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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






25 July 2005

Non-Proverbial Proverbs


Q: What Bible verse says “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”?

A: This is a “folk proverb,” not a Biblical proverb. While cleanliness and Godliness both occur throughout the pages of Scripture, they are never closely paired. God does command certain ritual cleansings in Old Testament Law, but the cleanliness He truly desires is spiritual, which only He can effect in us. I think the old cleanliness saw may have been invented by someone’s mother, trying to get her children to stop wallowing in the mud.

There are other examples of folk proverbs being thought of as part of Scripture. Probably the most common is the thinking of many people that, “God helps those who help themselves.” This is not only non-Biblical, it is anti-Biblical in its fullest expression. Scripture instead tells us that God helps the helpless. Those who think that they are able to help themselves in matters of faith and salvation are speaking the same language as did many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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