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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. Jean

    Religion has always be a tool of control. So was the bible.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  2. Kris

    SURPRISE! People actually use the Bible to facilitate their own Twisted belief? Now thats a suprise, huh? Frankly, I've never heard ANYONE quote the bible unless was to cast judgment upone others, give reason to something horriable they are doing, or providing fefuge to themselves.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  3. sealman

    Thomas..... I LOVE Mormons and Scientologists and David Koreshians because it shows that even modern day humans can make up stuff, create a cult, and then legitimize it through breeding programs.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • kro

      Don't forget Rastafarian. The only religion I can think of that was at its height while the prophet/messiah was still alive.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  4. jed

    Actually this is one in an ongoing series of articles on CNN apparently designed to given the average joe reason to 'doubt' his bible. The article is drivel, but there will probably be thousands quoting it tomorrow: 'see the bible is fake! CNN said so on the internet!'.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • sylvia

      Nowhere does it say the bible is fake. It says many who "quote" it are. That is a true statement. You're doing with the article exactly what it says people do to the bible....reading into it things that are not there or, worse, twisting what is there to suit one's own purpose.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Sean

      You're assuming everybody will blindly take CNN's word for it, like you do with your favorite work of fiction.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  5. Matt

    Actually in Matthew in the bible it does confirm it was a whale that swallowed Jonah. There is so much mis-information here it's a little ridiculous.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Chris

      A whale or a big fish?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Julibear

      It depends on your translation! And to the other poster who said that CNN is telling us the Bible isn't true– did you even read the article? Well, the Bible is a collection of Jewish myths and early Christian history, so its as true as the memories of the people who wrote it 150 years AD. People misquote it all the time; if you dont like it read the Bible and get it right.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • flchris77

      Matthew 12:38-45. It just says "a great fish". In the book of Jonah it just says... "A great fish". But thanks for playing.
      And yes... I just read it in three different bibles. All say the same thing. A big fish. not a whale.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  6. BIBLEISBS

    the bible can be so dangerous. As a child I was beaten all the time and my parents used the this spoil the rod spoil the child thing, I hate the bible now and everything about it. I have my own beliefs and I do not listen to any of this crap now I have a 401 that is where my money goes and not to some so called preacher I have a brain I follow no god no master I make my own decisions based on what is fair right and wrong. and you dont need to bible to do that

    June 5, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • johnnyb52

      You need the word of God in order to find out about Christ so that you may not die in your sins. Sorry, but I think your parents loved you enough to discipline you to keep you on the right path. They did not beat you. You must be a spoiled brat who only wants to do things your own way and looking for fake sympathy by concocting this lie about your parents and the bible. If I am wrong, than I ask you to forgive me and forgive your parents but the fact remains that you and everyone else needs a savior and you hear of him in the bible. This I am not sorry nor ever will be.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • GABRIEL

      You would have turned out an Atheist anyway, and hence you deserved what you got.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      Gabriel, are you trying to be funny with these posts, or are you a lunatic?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • GABRIEL

      @JackStraw:

      This man is being blasphemous. He deserves what he got.
      God has no trouble punishing you uprfront for sins he know you will commit later.

      Like Stephen Hawkins. God knew he would devote his time to blasphemy, so he bound him to the wheelchair long before his blasphemy begun, just to show people who`s The Man.

      Ha!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      So you DO advocate domestic violence and child abuse, just so long as it is sanctioned by God. I see. All righty then. I hope I get to witness your conversation with St. Peter. I could use the chuckle.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      So you DO advocate domestic violence and child abuse, just so long as it is sanctioned by God. I see. All righty then. I hope I get to witness your conversation with St. Peter. I could use the chuckle.

      And way to go, laughing at someone crippled by the as-yet always terminal ALS. Very Christian of you.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • GABRIEL

      @Jack Straw:

      Proverbs 16:18, is actually written: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

      Simple as that. Did you not read the article?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      Yes, Gabriel, I read the article. I've also read most of the Bible. I have several in my home. Different versions, too. I can find a quotation to support most any viewpoint, no matter how morally repulsive or illegal. Have you sold your daughters into slavery yet? Simple? I agree. Your choice of word is most apt.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  7. D

    I'm not saying that you are incorrect in your article but it seems to me that we see many articles of this nature on christianity, but none on Islam.

