Sunday, August 14, 2011

Are you misquoting the Bible, or just the Kennedys?

(Or were the Kennedys misquoting the Bible, and everyone else is just confused?)

To business. I've seen three versions of the same quote today; I will reproduce them here:
"To those who have been given much, much will be expected."

"To those whom much is given, much is required."

"To whom much is given, much is expected."
There exists the same problem in all three sentences; do you see it? Rearrange the second one and it becomes clearer:

*Much is required to those whom much is given.

Still confused? Try replacing the noun phrase (which is incomplete, for the same reason the sentences are wrong, which I'll explain below) with a simple noun:

*Much is required to George.

Now you see it, don't you? You can't require something to someone. "Expect" and "require" don't take an indirect object like that. I can't expect you some money, or require my friend luck, or anything like that.

The problem here is that there are two different verbs which require two different prepositions. You give something to someone, but you expect (or require) something from them. In this case, "expect" has lost its own preposition ("from"), so it stole "given"'s preposition ("to"), leaving the noun phrase "those whom much is given" woefully incomplete.

A correct (if slightly wordier) paraphrase would be, "From those to whom much has been given, much is expected." Or, more straightforwardly (although less poetically), "Much is expected from those who have been given much."

Regarding the post title, I've seen this quote attributed to many people, most often various Kennedys, but it originally comes from the Bible, specifically, the second half of Luke 12:48. In the NIV, it's translated as, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." The KJV says it thus: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

It's a good sentiment; it deserves to be expressed properly.