Obama’s Scripture Stumble, and Seven Other Sayings That Aren’t Really in the Bible

Obama’s Scripture Stumble, and Seven Other Sayings That Aren’t Really in the Bible December 10, 2014

On Tuesday, President Obama (or his speechwriters) made a mistake that has the Christian world snickering.  Speaking about his immigration policy at a town hall meeting in Nashville, the President said,

“The Good Book says don’t throw stones at glass houses, or make sure we’re looking at the log in our eye before we are pointing out the mote in other folks’ eyes.”

The problem is, the Bible doesn’t say anything about glass houses.  Although glass had been invented as early as 4,000 B.C., I’m pretty sure people in the Holy Land back in Old Testament days had never seen glass–let alone an entire house made of glass. Never mind that the President went on to compare the Christ Child to an illegal immigrant, saying,

“If we’re serious about the Christmas season, now is the time to reflect on those who are strangers in our midst and remember what it was like to be a stranger.”

After all, Christ was born in Bethlehem, the town of Joseph’s origins, because of Joseph’s desire to obey the law and register in the census.

*     *     *     *     *

That “glass houses” misattribution, humorous as it may be, is not the only quote to be mischaracterized as coming from Scripture.  Here are seven other common  sayings which have been wrongly attributed to the Bible.

  1. “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  The Bible does speak of the importance of discipline.  Proverbs 13:24, for example, says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”  But the saying is drawn, not from the words of Scripture, but from a poem by 17th century British poet Samuel Butler.
  2. “Money is the root of all evil.”  Wow, I remember my mother saying this–but the Bible verse actually says something quite different.  In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul actually wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  It’s not the money itself that’s evil, but the individual’s greed.
  3. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  That sounds like Scripture, doesn’t it?  But actually, the phrase is first written in English in 1605, in “Advancement of Learning” by British writer Francis Bacon.  Almost two centuries later, in 1791, John Wesley made reference to the phrase in one of his sermons.
  4. “God moves in mysterious ways.”  Um…. no.  The closest you can come to that in Scripture is Isaiah 55:8: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.”
  5. “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”  Again, this sounds almost biblical–but it’s not.  Mahatma Gandhi, writing in 1929, said something very close:  “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”  Before that, St. Augustine in 424 A.D. said something similar:  “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”
  6. “This, too, shall pass.”  Well, in the gospel of Matthew (24:35), the evangelist does remind us that our lives and, indeed, heaven and earth shall pass away.  The phrase is actually taken, though, from “The Lament of Doer,” an Old English poem.  It also appears in the work of Persian Sufi poets.
  7. “To thine own self be true.”  Bible, no; Shakespeare, yes.  The words are spoken by Polonius in the first act of Hamlet.


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  • Dillon

    Matt.25:35 “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” This is from a major discourse of Jesus’s on how His followers are to behave & live … “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” Matt. 25:40

  • Dillon

    This could also refer to Matt. 2:13-23, the Holy Family fleeing, like refugees, to Egypt by night at the Lord’s command. This was to escape the ‘slaughter of the innocents’, the state-sponsored massacre of infant boys at Herod’s behest. They might have dwelt there as refugees for a few years before it was safe to return to the land of Israel.

  • Dillon

    The reference to Jesus as a ‘stranger’ or an ‘illegal migrant’ is completely consistent with age-old interpretations of the Matthew infancy narrative. It also refers directly to a requirement for salvation in Jesus’s instruction to believers about the Last Judgement in Matt. 25:31-45.

  • Friend of Augustine

    “Love the Sinner/Hate the sin” Actually, Augustine said it first in The City of God, book 14, chapter 6, last paragraph. I don’t have the book with me at the moment, but Augustine writes that the Christian owes it to the sinner that his hate be perfect so that neither loving the sin because of the sinner nor hating the sinner because of the sin, he loves the sinner and hates the sin (some translations use vice instead of sin) because when the sin is gone all that remains is to be loved. As I said I am not able to reference the book right now so don’t hold me to 100% accuracy. It is one of my favorite passages from the City of God though.

  • Clare

    “Charity begins at home” is another, I think.

  • David J. White

    Another line I often hear wrongly attributed to the Bible is “God helps those who help themselves,” which, IIRC, actually comes from Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac.”

  • Obama play with the truth? Who would have thought? And I once thought that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” was a quote from that good physician, Luke.