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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 • Evangelical • Faith

soundoff (8,604 Responses)
  1. oneconcerned

    I'm glad that at least someone's talking about "phantom scriptures" that people have assumed were in the Bible; however, it's sad that even the "enlightened" and "educated" still don't recognize the validity of the Bible, thinking that because church councils and translators were involved in it's construction, that it did not originate from a source higher then this earth.
    It wasn't created by governments to control people; it was given to humans to govern themselves more wisely and to reconnect with God. Yes, there are 100s and or even thousands of religions. But how many of them have provided as much insight into the history of humanity and given as much insight into the future of this world and the universe?

    August 18, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • jimtanker

      You have absolutely no proof of this at all. This is just what you want to believe. Other people choose to use rationality in our lives and only believe things that are real.

      August 18, 2011 at 5:26 am |
  2. Upon this rock

    The word Trinity is not in the Bible either, does that mean there is no three in one? Of course not. Translations have diluted
    the meanings of many words. And by the way Jesus hated religions stating that "True Religion is this "To love God with all
    your heart soul and mind and love thy nieghbor as yourself" And who is your neighbor? The person you are talking to.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  3. Captain Obvious

    This is ridiculous these are sayings or common phrases, only idiots would believe the majority of them to come from the bible.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  4. JungleJargon

    The Liar is satan. The serpent of old is satan. It was God that told them not to eat and ist was the Liar (satan) that questioned what God said. This is basic theology. The Bible does not need to explain itself because it is self explanatory.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • jimtanker

      The bible says absolutely nothing about the serpent being satan so obviously it does need some explaining to some people. If you dont interpret and read into the bible it is just what it is, a silly story to scare people.

      August 18, 2011 at 5:27 am |
  5. pmd

    It's true that the serpent is not identified as Satan in the Genesis account, but it is in Revalation 12:9.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  6. Jesus, aka God to you

    What in hell is a bible?

    August 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • JesusFreak

      I will pry for you and hope that God himself will show you his light. The bible is what God's way of showing you your purpopse on Earth and what he has in store for you. I know for a fact that he has great life planed out for you. All you have to do is chase it.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  7. Francheska

    It is more then just sayings. We swear to tell the truth in court by placing our hand on the bible, but there is a passage in the Bible that sates Jesus finding this very act ridiculous when done by the Jewish. He stated that the Torah was a "book" and that we were flesh made by god and that shouldn't we be swearing on ourselves (handshake.) This is all paraphrased of course, because unlike a lot of people who work really hard to regurgitate verbatim items they think will hold more weight when trying to win an argument based on their opinion rather then fact and because it came from something holy, I actually try to understand the teachings

    August 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • jimtanker

      You think that opinion carries more weight than fact? You will lose every argument every time with that way of thinking.

      August 18, 2011 at 5:30 am |
  8. cq

    The bible is not to be taken literal. Live righteous and give yourself to the lord.
    "The Lord is my shepherd, i shall not want."

    August 17, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  9. Rich39

    What Bible? Which Bible? Their are around 20 different versions of the Bible. The BIble list over 600 sins. I comitting a sin now because I'm using my computer. I sin this morning because I had coffee. Don't want to sin?
    Don't become a Christian. Their are over 200 other religions to chose from. Don't like any of them, start your own religion. Remember ALL religions were started by man. Not women, but men. I like the Old Testament where I can have 20 wives and 200 concubines. But the USA passed a law against this part of the Bible. Oh well, right now I'm looking at the sun rising.
    The sun is one of my Gods. Do away with he sun and I will see you tomorrow??

