Hey! It’s journalists mangling scripture day! (UPDATED)

David Brooks wrote a very Brooksian column for today’s New York Times about how our culture was more dynamic when there were competing status hierarchies and how our current situation of one hierarchy means that the successful are less haunted by their own status and the less successful have nowhere to hide.

Now, normally we pay no attention to opinion pieces because our concern here at GetReligion is how straight news about religion is reported. But the column included this passage that I had to share:

In Corinthians, Jesus tells the crowds, “Not many of you were wise by worldly standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Whoopsie! Not Jesus, but Paul! Brooks has since corrected the column and added a note reflecting the correction at the end. Another correspondent said he disliked the reference to Corinthians, as opposed to 1 Corinthians or 2nd Corinthians (the verses in question here are from the first chapter of 1st Corinthians, verses 26 and 27 and come from the New International Version, for what it’s worth).

Our second example of how to mangle a Scripture reference does come from a straight news report, this time Politico. The story is about how Rep. Mark Sanford spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, which is for social conservatives:

In the latest stop of Sanford’s comeback tour, he explained that “great moments follow moments of great difficulty.”

Several months ago, Sanford recalled a supporter in the Palmetto State urging him to be more courageous in the spirit of Timothy 1:7. He called it “a pivotal point” in his race.

“You need to seize that verse and operate on it,” he told the activists. “So I would simply ask as you build a movement to make a difference … be of courage.”

Um, what is Timothy 1:7? The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to Timothy. In the first letter, in the first chapter, Paul tells Timothy to encourage people in Ephesus to reject the teaching and practice of false doctrine. The seventh verse is just a snippet of this portion:

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

In the second letter to Timothy, Paul writes with encouragement:

I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

The boldfaced section of each excerpt is verse seven. I’m pretty sure it was from this second letter to Timothy that Sanford was referring.

So for future reference, I’d get the reference right when discussing meaningful scripture passages. And why not just quote the relevant verse? I mean, I may wish that 100% of Politico readers (and reporters — heyo!) knew 2 Timothy 1:7 by heart. But they don’t. Why not quote the verse so we can all understand what Sanford is saying? The only thing it would do for the story is help it.

UPDATE: Another correspondent reflects on this portion of Brooks’ column:

The Torah is filled with characters who are exiles or from the lower reaches of society who are, nonetheless, chosen for pivotal moments: Moses, Joseph, Saul, David and Esther.

With the caveat that Torah can have a range of meanings, it’s most commonly understood as the first five books of the Hebrew Bible — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. While we definitely learn about Moses and Joseph in those books, we learn of Esther in Esther, Saul mainly in the books of Samuel and David in the books of Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles (and, of course, the Psalms). Our reader notes:

FYI, Brooks also mistakes what “Torah” refers to: 5 Books of Moses don’t mention Saul, David, Esther.

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  • Thinkling

    Good catch with Brooks. I read the column and totally missed it.

  • Jerry

    I don’t know if you define “Brooksian” as “thoughtful” as I do. And, yes, he should have gotten that quote right. And I’m happy it was fixed fast. But he also deserves kudos for raising the issue of how religion influences a society such as ours and what a diminished influence causes. So my “grade” is A rather than A+ due to his error.

  • n_coast

    Love to dump on a Times columnist. Brook’s rewrite still frames the verse in a sermon to a crowd, not in a letter.

    • MollieZHemingway

      Details, schmetails.

  • MarkP1971

    When I read that line my first question was – “Did Brooks make the mistake, or did the NYT’s editors insert a mistake?” Even with the mistake, I had no problem pointing to the article. Brooks is one of very few journalists who do seem to “get religion” and actually respect what it has to say. It is interesting that He chose to talk about the undoing/fading of his own BoBo’s thesis in religious terms.

    • Richard Mounts

      MarkP1971,

      “It is interesting that He chose to …” In my lifetime, and in my Catholic faith as in Christianity in general, capitalizing “he” is reserved (other than at the begining of a sentance) for referring to God (the father) or Jesus the Christ.

      Really, this is a good natured poke at what I expect was a typo; unless you have an exceddingly high regard for Mr. Brooks. ;-)

      (Gotta watch those schmetails, Mollie.)

  • TJ

    I have to take issue with the last portion of this article. The use of “Torah” to refer to the entire Jewish scripture is absolutely a fair use. It is, in fact, a common usage among Christian Old Testament scholars. I know my OT seminary professors often used it in this way. In fact, it is really incorrect to say its most common usage is to refer to the books of Moses (the Pentateuch). That is its most specific use, but not necessarily its most common.