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The Biblical Texts Chosen By Presidents

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

"For Masonry knows, what so many forget, that religions are many, but religion is one." Brother and Reverend Joseph Fort Newton in his book "The Men's House."  

"Religion, then, is that spiritual tie that binds us, first of all to God who is the "Something Universal" which unites all things into one whole: and second, to our fellow men in the service of duty and the fellowship of things immortal." Brother & Reverend Joseph Fort Newton "The Men's House"  

In the February 15th issue of T.F.S., (which stands for 3, 5, & 7,) I had some information on Brother George Washington, and his first inauguration. I mentioned something I read in a paper written by Brother Allan Boudreau called "George Washington and New York City."i It was said in this paper that at his inauguration when Washington placed his right hand on the Great Light of Masonry it was opened to Chapters 49 & 50 0f Genesis.  

After that appeared a Good Brother, and all around nice guy, wrote to me to say he had read something different, and also cited his source. He read in a book called "George Washington" by Wendie Old, in which is said that when Washington placed his hand on the Holy Bible it was open to the book of Psalms.  

Well, this was a mystery; my Brother had his source and I had one too, then that was it. I looked in other books I have here on Washington and couldn't find another reference to where the Bible would have been open to at his inauguration.  

The other day I was going through some old books I had bought, but really hadn't looked at too close to see which ones I would put on my book shelves, when I came across a book titled "The Speaker's Treasury of Stories for All Occasions" by Herbert V. Prochnow, published in 1953.  

I have always maintained that you find interesting ("Masonic") information in the most obscure places. Good Masonic education material is not always in what we might consider Masonic Publications. Well anyway, in this book there is a piece reproduced from something written by Dr. R.R. Belter, who was President of the Wartburg Synod of the United Lutheran Church in America. His piece is titled "The Biblical Texts Chosen By Presidents," and in it he lists the passages of the Bible some of the Presidents had the Bible opened to when they took the oath of office.  

Dr. Belter begins his paper by quoting President Calvin Coolidge: "Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty, and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles, they cannot believe in our government. There are only two main theories of government in the world. One rests on righteousness, and the other rests on force. One appeals to reason, the other appeals to the sword. One is exemplified in a republic; the other is represented by despotism. The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man. Of course we can help to restrain the vicious and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reforms which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, humanity, charity - these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of Divine Grace."  

Dr. Belter asserts that when these Presidents chose the particular texts of the Bible to be open upon when they took their oath of office, they in so doing seemed to say what President Coolidge said. He tells us this information came from various sources and was furnished in part by Robert C. Gooch, Chief of the General Reference and Bibliography Division of the Library of congress.  

Brother George Washington: "The History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington," by Clarence W. Bowen, states; the pages upon which he took the oath were: Left hand page, two pictures illustrating Genesis 49:13-15; right hand page, Genesis 49:13 to 50:8  

The Biblical Passages of Genesis 49:13 to 50:8 is quite lengthily and I sure don't know which part of those verses Brother Washington would dwell upon, but in reading it a couple of passages seemed to stand out to me: Gen 49:15; "And he saw that that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute." 49:18; "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord."  

To me it seems like a good exercise to read the passages and imagine what a man might think and what Bible verse would be important to him as he is about to assume the highest office in the United States of America. Maybe to Brother Washington all of the verses from Genesis 49:13 to 50:8 were important.  

John Quincy Adams: Psalm 127:1 "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."  

Martin Van Buren: Proverbs 3:17 "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."  

Abraham Lincoln: Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, that ye be not judged."  

Matthew 18:7 "Woe unto the world because of offences; for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh."  

Revelations 16:7 "And I heard another out of the altar say, even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments."  

Brother Andrew Johnson: Proverbs 21. Proverbs 21 is too long to reproduce here, but again in my reading of this chapter some verses stand out to me as something our Brother might have particularly liked.

Those who know about our Brother Andrew Johnson know how much he loved the United States and its Constitution, so with that in mind I think he would have liked Proverbs 21:3 "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord that sacrifice." Also I think verses 21, 22, 23, and 31 might be what a President might keep in mind when he thinks of this chapter of the Bible. 21:21 "He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness and honor." 21:22 "A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof." 21:23 "Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles." 21:31 "The horse is prepared against the day of battle: But safety is in the Lord."  

