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Actually, that's not in the Bible
Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden right? Nope. That's one of many phantom passages that people think are in the Bible.
June 5th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Actually, that's not in the Bible

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) – NFL legend Mike Ditka was giving a news conference one day after being fired as the coach of the Chicago Bears when he decided to quote the Bible.

“Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka said after leading his team to only five wins during the previous season.  “This, too, shall pass.”

Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ditka was quoting a phantom scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.

Ditka’s biblical blunder is as common as preachers delivering long-winded public prayers. The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches - all types of people  - quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.

These phantom passages include:

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

And there is this often-cited paraphrase: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

None of those passages appear in the Bible, and one is actually anti-biblical, scholars say.

But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

“In my college religion classes, I sometimes quote 2 Hesitations 4:3 (‘There are no internal combustion engines in heaven’),” Bouma-Prediger says. “I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse.

“Only a few catch on.”

Few catch on because they don’t want to - people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, a Bible professor says.

“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who once had to persuade a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University that the saying “this dog won’t hunt” doesn’t appear in the Book of Proverbs.

“They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in,” he says, “but they ignore the vast majority of the text."

Phantom biblical passages work in mysterious ways

Ignorance isn’t the only cause for phantom Bible verses. Confusion is another.

Some of the most popular faux verses are pithy paraphrases of biblical concepts or bits of folk wisdom.

Consider these two:

“God works in mysterious ways.”

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Both sound as if they are taken from the Bible, but they’re not. The first is a paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).

The “cleanliness” passage was coined by John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism,  says Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.

“No matter if John Wesley or someone else came up with a wise saying - if it sounds proverbish, people figure it must come from the Bible,” Kidd says.

Our fondness for the short and tweet-worthy may also explain our fondness for phantom biblical phrases. The pseudo-verses function like theological tweets: They’re pithy summarizations of biblical concepts.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” falls into that category. It’s a popular verse - and painful for many kids. Could some enterprising kid avoid the rod by pointing out to his mother that it's not in the Bible?

It’s doubtful. Her possible retort: The popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

Another saying that sounds Bible-worthy: “Pride goes before a fall.” But its approximation, Proverbs 16:18, is actually written: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

There are some phantom biblical verses for which no excuse can be offered. The speaker goofed.

That’s what Bruce Wells, a theology professor, thinks happened to Ditka, the former NFL coach, when he strayed from the gridiron to biblical commentary during his 1993 press conference in Chicago.

Wells watched Ditka’s biblical blunder on local television when he lived in Chicago. After Ditka cited the mysterious passage, reporters scrambled unsuccessfully the next day to find the biblical source.

They should have consulted Wells, who is now director of the ancient studies program at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. Wells says Ditka’s error probably came from a peculiar feature of the King James Bible.

“My hunch on the Ditka quote is that it comes from a quirk of the King James translation,” Wells says. “Ancient Hebrew had a particular way of saying things like, ‘and the next thing that happened was…’ The King James translators of the Old Testament consistently rendered this as ‘and it came to pass.’ ’’

When phantom Bible passages turn dangerous

People may get verses wrong, but they also mangle plenty of well-known biblical stories as well.

Two examples: The scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, nor did any New Testament passages say that three wise men visited baby Jesus, scholars say.

Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.

Most people know the popular version - Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.

But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.

“Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.

Getting biblical scriptures and stories wrong may not seem significant, but it can become dangerous, one scholar says.

Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It's actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation's founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

Where do these phantom passages come from?

It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries.

Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists.

If, say, you were an anonymous artist painting the Garden of Eden during the Renaissance, why not portray the serpent as the devil to give some punch to your creation? And if you’re a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn’t it just sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, not a “great fish”?

Others blame the spread of phantom Bible passages on King James, or more specifically the declining popularity of the King James translation of the Bible.

That translation, which marks 400 years of existence this year, had a near monopoly on the Bible market as recently as 50 years ago, says Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

“If you quoted the Bible and got it wrong then, people were more likely to notice because there was only one text,” he says. “Today, so many different translations are used that almost no one can tell for sure if something supposedly from the Bible is being quoted accurately or not.”

Others blame the spread of phantom biblical verses on Martin Luther, the German monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the massive “protest” against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the formation of Protestant church denominations.

“It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone - milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper - to be able to pick up the Bible and read for herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text,” says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California.

But often the milkmaid, the cobbler - and the NFL coach - start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says.

