Pop quiz: which of these sayings are found in the Bible?
- Moderation in all things.
- Cleanliness is next to godliness.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Better safe than sorry.
- Waste not, want not.
- You reap what you sow.
- God helps those who help themselves.
- To thine own self be true.
- You need to forgive yourself.
- Let go and let God.
Answer: only #6. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7 ESV)
The rest – and many similar sayings – are often mistaken for Bible verses, probably because they sound old or religious, like something your grandmother might have said, and because most of them are proverbs.
But the Bible doesn’t have a monopoly on proverbs. The above examples (except #6) come from sources as diverse as Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin and Greek philosophy, among others. Some of them reflect a certain amount of wisdom and common sense in harmony with the Scriptures. But others betray a view of God and humanity that is questionable or even contrary to Biblical teaching.
The sad thing is that many Christians aren’t familiar enough with the Scriptures to be able to tell the difference.
As an example, let’s compare #7, “God helps those who help themselves,” with the teaching of the Bible. The Gospel presents a sovereign, gracious God taking the initiative to help – and save – completely helpless people. If #7 were true, no one would be saved. No one could be.
Jesus prayed for His followers, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17 ESV) It seems vital, then, for His followers to know what that word actually contains.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Shakespeare or Ben Franklin or granny’s homespun wisdom, for that matter. But then, there’s a good chance granny knew her Bible well enough to recognize that “A penny saved is a penny earned” was not to be found therein.