Ulysses S. Grant: (Second Term) Isaiah 11:1 "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." I think 11:2 is well worth the time to read too, and quite appropriate for a President to think of.  

Rutherford B. Hays: Psalm 118: 11-13 "They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched like as the fire of thorns: For in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: But the Lord helped me."  

Brother James A Garfield: Proverbs 21:1 "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever he will."  

Chester A. Arthur: Psalm 31:1-3 "In thee O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: Deliver me in thy righteousness. Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: Be thou my strong rock, for a house of defence to save me. For thou are my rock and my fortress; therefore for my name's sake lead me and guide me."  

Grover Cleveland: Psalm 112: 4 - 10 (First Term) "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. A good man sheweth favor and lendeth: He will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he shall not be moved forever: The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he sees his desire, upon his enemies. He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honor. The wicked shall see it, and be grieved: He shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: The desire of the wicked shall perish."  

Benjamin Harrison: Psalm 121: 1-6 "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence commeth my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the Moon by night."  

Grover Cleveland: Psalm 91: 12-16 "They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the Lion and the Adder; the young Lion and the Dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he has set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him, with long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation."  

Brother William McKinley: (First Term) 2 Chronicles 1:10 "Give me now wisdom and knowledge that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people that is so great?"  

Brother William McKinley: (Second Term) Proverbs 16: 21-22 "The wise in heart shall be called prudent: And the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning. Understanding is a well spring of life unto him that hath it: But the instruction of fools is folly."  

Brother Theodore Roosevelt: (Second Term) James 1:22 "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."  

Brother William Howard Taft: 1 Kings 3:9-11 "Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon asked for this thing. And God said unto him, because thou hast asked for this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life: neither hast asked for riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thy enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment:"  

Woodrow Wilson: (First Term) Psalm 119:43-46 "And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth: for I have hoped in thy judgments. So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty for I seek thy precepts. I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings and will not be ashamed."  

Woodrow Wilson: (Second Term) Psalm 46 This chapter is too long to reproduce here, and I hope you will read it in your Bible. However, the first verse is: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Verse 10 begins with the familiar "Be still and know that I am God." And it ends with verse 11 "The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge."  

Brother Warren G. Harding: Micah 6:8 "He hath shewed thee O man what is good: And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."  

Calvin Coolidge: John 1 Again this chapter is too long to reproduce here, but the first verse is: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God."  

Herbert Hoover: Proverbs 29:18 "Where there is no vision the people perish: But he that keepeth the law, happy is he."  

Brother Franklin Delano Roosevelt: 1 Corinthian 13 (At the beginning of each of his four terms) The 13th chapter of Corinthians has 13 verses, and while this is without a doubt my personal favorite chapter of the New Testament I will not reproduce it here due to space, but hope you will take the time to read it again. It is often called the love chapter of the Bible, and is read at many weddings, but to me it is a set of instructions on living the good life.  

Brother Harry S. Truman:  

Exodus 20: 3-17 These verses contain the Ten Commandments.  

Matthew 5: 3-11 These verses are the Beatitudes.  

"At once it will be seen that Masonry is one of the forms of the religious life, seeking to bind men together in faith, freedom, and friendship." Brother and Reverend Joseph Fort Newton, "The Men's House."  

"Don't keep God in a box; include him at the table. Focus on the family." E.P. Dowd  

"Is there such a thing as a Masonic Bible? No. The Bibles called "Masonic Bibles" are just Bibles (usually the King James Version) to which a concordance, giving the Biblical citations on which the Masonic ritual is based, has been added. Sometimes reference material on Masonic history is included. Anyone is welcome to read one." Brother Jim Tresner  

"Freemasonry's teachings are acceptable to all religions --- upholding the values of faith in the secular world --- an organization for thoughtful Christians --- and all men of good will." Brother Jim Tresner  

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Last modified: March 22, 2014