Did Newsweek misquote Billy Graham?
I finally read Newsweek's Aug. 14 cover article on Billy Graham and was puzzled by the opening paragraphs.
Writer Jon Meacham says that Billy Graham in the twilight of his life now struggles to remember the scriptures he learned long, long ago -- even the 23rd Psalm. Meacham then quotes Graham apparently stumbling over the sacred text.
In the story, Graham told Meacham he had woken up in the middle of the night this summer and had decided to recite scripture. "(Graham) begins: 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...' [correctly quoting from the King James Version] Then for a moment, he loses the thread," Meacham writes. "It was frustrating -- the man who has preached the Gospel to more human beings than anyone in history does not like to forget critical verses of the Bible -- but in the end the (final) line comes back to him: 'Surely thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.'"
Surely thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me? Any self-respecting Southern Baptist knows that the final sentence, in the King James Version, begins "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me..."
Intrigued, I decided to investigate.
I Googled "Surely thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me" and could find no Bible translation that uses that language. However, the same wording is included in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer.
Is Billy Graham, in his twilight years, reciting the Book of Common Prayer as he enjoys life in rural North Carolina?
Probably not, according to Graham spokesman Larry Ross. "He probably learned it in the King James, so if he's reciting it from long memory, it would probably be the King James," Ross said.
Ross -- who made clear he was not criticizing Newsweek -- doubts Graham would misquote it.
During the Newsweek interview, Ross said, Graham mentioned struggling to come up with the final passage, but did not actually recite the Psalm's last verse.
Meacham apparently came up with the final line himself, Ross added. "I guess he just used the resources he had available." Ross suggested checking with the author.
So I e-mailed Mr. Meacham (an active Episcopalian who is now Newsweek's editor), and he cleared up the mystery. Writes Meacham:
"I suspect the discrepancy you detected is mine, not Mr. Graham's; after he told me the story, I read the lines back to him on the telephone from the translation I had at hand, and he said yes, those were the lines, but I suspect he actually spoke the KJV. So I would not say that Mr. Graham misquoted the psalm, but that I misunderstood which translation he had recited."
By the way, if you haven't seen Meacham's entire article, it's quite a read. It shows a mellower, less conservative evangelist than in years past. Unlike millions of other Baptists, Graham apparently no longer believes the Scriptures are inerrant. "I'm not a literalist [about the Bible] in that every jot and tittle is from the Lord," he says.