Recently, a mate and I were watching a game of Rugby Union (it’s like American Football, but without the need for a Kevlar vest. It’s also different in that, whereas American Football has Miley Cyrus singing in the half time break, Rugby Union has a guy in a cagoule shouting out raffle numbers.)
Anyway, the game was a bit boring, so I did what I always do when I’m bored, and started talking about sin. My mate is the sort of guy who would call himself a Christian, but also likes to drink Absinthe from ladies’ cleavage. I was challenging him that (you know) maybe that wasn’t what being a Christian was all about (much as I’d like if to be), and my mate responded with ‘Hey, to thine own self be true – says so in the Bible.’
‘Er…no, it doesn’t.’
‘One of the old ones, I think – the Iliad or something.’
‘Right, well we’ve hit on a problem here…’
I’ve noticed this happening a lot: people trying to argue about the Bible when it’s very obvious they haven’t read it. So I thought it would be a bit of fun to collate a list of biblical phrases that aren’t actually in the Bible. So here goes…
1. To thine own self be true.
This is actually a quote from Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In today’s culture, people will probably use to mean ‘do whatever makes you happy’. Philippians 2:3, of course, says ‘Don’t be selfish…be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself’.
2. With great power comes great responsibility.
My brother-in-law once quoted Jesus as saying this in an interview for a youth work position. When the panel pointed out that it was Spider-Man, and not The Lord, he guessed he hadn’t got the job.
3. Love the sinner, hate the sin.
A lovely phrase, but not in the Bible. It was Ghandi who said it. It’s a good starting point for a conversation though. People will often say ‘But if God loves me, then he loves me no matter what I do, surely.’ Yes, but sin is ‘anything that we put above God in our own estimation.’ It becomes like a barrier, and until we are prepared to remove those barriers, we can never truly know God’s love. God’s love is not automatically the same thing as His approval.
4. God moves in mysterious ways.
This phrase is actually thrown at Christians aggressively by people arguing against Christianity. It’s our own fault; it’s only used when people don’t have a suitable grasp on ‘giving a reason for the hope that is in you’, and tends to signify ‘I just don’t know’. This might be a universal confession among all Christians, but this phrase is stated nowhere in Scripture. Perhaps it can be linked to Isaiah 55:8: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.”
Now, yes, there is a certain mystery to Faith, and if anyone thinks they understand everything about God, then they are no longer talking about God, but a god made in their own image and contained within their own mind. But when someone challenges us on suffering or creation, there are infinitely better answers than ‘God moves in mysterious ways.’ Stop being so lazy.
5. The Lord helps those who help themselves.
This is probably the most quoted biblical verse that isn’t actually in the Bible, and it’s horrendous. It’s sister phrase is ‘charity begins at home’, which is also heinous. Apparently it was the Greek storyteller Aesop who used it first, and it can now be heard from the lips of pickpockets and thieves in any number of period BBC dramas. And if charity really did begin at home, Jesus would have chosen against taking the lowly donkey into Jerusalem, and would have bought a holiday home on Crete.
As Rick Warren says, ‘God doesn’t help those who help themselves. He helps those who turn to Him.’
The way to avoid looking silly in conversation, of course, is to actually read the Bible. You might find ‘there’s more to it than meets the eye’. (Corinthians, 3:15…..no, wait, Transformers, episode 3).