There are seven sayings people mistake for Scripture. And there’s a natural reason for that. One of the beautiful things about humanity is our love for and ability to tell stories. There’s nothing like an adventure on a grand scale. Tales of heroes and heroines fighting for what they believe in, no matter the cost. Sweeping family sagas that show the struggle to make it through the years. Tender tales of love, loss and moving on.
But as so often happens, stories can morph. Be embellished. Or changed completely. Phrases can stick, and soon be so embedded in the culture that the origin is hardly remembered, let alone attributed correctly. Most times, it can be relatively harmless.
However when we start assigning cultural idioms, catchphrases or ideals to Scripture, it’s probably time to make sure that what we’re sharing is actually from the Bible.
In that vein, here are seven phrases and ideas that people commonly mistake for Scripture but actually come from many different sources.
1. Money is the root of all evil.
As far as sayings go, this one is probably this close to being right. It’s often used to warn people against the evils of obsessive materialism and greed. However, Paul admonishes Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:10 to be wary of the love of money, which is the root of all evil and, Paul says, has even drawn people away from the faith. As it seems to go in Scripture, the issue is the motive and the affections of the person, rather than the object of said affections.
2. God will never give you more than you can handle.
Generally, this is supposed to be a comforting statement to a person struggling in difficult situations. A quick survey of a few friends showed that almost no one finds this phrase remotely helpful, even if the person saying it has good intentions. And it’s not scriptural. Many cite 1 Corinthians 10:13 as the basis for this sentiment. However, Paul is addressing the issue of temptation for Christians, and that God always offers us a way to escape them. Instead, many of the Gospel writers, even Jesus Himself, tell disciples to go to the Lord with cares, worries, difficulties and heavy burdens.
3. Blessed and highly favored
This phrase is very popular among various movements in Christianity, including the Prosperity Gospel and Word of Faith movement. While the phrase is in the Word, it is used in one very important context: Mary. The angel Gabriel called Mary blessed and highly favored because she will carry the Son of God in her womb. Mary’s response to the greeting was not exaltation and a claiming of blessing, but she was troubled by it, humbly knowing that she was not worthy of such a greeting. But Gabriel assured her that she had found favor with the Lord. It is a good reminder of how to respond when the Lord decides to bless us with anything.
4. This too shall pass.
I confess to saying this in the midst of trying circumstances. It’s an overly simplistic statement when you’re facing a myriad of issues, but for some reason, it can bring a modicum of comfort. However, it’s not in Scripture. While the origins of this saying are sometimes attributed to Solomon, it isn’t in any of his recorded writings in Scripture. The most common attribution outside of the biblical king is that it came from a folklore poem by Persian Sufi poets.
5. God helps those who help themselves.
Dear Algernon Sydney and Benjamin Franklin, thanks for this. Did you know that when you penned and uttered these words that they would become a bully stick for many in the church? Probably not. Still, the sentiment that God only helps those who help themselves has caused much damage, not only in churches but in society in general. And the sentiment at its core goes against Scripture. If God only helps those who help themselves, then why did He send Jesus to the cross to reconcile us to Himself? Or why did Jesus say the poor would always be with us? Why are we called to those who are destitute, the widow and the orphan, if they just need to help themselves? Certainly, we must hold people accountable as we offer help, but our requirement to help is not predicated on our ascertaining of their ability to do for themselves.
6. God wants me to be happy.
We often use this when we consider things that we want and need to justify what we want with what we mistakenly think God wants for us. It’s not that God wants us to be unhappy. However, His definition of happiness and ours are often vastly different. In fact, when Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount, he uses the word blessed nine times in the opening verses. When you look up that word in Strongs, Vine, and any other concordance and word dictionary, that word means happy. But we should all look very carefully at how Jesus defines happiness. Poor in spirit. Peacemakers. Pure in heart. Persecuted for His name’s sake. Merciful. Meek. How does this line up with our definition of happiness?
7. Pride comes before a fall.
Like “money is the root of all evil” this is a contender for being this close to being correct. However, a miss is also as good as a mile. Proverbs 16:18 states that, “Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This distinction is important. Pride is what caused Satan to fall from Heaven. Scripture is rife with how much God hates pride. He actively opposes it. It is significant that Solomon essentially says the same thing twice. The word haughty means pride and arrogance and the word fall is defined as calamity or ruin. Many people seem to use the misquote with an air of lightness, almost indicating that a “fall” is more like a silly trip over a crack in a sidewalk. However, Scripture clearly shows that pride and arrogance bring destruction and calamity to those who refuse to repent.
As we look at these sayings, it’s easy to see how words can get twisted and misplaced or mis-assigned. Then we believe things that we mistake for Scripture. It’s important that we seek to study the Scripture in its inerrant truth and seek to know what it really says rather than what we think it says. That way, as we lead disciples in the church, we aren’t teaching fallacy, we’re teaching His truth, His word, His gospel.