"If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Texas schoolchildren” is allegedly the quotation of “Ma” ( or “Pa") Ferguson, at a time when Spanish was being taught in the schools. Jesus knew no English (which was not yet invented), but similar phrases involving St. Paul date to nineteenth century America.
Wikiquote: Miriam A. Ferguson
Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson (June 13, 1875–June 25, 1961) became the first female Governor of Texas in 1924, and the second female state governor in the United States.
If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!
. Attributed, for example, by , which contains a common version of the story, where Ferguson says this while holding a bible and defending her objection to the teaching of Spanish in Texas public schools
. According to , a variation on this quote is reported in the New York Times on May 23, 1881, but no record of Ferguson having said this, or anything like it, could be found.
. This quote and variations on it are often frequently attributed to others; one story, usually heard outside the United States, has an unnamed “U.S. congressman” saying it in a television interview; for example, see .
23 May 1881, New York (NY) Times, “Preaching on the Bible; Pulpit Opinions of the New Version,” pg. 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.”
October 1884, Universalist Quarterly and General Review, “‘The New Covenant’ and its Critics,” pg. 465:
Prof. Schaff pertinently observes: There are many lineal descendants of those priests, who, in the reign of Henry VIII, preferred their old-fashioned Mumpsimus Domine to the new-fangled Sumpsimus; even in the enlightened State of Massachusetts, a pious deacon is reported to have opposed the Revision of 1881 with the conclusive argument, “If St. James’s Version was good enough for St. Paul, it is good enough for me!” [Apparently quoting Philip Schaff’s Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version (1883).]
16 June 1901, Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, NE), pg. 12:
“The Sketch,” of London, says: “A new book on the history of the English Bible has a good story of a certain sprightly young deacon who, in preaching against the advocates of the revised version, startled his hearers by the contention that, if the authorized version was good enough for St. Paul, it was good enough for him!”
15 January 1905, New York (NY) Times, pg. SMA8:
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.”
11 September 1912, Puck, “Language of St. Paul,” pg. 10:
Among the Wesleyans of a century ago there was a well-known and eccentric preacher named David Mackenzie. When reading the third chapter of Daniel he invariably abbreviated the instruments of the Babylonian musicians, and when the names of the instruments were repeated in verses 10 and 15 he would say, “The band as before.”
He was a lay preacher of the old order, and was admitted without having read the prescribed “Wesley’s Sermons,” and the rest. He boasted of his lack of “book learning,” and scornfully told a student of the new school, who was learning Latin, that “English was good enough for St. Paul; ain’t it good enough for you?”—Youth’s Companion.
THe New Yorker Archive
4 December 1926, The New Yorker, “Talk of the Toan,” pg. 27, col. 3:
A gentleman connected with the Rockefeller Institute discloses that, among hundreds of letters of denunciation received by the institution during the past year was one 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, and only English, he said, adding in conclusion, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”
27 April 1927, Elyria (OH) Chronicle Telegram:
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.”
30 May 1982, New York (NY) Times, “On Language” by William Safire, pg. SM8:
“That would have been appreciated by ‘Ma’ Ferguson, the Texas Governor,” writes the Rev. J. Carter Swaim, pastor emeritus of the Church of the Covenant near the United Nations in New York, “who, when Spanish was proposed as a second language for school in the Lone Star State, replied: ‘Not while I am Governor! If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it is good enough for Texas children.’”
13 August 1995, New York (NY) Times, pg. E6:
Likewise, most American high schools do not offer Asian languages as an option, and much of American education still seems to follow the thinking of a Texas Governor, James “Pa” Ferguson, who in 1917 vetoed a bill to finance the teaching of foreign languages in classrooms. He explained: “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for the schoolchildren of Texas.”
UCLA International Institute (The Ronald W. Buckle Center for International Relations)
Date Posted: 7/16/2002
by President Jimmy Carter, 2002 Nobel Peace Prize awardee from a speech given 2001 at the Burkle Center for International Relations.
Before I talk about promoting peace, I will tell a story that illustrates a basic cause of conflict. There was a hot argument in Texas in the 1920s—one that is still going on in several states, particularly in California—about whether Spanish should be used in the classroom to teach kids who came from Mexico, or whether only English should be permitted. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson had become the state’s first woman governor, after her husband, Governor “Pa” Ferguson was impeached. She ended the debate quite quickly when she held up a Bible and proclaimed, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!”
April 29, 2006
MA FERGUSON, THE APOCRYPHAL KNOW-NOTHING
Eric Bakovic recently invoked the famous saying attributed to Texas Governor Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson: “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!” Bloggers commenting on Bush’s opposition to “Nuestro Himno” (such as aldon of the Daily Kos) have also been recalling the quote, which is a favorite of another former Texas governor, Ann Richards. Though I haven’t been able to find any firm attributions of the quote to Ferguson during her own lifetime (she died in 1961), humorous variations on this know-nothing assertion are attested all the way back to 1881.
Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at April 29, 2006 04:30 PM
Actually, the quote was recently uttered by Rick Perry of Texas.