By Norris Burkes Feb 13 2021

Let’s play a trivia game today called, “Does the Bible really say that?”

I suggest this game because last week’s column stirred some good reactions when I listed Bible verses that we unknowingly use in everyday conversation.

Today, at the risk of going full Sunday-school teacher on you, I’ll take a different tact and examine the words people mistakenly credit to the Bible.

Most of the time their misquotes are harmless. For instance, people will often say that Eve offered Adam an apple in the Garden of Eden. However, the Bible calls it “a fruit.” Or as a child you heard that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Yet the book of Jonah identifies it only as a “great fish.”

Sometimes though, the mistakes aren’t so harmless.

Let’s start with this simple saying: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

The link folks often make between cleanliness and godliness is likely innocuous. While the saying was quoted by your grandmother, it was likely the preacher John Wesley that said it first in 1791.

While the the old preacher wasn’t quoting the Bible he was aware of how ritual washing was a thing in the biblical world. Nevertheless, Jesus redirected that conversation toward the cleanliness of the heart.

In Matt. 15, Jesus minimized the ritual practice, saying that “washing or not washing your hands is neither here nor there.” His thinking focused on the heart because “…out of the heart come evil thoughts.”

While it is certain that evil thoughts can cause folks to sin, that doesn’t justify the use of the saying, “We should love the sinner, hate the sin.” 

Again, like so many of these mottos, this is a non-Bible verse, a true non-starter.

Over the years, I’ve heard it most quoted in reference toward the LGBT community. 

“I don’t hate gay people,” someone will assure me. “I just hate the lifestyle.” 

Try something for me, will you? Repeat the phrase aloud as if it’s being said about you.

Do you hear the way the words stage an us-versus-them dynamic? The speaker becomes the righteous person looking down at the poor miserable “sinner.” 

Christians are right in their confession that “We are all sinners.” However, when we place the sinner label on someone else, we infer that we are excluded from that wretched classification.

But the word that gives me the most trouble is hate. Even if God hates, which I don’t think he does, he never told us to hate.

Hating the sin isn’t in the Bible, but this is: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).


But as a hospice chaplain, there is one misquote I won’t tolerate: “God only gives you what you can handle.” 

People say this to hurting people for the purpose of soothing their own discomfort. They remind me of the religious leaders Jesus angrily denounced: “They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them” (Matt. 23:4).

The folksy saying sounds like God will limit your personal tragedies to a certain quota. That’s just not biblically true. It’s likely that most of us will go through things that we can’t possibly handle on our own. 

The saying is a poor paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which is more accurately stated as, “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to escape.” The verse’s meaning is clear and simple. It’s a promise that, whenever we feel tempted to do the wrong thing, God will provide an out.

I’m tempted to go on and on about these misquotes. But fortunately, my editors have provided me a way out of the wordy temptation. It’s called a “word count” and I was supposed to stop with the last paragraph when I got to 600. 


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