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

    Oh well, at least no one is talking about Obama's favorite Chicago bath house, Man's Country. Move along now, nothing to see here.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  2. Jimmy McMillian

    Faux News will spin it though, "black guy in white house is a marxist muslim who staffs chrisitian posers!" etc... etc...

    November 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  3. Jonathan Davis

    Must be a slow news day. Why are we being bothered about this?

    November 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  4. parvo

    Give-a-sh-t factor: Low.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  5. marnie

    Let's get excited about something worthwhile, stupid media....if I had a nicle for all those who misquote and mis-use the bible, I could retire tomorrow.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  6. Descarado

    So Obama's tin drum ,Goebbels dwarf made a mistake with the word of God. Send a letter in a bottle to Jeremiah Wright.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  7. youthechristians

    Separation of church and state...anyone?

    November 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Gassy Pants

      You clearly don't understand the concept you inept troll.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  8. Gassy Pants

    Obama is a clown. Running this country straight into the ground. And before somebody says something, Bush wasn't much better.


    November 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  9. Andre R. Newcomb

    Perhaps the quote isn't in the Bible, but the sentiment is with "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's". The time were of the Romans being there to maintain peace and promote prosperity through Mediterranean trade. The Romans also brough roads and culture. If one wanted to enjoy the new prosperity rather than return to days of fighting Phillistines, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians . . . than the new currency had "graven images" of Caesar upon them. Perhaps the quote wasn't there - but the sentiment surely was.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Alexander Christian

      Caesar's tax is completely another thing all about. In two cases, Jesus is explaining the law for taxes: when some Empire conquer another nation, here comes a tax, which is not supposed to exist for your own people. There are two Jesus' comments of taxes. One is concerning Roman Empire and another is concerning Herod's demand.

      November 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  10. AWOH

    ...and this is news worthy because...?

    November 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  11. Philojazz

    To quote HarvardLaw92:
    "To be honest, his mistake was in quoting it at all, not in getting it wrong."

    I agree, and you can quote me on that.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  12. DarthWoo

    I'd take Benjamin Franklin as a source of wisdom over the Bible any day.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Amen to that!

      November 3, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  13. pat

    common mistake but it should be in the bible, also that lazy and poor come from the same word as salvation and salivate comes form the same root..

    November 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  14. roland

    So the prosperity gospel and the evangelicals not only misquote the bible but change the spirit of the word by picking and choosing the points they want to present. Not taking the statements within the full context. This is a good debate to have right here.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Brian

      Careful how broad your terms are: "Prosperity Gospel" is a fairly narrow term I believe, accurately describing fraudulent scammers who take advantage of those who haven't closely looked at what the entire story, of all the stories, in the book actually say / close literary analysis. "Evangelicals" describe people who are trying to lovingly spread the word as directed by God in the great commission. Of course many, many believers go about this imperfectly, some horribly. Nonetheless, when it comes to metaphysics, no one can say too much for sure.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  15. Chris

    Of trivial interest.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  16. Mere Fact

    Mr. Carney is not a church pastor. Therefore, he cannot be expected to quote The Holy Bible verbatim. I'm sure few could while under the pressures of holding a press conference.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  17. down goes frazer

    must be a reeeaallly sloooooow news day

    November 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      So slow, a snail could catch it. By the way, if you're going to continue with that user name, you may want to spell it correctly. The name is Frazier.

      November 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  18. beevee

    The press Secretary said that he believes that the said statement was from the Bible. Well he is wrong, but he did not say that the statement was actually in the bible. Big deal. To the stupid media ' there you go again', focusing on small issues like this and not giving enough attention to things that really matter just to sensationalize. This is the height of media stupidity.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm |

    Who cares? If it were a problem, God would have done something about it by now. Since she hasn't, clearly it's okay. Her wisdom is total. Don't question it.

    November 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  20. HarvardLaw92

    To be honest, his mistake was in quoting it at all, not in getting it wrong.

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

      Right, kind of a casting pearls before swine only in reverse.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:41 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.