    August 17, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Just.Me

      Yea that's right, there are in fact thousands of religions to choose from in our day and age; yet faith in God, the Creator of the universe is not a religion. It's just simply belief in the God of all creation. Throughout the ages, this faith in God has been divided into many denominations but there is only One God and He seeks us out to become His children. "I am the way, the truth and light; no can come to the Father (God) except through me," said Jesus Christ. The Father+Jesus Christ the Son+the Holy Spirit=all One God/ One Person. He offers peace, fullness in life, and Eternal life.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  10. Mark

    The word "rapture" while used by many denominations, is never used in the Bible.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  11. Michael

    Yes, a lot of these quotes are not taken directly from the bible but most of them are derived from things that come from the bible. People now days are so focused on finding any way they can to feel better about the bad things they do that the world now considers normal because the media, tv, and movies portray it as normal. To me, THEY are the ones twisting what the bible says to fit their style of living.

    August 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  12. John


    `

    August 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  13. JEN

    DID GOD HELP MIKE TO MAKE HIM FATTER . THIS IDIOT IS TRYING TO KILL HIMSELF BY SMOKING AND EATING FATTY FOOD. I BET YOU IF HE JOIN THE MILITARY BOOT CAMP AND LOST ALL THE WEIGHTS, HE WILL THANK GOD INSTEAD OF THE MILITARY PERSONAL TRAINERS

    August 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • LetsAllJumptToConclusions

      http://theoatmeal.com/pl/minor_differences/capslock

      August 16, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • J.W

      Jen I think you have problems.

      August 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  14. lolsigh

    "But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better"
    Most christians have not even read the bible, it is rare that any of them can even quote something that their priest or pasture has not quoted over teh weekend lol

    August 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • OhReally?

      I'm always amused by people such as yourself who make fun of something they know absolutely nothing about. And why would you come hear to read a belief blog? Do you think that with your wit and intellect you can convert believers into non-believers? Hmmm. I'll talk to my "pasture" (sic) about you and then we'll pray for you.

      August 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Jesus, aka God to you

      What's a bible?

      August 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  15. AAB

    Proverbs 13:24
    New International Version (NIV)

    "Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."

    Actually, it is in the Bible.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • lolsigh

      and this is why you guys are dumb, the quote he said was spare the rod spoil the child the quote you used it completely different and implies something completely different and that is why your christians are ignorat and dumb, you can't even read and know not the difference in words.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • P_Me

      Jumping Jupiter! This from the person who doesn't know the difference between 'pastor' and 'pasture' O_O Go read a book. It doesn't have to be the Bible.

      August 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  16. Daiveed

    @Geem..I think it is written somewhere in the Bible it is a sin to have SpeeelllCheke on your computer. I mean SpellCheck..

    August 16, 2011 at 4:21 am |
  17. Hope this helps clarify at least one quote

    The Revelation of Jesus Christ 20:2 "And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,"

    August 16, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • Uriah

      Bound: meaning he will be free to roam the earth in the last days.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • GodPot

      So if a year is as a day to God, and Satan will be bound for 1000 years, is it just 1000 God days? Or is it God years making it 365,000 human years?

      August 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Nat

      I agree with "Hope this helps clarify at least one quote" and in response to quote by Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts, I reference Revelation 20:2. The dragon, known as satan, was in control of the serpent in the Garden of Eden(Gen 3). The tempter in the garden was a serpent(satan in the form of a snake). temptation often comes in disguise, often quite unexpectedly, often to the innocent or naive and often from a subordinate(someone over whom one should have exercised dominion). I would guess that Mr Dunn has never given any serious time to a sincere study of the entire Bible.

      August 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Uriah

      Either way, its in God's time, if it was 1000 we dont know exactly when it is measured, or if it was 349,999 days and the next was tomorrow.

      August 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Uriah

      correction:364,999 years and the next day was tom.

      August 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  18. Leigh

    If you study the history of how the Bible came to its current form, you find it was determined by people over the course of centuries, approving this book or discarding that one. These decisions were sometimes based on scholarship, but other times, they were based on the wills of the prevailing political powers of the times.

    That is important to remember. Just like those of today, political powers of the past attempted to shape knowledge, divinely inspired and otherwise, to suit their various purposes. To me, that means the Bible must be read carefully and with a grain of salt. Another important point to remember is one person's "bible story" is another person's myth.

