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.”
The bible is constantly changing to suit the needs of the time and with as many changes that have taken place throughout all the years, the catalyst that keeps more believers than doubters is "Fear". It's the oldest trick in the book (no pun intended). Our governments use fear constantly to gain support in whatever theme they draw up. If you are the creator and father of man, why would you want your children to fear you as they do? If a so called God created Earth and man, he must enjoy torturing his creation because their is far more suffering and evil in the world that happiness and love. Religious people are quick to give thanks and praise to God when something amazing happens but cannot do the same when something tragic happens. Common sense suggests that this just may be the biggest lie ever told and how interesting it is to see people have faith in something that they cannot touch, see, smell, or hear, but then to deny evidence suggesting an alternate theory regarding what really took place on 9/11/2001. People can see with their own eyes what took place that day but yet most believe the governments version of the events that day. Why, because it is much easier for the human psyche to accept this lie as truth out of fear that if the leaders of their once great nation were capable of either directly murdering their own people(history suggests this common), they may not be as safe or as free as they once thought. This would require a different reaction that would require much more investigation into the powers that be, and once you open pandora's box, their is no turning back.
I'm confused: are you saying that 9/11 was/wasn't the result of religious fanaticism?
Who, Who, Who wrote the book of Love? Well, it sure wasn't written at the supposed time of Chirst. Actually it was a collection of storys that story tellers told many decades after the supposed death of Chirst. One has to remember back then that to be literate was a rarity back then. Not everyone knew how to read and write. So as story tellers came and went then added or deleated as they saw fit. I highly doubt that the Bible that we see today resembles any truth or accurate record of the times. Good entertainment though as people stumble around in it.
Misquoting the bible is like misquoting a politician. Stupid bible thumpers.
It also doesn't say "apple".
The Bible is 66 different books, not one, from different times and in different genres-folk tales, chronicles, poetry>something for everyone. Every line cannot be "true" in the western rational sense. Is a poem true? I submit that a poem about daffodils waving in a summer breeze is more 'true' than a scientific entry on Narcissus pseudonarcissus in a horticulture textbook. As for people gathering in a living room with brownies to read the Bible-go for it-and if it speaks truth to you that doesn't line up with theologians-go with your truth-God loves all his children the same-theologians are not his favorite children.
Brownies are probably spiked with marygwanngbe.
If some wish not to believe why argue?….But here is a nugget for those who don’t know why one could call the serpent in Genesis Satan or the devil. “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:9.). …As for those who believe, stop arguing pray and use these moments to teach…but don’t be a jerk…lol Peace
“And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,” (2 Timothy 2:24)
But why was the great dragon and his angels "hurled" down to the Earth?
@Kuddln: The Christian teaching on why Satan/Lucifer and one third of the angels of heaven were hurled down to earth is that they made a choice against God. They were put to a test in a manner similar to humans, and one third failed the test by rebelling against God. They are at work in the world today, encouraging us to join their rebellion. That there was a test, and what the test was, is a subject of debate, but many theologians believe that the angels were given knowledge of the coming creation of humans, and that God Himself would assume human form as part of His relationship with them and to ultimately make them part of heaven. The angels rebelled against the idea of God humiliating Himself in this way, and particularly that humans would eventually equal or rule the angels, so "war broke out in heaven."
So according to this reporter most Christian Americans are a bunch of stupid Bible thumpers misquoting and misinterpreting scripture? At least we don't go around trying to kill others that don't believe our religion.
Was history an elective at your school?
Bill Clinton went to Northern Ireland and said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth." A bad place to start a fight between the peacemakers and the meek over their inheritance!
If it is the most misquoted book, then nobody actually reads it, and it is NOT the most revered book in America. You can't actually say you love the Bible unless you've read it cover to cover.
That logic makes no sense. People misquote things they read all the time. Ask any English Professor.
In case you had any doubt just who that was in the garden beguiling Eve, John the Revelator stated, "that old serpent, the Devil and Satan" are one and the same person. Archaios is the Greek word for 'OLD' which means' that which has been from the beginning' as per Strong's G744. So he who was the serpent from the beginning, is called the Devil or Satan.
Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
We now know the Universe is about 13,700,000,000 years old, contains about 200,000,000,000 galaxis, EACH with about 100,000,000,000 stars and solar systems. To think that six days and a talking snake is a plausibble explanation for this is an act of jaw-dropping ignorance.
