NYT struggles to distinguish Voltaire, Spider-Man and Jesus

NYT struggles to distinguish Voltaire, Spider-Man and Jesus July 22, 2013

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says:

But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

Let’s face it, folks, Luke 12:48 is not an uncommon verse.

President Barack Obama himself has cited it as inspirational. But it is, apparently, unknown to some folks who work as editors in elite desks in the bookish corners of the New York Times newsroom.

How do we know this?

An op-ed headlined “Why Men Need Women” argues that women encourage the men in their lives toward greater generosity. It includes this passage, concerning Bill Gates of the Microsoft empire:

Mr. Gates has reflected that two female family members — his mother, Mary, and his wife, Melinda — were major catalysts for his philanthropic surge. Mary “never stopped pressing me to do more for others,” Mr. Gates said in a Harvard commencement speech. The turning point came in 1993, shortly before he and Melinda married. At a wedding event, Mary read a letter aloud that she had written to Melinda about marriage. Her concluding message was reminiscent of the Voltaire (or Spiderman) mantra that great power implies great responsibility: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Ah, yes, this is a great quote from Spider-Man!

Or maybe Voltaire! They both predate Jesus Christ, right? Then again, it wasn’t even Spidey who riffed on the Gospel to produce that famous quote — it was his saintly Uncle Ben, right?

Thanks to GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey (and others) for sending in this latest funny biblical mis-step by the Times team. In all seriousness, the basic ignorance of Scriptures at the New York Times recently is getting worrisome, both on the op-ed pages and in the news pages.

Perhaps they should do some targeted hiring of an individual or two with a humanities degree or something. Maybe even someone who has been to Vacation Bible School.

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13 responses to “NYT struggles to distinguish Voltaire, Spider-Man and Jesus”

  1. Why can’t journalists use a translation from this millennium? If the goal is to communicate effectively with people, the King James is not the way to go in the newspaper.* I also find it interesting that over the past several years, this passage has become “much is expected” rather than “much is required.” That’s not even close to the same thing.

    “Maybe even someone who has been to Vacation Bible School.”
    Ours starts tonight. Send on the NYT journalists!

    * And before I accidentally spark off the wrong discussion, I’m not here to spark debate the merits of the KJV; my comment is entirely a point about journalists communicating with the masses in the language of the masses…the masses of 2013, not 1611.”

    • The issue of which translation to quote isn’t about how relevant or understandable it is, but which version the speaker is quoting or, in the case of a general reference, which version renders the most recognizable quotation. In terms of quotations, the language of the KJV is far better known than any more recent translations. So, while it may be frustrating to see journalists using a 400-year-old translation, it’s justifiable, in my opinion.

      • It makes sense, when it’s simply going with what the speaker quoted. But that only makes me want to expand my point out to the speakers and politicians. Why, if you’re a professional communicator, would you choose the least likely translation to communicate well? I’ll give my take: except cases where the speaker is an old-school “KJV only” type, it screams to me that the speaker is truly so unfamiliar with the text quoted that they (or their speech writer) had to yank the Gideon Bible from the hotel nightstand. That may sound harsh, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts it highly accurate.

        • And I think it makes sense to communicate with your audience by using the most familiar version. You say “I’m not here to spark debate the merits of the KJV”, but it seems to me that is exactly what you are doing.

          • No, because I’ve not debated all the KJV’s merits. It’s a fine translation. I was raised on it, and still have it in my reading rotation of translations. I’m just saying that it strikes me as poor communication not to choose a more up-to-date translation when speaking to the masses. And it’s no longer the most commonly read translation among Christians, and hasn’t been for some time. That would be the New International Version…which is part of my point. It shows that the speaker is out of touch. And that was problem with the original post. The journalist is so out of touch that the quote was attributed to the wrong source.

        • I’d say it depends on the speaker’s age and cultural/religious background. There was a time not *that* long ago when thorough knowledge of the KJV was a mark of a solid liberal arts education, regardless of your religious beliefs or practices.

  2. ??? Shouldn’t journalists reporting on a story use the version actually quoted by people they are quoting, instead of altering it into an “upterdite” translation? And what is wrong with using the translation most familiar to the audience, which most of them probably heard the passages in in the first place?

    • Is this about the translation I used? I tend to use NKJV and it’s not my favorite translation, but I just picked it once years ago and stuck with it rather than “translation surfing.”

      • It is about James G3 apparently criticizing reporters for quoting the KJV instead of substituting a translation “from this millennium” for the one their subjects actually use.

  3. James: This is what I found at the Catholic website New Advent for Luke 12:48. I think it’s a translation from the last 20 or so years. Couldn’t identify the name of the translation. I’m not as familiar with the version in the paper. Probably the Orthodox aren’t either.

    Much will be asked of the man to whom much has been given; more will be expected of him, because he was entrusted with more.

    It has 3 columns – Greek, English and Latin.

    • It’s the Knox Version, prepared by Msgr. Ronald Knox for use in England. It was published in 1945, and is preferred by many, especially traditional-minded Catholics, because of its beauty.

      It’s not used in liturgy here in the US — the New American Bible is the official translation used in the Lectionary.That can be found at the U.S. Bishops’ website:

  4. I’m just shocked to find out that Spidey has been ripping off Voltaire all these years! 🙂
    Did Voltaire really say that? Source, please, NYT!

    • I believe he did. It matches with his philosophy — albeit, perhaps, in a very different way than Jesus meant it.