Chesterton did not say it (sorry)…

For a talk that I am going to give tomorrow, I was planning on using the famous Chesterton quote: “every man who knocks at the door of a brothel is actually looking for God.” Because I try to be a respectable scholar, I wanted to find the context and source for this quote.


Oh no! Interestingly, everyone and their brother (mostly “Christian living” authors, but also Biblical scholars and theologians as well) attributes this quote to Chesterton, but NO ONE (I scoured Googlebooks) cites a source other than someone else quoting Chesterton without a source!

Then I came across a comment by James K.A. Smith (Desiring the Kingdom) where he says this quote is wrongly attributed to Chesterton.

So, who said it, or wrote it, or first used it?

Well, we don’t know, but the “American Chesterton Society” claims that, again, Chesterton didn’t pen it, and it seems to first appear in the book The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith, by Bruce Marshall (1945), quoted as this: “…the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”

So there you have it. Preachers: you will have to fix your notes.

3 thoughts on “Chesterton did not say it (sorry)…

  1. This is an example of the “Matthew effect”, whereby a famous person gets credited with more than their fair share and thereby becomes even more famous. Biblical studies seem to be particularly susceptible to the Matthew effect. Many (you know who you are) have a sycophantic tendency to quote famous scholars.

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