    Now there must be just as many, if not more misquotes in Islam considering the rate if illiteracy, why is it then that CNN does not take any time to investigate those?

    Could it be:
    1 You are afraid
    2 You are Muslim
    3 You agree with islams war on the US
    4 You want to see the US lose to Islam and become like a third world county

    June 5, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      You know the multiple times daily when people just stare at you, mouths agape, when you finish saying something? That's not a positive thing. Glad I could help.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Rosaleee

      I don't know...could it be the author focuses on Christianity because...ohhhhh....maybe....let's see....it is the DOMINANT religion in the United States?

      Could it be that...oh, I don't know...he isn't a Muslim himself and, oh gee, maybe – because he doesn't know Islam well enough to write about it?????

      Of course, ignorance hasn't stopped Beck or Limbaugh or any other right wing windbag. Maybe that's what you prefer.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  8. Robin

    Why dont we see any news ever inside a synagogue? What are they preaching?Can we talk about Torah and see how people jump upppp.CNN and jews run the meida and we fight following them. Poor us.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  9. stevie68a

    Someday, in the future, people will be amazed at how a book of folklore became so popular. Don't buy bull.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  10. Bee

    Looks like your looking at word for word spelling,,,,, not the clear meaning ya get from the word...

    June 5, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • JD

      Looks like your head is still in the sand.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  11. Mike

    You mean these people are scholars and they don't see that the SERPENT IS SATAN? When God passed judgement on Adam and Eve, dispelling them from the garden, he also talked about the SEED that would bruise his head. The seed is Christ, bruising the head of the serpent or SATAN.

    This is a classic story by folks who wish to cast aspersion on the Blessed Holy Book. I'll believe my Bible by faith and you can travel the long road of stupidy with news reporters! Amazing!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • JTau

      And you completely missed the point of this article – about verses and one-liners that don't exist in the Bible.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Kirk

      By "my Bible" don't you mean someone else’s interpretation of the bible? After all no one really knows how the original bible reads.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Rosaleee

      How is an emphasis on accuracy to be taking as "casting aspersions" on the "Holy Book"?

      It is those who misread and misquote and misapply Scripture who by their ignorance "cast aspersions" upon it.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Eddie

      If there were long roads of stupidity, then you are on a super highway.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Rosaleee

      Seeing the serpent as Satan is a metaphorical leap. It is an INTERPRETATION and not the thing itself. While that leap makes sense if you believe in some over-arching evil force that you call "Satan," it is not a NECESSARY interpretation, nor is it the ONLY one possible.

      Indeed, there is a branch of Biblical scholarship that sees the "Fall" as "fortunate." Moreover, the story itself is METAPHORICAL, not LITERAL. The underlying story is about disobedience, not about evil – unless you count the entire human experience of life as evil.

      Without the Fall, without that rejection of unquestioning obedience, human life would not exist. God bless Eve for helping us get out of that pretty prison!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Yogendra

      My wife says the same thing although she doesn't skip pages like your stesir. She'll read the novel cover to cover but at a speed so fast she can finish three Malay novels in a day. The gist is easy to get in Malay novels, she claims.

      March 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  12. Bill

    The author screwed the pooch badly relative to the Garden of Eden.
    First off, he is correct to say that the Bible does not refer to the serpent as Satan. But given that Satan tempts Jesus in the desert and Jesus calls Satan the father of all lies and Jesus compares peter to satan when peter tries to say Jesus doesnt have to die (a temptation) it's not too far of a reach ... but again, he is right to say it is a conclusion, not a text.
    But the real error of the story the author alludes to is regarding the fruit. Scripture NEVER calls it an apple.
    I fact, if my literature knowledge is on target, both Satan in Eden and the Apple as the forbidden fruit are both from "Paradise Lost."

