Holding It Aloft, He Incited a Backlash. What Does the Bible Mean to Trump?

When one of his interviewers tried to broaden the question — “Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?” — Mr. Trump replied: “Probably equal. I think it’s just an incredible — the whole Bible is incredible.”

When asked about his favorite biblical teaching on other occasions, Mr. Trump has given different answers. Three months later in September 2015, he cited a Book of Proverbs passage about never “bending to envy” that scholars have said does not exist. Asked again in April 2016, Mr. Trump pointed to the Old Testament teaching of “an eye for an eye,” which he said resonated with his view that the United States had been taken advantage of by rivals.

Giving an address at Liberty University in January 2016, Mr. Trump drew laughter with an errant reference to “Two Corinthians,” a commonly quoted book properly known as “Second Corinthians” to adherents.

The president has also been inconsistent in his own assessment of his biblical knowledge.

On the campaign trail in 2016, Mr. Trump told a crowd in Nevada, “Nobody reads the Bible more than me.” But in December, Mr. Trump offered a different view at a White House Hanukkah reception, lightheartedly imagining the evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress’s impression of him: “He may not be the greatest Christian I’ve ever seen. He may not know the Bible quite as well as the rest of us. In fact, he may not know it very well at all.”

Mr. Jeffress on Monday defended Mr. Trump’s appearance at St. John’s against critics, including the bishop who oversees the church, saying that God “hates lawlessness,” according to a report in The Atlantic. The bishop, Mariann Edgar Budde, accused Mr. Trump of appropriating religious symbols to deflect criticism in a series of interviews on Tuesday.

Other faith leaders have also suggested in the past that some of Mr. Trump’s actions and crasser remarks do not square with Christian values. During the 2016 presidential primary, Pope Francis implied that Mr. Trump was “not Christian,” given his remarks about Mexican immigrants and other groups that the pope framed as incompatible with Scripture. In December, a number of religious leaders condemned a remark Mr. Trump made at a rally suggesting that Representative Debbie Dingell’s late husband, John D. Dingell Jr., was “looking up” from hell. And in February, the president invited criticism for using an address at the National Prayer Breakfast to attack the faith of political rivals.

However, many of Mr. Trump’s less conventional acts surrounding the Bible have often been accepted and even celebrated by evangelicals. When critics pounced after Mr. Trump passed out signed copies of the Bible to survivors of a hurricane in Alabama, many faith leaders quickly pointed out that several former presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, had signed Bibles as well.