Reply to Colin: If the Universe had a beginning as you and I both believe 13.7 billion years ago, then that beginning had a cause. As that cause cannot be explained by known natural law, than you would have to admit that the causation was SUPERNATURAL. Your only other option would be dishonest.
Just because science doesn't yet understand the "cause" of the universe, it's irrational and illogical to point to "god" (supernatural) as its basis.. Lack of knowledge doesn't mean there's a god - it is simply a lack of knowledge. I fail to understand why anyone would find it impossible for the universe to exist without god, but be profoundly assertive that god exists without having the same type of clearly understood basis.
What caused God to spring into existence?
"then that beginning had a cause. As that cause cannot be explained by known natural law, than you would have to admit that the causation was SUPERNATURAL. Your only other option would be dishonest."
THAT is an astounding leap, to go from saying "that cause cannot be explained by known natural law", (and BTW it CAN, you just haven't read enough to know what that is), to saying your ONLY option is to admit that YOUR BRAIN can only come up with a SUPERNATURAL explanation is a phenomenal admission. I don't think I'm THAT humble. Congratulations.
The GOP now considers this a misquote by Jesus – "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
They have corrected this to – "If you feed them, they will breed".
Ha! Yes I am with you. They like to pretend that annoying little quote wasn't in there... Ah but it is. Many of them will say "That's just a reflection of the times where rich people were evil" as if rich people today are all puppies and rainbows. Furthermore, anything that supports their political views was NOT a reflection of the times but still important today, such as the verse about gays being abominations. It's so nifty when the rich can give new meaning to the Bible!
Jesus goes on to say this after the disciples asked, 'who then can be saved' as we are ALL blessed with some level of wealth.
" When his disciples heard [it], they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?  But Jesus beheld [them], and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." – Mat 19:25-26 KJV
True – with God, all things are possible. Perhaps the rich can make a giant needle, or sponsor genetic research to make really small camels.
And why does this happen? Why do supposed christians so often not know what is or is not in their bible? Because they don't actually bother to READ the bible.
Joshua, in all fairness, it should be remembered that the Bible is not a book but a library of books. It has been translated (and mis-translated), quoted and paraphrased more than any other "book" in history, so it's actually easy to see how some passages can become mixed with common cultural proverbs. To expect anyone, including a Christian who has read the entire Bible and studies it regularly, to never make a mistake in quoting it is being a bit harsh.
Dan – those aren't navels, those are little buttons that you push and then Adam and Eve talk. They tell you where Cain and Abel came from (uh oh, more to worry about) and they tell Peacekeeper, whose comment is pretty aggressive (uh,oh, Peacekeeper, better take another look and get a new moniker, and, ask yourself just who wrote the Bible 'in the beginning of time", and in what language, and with what 'ink' and on what 'paper' – and whether Adam and Eve were white or black or brown or yelllow or red, and just exactly when The Flood took place, and, oh well, never mind, Peacekeeper. Just keep believin' – it'll keep you off the streets.
Now, as for Mike, you and Peacekeeper seem to want to make this article a cause for fighting, given your tone. This article doesn't want to bash anyone – it just points out that we don't necessarily know what we think we know. Is that so difficult for you to hear? If it is, I suggest you read your Bible. There's help there for you, pal.
Happy Sunday, everyone – I hope you enjoy church today, the second day of the week.
A test I use to find true Christians is to ask if they ate a ham for easter dinner. The bible says NO pork (Leviticus 11:7-8 & Deuteronomy 14:8 ) It like saying lets celebrate the new testament by defiling the old testament. I also like to ask who Abrahams grandson is? Almost none I ask knows this.
It is true people of different religions and even the same religions in different geographical areas use the parts of the bible that suit them at the time. My favorite case of this is the "West Wing" clip where Martin Sheen lambastes the radio help hosts.
If youre going to live the Bible know the Bible.
lol...if you want to find a true christian, ask them what they think of Buddha. It's amazing how similar the life teachings are.
Actually, if you read the new testament in Acts chapter 10, you'll come across the story of Peter on the rooftop. All kinds of formerly "unclean" animals are given as food to Peter from God, so Christians can happily eat ham, bacon and pork sausages as often as they want.
Adam, you say that we should know our Bible, however, you are the one who is incorrect. Jesus came to fulfill the scriptures. It is clearly defined in the new testament that certain practices need not be followed anymore because their purposes have been fulfilled by Christ. Therefore, we can eat meat on Easter. Source: The New Testament
A "true" Christian is simply one who believes Christ died for their sins nothing more.
