Biblical Scholars Challenge Pelosi's 'Scripture' Quote

Pete Winn | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT
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( - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is fond of quoting a particular passage of Scripture. The quote, however, does not appear in the Bible and is "fictional," according to biblical scholars.

In her April 22 Earth Day news release, Pelosi said, "The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' On this Earth Day, and every day, let us pledge to our children, and our children's children, that they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature."

Cybercast News Service
repeatedly queried the speaker's office for two days to determine where the alleged Bible quote is found. Thus far, no one has responded.

Distinguished biblical scholars, however, cast doubt on the existence of the passage.

John J. Collins, the Holmes professor of Old Testament criticism and interpretation at Yale Divinity School, said he is totally unfamiliar with Pelosi's quotation.

"(It's) not one that I recognize," Collins told Cybercast News Service. "I assume that she means this is a paraphrase. But it wouldn't be a close paraphrase to anything I know of."

Claude Mariottini, a professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Cybercast News Service the passage not only doesn't exist - it's "fictional."

"It is not in the Bible," Mariottini said. "There is nothing that even approximates that."

Other scholars agree that nothing remotely resembling it can be found in any version of the Scriptures - Old Testament or New Testament.

"The quote does not exist in the Old Testament, neither in the New Testament," said the Rev. Andreas Hock, a doctor of Scripture who teaches in the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Denver's St. John Vianney Seminary.

"Even in pieces or bits, (it) cannot be found in the Old Testament," he added.

Interestingly, Pelosi has mentioned the quote before, Mariottini noted.

"In truth, (she) has used this 'passage' in many different ways, and all of those usages have nothing to do with the Bible whatsoever," he said.

Indeed, Cybercast News Service has learned that Pelosi has repeatedly used the quote:

-- In December 2005, in a Christmas message to the U.S. House of Representatives, Pelosi said: "Mr. Speaker, as we leave for this Christmas recess, let us say, 'God bless you' to the American people by voting against this Republican budget and statement of injustice and immorality, and let us not let the special interest goose get fat at the expense of America's children.

"The gentleman from Washington [state], Mr. McDermott, quoted the prophet Isaiah. And as the Bible teaches us, to minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship, to ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us. Let us vote no on this budget as an act of worship and for America's children."

-- On Feb. 8, 2007, in remarks before the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee, when it held hearings on global warming, she used the same quote, verbatim, as in her Earth Day release.

-- On April 6, 2007, in congressional remarks before the Easter recess: "In this Holy Week, we are reminded of these words in the Old Testament: 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' We must move quickly to honor God's creation by reducing greenhouse gas pollution in the United States and around the world."

-- On April 25, 2007, in a speech to the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C.: "We are now charging ahead to tackle one of humanity's greatest challenges yet - global warming. We will do this because we hold our children's future in our hands - not our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, but our own children. "As it says in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.'"

-- On Oct. 22, 2007, in a television interview with PBS host Tavis Smiley, she used it in discussion of her roots, attributing the quote to the book of Isaiah: "I'm raised in a family in Baltimore, Maryland, my father was the mayor. He was in Congress when I was born. And we were devoutly Catholic, very patriotic. We love America. Devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian American heritage, and in our case, staunchly Democratic.

"And that faith was related to our Democratic values. That is to say, the gospel of Matthew: 'When I was hungry, you gave me to eat.' You know, the least of our brethren. So that's an inspiration in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, Isaiah says, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the god who made us.'"

Mis-remembered? Mis-paraphrased?

Is Pelosi's alleged quote merely an attempt to express a biblical principle about man's need to care for the environment? The scholars differed slightly on that question, but none believe the case for environmentalism comes directly form Scripture, as Pelosi indicated.

Eric Jenislawski, a professor at Virginia's Christendom College, said that the Bible teaches in Genesis that man was placed on earth "to till it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). But just a few verses earlier, he pointed out, God also commanded man "to fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28).

"Responsible use of the Old Testament cannot divorce the biblical notion of stewardship (that man is obligated to care for God's creation) from the equally important biblical view that the entire natural world was created for man, for him to subdue it and to reign over it," Jenislawski said.

"Environmentalists who make man subservient to the natural world actually invert the biblical view of man's relationship to the earth," he said.

Collins agreed.

"You can interpret Genesis, Chapter One, in various ways, but I think this would be going well beyond the text," said Collins.

Mark Goodwin, an associate professor of theology at the University of Dallas, said Pelosi's quote only reflects a partial Scriptural truth, at best.

"'To minister to the needs of creation is an act of worship' doesn't sound right to my ears," Goodwin said. "To minister to the needs of creation'- yes, but not as an act of worship. I'm not sure what she meant by that, and if I were there, I would have raised my hand and asked her to clarify that."

Westminster Theological Seminary professor Peter Enns told Cybercast News Service that there is nothing in the Bible even approaching a proof-text for Earth Day.

"As wise an idea as it might be to be concerned about the environment, I think to find a specific biblical anchor in the Old Testament might be asking things of the Bible it's just not prepared to deliver," Enns said.

"To say that humanity (is the steward) of creation is not so much - in the ancient world -a statement that the goodness of creation has to be protected, but more a statement in the Bible of the supremacy of humanity as the pinnacle of creation," he added.

Mariottini, meanwhile, said he doesn't think Pelosi is either mis-remembering or mis-paraphrasing.

"People try to use the Bible to give authority to what they are trying to say," he said. "(This) is one of those texts that you fabricate in order to support what you want to say."

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