God helps those who help themselves

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The phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is a popular motto that emphasizes the importance of self-initiative and agency. The expression is still famous around the globe and used to inspire people for self-help. Here is one example sentence in English: "You better start preparing for the test because God helps those who help themselves."[1]

The phrase originated in ancient Greece and may originally have been proverbial. It is illustrated by two of Aesop's Fables and a similar sentiment is found in ancient Greek drama. Although it has been commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the modern English wording appears earlier in Algernon Sidney's work.

The phrase is often mistaken as a scriptural quote, though it is not stated verbatim in the Bible. Some Christians[2] have criticized the expression as being contrary to the Bible's message of God's grace. A variant of the phrase can also be found in the Quran (13:11).[3][4]


An illustration of the fable by Walter Crane in Baby’s Own Aesop (1887)

The sentiment appears in several ancient Greek tragedies. Sophocles, in his Philoctetes (c. 409 BC), wrote, "No good e'er comes of leisure purposeless; And heaven ne'er helps the men who will not act."[5]

Euripides , in the Hippolytus (428 BC), mentions that, "Try first thyself, and after call in God; For to the worker God himself lends aid."[6][dubious ] In his Iphigeneia in Tauris, Orestes says, "I think that Fortune watcheth o'er our lives, surer than we. But well said: he who strives will find his gods strive for him equally."[7]

A similar version of this saying "God himself helps those who dare" better translated as "divinity helps those who dare" "audentes deus ipse iuuat" comes from Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.586. The phrase is spoken by Hippomenes when contemplating whether to enter a foot race against Atalanta for her hand in marriage. If Hippomenes were to lose, however, he would be killed. Hippomenes decides to challenge Atalanta to a race and, with the aid of Venus, Hippomense was able to win the race.[8]

The same concept is found in the fable of Hercules and the Wagoner, first recorded by Babrius in the 1st century AD. In it, a wagon falls into a ravine, or in later versions becomes mired, but when its driver appeals to Hercules for help, he is told to get to work himself.[9] Aesop is also credited with a similar fable about a man who calls on the goddess Athena for help when his ship is wrecked and is advised to try swimming first.[10] It has been conjectured that both stories were created to illustrate an already existing proverb.[11]

The French author Jean de La Fontaine also adapted the first of these fables as Le chartier embourbé (Fables VI.18) and draws the moral Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera (Help yourself and Heaven will help you too).[12] A little earlier, George Herbert had included "Help thyself, and God will help thee" in his proverb collection, Jacula Prudentum (1651).[13] But it was the English political theorist Algernon Sidney who originated the now familiar wording, "God helps those who help themselves",[14] apparently the first exact rendering of the phrase. Benjamin Franklin later used it in his Poor Richard's Almanack (1736) and has been widely quoted.[15]

Islamic texts[edit]

  • A passage with similar sentiments can be found in the Quran,

Indeed Allah will not change the conditions of a population until they change what is in themselves. [16] Qur'an 13:11

It has a different meaning in that it implies that helping oneself is a prerequisite for expecting the help of God.

  • Trust in God But Tie Your Camel is an Arab proverb with a similar meaning. It is also one of the reported sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. According to Tirmidhi, one day Mohammed noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, "Why don't you tie down your camel?" The Bedouin answered, "I placed my trust in Allah." At that, Mohammed said, "Tie your camel and place your trust in Allah."[17]

Other historic uses[edit]

Prevalence and assessment[edit]

The phrase is often quoted to emphasize the importance of taking initiative.[citation needed] There is also a relationship to the Parable of the Faithful Servant, and the Parable of the Ten Virgins, which has a similar eschatological theme: be prepared for the day of reckoning. However, the argument has been made that this is a non-Biblical concept.

Christian Scripture[edit]

While the term does not appear verbatim in Christian scriptures, these passages are often used to suggest an ethic of self-reliance.

  • Colossians 3:23 - Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.
  • Deuteronomy 28:8 - The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to.
  • Proverbs 6:10-12 - A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
  • Proverbs 12:11 - He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.
  • Proverbs 12:24 - Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.
  • Proverbs 13:4 - The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.
  • Matthew 5:3-4 - God blesses those who realize their need for him; and who mourn will be comforted.
  • I Timothy 5:8 - If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Reliance upon God is not mentioned, but may or may not be implied.

Conversely, instances where Jesus served or healed someone would be evidence of God helping those who cannot help themselves. (See Mark 6:34; Mark 1:30-31; and Mark 10:46-52.)

Prevailing views[edit]

The beliefs of Americans regarding this phrase and the Bible has been studied by Christian demographer and pollster George Barna of The Barna Group. To the statement "The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves"; 53% of Americans agree strongly, 22% agree somewhat, 7% disagree somewhat, 14% disagree strongly, and 5% stated they don't know. Of "born-again" Christians 68% agreed, and 81% of non "born-again" Christians agreed with the statement.[19] In a February 2000 poll, 53% strongly agreed and 22% agreed somewhat that the Bible teaches the phrase. Of the 14 questions asked, this was the least biblical response, according to Barna.[20] A poll in the late 1990s showed the majority (81%) believe the concept is taught by the Bible,[21] another stating 82%.[22]

Despite being of non-Biblical origin, the phrase topped a poll of the most widely known Bible verses.[23][24] Seventy-five percent of American teenagers said they believed that it was the central message of the Bible.[25]

