In Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue, it is claimed, that Dr. David Edwards, head of the Joint National Committee on Languages once said: "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."

Is this claim true? Has David Edwards been the head of said organization? Did he have a Ph. D. or something similar, and in which field? But the central question is: Did he make that claim?

Some people mention, that the citation is also attributed to Gov. Miriam Amanda Wallace “Ma” Ferguson (Texas), but, of course, two people may make the same claim. For example till today, million people claimed that you shouldn't believe in a statistic that you didn't forge yourself.

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    If he said it, he probably said it as a joke. To me it seems like a good joke, so it's plausible he made it.
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 7:36
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    +1 Consider deleting the last sentence "For example...yourself." It doesn't seem to add anything. Otherwise, interesting question.
    – Paul
    Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 8:21
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    This type of comment could also come out of King James Onlyism where some people put special importance on the King James version of the Bible as being the only translation that is 'correct' and that other translations have somehow been corrupted. thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2007/08/07/… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Only_movement
    – GenericJam
    Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 10:26
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    @Generic Usually the arguments center around the beliefs and convictions of the translators. They claim the KJV translators were highly devout, while modern translators tend to be less so. So the argument boils down to belief that divine intervention provided accuracy for the KJV, but not the others. Only the most ignorant would think Jesus spoke English.
    – user11643
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 0:49

2 Answers 2


Bill Bryson did not make this claim.

In Chapter 12 of his book he writes:

As one congressman quite seriously told Dr. David Edwards, head of the Joint National Committee on Languages, "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me," [Quoted in the Guardian, April 30, 1988]

Dr J. David Edwards was the former Executive Director of the Joint National Committee for Language - National Council on Language and International Studies.

The mission and activities of the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) are founded on the shared belief of its member organizations that all Americans should have the opportunity to learn and use English and at least one other language, emphasizing the vital role played in the national well being by our K-12 and higher education foreign language programs.

So Dr. Edwards' actions are completely in contradiction to the claim as well.

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    This of course raises the questions: did a congressman really say that to Dr. Edwards? Who was he? Was he really serious? Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 6:49
  • Searching the online Guardian Archive, I haven't been able to find an article published on that day.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 9:12
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    "As one congressman quite seriously told Dr. David Edwards". Technically, the best jokes are always best delivered in a serious tone (that's why I could believe that it was interpreted that way, even if it wasn't necessarily the intent). Delivering a joke in a serious tone only increases the generated tension and its eventual pay off. If what I'm saying doesn't make any sense to you, please watch and analyze your favorite comedians during a performance. A good professional comedian rarely laughs at his own jokes. He rarely takes back his own joke. Only amateurs and insecure people do that. Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 3:55
  • I guess arguably this means that the claim is not notable. Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 22:21

Yes, Dr. David Edwards was the Executive Director of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL/NCLIS) for 31 years. His Ph.D. is in political science.

It is doubtful that Dr. David Edwards made such a claim. His organization promotes multilingualism (from the interview linked above).

JNCL-NCLIS has grown to be an incredible organization that fosters multilingualism and gives language educators a platform for advocacy. The backbone of this essential connection to our legislative bodies is J. David Edwards

Additionally, a similar claim was made of Michelle Bachmann (you already noted Gov. “Ma” Ferguson).

"If English was good enough for Jesus when he wrote the Bible it should be good enough for Coke," Bachmann is quoted as saying in the graphic posted Feb. 3, 2014, by "Christians for Michele Bachmann." It attributes the alleged quote to a Fox News appearance that same day.

Bachmann, a former presidential candidate, has supported making English the official language of the U.S., but we found no evidence that she uttered the "good enough for Jesus" line.

Wall Street Journal language columnist Benjamin Zimmer investigated the "Bible in English" meme, and noted the earliest references pertain to a joke about a 1881 translation of the bible.

Preaching on the Bible; Pulpit Opinions of the New Version." New York Times, May 23, 1881, p. 8 The Rev. Dr. Pentecost ... illustrated the tenacity with which people cling to the old Bible by telling a story about an agent of a Bible society who was trying to collect money in a country church for a new translation of the Bible. The agent asked an old farmer in the congregation to contribute. "What's the matter with the good old King James version?" the farmer replied. "That was good enough for St. Paul, and it's good enough for me."

New York Times, Jan 15, 1905 (Sunday Magazine), p. 8 Prof. Adolphe Cohn of Columbia University recently, in discussing the teaching of French and German in public schools, said that the attitude of a good many people on that subject was explained to him very aptly by a remark he had once overheard in a street car. Two elderly Irish women were talking about their children, when one remarked: "I won't let my child be taught Frinch." "Why not?" inquired the other. "Sure," replied the first, "if English was good enough for St. Paul to write the Bible in it's good enough for me."

Chronicle Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), April 27, 1927 An official of the Rockefeller Institute states that, among hundreds of letters of denunciation received by the institution during the past year, one was from a man in Arkansas who took the view that all this modern education is dangerous, and that the new-fangled practice of grounding preachers in Latin and Greek is especially pernicious. They ought to be taught English, he said, adding in conclusion: "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."

Considering the history and similar language of the other jokes and claims, that ridicule Christians, it is likely that Dr. Edwards made no such claim, or if he did it was in jest.

  • +1 for "or if he did, it was in jest". Beware quote-out-of-context.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 5:33

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