Earlier this year, Donald Trump gave a speech at Liberty University where he referred to the second epistle to the Corinthians as “2 Corinthians.” It’s usually, but by no means always, said as “Second” Corinthians. Scottish Christians, such as Trump’s mother, say it the way he did when he read the speech written by Tony Perkins, whom he blamed for the error.
Even People magazine made fun of him, saying he “flubbed a Bible reference.”
So what happened when President Obama made an actual mistake in his speech at the memorial for the murdered Dallas police officers?
First let’s look at what he said:
OBAMA: I see how easily we slip back into our old notions, because they’re comfortable, we’re used to them. I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been. And so, I’m reminded of a passage in John’s Gospel, “let us love, not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.”
This was from the good and presidential portion of the speech before it rambled into false statements and hyper-politicization.
But what is the precise passage from the Gospel of John to which he refers? You won’t find it, because it’s not from the Gospel of John but from an entirely different book of the Bible: The First Epistle of John. It has the same author as the Gospel of John but it is, again, an entirely different book.
I know that sounds somewhat challenging, but I teach Sunday School to Junior Kindergarteners and each year I have them memorize the names of the books of the Bible, both Old Testament and New. So my four-year-olds are aware that “John” and “1 John” are different books, placed at opposite ends of the New Testament. There are three epistles of John, so there are four Bible books total with “John” in their title. Five if you refer to Revelation as the Revelation to John or the Apocalypse of John.
In any case, it’s a great passage that is part of a beautiful, if brief, section (that you should go ahead and read right now, you will thank me later) on loving one another in the face of hatred from the world.
This is an explicitly Christian passage, spoken to Christians, about believing in the name of Jesus Christ, following His commandments, and trusting that God is greater than our weakness. If a Republican had quoted such an unabashed Christian passage in the context of a presidential speech, one wouldn’t be surprised to hear major media push-back, much less claims about a threat of theocracy.
But also surprising is that the media didn’t notice that President Obama had ascribed the passage to the wrong book of the Bible. That includes the New York Times’ Gardiner Harris and Mark Landler, who wrote:
Mr. Obama acknowledged the limitations of his own words, and quoted from the Gospel of John: “Let us love not with words or speech but with action and in truth.”
I’m sure they’ll correct that error of religious literacy right after they fix all their others.
NBC News’s John Schuppe took Obama at his word about where the passage came from, writing:
He quoted from the Gospel of John: “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
The Hill’s Jordan Fabian also didn’t notice that Obama had said the wrong book of Bible.