With the rise of social media and decreased attention span, sharing quotes has become increasingly popular. A short, snappy truism for which we don’t have to spend 15 minutes reading an article, or even 5 hours reading a book, to find. Sharing quotes has become a way to receive the best of the best of an author or a speaker, without having to do the grunt work of reading or listening to them.
Unfortunately, there has also been an increasing trend of many people misattributing quotes to someone else (Interestingly, though not surprisingly, it’s always attributed to someone more famous than the original author).
However, the issue doesn’t end there. When faced with the truth, many question whether it even matters that the quote didn’t come from the stated author.
But what does this teach others about our credibility? About our reliability? About how important truthfulness is to us? And what is setting us apart from others on social media that will pass around falsities during i.e. Political campaigns? As followers of Christ, should we not be distinct in every area of life, including this?
I think there is more at stake than we realize.
The cold, hard, truth is that when it comes down to it if I can’t even post a quote without verifying that it’s true, why should my friends and coworkers trust my judgement when I tell them that Jesus really rose from the dead? Have I not proved myself unreliable?
Even worse, if I knowingly pass along falsities, why should my friends and coworkers believe me when I give evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian faith? Have I not proved myself unreliable and deceitful?
And this is just from a practical standpoint. Even more importantly, do we not worship a God who never lies? (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2) And are we not commanded against lying ourselves? (Lev. 19:11)
Thus, nothing short of how we display God’s character to the world is on the line.
So, in light of this, here are 5 popular quotes that aren’t from who they are commonly attributed to.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” (C. S. Lewis)
This is actually a splendid quote and one which I whole-heartedly agree with. But that’s not the point. The point is: did C. S. Lewis actually write this? And unfortunately, the answer is no. Although it seems very Lewisian and he wrote about the topic of humility, these words were never written by the great Oxford don himself. In fact, this is so commonly misquoted (even I have misattributed this to C. S. Lewis myself before) that the C. S. Lewis Foundation has taken it upon themselves to respond to this. The conclusion of their findings is that it originated with either: Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life OR This Was Your LIfe! Preparing to Meet God Face to Face by Rich Howard and Jamie Lash.
“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.” (Albert Einstein)
Though Einstein was by no means a Christian, I include this as many Christians have, and continue, to misidentify this quote with the 20th Century physicist (in fact, a well-known Christian musician recently shared this quote as being by Einstein, and it received almost 20,000 shares in 6 days). Instead, it actually comes from author H. Jackson Brown Jr. You’ve got to admit, this one is humorously ironic. Unfortunately, those misattributing this quote may have big dreams but certainly do not have all the facts.
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
Do a quick google search of this quote and you’ll be intrigued to find that half the time this is attributed to the Great Reformer Martin Luther and the other half of the time to the civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Now, it’s easy to see the confusion. I remember when I first started growing in my faith listening to all these preachers quote “Martin Luther” and being confused as to why a civil rights activist was such a popular person to reference in many sermons. But I think we can do better. With the rise of the internet age, all it takes is a simple search to find that there is some confusion surrounding this quote, and that should give us reason to pause. (For those intrigued, this isn’t even quite a quote of Martin Luther. The best I could find was “you cannot find a Christian who does not pray; just as you cannot find a living man without a pulse that never stands still.” This seems to be from Luther and is referenced in The Communion of the Christian with God: Described on the Basis of Luther’s Statements)
“The man who rings the bell at the brothel, unconciously does so seeking God.” (G. K. Chesterton)
Like Lewis, it’s not surprising that someone would misattribute a quote to Chesterton in order to give it more authority and prominence. Once again, it’s also unfortunate that this did not originate with Chesterton and instead came from The World, the Flesh and Father Smith by Bruce Marshall.
“God will never give you more than you can bear.” (The Bible)
Funnily enough, I remember rooting around my Bible to find this when I was younger. I was certain it was there. Alas, it wasn’t and still isn’t. The closest actual Scripture to this is 1 Corinthians 10:13 which speaks about God not giving us temptation beyond what we can endure. It is meant to instil in us confidence that we are, through God’s strength, able to be victorious against temptation, not that God won’t lead us through unfathomably difficult times. In fact, the opposite seems true. That often God leads us through unbearably difficult times to show us that he is our strength and will sustain us.
A final suggestion
So lastly, how do we prevent this problem? There are many more quotes that we haven’t included, and even more that it is remarkably difficult to find the origin of. Let me suggest one simple idea:
whenever you post or share a quote, give a point of reference. Give a source.
Whether it’s a book title, a sermon title, an article title, just something.
This is why you will always see some point of reference on the quotes we post.
So I implore you to take this advice. Not only will this shield us from being unreliable, it will add a layer of accountability, and who knows, maybe it will even encourage others to read the original work that contains this remarkable quote.