“You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, ‘What does this text mean to you?’’’ Hazen says.

“Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Faith

soundoff (8,604 Responses)
  1. The Half Baked Lunatic

    The bible is a bunch of rehashed old fairy tails that didn't make any sense 2000 years ago, and certainly don't make any sense today. It's astounding that people were able to use this garbage to launch a whole religion.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:01 am |
    • JoePatriot

      Your ignorance, combined with your arrogance, is typical of the comments found here.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • bazzar

      Right on!!!

      June 5, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • bazzar

      Right on to the Half baked lunatic....NOT the religious nutter!!!!!

      June 5, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • betweentwotowers

      It makes you wonder if there is isn't something more going on with Judaism and Christainity :)

      June 5, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Dude

      Your ignorance and arrogance is astounding. To put yourself on that high a pedestal as a human is to call yourself a true master of this world.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  2. Mark Yelka

    People do use the bible to reinforce hate. Noah had 3 sons whose progeny represented white, black, and yellow/brown people. Hospitality was the sin of the twin cities, not same gender relations. Ritual ra pe after conquest is denounced, not again same gender relations. But, hateful people won't care about the truth: they want their hate to be justified.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:01 am |
  3. Jim

    "He among you who is without sin, cast the 1st stone".

    Oops. Too late.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • Komodo

      Like 'Reverend' Roy Foltrigg in the movie "The Client" people try to make "quotes" fit their own situations. Ends justify the means??

      June 5, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  4. Rick in Atlanta

    The arrogance of this article is incredible. So only people with special training are allowed to interpret what the Bible means to them? I've studied the Blble in my Sunday School for over 30 years and learn more every day. Yes, of course, many people get things wrong, but to mock them is self-serving and prideful of you. You sound like the pre-reformation church.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • staracker

      30 years? really? if you had spent the same amount of time in an actual library with encyclopedias and text books, you would of been far better off

      June 5, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • TKH

      Hi Rick – we should want to know the Truth and should want to get help from experts on the subject – those who devote their life to understanding Scripture as it is intended to be understood – those who understand the majority view as it has been passed down over 2000 years of intellectual analysis and Spirit-assisted prayer. While Scripture is certainly applied differently in our own particular day to day experieces, it's meaning is what it is. Humility requires that we submit to a competent authority; integrity requires the same. Thank you for your years of faithful works.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • TKH

      Rick – I agree that the article is bad and should really be disregarded as somewhat vain and extremely poorly researched.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  5. His...whatever

    actually there is nothig "in the bible" it is all fairy tale.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • mochammed

      don't worry, your word had been recorded. One time you'll judge by Him who creates you. Amien

      June 5, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • Sean

      Watch out His! Mocha's imaginary friend is gonna get you!

      June 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  6. TKH

    This is a really bad article writen by a person who is obviously ignorant of the subject with references to so-called bibilical experts who are also shallow in their opinions. All should disregard it as speculative and vain.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • Shibboleth07

      Shock and awe... a Christian screams blasphemy when he doesn't agree with what was written by another.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • TKH

      No. No judgment of blasphemy, but only the recognition that a writter is working for a living and in his attempts to do something he thinks worthy, he is apparently very uninformed and misled. This is not uncommon. I'm sure he does not intend to blaspheme and that you do not mean to misjudge me. Peace.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  7. what

    I guess people can't paraphrase anything anymore. Who did this article get on CNN? The writer probably googled the quotes.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  8. JWH

    Cowards....do one on the Quoran, I dare you. But theirs is not misquoted, it is practiced, and that is ahy they murder.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  9. Amanda

    The phrase "spare the rod and spoil the child" is not suggesting that you do that. It's a warning against it, at least that is how I have always heard it. "if you spare the rod then you will spoil the child." It goes along with what is written in Proverbs.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  10. George Lyda

    Semantics. This guy is simply an idiot. Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Semantics: the historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development

    June 5, 2011 at 6:58 am |
  11. Chris

    I have never read the bible beyond Genesis but none of these examples ever struck me as actual quotes. But who cares if a few people wrongly attribute these timeless phrases as quotes? They are still rooted in biblical philosophy. That includes Ben Franklin's quote which Mr. Blake wrongly misinterprets as greed. Maybe Mr. Blake should write on article on all of his own mis-quotes and mis-interpretations.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:57 am |
  12. Katie

    St Luke's catholic grade school owes me an A for religion class. They flunked me for questioning the Jonah and the whale story.

