Do you have a favorite quote from the Bible?
Many of us have certain verses or passages we turn to for comfort and inspiration. You may have even memorized some of them. Quotes are powerful because they teach us how to live.
Humans have collected quotes and sayings for thousands of years. They can shape your mindset and worldview. As author Ward Farnsworth says, people have an “appetite for well-expressed wisdom, motivational or otherwise.”
To be honest, I’ve never been all that great at memorizing scripture so I don’t judge you if you can’t recite chapters of the Bible. But I have spent enough time there to know when something doesn’t belong. What’s funny to me is the number of people who say things they think are in the Bible, but aren’t.
So for a little bit of fun, I created a list of the seven most popular sayings I’ve many people think are in the Bible but aren’t. Some may be funny, and others may make you raise an eyebrow. Let’s dive in, shall we?
God works in mysterious ways
Have you ever been in a bad situation that turned out alright?
When you were in the middle of the storm, you had no idea how things would turn out. The solution often comes in an unforeseen way — a check in the mail from a bill you overpaid, someone who hurt you suddenly tries to make amends. Circumstances you never imagined turned your situation around.
My entire life I’ve heard people say, “God works in mysterious ways.” It’s a true statement, but those exact words aren’t in the Bible. They’re the opening lines of a poem called “Light Shining Out of Darkness” by William Cowper.
There are plenty of verses in the Bible about the mystery of God and how His ways are unknowable to humans, such as:
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34, NIV)
This is one example of many. But you won’t find the line from Cowper’s poem anywhere in the Bible.
Money is the root of all evil
Christianity and money seem to be at odds with each other. After all, Jesus says it’s impossible to serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24). And pastors who preach the evils of money will point to a verse from the New Testament.
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV)
The eagle-eyed reader will notice a key difference in the original statement, “Money is the root of all evil,” and the scripture reference. The writer of 1 Timothy doesn’t make money the root of all evil, rather the love of money. Why is that difference important?
Money itself is neutral, neither good nor evil. The author uses the word philarguria, which means extreme greediness. Bad things happen when your love money warps your sense of right and wrong.
Money is not the root of all evil. But extreme greediness causes a person, church, or company to harm others in their quest for more.
God helps those who help themselves
If Jesus was American, this quote would make sense. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, work hard and God will meet you halfway.
This all sounds inspirational, but it isn’t biblical. If anything, the Bible says exactly the opposite in many places.
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. (Psalm 18:6, NIV)
God does not demand strength, but He gives it to us when we’re weak. He does not require your maximum effort before He extends His help or grace to you. He only requires your trust.
This too shall pass
A favorite adage of Abraham Lincoln, this quote has several origin stories. Most scholars believe it is a medieval Persian adage popularized by the English poet Edward FitzGerald.
While “This too shall pass” isn’t in the Bible, there are plenty of references to the temporary nature of life.
The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. (Psalms 103:15–16, NIV)
Although not in the Bible, these four words pack a lot of truth. Everything — good or bad — is temporary. It’s a freeing thought if you allow it to be one because it reminds us the bad times pass, and the good times are valuable because they are fleeting.
God won’t give you more than you can handle
Tell that to Job in the Old Testament. Tell that to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Frankly, tell that to anyone who has ever gone through a crisis or tragedy.
God will — in fact — allow you to face things you can’t handle.
This quote is so popular it’s almost anathema to say it isn’t in the Bible, but it isn’t. While it’s true that God will always take care of you, scripture is full of people undertaking trials that are more than they can handle.
The closest thing to the quote the Bible says is:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV)
As you can see, the Apostle Paul is talking about temptation, and he says God will provide a way of escape “so you can endure it.” But to endure something means you can withstand it.
I don’t pretend to understand why God allows bad things to happen. But God will you to face challenges that are too much for you. But even in darkness, God offers you his strength.
To thine own self be true
It’s funny how any quote in Elizabethan English gets attributed to the Bible. It’s probably because many people associate the Bible with the King James Version.
This popular saying is, of course, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
I don’t think there’s an analogous verse to this anywhere in the Bible. You might even say the entire concept is unbiblical. Reliance on God begins where self-reliance ends. But I’ll leave that for another day.
Love the sinner, hate the sin
This is one of those quotes that sound so good because it’s close to what the Bible actually says. On top of that, it seems like something Jesus would say.
But it isn’t.
Of course, Jesus talks about loving your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). But when it comes to sin, his advice is to look inward.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4, NIV)
In calling out the hypocrisy of judging others, Jesus sets everyone on equal ground. There’s no use in looking down on others because you think they don’t measure up. Worry about your mess instead of trying to dig up someone else’s.
Instead of loving the sinner and hating the sin, Jesus asks us to love the sinner and hate our own sin.
When I was in seminary (school for pastors) we had a running joke. Whenever someone said something was in the Bible that wasn’t, we’d say it must be from the Book of First Opinions. I can tell from all the misattributed Bible quotes I’ve heard through the years, First Opinions is a pretty long book. It doesn’t need anything added to it.