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.”
IT'S A BOOK, PEOPLE!!!! A BOOK!!!!! GET A GRIP!!!!!
Your the only one who needs to get a grip.
Joe Atheist likes this. (Thumbs up)
Yeah,true talk but most of these sayings though may not be exactly extracted from the Bible but they send the same message home. These phrases are used to explain thoughrouhly to everyone for easy understanding. I agree though but preachers are trying to be fair to all...
This is why I prefer reading the Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson had it right.
Your beliefs are your own, but I know you don't practice them.
Again and again people say "Christians are oppressive and violent". Please show me one scripture where jesus promotes violence. Here is the problem, there isnt one!
What about tne time He made a corded whip and cleared out the temple of money changers and dove sellers and the scripture states He had a righteousness anger?
God's pretty violent though...
But those my enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring here, and slay them before me. Luke 19:27
Christ was not a violent or oppressive person, but the people who do things in his name are.
Hmmm.... If I remember correctly.... god killed off everyone in a great flood.
That's not violent or something evil that satan would do....
I heard he overturned tables of merchants in the Lords house, but what does that mean ?
The problem is that if you support everything from water boarding to war, your not christian!
If you don't love your fellow man because he is gay or brown, your not christian! Feed the hungry and cloth the poor...
Jesus was a Jew, therefore he believed what was taught in the Old Testament, which is full of violence and God killing and having people killed.
old testament =! new testament
Revelations an all of john is new testament, Genesis is old testament.
When genesis was written the idea of satan in the garden was not conceived, when new testament was written over 500 years later, they idea was adopted.
For you bible thumpers, where does it say "thou shalt not buy beer until noon on Sundays"? Does it make baby Jesus cry if one were to do so?
I think you're supposed to be in church until noon and they don't allow food or drink there except wine and unleavened bread.
No but it makes me laugh that at 8am you are scowering the religious blog trolling around. No luck getting laid after the club huh. Lol what a pathetic life you live. Do the world a favor and stick your fat head in the toilet and try to flush yourself
Commandant number three .
Ask your kid, next time you see him.
The christian lawmakers just want non-believers to wait until the churches let out so there isn't a surprise run on beer supplies and the church-goers don't miss out.
Many of the phantom verses are indeed based on certain specific or conceptual truths in scripture. You might even say that these phantom verses are new "versions" of a verse or understanding in scripture.
For instance, the test lends itself to believe that the serpent was IN the Garden of Eden because he was tempting Eve to eat of a tree in the Garden of Eden. It's not conclusive, but it a fair rendering.
Cleanliness is next to godliness? Look at the kosher regulations of the Torah, along with the ritual cleansings, the periodic uncleanness, etc., and you can easily draw the conclusion that God demands good hygiene. It's not precise, of course, but it's not a far leap to think that you can't be godly without being hygienic.
God helps those who help themselves? While this might not hold up in terms of "works" that bring salvation, it does seem to apply in other places. For instance, Goliath didn't just go down–David had to DO something. Noah had to BUILD the Ark. Moses had to LEAD. The whole implication being that if we will move, God will move with us.
This too shall pass? Well, we know that to everything there is a season, do we not? And if so, then seasons come and go, come and...pass. The core truth is there, even if the literal words are not.
God works in mysterious ways? The Bible is replete with such things, letting us know that God's ways are "past finding out." That seems very synonymous with "mysterious," no?
However, I was deeply stirred by the fact that the falling usage of the KJV has perhaps created this problem. We allow things to slip by now, thinking that perhaps some other translation or version has interpreted the scripture that way. We no longer have a single standard by which we can quickly claim that this or that is a correct rendering or not. It's certainly good that new translations have made the Bible more and more accessible, but there is a cost in terms of standardization. But at the least, it seems that these version–even the "phantom" versions–do seem based on scriptural truths, even if they themselves are not strictly part of the text.
I guess you could use that "Bible verse" that says, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
And I care because...??
This is just another nit picking way to chip away at faith that people have – if a person quoted the bible they would include the chapter and verse. Sayings that have religious overtones do not mean that a person is quoting the bible.