    August 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Whether in the hands of a literary scholar or a political tyrant, don't you suppose God is still in control of the words that end up in our hands?!

      August 16, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Pootypootus

      Anonymous Your god is make believe and relgion is a tool created by man to control man. I always wondered why people had to be scared (you will go to h**l) into being good instead of being good for the sake of being good?

      August 16, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Amazing

      @Pootypootus, Why do you think entire governments are run by the church? A perfect excuse for population control.

      August 16, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Uriah

      The bible never contradicts itself..As least the KJV..these other versions or suspect to man written and humanly inspired to take away spiritual clarity.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • storm

      @uriah thats not true, the kjv does contradict itself, and in more than one place. the kjv was written/translated by man as well.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:01 am |
  19. sephrina

    So anonymous, got a life? I'm quite distinguished in my refusal to believe old stories from the ancient past. Historical fiction is super great reading but not a reason for self delusion. Want to know what the secret to life is? It's easy. Living. You live a contributing life. You contribute positively to the furtherance of the human race. Simple, elegant and quite satisfying. Stop feeling guilty for being human, for living. Have a good day!

    August 15, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • really?!

      You're exactly right.....That sounds just like what jesus would say....

      August 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Uriah

      Anything from heaven has no history. So cant be proven, because it always was and will be. Dont be blind from the pleasures of life. B/c if anything in your life goes wrong you seek therapy and not Jesus. Trusting in false hope and good deeds.

      2Cr 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

      2Cr 4:5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.

      2Cr 4:6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  20. anonymous

    I think this article makes an important point. We need to truly know what the Bible is saying if we're going to quote it or use it in our daily lives. Many people seem to have this warm, comfy, wishy-washy version of God that fits their personal ideologies, upbringing, and lifestyle, and doesn't disrupt it. The God of the Bible is not the genie from Aladdin that does what He is told to do or what is comfortable for people. This offends alot of people who don't like what God has to say, even many who claim to be believers. Of course, there is alot of good-intentioned but ignorant misconceptions as well. The best thing is to truly read and study the Bible for yourself, and seek the insight of other's who have studied it for years. Don't accept it on some half-and-half basis. The Bible itself says that sitting on the fence is not acceptable to God. In Revelations 3:15-16 the speaker (which is almost uncontestedly supposed to be Jesus–see Revelation 1 for the proof) says to the church (Christians) in the city of Laodicea "I know your works, you are neither hot nor cold. Would that you were either hot or cold! So because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth." While the passage refers specifically to the complacency of the Laodiceans, many Biblical scholars would tell you that the passage is also more broadly condenming complacency and indecision on spiritual matters in general. Throughout the Bible one can see evidence that those following the teachings of the Bible and the commands of God are to set themselves a part in a way from those that don't. There's is no room for gray in passages like "the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6). While Christians should live in the midst of and engage with an unbelieving culture and society which hasn't taken the distinguishing step of decisively deciding where they stand, which is "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power " (2 Timothy 3:5), they need to be informed on what the Bible really says, and not hesitant to set themselves apart from it in the ways it prescribes.

    August 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Dr J

      First of all I judge you not and while I find your reply bears truth you to have failed to mention a very important point which most seem to feel is not important in our Christian walk with God but is as necessary as the air we breath. Jesus gave the startling revelation as to how we could/would know truth. He is called the Spirit of truth which would be given to every believer who would receive Him, it was the promise of the Father. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all Truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come "John 16:13". God did not leave our Salvation nor all revelation in the hands of man but took it upon Himself (the God Head) to bring us back to Him. We know them as God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our society does not teach or stress dependency upon Him (the Holy Spirit) as we should but pefer the light to shine on us which is not what the Bible teaches. Where it is true that we have a part to play and work to do for the Kingdom of God, it should all lead back to Jesus and not ourselves. I pray the Church will wake up and see that a circle leads nowhere but there is a way that leads to eternal life and that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.