Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown was in Oakland accepting a $1 million check from the California Nurses Association to help fund Proposition 30, his November ballot initiative to raise income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, and sales taxes on everybody. During a press conference he said:
“Those who we’re asking to pay more, I think they can. And I think it says in the New Testament, ‘For those whom much is given, much will be asked,’ and that’s what we’re doing today.”
The source of Gov. Brown’s divine endorsement of tax hikes is Luke 12:48, the King James version reading, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,” while the American Standard version reads, “And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” Gov. Brown’s fractured prose seems to turn his intended meaning on its head, suggesting that much will be asked of everyone for those [to] whom much is given.
Gov. Brown is the first in a long line of public figures to use the line ungrammatically, going back to JFK, George W. Bush, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama. It has happened so many times linguistics professor Mark Liberman decided to list them all.
Grammar aside, the quote is part of the Parable of the Faithful Servant, which isn’t about money or wealth at all. It’s about responsibility and duty and doing the right thing even when no one is watching. But if all this Bible talk turns you off, you can still enjoy a grammatically mangled and nonsensical citation of Hollywood-variety pseudo-Greek mythology, from the classic (?) 2011 flick Immortals. Next time, maybe we’ll see Jerry Brown in that Mickey Rourke helmet.