The dynamic duo of these pages, the Two Johnnies – Azzopardi and Guillaumier – write these days, seemingly without so much as pausing for breath, using the link ‘Misquoting Jesus’.
Which begs the question: how often is Jesus misquoted and by whom? Let’s start in the books we depend on for ‘the Gospel truth’ but, first, there is a scene in the Monty Python film, Life of Brian, where the crowd is having difficulty hearing the Sermon on the Mount:
“What did he say?”
“I think it was blessed are the cheesemakers.”
“What’s so special about the cheesemakers?”
“Well, obviously this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”
Sacrilegious or a fair point?
Nobody tape-recorded the Sermon on the Mount. There were no shorthand reporters. Who can say that the scribes could quote Jesus accurately? The Gospels do not even agree.
Were His opening words “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20) or “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)?
Matthew and Mark quote Jesus as describing the mustard seed as “the smallest seed on earth”. But Jesus, being omniscient, would have known that there are many, much smaller, seeds in the world. So did the Apostles misquote Him?
In Mark (2:23), Jesus argues with the Pharisees and quotes from the Scriptures. But Jesus gets the date wrong, which seems unlikely. So we might assume that Mark misquoted Jesus.
Luke (2:39) says that, after the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth while Matthew (2:14) says they fled to Egypt. But did they, in fact, even go there?
Mark writes (14:12) that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover meal, while John (19:14) notes it was the day before it. They were setting the date for Easter... It was the pivotal event of Christianity and one of them could not even get the right day.
How much does this matter? It matters when people quote the Bible at you. And when they misquote it, too. When priests say “This is the word of the Lord”, they may not be getting the Word right.
Still, in the end it is the message that matters, not the reported quotes.
Let’s move on.
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