Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Quoting and Misquoting Scripture

There are some distinctions that need to be made to help us better understand the phenomenon.

Direct quotes vs. Reference, Paraphrase, or Allusion
Consider the context of the quoting – whether direct quotes of Scripture are intended, or whether the person is making a reference or allusion to Scripture. If a person claims to be quoting Scripture, then that settles it, as far as intent is concerned. However, we often refer to Scripture without intending or claiming to be directly quoting it. This is acceptable, as long as we have not changed the meaning, and do not assert it to be a direct quote. The New Testament writers often reference Old Testament Scripture without quoting it. Sometimes we make “stabs” at quoting Scripture! I most often do that when preaching and my memory fails me. I usually back up and say “let’s read that so we can get it right.”

Then there are misquotes, which seem to fall into at least three categories: (1) misquotes that change the meaning of the text, (2) misquotes that retain the meaning of the text, and (3) misquotes that may either change or retain the meaning of the text based on the context in which it is quoted. The first is a quote like “Money is the root of all evil” versus “The love of money is the root is the root of all evil” – which mean two different things. “Pride goes before a fall” is a truncated quote of Proverbs 16:18 (“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”) but retains the basic truth of the text. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” is not a universally applicable statement. To quote it as a universal truth is incorrect (it is not applicable to the unbeliever), but if stated that way in the context of truth for Christians, it does not introduce an unscriptural teaching.

Chimney quotes or Phantom passages
Chimney quotes, “Chimney Corner Scripture,” or phantom passages are misquotes only in the sense that the person believes the statement he or she is making is found in Scripture – when in fact it isn’t Scripture at all. If you state “God helps those that help themselves,” you may be correctly quoting Benjamin Franklin, but you are “misquoting” the Bible (if you claim it is in the Bible). The same goes for “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” (John Wesley), “Spare the rod and spoil the child” (Samuel Butler), and “God moves in a mysterious way” (William Cowper). Chimney quotes may or may not distil some biblical concepts. Even if they do, the authority of Scripture should not be assigned to them.

Misdirects or misapplication
Misdirects label verses that are quoted correctly (as far as the wording is concerned), but quoted in a context that misapplies the meaning. “Judge not, that ye be not judged” is possibly the most often correctly-quoted incorrectly-applied Scripture in existence! Saints and sinners seem to stand abreast with the “judge not” sword sheathed and ready for action.

Not all misquotations of Scripture fall into the same category. They are of different kinds and degrees. Some are more damaging while others may just be annoying. Some misquotes retain the meaning and message of Scripture while not rising to the level of an accurate quote. Others misapply and misdirect Scripture and have negative results. When we intend to quote Scripture we should do it to the best of our abilities. We should be straightforward when we are only referencing Scripture and/or know we are not giving a quote word-for-word. If we are making a statement that “sums up” what we believe Scripture teaches, say so – without leaving the impression our summary is Scripture.

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