No book has been quoted more throughout history than the Bible. Christians revere the Bible as the sacred Word of God, and as such, take special care and effort to memorize the inspired words within.
Sometimes, however, we can become too careless with our representation of “what God really says” in the sacred Word.
Perhaps in the heat of debate and under the pressure of a good opposing argument, we might be inclined to state rather authoritatively what we think the Bible says in hopes of a successful refutation. We thus allow our integrity to be sacrificed at the price of pride.
Other times, however, we might just become lazy in either how we quote Scripture, or in our confirmation of passages we have heard.
Here are three common misquotes you may have encountered:
1. “Money is the root of all evil.”
What the Bible really says is this:
“For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” (1 Tim 6:10)
Thus, money in and of itself is not intrinsically evil. It can, in fact, be very good. Money allows us to build houses and hospitals, pay for food and other necessities, and help others in a material but genuinely charitable way.
In the world, money means power, possessions and popularity. It is no surprise then that even the most devout Christian can become attached when his focus drifts from heavenly glory to worldly glory.
Money therefore gives us a powerful means through which we can “die to our ourselves and our money” and grow in holiness; like, for example, when we give alms (1 Cor 16:1-2).
It is the love—the craving—of money that leads to greed; and greed is directly opposed to charity; and without charity we gain nothing in the end (1 Cor 13:3).
Charitable giving is a necessity of Christian living. As C.S. Lewis put it:
“Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to produce the kind of society in which there were no poor to give to.
They may be quite right in saying we ought to produce that kind of society.
But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality.” (The Joyful Christian, p. 143)
2. “Man is justified by faith alone.”
This line is not found in any modern Catholic or Protestant translations of the Bible (that I’m aware of). In today’s Bibles, the phrase “faith alone” appears only one time in the entire New Testament:
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)
For this reason, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians continue to hold that we are saved by grace through faith working in love (Eph 2:8-10; Gal 5:6; Rom 2:6-10; Phil 2:12; Jam 2:24). Grace, faith and good works cannot be separated—they are a package deal that leads a man to righteousness. The Church has never taught that we work to earn our salvation: that is Pelagianism, a heresy which the Church condemns.
The concept of being saved by “faith alone” has its roots in the Protestant Reformation:
Father Martin Luther, after turning away from Rome, implemented several doctrines which ran in direct contradiction to the previous 1500 years of constant Christian teaching. One of those doctrines was sola fide; or that “man is saved by faith alone.” Essentially this doctrine disqualified good (or evil) works from having any bearing on where a professed Christian “ends up” after he dies.
Luther then took it upon himself to alter the Bible according to his own theological tastes:
The dissenting Catholic priest removed seven books from the Old Testament in contradiction of over 1000 years of constant Church teaching (for a 1-hour Q&A discussion on Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, click here).
Luther removed the Book of James from the New Testament (which teaches we are saved “by works and not by faith alone”), calling it an “epistle of straw”, and inserted it (along with Hebrews, Jude and Revelation) into an Appendix—an intentional reflection of his low view of these inspired texts.
Finally, he inserted the word “alone” into the 28th verse of Romans 3 to accommodate his personal theology. It thus read:
“So now we hold, that man is justified without the help of the works of the law, alone through faith”
No modern Christians use Luther’s version today. In the Revised Standard Version the passage is properly translated:
“For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” (Romans 3:28)
3. “To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.”
Some Christians believe this passage proves the impossibility of the intermediate, post-death, pre-heaven state of purgatory. To be departed from the body means one is automatically in heaven—there is no pit-stop for purification.
This position, however, proves too much; for to be away from the body could also mean one is in hell and away (in its most complete and permanent sense) from the Lord.
Nonetheless, as interesting as the discussion thus far has been, it is in fact superfluous because it is based around a misquote of what the Bible says. What St. Paul really writes is:
“We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8)
Eternal life in heaven, St. Paul emphasizes, is preferred over temporary life on earth. He wrote this to his fellow Christians who shared a real possibility of martyrdom. St. Paul and the early Christians understood that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9), so for them, martyrdom was a sweet prospect since it lead to eternal life.
Indeed, we see today’s martyrs embracing the cross with the same holy eagerness. They know that death leads to Life.