"God protects the dumb and the Drunk" isn't from the bible but it has meaning.. CNN needs to get a life and stop splitting hairs and making up news – report the news
Actually...CNN isn't "making up" news. In this case it's reporting the news. It sounds to me that you're one of those fundamentalist "Bible Thumpers". YOU need to get a touch of reality.
If the god in the bibles so great and allseeing.. How come he needs babies to have their genitals mutilated to tell them apart from the heathen??
He shouldn't be looking, anyway.
Religion is a self governing atribute – not to be used as a offencive weapon against others -
I somewhat agree with what the article is saying about things being misquoted/misinterpreted, but I also believe there is sound Biblical basis for most of what they point out so I offer my humble opinions as a balance.
1). This too shall pass
I believe this comes from the writings of Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 3 in particular although much of Solomons writing is about the meaninglessness of all worldly pursuits. He speaks of there being a time or season for all activity but eventually it will all pass "So I saw there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?" (Vs 22 NIV). Hence, 'this too shall pass'.
2). God helps those who help themselves
Matthew 11:12 "...the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it my force." The context of this verse was to say that there are those who attempt to lay hold of the kingdom by their own efforts but there is also a message here that, while we cannot 'earn' salvation because it is a free gift so no man can boast (Ephesians 2:8-10) it is our responsibility to take action and lay hold of the kingdom.
"Draw near to God & He will draw near to you..." James 4:8 NIV
"Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in..." Revelations 3:20 NIV
He calls us but it is our responsibility to take action toward God so that He can respond. He will not force Himself on us but lovingly waits for the invitation. So, to some degree, it is true 'God helps those who help themselves' by pressing into Him.
3). Spare the rod, spoil the child.
They already addressed this one and I think its splitting hairs to say this is a misquote!
4). Satan tempted Eve
True it doesn't specifically say that Satan was in the Garden of Eden in Genesis. However, if you flip to the end of the Bible you will find the following:
"And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world..." Revelations 12:9 NASB
I don't think it takes a Biblical scholar to figure out what 'the serpent of old' is referring to.
5). God works in mysterious ways
"Truly, O God of Israel, our Savior, you work in mysterious ways." Isaiah 45:15 NLT
Ummmm.... Hello?! How much more direct can you get?!
According to Biblegateway.com, there are at least 11 other references to His mysterious ways throughout Scripture.
6). Jonah & the whale – does it really matter that we equated 'a large fish' with a whale?! The point of the story is he was swallowed whole by a fish!
As a side note for your evenings of trivial pursuit, the people of Ninevah were a people who worshipped a fish god so when they saw Jonah vomitted onto the shore from a fish they more readily received his message and repented of their ways....or so I've read. That's historical, not Biblical account.
My point is people get caught up in the details and miss the 'forrest for the trees' just like the Pharisees & Sadducees. Still, if the article gets more people to investigate the Word of God, then I am all for it.
What a complete waste of time.
This writer's whole article was predicated on Ditka's statement that, 'all things shall pass', which actually IS biblical. Matthew 24;35 states, "Heaven and earth shall pass away". Didka got it right...the author did not!
Thanks for posting this critique of the article. I had the same thoughts as I was reading it!
Thank you for your discernment. It's sad, but if people do not read, know, and understand the Bible, then they become misled, just as this article can be misleading.
Only if they're stupid enough to base their belief systems on the article.
I'll tell you what IS in the bible!!
slavery: exodus 21: 20-21. "and if a man beats his male or female slave with a rod so that he dies he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not ben punished, for he is his property" (not only is it ok to have slaves, you can beat them too)
Killing children and keeping virgins: Numbers 31: 17-18. ,
" Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man intimately. But keep alive for Yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately" (this kind of abhorrent advise coming from the 'book of god')
Repression of women: I corinthians 14: 34-35. Let your women keep silent in the church, for they are not permitted to speak. But they are to be submissive, as the law says. And if the want to learn something, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is SHAMEFUL for women to Speak on church.
