A German bishop has schooled Donald Trump on the Bible, saying that the US President “doesn’t quite understand” what the Scriptures are about.

– “Mr. President, let’s try learning”

Cologne auxiliary bishop Ansgar Puff gave Trump the free Bible lesson in a reflection posted June 15 on the diocesan news website, Domradio.

The motive for Puff’s reflection was the president’s admission, in a 2016 radio interview, that “an eye for an eye” was his favourite biblical verse.

Though he explained that he had “so many” favourite scriptural passages, Trump pointed on that occasion to the “eye for an eye” precept in the Old Testament as his number one.

“That’s not a particularly nice thing”, the president admitted of the sentiment behind the verse, “but you know”, he continued, “if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us”.

“And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country”, Trump explained. “And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you”.

But Puff didn’t agree at all with Trump’s interpretation, and suggested: “Mr. President, let’s try learning”.

– An exhortation to “loving humility”

The Cologne auxiliary bishop taught the president, first of all, that the “eye for an eye” teaching is above all “an exhortation to proportionality”.

“After all, there are people who go completely crazy because of a small mistake, who get an almost uncontrollable attack of revenge for next to no reason. To them, this word says ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. Stop! No overreaction”, Puff explained.

“If someone knocks out your incisor, you may only knock out their incisor. If someone gives you a black eye, you may only give him a black eye, no more. Tit for tat”, the bishop added.

But that wasn’t the end of Puff’s exegesis: he went on to educate the president in the method of “the school of Jesus”.

The bishop said that school consisted in the way of “paradoxical intervention”, in which Christ reminded the insecure of their stability, confronted evil with the truth, showed cowards mercy and above all “surprised his opponents with humble love”.

To illustrate Jesus’ way to Trump, Puff finished with a quote from Father Zossima in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:

“At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially the sight of other men’s sins, asking yourself whether to combat them by force or by humble love. Always decide, ‘I will combat it by humble love’. If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you will be able to conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force, the strongest of all, there is nothing like it”.

His mangling of the Old Testament aside, Trump’s latest exploitation of the Bible came June 1 when he waved “a” copy of the Scriptures – not even a copy of “his” – outside the “church of the presidents” in Washington.

That was after having first cleared out with tear gas Black Lives Matter protesters from an adjacent park in preparation for the visit.

That hypocrisy earned the president widespread condemnation from the Churches, including from Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who blasted Trump’s photo-op with the Bible as a “symbolic misuse of the most sacred texts of our tradition”.

Next on Novena:

Floyd protests: German Jesuit blasts Trump for “exploiting” Church and Bible


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.