Dietary laws were for the Jews not Christians. Read Romans 14. Paul explains that WE ARE NO LONGER UNDER THE LAW!
The Bible Says:
"He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)
Oh, I love this, Alicia:
The Bible Says:
....."Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14) The jails are filled with child murderers who took this as the word of God. Quick, help me out here: shall I beat you, too, so that your soul will be spared. Or, do I get it wrong? Is my beating you in the name of God a perfect example of Hell itself? I sort of think it's the latter one.
Poor poor children, having to grow up tortured because of such hate filled, self justifying, criminal garbage.
Wow. The Pink Monkeys are agitated this morning.
Lol....nice catch! You'll notice that Adam has only one nip-ple. Perhaps god transferred it to his belly. Perhaps Eve just has a belly ring or, since we can't see her nip-ples, god did a transfer as well for her.
Seriously CNN, I can't type nip-ple without the dash? You guys are really prudes.
But remember America was formed on our close but not perfect interpretation of the bible. And, now leading us farther away from those standards will not make a stronger more healthy nation. This article is an attempt to blast protestants to support catholics and not to talk about the bible in daily life anymore as a standard of character. I am Orthodox and you know 1st church killed all the real Saints because of telling people to live upright? And, surely, our society can't talk about nip-ples nor can they talk about church freely anymore. We are supposed to be made out of wood now, made out of a block of wood so to speak, nothing on either extreme end. I read my bible cover to cover 2 times and then middle stuff.
My Midwest community has too many "Christian Congregations" and not enough "Congregations of Christians". Think about the difference. Many of the former are "Bible thumpers", beating their faux faith loudly. They profess to be Christians while while living lives with contempt for others. They live accordng to the hatred, violence, and exclusion of the Old Testament and complete miss the message of love, kindness, and inclusion of the New Testament.
talk about 'exclusion' dear Teacher. So, let me get this straight: the good people, your people, are the New Testament Gang. And the bad people, the ones who love violence and exclusion, are the Old Testament Gang aka the Jews. Well, you are a great example of loving all of God's creations, not to mention loving God. How can you "love God" and hate God at the same time? God is God – Old and New Testament is about God.You don't get to pick and choose and spout your vile, limited personal beliefs – which are violent in their exclusion of the Old Testament Gang – without those very beliefs being seen for the violence-inciting views they are. Some of us out here can actually read and think. Back to the drawing board, SunSchoolTeach. Read your New Testament a little closer to the heart – Jesus's heart, that is – and see if you can learn to love a little more, a little better, a little less simplistically. Then you can say you know something, a tiny little something, about God and God's love.
God does love even 'haters' and fools – especially fools – which is why God loves you – but God also doesn't mind people who can use their God given minds to think from to time.
I had no idea people thought these popular proverbs and folk sayings were Biblical. They don't sound Biblical to me.On the other hand, to take simplified translations and say they aren't Biblical because you have a Biblical translation that differs slightly is being very picky. Having read a number of translations, "spare the rod and spoil the child" is really not so far off what the actual words are, and was certainly intended to make that particular passage readily understandable to people.
Interesting article. However, it mentions that Satan was never in the Garden of Eden because he's not mentioned in the book of Genesis. It would be good to investigate what the Bible says in other books, like Revelation 12:9, where Satan is referred to as a serpent. Clearly, there was some spirit force moving that serpent in Eden to speak. Besides, the Bible does not mention what kind of fruit was on that tree. It may have been a pear, a peach, a mango, or one of a grand variety of fruits. The important thing is the disobedience that occurred to bring about a world of chaos. Obviously, Adam and Eve's choice was not a good one. Good to know that we are not left without hope as Genesis 3:15 prophesies about what Jesus would do to that "Serpent" and the blessings for obedient ones.
Actually, Sam, the important thing is that we now know the Universe is about 13,700,000,000 years old, contains about 200,000,000,000 galaxis, EACH with about 100,000,000,000 stars and solar systems. To think that six days and a talking snake is a plausibble explanation for this is an act of jaw-dropping ignorance.
It was the "tree of life" so if you treat the passage literally it is likely to not be any known fruit.
The problem with that is Revelations was written about 1000 years after the book of Genesis. 1000 years is a long time to layer with interpretation.
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.