Taking captive wives: deuteronomy 21: 10-11. When you go out to war against your enemies, and the lord your god delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful women, and desire her, and you would take her as your wife. Etc." (I'm sure that women would love to marry her invaders, who probably just beheaded her real husband)
I really could go on. This book is disgusting. The 'not so good' book.
Neal A you obviously disagree with the bible, but your cherry picked verses are juvenile and speak to the lack to true knowledge you have. You read those on an atheist website and your ignorance and need to discredit blinded you to the historical background of the passages and the time. The book doesn't promote the things you say, it speaks to common place issues that we prevalent at that point in history. I could pick 3 sentences from your day and say your a bad person....but that wouldn't be fair.....would it.
@ Neal A.
Yes, that is part of the bible in The Hebrew Scriptures.
But today, we are to make application of what is written in the Christian Greek Scriptures and apply those verses in our lives because Jesus taught us differently starting with the First Century Christian Congregation, the violence has been removed and replaced with Jesus commands such as to Love our neighbor. etc. Matthew 22:36-40.
God's purpose in what is recorded in the early parts of the Bible has been changed into dealing with a spiritual nation of Israel, not a physical nation.
Neal, I agree with Justin, you have lack of knowledge.
CNN? Where is the article questioning the Koran?
OOPS! Guess we won't see that one. The Muslims would burn down CNN
CNN Doesn't have the right to Question God in public .
One misquotation that has always bugged me a bit is when people say, "Money is the root of all evil." Money itself isn't evil, but if you LOVE it, it can lead you astray. Here's the actual scripture:
"For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil..." 1 Timothy 6:10 (NASB)
How about my favorite, which is in the book.
Uh....Genesis actually says that Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of life. Ooops on you, CNN!
Wow, you just proved the article's point. If you can't see that, then just stop right now.
And here's one that everyone has missed........the Bible doesn't state that Eve ate an APPLE......it just states that it was FRUIT.
Thank you John Blake and those at CNN for providing yet another forum for those who hate religion to sound forth. Why don't you install crosses on the interstate and just crucify all the Christians now and get it over with?
So pointing out decidedly constructive criticism – pointing out the undeniable fact that most Christians have little clue as to what is contained in their holy book – is somehow bad?
I should think that this is something ANY Christian would like to know, and correct, so that they don't fall for these pitfalls.
There are many other examples of wrong impressions people have of Biblical stories, which can really surprice them if they actually one day decide to read the book.
For example, everybody "knows" that God brought down the plagues in Egypt, because the pharaoh was stubborn and unwise, and repeatedly refused to free Moses' people. Not true. If you read the text, what it says is that each time the Pharaoh was asked to let the Israelites go, "God hardened the pharaoh's heart", so that he would not let them go.
As you go on reading the story, it even tells you why God did this – essentially to show off his powers to the world.
Now it is understandable why people would skip those parts, but they ARE in the Bible, and the more santiized story that people associate with the Bible is not there.
So how do other religions reconcile with the Bible (the word of God)?! How can anyone believe that the bible is the "word of God" when there are so many other religions?
the bible was written by man – not God
......I'm still looking in the Bible where it says go to church on sunday!!!!!
Joh 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
Ac 20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
1Co 16:2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
They actually met daily in the beginnings of the New testament church, were just lazy by only going once or some twice to three times a week, if you want to get technical about it:)
It doesn't. In fact it tells you that God has no need of worship by you.
Kc, that no say to go to church on sunday, but yes Saturday to keep Holy
Allen, read the passage in Deut 5:12-15. It does not specifically say Sunday but says "Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God;..(NASB)."
One thing that consistently amazes me is the number of people who identify themselves as Christians who maintain that they are better than others.
Never better, but saved.
Potayto, potahto. That you are "saved" and someone else isn't is inherently elitist.
"For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 NIV
Saved or not, we ALL still sin. It's not a question of 'better than' although I can understand why you would feel that way. Unfortunately many Christians have good intentions but portray them in the wrong way.
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.