John Blake, one of my favorite religion reporters, has a really interesting piece for the CNN religion blog about things that aren’t actually in the Bible, despite popular belief. For instance, the phrases “this, too, shall pass” and “God helps those who help themselves.”
Often, these phantom verses are harmless. Many are just distillations of things the Bible actually says. But Blake writes that sometimes these stories “turn dangerous.” He writes:
Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It’s actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers.
The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.
Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.
Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”
“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.
That reminds me of the concept some Christians have a of macho Jesus—the military messiah. Not accurate. Not even close. Jesus was definitely a revolution, but he was no warrior. At least not physically.
Read the rest of Blake’s story here.