The President & “Childish Things”

Read 1 Corinthians 13 here.

To this point I have restricted my blog to discussing my sermons and passages my sermons discuss.  However, when listening to Barack Obama’s inauguration address I was interested to hear him quote from the Bible early in his speech.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.  We remain a young nation.  But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift...”

I am not seeking to sound partisan, or critical of his speech in general, as it expressed many admirable ideals.  I’m also not seeking to start a political slanging match.  However, I question why he found it necessary to quote Scripture and to take it so dramatically out of context.  He could quite easily have said, “It’s time for America to grow up.” without making it sound like the apostle Paul is telling America to “grow up”.  Then again, maybe I just missed his point.

The actual Bible verse (1 Cor. 13:11) comes at the end of the Bible’s famous exhortation to love.  But it also comes in the context of a comparision between “love” and “prophecies and tongues”.  Surely a sticky theological issue that our new president didn’t intend to solve in his first 5 minutes in office.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!  Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!  But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.1 Corinthians 13:8-12 NLT

I’m not saying that Obama’s overall point was not valid, but that quoting Scripture out of context hardly strengthens his argument.  He does, however, provide a good lesson to all of us to consider the context of a familiar verse before mis-quoting God’s Word.  Just as most of us don’t like being quoted out of context, God at least demands that much respect.

Do you remember other occasions when you’ve heard Scripture quoted in strange contexts, eg. politicians, movies, sports, etc.?   OR, Do you disagree with my understanding of how/why he quoted this verse?

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2 comments

  1. ozziepete

    Okay, no one’s commented so let me give another example. I remember, back in about 1994, Bill Clinton completing some Middle East peace talks and saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth.”

    From a non-American perspective this seemed like a Freudian slip regarding the U.S.’s global influence ambitions. Or at least Clinton’s ambition to inherit the earth. He actually managed to combine to of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5.

    “Blessed or the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” And “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (verses 9 & 5)

    But then, I’m not sure anyone ever accused Clinton of being meek!

  2. J Rizzo

    I enjoyed the read Ozzipete! Obama miss spoke from the Scripture before also. If I remember correctly it was from the book of Mathew and it was either a debate or an interview; I’ll get back to you on that.
    THe last sentence was very powerful. I never thought to compare “taking the bible out of context” to “miss quoting” of my words. A very interesting point. Indeed, I don’t like my words be taking out of context, so why would God. A very intersting thought to ponder. Thank you!

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