The Role of Scripture in the 2017 Inauguration Ceremony



President Donald Trump was sworn into office with his hand on two Bibles. The Bible of Abraham Lincoln, which Barack Obama also used for his ceremony and a Bible given to Donald Trump by his mother. Scripture held a large role in the inauguration of Donald Trump, not only by the presence of the two Bibles, but in the speeches and prayers of the various speakers during the ceremony.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York quoted the prayer of Solomon contained in the apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon. While this book is not regarded as Scripture by non-Catholics, it is considered deutero-canonical by the Roman Catholic Church. Dolan quoted Wisdom 9:1-11 in the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), making some adaptions in language in his reading. The passage records Solomon’s prayer asking God to send Wisdom, personified as a woman, from heaven to aid Solomon as he begins his reign as king over Israel. While this is a non-canonical writing, the passage itself is a beautiful piece of writing and a fitting choice for such an occasion.

  • God of my ancestors, Lord of mercy,
        you who have made all things by your word
    And in your wisdom have established humankind
        to rule the creatures produced by you,
    And to govern the world in holiness and righteousness,
        and to render judgment in integrity of heart:
    Give me Wisdom, the consort at your throne,
        and do not reject me from among your children;
    For I am your servant, the child of your maidservant,
        a man weak and short-lived
        and lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws.
    Indeed, though one be perfect among mortals,
        if Wisdom, who comes from you, be lacking,
        that one will count for nothing.

    You have chosen me king over your people
        and magistrate over your sons and daughters.
    You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain
        and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place,
        a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from of old.
    Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works
        and was present when you made the world;
    Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes
        and what is conformable with your commands.
    10 Send her forth from your holy heavens
        and from your glorious throne dispatch her
    That she may be with me and work with me,
        that I may know what is pleasing to you.
    11 For she knows and understands all things,
        and will guide me prudently in my affairs
        and safeguard me by her glory; (Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-11).

Dr. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference read from the Gospel of  Matthew. His passage was Matthew 5:3-16 from the New Living Translation which contains the Beatitudes and Jesus’ parables of the salt of the earth, light of the world, and the city on a hill. The Beatitudes are an excellent portion of Scripture to read at a presidential inauguration for they contain Jesus’ counter-cultural sayings where brokenness, mercy, and meekness are elevated as attributes which are consistent with God’s blessing and favor. The inclusion of Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” reminds the hearer of Reagan’s 1989 farewell speech where he refers to the words of John Winthrop describing America as “a shining city on a hill.” 

  • “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
        for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
    God blesses those who mourn,
        for they will be comforted.
    God blesses those who are humble,
        for they will inherit the whole earth.
    God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
        for they will be satisfied.
    God blesses those who are merciful,
        for they will be shown mercy.
    God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
        for they will see God.
    God blesses those who work for peace,
        for they will be called the children of God.
    10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
        for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. 

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. 14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 6:3-14)

Paula White-Cain of the New Destiny Christian Center offered an original prayer but alluded to or quoted two passages of Scripture; Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”and Matthew 6:10a “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” These Scriptures were used in her prayer for God’s will to be accomplished through President Trump.  

The prayer of Rabbi Marvin Hier was a skillful concatenation of quotes and allusions from several passages from the Psalms, a passage from Isaiah, and a passage from Pirkei Avot (a Mishnaic writing).

  • “Who may dwell on your holy mountain? One who… does what is right and speaks the truth…” (Psalm 15:1-2)
  • “when you eat the labor of your hands you are praiseworthy…” (Psalm 128:2)
  • that he who sows in tears shall reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5)
  • “As our ancestors have planted for us, so we must plant for others.  While it is not for us to complete the task, neither are we free to desist from them.” (Pirkei Avot “Ethics of the Fathers”)
  • “Dispense justice for the needy and the orphan,” (Psalm 82:3)
  • “By the rivers of Babylon we wept as we remembered Zion… If I forget thee o’ Jerusalem may my right hand forget its skill.” (Psalm 137:1, 5)
  • “The doer of [all of] these shall never falter.” (Psalm 37:31)
  • May the days come soon when “justice will dwell in the wilderness and righteousness will abide in the fertile field. And the work of righteousness will be peace… quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 37:15-17)

Reverend Franklin Graham quoted two passages from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. Graham’s quotation was the most gospel-centric content of the entire ceremony. His passage begins with the command to offer prayers for rulers, but continues to speak of the deity of Christ, man’s need for salvation, and the atonement of Christ. He quoted 1 Timothy 2:1-6a and 1 Timothy 1:17 from the New International Version.

  • “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1-6a)… “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17).

Bishop Wayne Jackson referred to the blessing of Numbers 6:25 during his prayer. “the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”

President Donald Trump quoted Psalm 133:1 during his inaugural address while speaking of the need for unity in the nation.  Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” While the passage itself speaks of unity between Israelites and those who are fellow-believers in God, President Trump quoted this passage to call all Americans to national unity. 


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