    June 5, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  13. Elizabeth

    It's nice to learn from a scholar, but the masses are far more educated today than they were at the time of Martin Luther. Today's peasant is probably the equivalent of a 15th century scholar. Crack open those Bibles people!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  14. Thomas

    Well, it does say that "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever." So that tells me that God speaks to man today just as He did in the past. In fact, He spoke to a Prophet named Lehi in Jerusalem when King Zedekiah, King of Judah, was ruling Israel. He left Jersalem with his family before it was destroyed. They traveled south along the borders of the Red Sea and built a ship and sailed to ancient America. They were Jews and had the books of Moses with them. They also took Ismael and his wife and their children to have children with his family. The records they took confimed they were decendants of Joseph, the son of Jacob. Thus many truths were preserved. Where is this found? The Book of Mormon.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  15. FalseProphets

    And when JUDGMENT DAY comes on August 21st 2011, all you non believers will want US Christians to plead your case to God but it will be too late by then.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Bill

      That's so cute and clever .... take a false prophet and decide he represents an entire faith. That's right up there with assuming Osama bin laden represents all muslims. Or that Hitler represents all germans. Or that RuPaul represents all gay people.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • JD

      Stop setting yourself up as a God. I'm a Christian but I'll answer to God for anything I've done myself without your help.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • johnnyb52

      God warns us not to set the date of His coming, yet people keep doing it. Who will plead your case?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Ruderalis

      Isn't your religion supposed to instigate mercy? Get off your high horse and respect the fact that others may have OTHER beliefs as well. Putting a date on the return of Christ shows your lack of knowledge in the subject, in the fact it has been said by Jesus that no one know other than the Father. Have a BLESSED DAY lol

      June 5, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  16. Judy Dworschak

    And John Blake makes one of the most common mistakes in defining the word "Protestant" which was not a "protest" against the excesses of the Catholic church, but a response of 14 German princes who refused to attend the Emperor's Diet of Speyer, sending a letter to protest his position of not allowing for any discussion of reform in regards to state politics, policy and state religion. These 14 German Lords became known from this act as Protesting Lords or simply as Protestants.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  17. GABRIEL

    Spare the rod, spoil the wife.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      Ah, the humor of beating of women and a pun. Boy, you're doubly stupid, aren't you?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Bill

      Odd choice .... The Bible actually teaches that men should love their wives as Jesus loves his people. Total love, devotion and dedication. So your cutesy argument that the Bible is somehow anti-women is a load of garbage.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  18. SpenderH

    Do people actually think "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" is in the Bible? Really?

    June 5, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Sean

      I think the quote is "Cleanliness is next to Godliness in the frozen food section."

      June 6, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  19. Bri

    It is the job of professors to teach young impressionable minds objective facts and let them decide for themselves not teach their opinions and beliefs. This story definitely doesn't take everything into consideration the Bible says- he is paraphrasing himself. Also-while technically correct-don't most of the misquoted verses imply almost the same thoughts as the originals.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Rosaleee

      No, they don't.

      Proverbs 13: 24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

      Is NOT the same as "he who spares the rod spoils the child." That statement puts the emphasis on BEATING as opposed to discipline. The "rod" need not be a weapon. It can be metaphorical.

      The inclusion of "spoil the child" makes a judgment that is not contained in the original.

      And it ignores the second part of the proverb, "he who loves him is careful to discipline him." Discipline does not require the violence justified by "spare the rod, spoil the child."

      If, instead, you put the emphasis on discipline, which can involve a wide variety of means, not necessarily one involving BEATING, and the emphasis on LOVE, a whole different meaning emerges.

      Why not, instead of "spare the rod, spoil the child," instead the popular misquote had been "Parents who love their children will discipline them." There is NOTHING in THAT misquote that justifies BEATING the child.

      The popular misquote came into extensive use at a time when child abuse was confused with discipline. So what you get from that misquote isn't an accurate rendering of the proverb, but rather a deliberate misreading of it.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  20. Alcharlie

    Just goes to show you, if more than one person reads something. There will be more than one take on the article/verse. If you don't believe me read the comments on this article. "We all have our own thoughts." its in the Bible-check it out :-)

    June 5, 2011 at 9:25 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.