is unjust and partial
      Gen 9:25/ Ex 20:5/ Rom 9:11-13/ Matt 13:12
      11. God is the author of evil
      Lam 3:38/ Jer 18:11/ Is 45:7/ Amos 3:6/ Ezek 20:25
      God is not the author of evil
      1 Cor 14:33/ Deut 32:4/ James 1:13
      12. God gives freely to those who ask
      James 1:5/ Luke 11:10
      God withholds his blessings and prevents men from receiving
      them
      John 12:40/ Josh 11:20/ Is 63:17
      13. God is to be found by those who seek him
      Matt 7:8/ Prov 8:17
      God is not to be found by those who seek him
      Prov 1:28
      14. God is warlike
      Ex 15:3/ Is 51:15
      God is peaceful
      Rom 15:33/ 1 Cor 14:33
      15. God is cruel, unmerciful, destructive, and ferocious
      Jer 13:14/ Deut 7:16/ 1 Sam 15:2,3/ 1 Sam 6:19
      God is kind, merciful, and good
      James 5:11/ Lam 3:33/ 1 Chron 16:34/ Ezek 18:32/ Ps 145:9/
      1 Tim 2:4/ 1 John 4:16/ Ps 25:8
      16. God's anger is fierce and endures long
      Num 32:13/ Num 25:4/ Jer 17:4
      God's anger is slow and endures but for a minute
      Ps 103:8/ Ps 30:5
      17. God commands, approves of, and delights in burnt offerings,
      sacrifices ,and holy days
      Ex 29:36/ Lev 23:27/ Ex 29:18/ Lev 1:9
      God disapproves of and has no pleasure in burnt offerings,
      sacrifices, and holy days.
      Jer 7:22/ Jer 6:20/ Ps 50:13,4/ Is 1:13,11,12
      18. God accepts human sacrifices
      2 Sam 21:8,9,14/ Gen 22:2/ Judg 11:30-32,34,38,39
      God forbids human sacrifice
      Deut 12:30,31
      19. God tempts men
      Gen 22:1/ 2 Sam 24:1/ Jer 20:7/ Matt 6:13
      God tempts no man
      James 1:13
      20. God cannot lie
      Heb 6:18
      God lies by proxy; he sends forth lying spirits t deceive
      2 Thes 2:11/ 1 Kings 22:23/ Ezek 14:9
      21. Because of man's wickedness God destroys him
      Gen 6:5,7
      Because of man's wickedness God will not destroy him
      Gen 8:21

      if that's not enough here's some more :

      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html

      😈

      November 3, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • o.k.

      Nice Try Bucky Ball, but since you only went to another web site, you didn't do any research of your own, you don't have the full story. I'm not going to address each and every one of your cited web site's contradictions (not enough time). So let's take one which shows the inherent risk YOU take when you take an English translation of the Bible and try to prove a contradiction. You're 5th contradiction–God rests/God does not rest. The Exodus verse is not that God rested because he was tired. The original Hebrew translation of the use of the word "rests" means "cease." In other words, after six days of work, He stopped. Not because he was tired–but because he was done.

      November 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • o.k.

      Also meant to add: Like most of these web sites purporting to show contradictions, the verses themselves are often (probably deliberately) misquoted. The Exodus verse does not say anywhere that he was "tired."

      November 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  12. Granger

    this administration is such an embarrassment.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • mike

      I wanted hope and change, instead I got ghetto.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Granger

      you've got it THAT GOOD. Ghetto under the Obama admin is luxury status. At least the dictator has time to golf and vacation and campaign.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Sean in Texas

      You got ghetto? What does that even mean? You uneducated ass.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • B4Cons

      Only to you wing nuts.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  13. Pat Andera

    Man, if this was a republican he would be ripped apart.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Lee

      Pretty sure no one cares either way.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  14. mike

    This isn't a debate about the Bible, it's just an epic failure for an idiot like Caney to quote anything – ANYTHING AT ALL – without actually knowing what he's quoting

    November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • dot T

      Fool me once shame on me – fool me twice shame on......something like that. Stupid americans

      November 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  15. Eduardo

    What wwould Jesus do? I think is clear,NOT TO DO what the GOP/TEA PARTY do, which is sacrifice the entire country. Is very simple

    November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • mike

      aaah yes Eduardo, nice! Now get back to mowing my lawn and voting for Obama.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Niel

      Mike, you are a true republican. A racist. that drove me from GOP. thanks for believing again that my decision was right.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  16. Chris

    Why, oh why, do we still quote a fictional work from ~300 BCE and make a big deal about the intricacies of its message as if it had any meaning on current political and economic issues? Misquoted or not, find a more relevant source to cite as your justification!

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

      This isn't a debate about the Bible, it's just an epic failure for an idiot like Caney to quote anything – ANYTHING AT ALL – without actually knowing what he's quoting 🙂

      November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  17. mike

    In other news, Obama gave Mexican drug cartels hundreds of assault rifles and they disappeared... :::POOF::: Just like the Solyndra money... ::::POOOF::::

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

      Guns given to Mexico as a sting that backfired? Bush did that too, but you won't admit that, will you?

      November 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Niel

      Mike will believe whatever Limbaugh daddy will say. I can't blame him. I was him a few years back. Its good to be an independant finally.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Al-NY,NY

      No, he won't Ras. He's either too ignorant to read or he doesn't care what a rightie does but hates anything democratic

      November 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  18. Propervillain

    Correction: Both parties have been MISUSING the bible for years, not just misquoting.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  19. Gassy Pants

    ANY ATHEIST CARE TO FIGHT? Name the place and time and I'll be there.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Toby

      I'm not so much an atheist as I am a non-supernaturalist. I don't care what people choose to believe (assuming you can will yourself to believe something just because you want to believe it) but I don't wish to fight about it-that's something I usually leave up to the religious, which you can always count on them doing. Peace.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Ahhhhhh

      That sounds exactly like something Jesus would do. In fact, I think that's a quote from the Bible.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Chuckles

      High Noon, in front of the Saloon. bring your gun and your tombstone, you'll need both.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • RichardD

      why don't you read a book?

      November 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • J.W

      Actually I don't think that the word atheist is in the Bible. Atheists must not have been invented yet.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Gassy Pants

      @chuckles – I'm there!!!!!!!! See you at noon infront of the saloon. I'll be dressed as a baboon.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Gassy Pants
      Monkey bars!
      Recess!
      Prepare for an onslaught of noogies, wedgies and indian burns.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Church of the Mongolian Beef

      Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Gassy Pants

      Stay out of my way, or you'll pay, Listen to what I say.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • JDJ

      The word atheist is not in the Bible, but the Bible does state that a fool says in his heart there is no God.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  20. kace47

    why is this a big deal?

    November 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Bobbie

      It's not a big deal, because a democrat said it. If it had been a republican spokesman, he would have been forced to resign by now!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:21 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.