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. AGuest9

    "It was the best of times, it was the least of times." Ooops, that's not it. See, plenty of old books can be easily mis-quoted.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Reasonably

      But did you BELIEVE it was correct? Do you BELIEVE, man? Ya gots ta BELIEVE!!!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That's from "A Sale of Two Ti.tties" by Darles Chickens, right?

      November 4, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  2. Hodel

    You are wrong John Blake. He said he "believes" that the phrase from the bible is.... He did not actually come out and declare that it was in the bible.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Hodel

      As a follow-up: So are you saying that when people "believe" is something, they are wrong? God for example!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  3. Kim Kardashian

    This isn't news. My divorce should be front page everywhere!!!!!!!!!! I'm an attention WH0RE.

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

      You got the wh0re part right.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Ned Nickerson and Nancy play golf with Mortimer

      Kim dear,
      Do you understand how incredibly dysfunctional your family is ? Your sister asking the Hump if he ever had an STD ?? Ever hear of appropriate boundaries ? No, I suppose not, as your show is a text book for therapist regarding inappropriate intra- familial behaviors. some day one of you is going to grow up, and actually SEPARATE from your obsessive controlling mother, and your life will be 100% better.

      November 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  4. Nathan Prophet

    This is another example why this country and ALL countries should have a strict separation of religion and politics. The government has no business quoting scripture or phantom scripture or anything of the sort. This country has freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  5. Citizens First

    Religion cannot save society. If it could, it already would have. But it hasn't. Everyday is the same crap all over the world. You cannot conquer evil within the world, it can only be resisted within oneself. P.S. Love the hipster glasses, I guess those lamers have even infiltrated our government. Pussification of America.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  6. Milton

    To be fair, misquoting the Bible is sort of like misquoting a psychopath's manifesto-it's all gibberish to begin with. Well, except the dietary sanctions found in Leviticus. I think we can pretty much agree that you're going to hell if you love lobster (Leviticus 11:9). Another important dictate in Leviticus (25:45) is that you should buy slaves from surrounding nations not your own. Clearly the Republicans have been using this as a moral justification for exporting manufacturing jobs to slave labor countries.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Truth

      you must love witchcraft

      November 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Real Answer

      Hey MILTON... I like how you ware choosing Leviticus.. which was OBVIOUSLY in reference to the Jewish community at that time, but ignore all the passages regarding the Lord Jesus Christ who said "Love your enemy" and did a lot of things to forgive sinners... Talk about those verses... just some... just a little bit buddy.. we'll wait for your wisdom to come through... Jesus Christ crucifixion was for a purpose... do you know what that purpose was for... according to the bible? I want to hear you quote about that and tell me what's fair and what's not fair...

      November 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  7. Richard

    Who cares, religion has no place in government anyways. Why is this even an article? Bush told people that God told him to invade Iraq so if bringing God into debates were thrown out the window a long time ago.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  8. Russ

    Truly American: "My ignorance is as good as your knowledge"

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

      Oh you mean "my ignorance is better than your knowledge".. atleast in the minds of every True christian American

      November 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  9. Bill

    The less our politicians know about the Bible the better. We are not a theocracy.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Charles in Charge


      November 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  10. Neal

    I think the quote and I'm not sure who said it goes like this: God wants government out of our lives as much as possible so we can in fact help ourselves. Funny how the white house thinks the government should be spending more of our money to help us. Ron Paul 2012

    November 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  11. PlanetPlanit

    Why does anybody care that Obama said something about God? What about George Jesus Bush for god's sake?

    November 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  12. David


    November 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  13. STR

    A more appropriate quote from the Bible for America would be:

    2 Chron 7:14-15
    If my people,
    who are called by my name,
    will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
    then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

    America is failing and falling because we are not seeking, acknowledging and honoring God.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Reasonably

      We are failing because we – as a nation – no longer espouse personal accountability and community support. These may parallel your cultish theology, but they are general tenets of being a good human being and member of society.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • OsCar

      You are correct my friend. Dont give up the faith and you will rewarded soon

      November 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Real Answer

      @ Reasonably.... Cultish theory??? Don't attack the bible hailing "cultish" theory you fool.. Go look at the real occult and come back here with some mindful things to say about personal integrity and being a good human being... DO YOU KNOW HOW RELATIVE "Society" is? some societies eat other human beings? is that good??? You're talking about being a "good human being" and knocking the book that describes the life of Jesus Christ!?!?!?!?!???

      Even if the bible or new testament was fiction as you with all your universal knowledge believe... your implying the book that describes Jesus Christ's life to not represent what being a "good human being" is? your example is America over that???
      Being a good member of society in America is an example of being a good human being... hmmmmmm lets see... slavery, stealing from native americans, financial abuse, exploiting the poor, greed, the list goes on and on.. granted there are great things about americans but there are a LOT of BAD too..

      November 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  14. Solvey G.

    Why Americans always make little things appear bigger, and feel so offended but a simple mistake made by other human like all of us.Everyone knows what Mr. Carney tried to said, for GOD sake.

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

      I demand the death penalty!!!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  15. Reasonably

    Which Bible should we use as reference to ensure we don't mis-quote? KJV, pre-KJV, Catholic, LDS, Jehovas Witness?

    November 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Probably none, because whatever was originally written was politically adulterated MANY times over the past 1,980 years, right from the time of James of Nazareth.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  16. K2

    He's not the first person to attribute that quote to the Bible and he won't be the last. He should be thankful it wasn't the Quran he misquoted or he'd have to run and hide.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  17. DoubleTap

    why is this a surprise?

    November 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  18. ArizonaYankee

    Carney is as bad as his predecessor, and he lies or is so naive it is unbelievable. He has IMO destroyed his heretofore good reputation..Bad move John, and thank Obama while you are at it.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  19. Russ

    Really who cares where the statement/quote came from. Besides the Bible is just one huge misquote anyhway. It never happened so everyone, including the magic man in the sky, needs to quite quoting anything attributed to the Bible. In a nove. A work of fiction!!!!! Get over it.

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

      Why don't you stop worrying about the bible and go get the muslim terrorists. Wake up...

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

      Yeah, Russ. Stop worrying about our cultists and go after their cultists! Wake up, man!

      November 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Ned Nickerson and Nancy play golf with Mortimer

      It's a work of mythology, which was the only way pre-scientific people had to communicate things they thought were important. The weird part is 21st Century people who NEED to take it literally.

      November 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  20. MAX

    i see this sesame street fool every day with my kids, how low can obama go having this idiot speaking for him, carney is by far the most inept person behind a mic besides teleprompter boy obama

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

      Max, you could at least use proper capitalization and puncuation if you're going to call someone an idiot, you idiot.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Nobody likes a pedant, Russ.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Matt

      MAX, of all the criticisms of Obama calling him "inept behind a mic" is probably the most baseless. I mean really dude? "ramblerambleramble teleprompter rambleramble socialism rambleramble birth certificate" 2012 is shaping up to be a good year 🙂

      November 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
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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.