Barna critiques this as evidence of Americans' unfamiliarity with the Bible and believes that the statement actually conflicts with the doctrine of Grace in Christianity. It "suggests a spiritual self-reliance inconsistent with Christianity" according to David Kinnaman, vice president of the Barna Research Group.[26] Christian minister Erwin Lutzer argues there is some support for this saying in the Bible (2 Thessalonians 3:10, James 4:8), however much more often God helps those who cannot help themselves, which is what grace is about (the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Ephesians 2:4–5, Romans 4:4–5).[27] The statement is often criticised as espousing Semi-Pelagian model of salvation, which most Christians denounce as heresy.[28][29]

In popular culture[edit]

The phrase has featured in United States popular culture. In a "Jaywalking" sketch on The Tonight Show, comedian host Jay Leno asked random people on the street to name one of the Ten Commandments. The most popular response given was "God helps those who help themselves."[30] Political commentator Bill O'Reilly employed the phrase, in responding to Jim McDermott who argued, "This is Christmas time. We talk about Good Samaritans, the poor, the little baby Jesus in the cradle and all this stuff. And then we say to the unemployed we won't give you a check to feed your family. That's simply wrong." O'Reilly argued for a more selective approach to unemployment benefits, and the importance of individual responsibility, concluding "while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self-destructive. The Lord helps those who help themselves. Does he not?"[31] Political comedian Stephen Colbert parodied him in response, concluding in character, "if this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we've got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition; and then admit that we just don't want to do it."[32] The phrase is also discussed in the 2007 video game Assassin's Creed. In one pickpocket mission, two civilians discuss the wrongful attribution of the phrase to the Bible and ultimately decide that its origin is unimportant. This phrase is also mentioned in the 2016 anime "91 Days". In 2018, Tom Cryer was reviewing a lifetime of interaction with the phrase. He wanted to make it more non-secular in nature. He proposed, "I'll help those that help themselves". He believed when it is apparent someone is trying to help themselves, it is easier to "pitch in" and offer assistance."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ God helps those who help themselves. TheIdioms.com - Online Idioms Dictionary.
  2. ^ "God helps those who help themselves - is it in the Bible?". Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Quran - Surat Ar-Ra`d. Sahih translation". Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  4. ^ Quran Surah Ar-Ra'd (Verse 11)
  5. ^ As translated by E. H. Plumptre in Sophocles: Tragedies and Fragments volume 2, p. 165, fragment 288. Also fragment 302 states, "Chance never helps the men who do not work."
  6. ^ Fragment 435, from Bartlett 1955(?)
  7. ^ IPHIGENIA IN TAURIS OF EURIPIDES translated by Theodore Alois , lines 910–913
  8. ^ "ATALANTA". Perseus Digital Library. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  9. ^ For other versions see the Aesopica site
  10. ^ "'The Shipwrecked Man and Athena', Gibbs translation". MythFolklore.net. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  11. ^ Francisco Rodríguez Adrados, History of the Graeco-latin Fable vol. 3, p. 43
  12. ^ See Elizur Wright's translation online
  13. ^ George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum, 1651, proverb 533
  14. ^ Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government, 1698, chapter 2 section 23 (reprint)
  15. ^ Wikiquote
  16. ^ https://quran.com/13:11
  17. ^ "as recorded at muxlim.com". Mohamed 2.0: Disruption Manifesto. Archived from the original on 8 October 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
  18. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Aide-toi et le ciel t'aidera" . New International Encyclopedia. 1 (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  19. ^ George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point: How Coming Cultural Shifts will Change Your Life. Regal Books, 2001, p90. From a survey taken somewhere between 1997 and 2000 (see p205, point 2)
  20. ^ "Americans' Bible Knowledge is in the Ballpark, But Often Off Base", Barna Research Online, 12 July 2000. As cited in Marvin Hunt, "Americans' Bible Knowledge... Off Base"
  21. ^ Barna poll in 1997 and 1998, as cited on websites. Additionally, "Researcher Predicts Mounting Challenges to Christian Church Archived 22 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine.", Barna Update 16 April 2001, describes it as a majority
  22. ^ George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church, Nashville: Word, 1998, p21–22; as cited in Michael S. Horton, "Are Churches Secularizing America?"
  23. ^ George Barna, Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ. The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group, 2001. As cited online
  24. ^ Barna Research Online, "Discipleship Insights Revealed in New Book by George Barna," 28 November 2000. As cited in Michael J. Vlach, "Crisis in America’s Churches: Bible Knowledge at All-Time Low"
  25. ^ Barna poll in 1997, according to one website; c.2006 according to another; and Barna, "The Bible," 2000, according to another
  26. ^ Bill Broadway, article in Lexington Herald-Leader, 2 September 2000; as cited in ESC, "Re: "God helps those who help themselves."", "The Phrase Finder" website, 31 October 2002
  27. ^ Erwin W. Lutzer, Ten Lies About God. Nashville, TN: Word, 2000. Chapter 10, "God Helps Those Who Help Themselves", p173–185
  28. ^ Christian History Project. Darkness Descends : A.D. 350 to 565, the Fall of the Western Roman Empire.
  29. ^ Roger Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief, Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002, Chap. 12
  30. ^ Cited in Woodrow M. Kroll, Taking Back the Good Book: How America Forgot the Bible and Why It Matters to You, Crossway Books, 2007. Chapter "Five Decades of Decline", posted on Worldview Weekend
  31. ^ Bill O'Reilly, "Shouldn't We Keep Christ in Unemployment?". The Washington Examiner, 12 December 2010
  32. ^ "Jesus is a Liberal Democrat", The Colbert Report, 16 December 2010

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