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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.


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Just to add to the mystery, the quote was not just from the Book of Common Prayer, it was from the "old," that is, 1928, version of the Book of Common Prayer, which was replaced by the "new" 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The new prayer book takes out most of the thees and thous in the Psalter, and renders the quoted line of the 23rd Psalm as: "Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

The old prayer book renders the line "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 for ever."

Obviously many Episcopalians (myself included) have copies of the old prayer book lying around either (in my case) because they are family heirlooms, or in the case of many others, because they are in that dwindling group that fought against the adoption of the new prayer book in the late '70s.

For non-Episcopalians, what we're talking about is the "Psalter," simply a translation of the Book of Psalms that has traditionally been included as part of the Book of Common Prayer. Most Episcopal services include a reading of a Psalm, usually with alternating verses read by the congregation and by a lector. The Psalms in the psalter are divided so that they are easy to read antiphonally. As far as I know, there are no substantive differences between this translation and the Revised Standard Version of the bible, or now, the New Revised Standard Version, which have become the de facto standard translations for Episcopalians.

I have thought about this for several days and have to the conclusion that misquoted or not, talking about Billy causes me to reflect upon my life. I also wonder about Billy, how his age is affecting his life. I looked for the magazine article and couldn't find it at the book store. Just me being behind as usual I guess. Anyway, on to what I have to say. I know several people in their 80's and have know many in the past. Some live very well and have few ailments and some aren't so lucky but most are truly a joy to talk to. I have an uncle who is 85 and to talk him is so refreshing, his ability to recall is tremendous. I must find more time for him. I wonder where Billy is on his journey to find God. Billy is a treasure that we all should grasp hold of and cherish. He is unlike today's evangelists, he delivers a good strong simple message about loving God and each other. He is in my opinion had a very blessed life and is as articulate and knowledgeable as anybody on earth about God's will. I just wished he lived closer so I could talk him and learn from him.

Caleb, if my math is correct, Billy was a young boy when the 1928 version was published, think about that.

Perplexed, the article is available on Newsweek's (or MSNBC's; it's not clear which) web site in its entirety; I read it this weekend, and as Frank says, it's a great article.

The link to the article is:


I'm not sure what your point about his age (other than his long life, which is wonderful in itself) is, but the 1928 prayer book was in continuous use all over the United States from 1928 (really more like 1930) until it was replaced by the 1979 prayer book, so no matter how young Graham was when it came out, he had plenty of time to read it before it went out of style.

Like the author, I doubt that Graham actually quoted the prayer book. As Frank's post says, the King James Version of the bible was pretty well the only translation used in the South in Graham's youth, and I'm sure that if he quoted the last verse, it was from that version.

The psalter traditionally used in the Book of Common Prayer is the translation of Miles Coverdale, an early English translater of the bible. His translation of the book of psalms was used, largely without revision, in the original 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and was used, with revisions, through the 1928 Book. Interestingly, the exact phrasing "quoted" in the article on Billy Graham occurs only in the 1928 Book. All prior books, including the previous 1892 revision, had used the word "But" as the first word in the quoted verse, rather than the word "Surely."

Caleb said, "Obviously many Episcopalians (myself included) have copies of the old prayer book lying around"

Snort. What old book don't you have lying around, would be the question.

Anyway, now that I'm done snickering, the writer didn't, actually, clear up the mystery. You quoted him as saying, "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."

However, you also said that NO translation of the Bible uses that language. (Did you check the Revised Standard?) If that's the case, he couldn't have misunderstood the translation.

Intrigued by your evaluation that Graham is no longer a "literalist", I wondered if this was an additional "misinterpretation" by Newsweek. Sure enough, I found that Graham responded to the Newsweek editors graciously saying "As I grow older, my confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Bible has grown even stronger. So has my conviction that only Christ can give us lasting hopeā€”hope for this life, and hope for the life to come. As the Bible says in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (http://www.billygraham.org/News_Article.asp?ArticleID=142) Although one could have a lengthy discussion over the differences between inerrancy and inspiration/authority, it's always nice to hear directly from the source.

Marcia, the language is clearly from the translation of the psalms in the 1928 prayer book. The Psalter in the prayer book is a separate translation from any translation of the bible as a whole, left over from the old Coverdale translation that predated the King James Version. It is not identical to either the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version.

The real mystery, of course, is why the reporter would have chosen this text to recite back to Graham; perhaps he had an old prayer book handy, but not a King James Version of the bible and assumed the two were the same.

Also, the text of the 23rd psalm from the 1928 prayer book is preserved in the new prayer book as part of the burial office, the episcopal funeral service, along with the King James Version of the psalm. The reporter could have flipped to this part of the new prayer book, and just got mixed up as to which version of the psalm he was reading.

Will, the "evaluation" of Graham as no longer a literalist is from Graham, not from Frank. The article quotes Graham as saying:

"I'm not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord," Graham says. "This is a little difference in my thinking through the years."

The article clearly quotes Graham at length explicating his biblical views, and he indeed comes through as an evangelical, but not a literalist.

He said that he believed for example, that a "whale" (the text actually says "fish," but nonetheless; we're not left with much of an idea that reporter Meacham has as good a grasp on the bible as Graham does) swallowed Jonah, but not necessarily that the world was created in seven literal days, or that the "Red Sea" of Pharoah and the Isrealites was the Red Sea we know today.

The article explicitly quotes Graham as saying that the bible is inspired and that he still believes the evangelical view of most things. It's just that he's not a fundamentalist, as he arguably once was. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

I think your problem is not hearing "directly from the source," but picking and choosing what you want to read from the source. Taken as a whole, the interview with Graham shows him exactly as billed, an evangelical, but not a literalist.

And I think that speaks very well of Graham. I always respect someone who can learn and progress, rather than remain mired in old ideas.

Hey guys, I thought this was a current article I had missed. I read it several months ago when it first came out. Good article, people should remember that an 87 year old man has the right to misquote on occasion. If you do an overview of Billy's life, you can see how he has changed in his opinions over the years, truly a mark of great wisdom in my eyes.

Perplexed, I think the explanation being offered by Meacham was not that Graham misquoted the bible, but that Meacham misquoted Graham, if unwittingly.

As I understand Frank's post, Graham correctly quoted the language from the King James Version to Meacham, then at some later point, Meacham read back the verses to Graham from what appears to be the version contained in the 1928 prayer book, in order to confirm the accuracy of the quote for his article.

I suppose Graham could have caught the error at that point, but as you say, an 87 year old man deserves a scriptural mulligan every now and then, particularly since the language doesn't change the meaning of the verse.

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