    Also – the Bible was re-written to include the 'regal' pronouns "thee", "thou", "thy" , and "thine" on order of King James.

    The apostle John was the one who introduced Jesus as a divine being, earlier versons of the other gospels did not even hint at that idea.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • Chuck J.

      With regard to the divinity of Christ, you are mistaken. That the Christ, who is Jesus, is God is made clear early in the old testament. Consider the words of the prophet Isaiah:
      "For to us a child is born,
      to us a son is given;
      and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
      and his name shall be called
      Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
      Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

      With monikers such as Mighty God and Everlasting Father, there is little doubt as to his divinity.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  13. SC

    Basically, it is in the Bible in the book of Proverbs 13:24. The quote is a abridged version.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • A Swicegood

      Paraphase from Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15. If one is going to argue that none read the bible, one should first read it, then argue that others do not. Don't look for words that meet your expectations, but the message of the Lord God.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  14. unowhoitsme

    The New King James VersionESVNIV84NLTNKJV
    HCSBKJV 19001901 ASVAV 1873more »..Jonah 1:17–2:10
    Jonah’s Prayer and Deliverance

    17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

    (whale is assumed because of it's size)

    June 5, 2011 at 6:55 am |
    • remorse2

      They assume God is incapable of making a fish of such a large size. I suggest they are limiting God's abilities.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:02 am |
    • Mike

      A whale is a mammal, not a fish.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • David

      Did the authors of the bible know that a whale is a mammal and not a fish? I'm not sure the concept of whales as mammals was established at that time.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Jean

      Why would it be assumed to be a :whale: Basking sharks are as big as, and bigger than, many whales. If the Bivle dais "fish" then fish it was. King James, OTOH most likely had never been exposed to basking sharks and would have insisted it was actually a whale. An animal he would have been more than arware of.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  15. Bob

    This isn't news. Why is this on the front page of CNN?

    June 5, 2011 at 6:54 am |
  16. Kim

    Do you you what is definitely NOT in the Bible?The story of Jason and the Argonauts.I couldn't find it anywhere.I like to quote from the book of Zebeddee(act 4,scene 2)-"put not your faith in tellyevangelists","God helps those who grow their own vegetables (on allotments)".

    June 5, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  17. GRG

    Apparently Mr. John Blake from CNN did not do his "Bible homework" or research before posting this article... "The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly." And... actually THIS IS ON THE BIBLE! Read Pro. 15:2, Mr. Blake... :)

    June 5, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • remorse2

      I agree. It appears as if Mr. Blake has an rudimentary level of bible knoledge.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  18. Kevin Flannigan Rantoul Illinois

    No surprise here, after all, its written by men, for men, nothing holy about it, just a book, to try and control you, thats what religion is, nothing but fairy tales.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • Rick in Atlanta

      "You gotta serve somebody."
      Bob Dylan

      June 5, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  19. Jay

    Davey – You err by adding to the word of God. Isaiah Chapter 14 identifies Lucifer as: he who destroyED cities (past tense in Isaiah's time), the seed of evildoers, who will rise up against The Lord of Hosts, who seeks to be like The Most High, who ruled the nations in anger, who has slain people, who will be brought to Hell, etc. Clerly, that is Satan..NOT Jesus.

    2 Corinthians 11:14 says: "...Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light."

    So much for YOUR claim that "The Devil only brings darkness."

    Who to believe...you, or God?

    June 5, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  20. Onslow

    All of the bible is fiction. It was written decades or centuries after the events were supposed to have taken place and are just as the interpretations noted above – creative allegories fitting the preconceived beliefs at the time.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:48 am |
    • Jeremy

      In truth, in light of the discovery of further ancient new testament manuscripts, the LATEST that entire New Testament could have been completed was circa 60-70AD, which was around 30-40 years after Jesus' death.

      In comparison, the earliest known records of Alexander the Great's existence were written 400 years after his death. You don't dispute the veracity of his existence, and there is FAR more evidence supporting Biblical accuracy.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • David

      The bible wasn't really written until 382AD after the Council of Rome. Before that, there were various texts of various ages but there was no universally respected text for the Roman Catholic Church. The Bible was assembled and revised hundreds of years after the events described would have occurred.

      Its true that Alexander the Great's story is quite old and there may be inaccuracies in it - but no one takes his story as an article of faith.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:48 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.