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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. Zman

    Genesis 3 the serpent tempts Eve by saying her eyes will be opened.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  2. Penn Clark

    Even the art work chosen for this story got it wrong; it shows Adam and Eve with belly buttons!

    June 5, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  3. Expertia

    CNN has reached a new low in ignorant stories.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • RGeneration

      How about you slowly transition to Fox instead. Go on....no ones watching.....and we won't feel bad....go on now....little whiny boy.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • reveur

      The comments of Renaud and Expertia put it succinctly. By the way, for those who think the Bible is flawed because it is written by Man, and God is not powerful/smart enough to get down what He wants in His book through flawed Man, why read it? It's either all inerrant or the entire thing is not worth believing. It's not a buffet from which to pick and choose.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Canucken

      Exactly how is this article ignorant?Is it because it goes against your beliefs, or things you choose to believe that are in fact not true? I think you may be the ignorant one.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  4. Name*Joan

    If you have nothing better to do then say rude things about the bible and people that read it you should rethink your life.
    Christianity is a religion that aims for peace.
    You go out of your way to upset people.
    (I'm talking to the people in the comments)

    June 5, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • tomtom

      and molesters, fraud, and murders. Why does a preacher need a $40k car? I think all churches should pay taxes just like anyone else.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      'Christianity is a religion that aims for peace'
      oh please, like all religions christianity aims for control, to be the only one. It has less power now than in the past but history has shown us what happens when they have power.
      For every christian that talk about peace there are 100s that want to dictate how people should act, live their life, ignore conservation with the excuse that we cannot destroy what god has made and all sorts of other nonsense.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  5. Shelby

    I want to know is why has the Bible and its contents changed so much. I have a family Bible from 1965 and its more than little different from today's Bibles. Its even different from the Bible I had in the 80s

    June 5, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Canuck1979

      The bible has changed hundreds of times since Christianity started in Rome. It's been added to, things removed, trying to get the perfect book. It's just a book, and none of it is historically correct. Just stating the facts.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Jesus

      The Bible is like the world's oldest game of telephone; it's constantly changing and was passed by word of mouth for hundreds of years before it was ever written down. This is part of the reason it is so unreliable and why basing your life around it is downright irresponsible.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Colin

      It (ironically) evolves with the times, as the prevailing social/religious authorities re-write it to suit themselves.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • GRofPA

      Simple – the bible was written by men in power to meet their own needs by manipulating the ignorant – it has and always will be rewritten by those currently in power for the same purpose.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Anonymous

      The Bible has not changed. Your translations are different. Every English Bilble is a translation of the original Greek or Hebrew. The original never changes. Translators will make a new translation trying to bring the original words into more modern day understanding. That is why the King James translation sounds so weird to modern ears. Our language usage has changed and we no long easily understand it. Hence new translations.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Mike

      There are lots of 'translations', if that is what you are talking about, BUT.. if you get the same 'version' (as in King James, NIV, etc) you will find no change in the text since... well, ever.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Wzrd1

      I have a King James version here from the 1930's. I also have a newer King James version from the mid 1980's. I've found NO differences.
      I have a New American version and a New International version, THEY are different. But, they're new translations.
      First, King James or a few other older versions, all have transliteration and translation errors. There was no unicorn mentioned in Job, that was a mistranslation of the Hebrew.
      There was no giant named Goliath, it was a nephilim, a nephilim being a half-breed human-angel hybrid.
      There are dozens of such errors in the bible.
      Not to mentioned forgeries of Paul, where the writing style and use of language wasn't ANYTHING like any writings actually proved to be from Paul.
      But then, the bible itself was edited for content and version by the Nicene council and the Roman Emperor Constantine. Of all of the books that caused controversy at the time, Constantine's direct order to include an obscure book, one disliked by the bishops, as it referred to Nero's reign of terror upon the Christians, to the point of never mentioning his name, but his name in Hebrew numerology. Nero's name in Hebrew numerology being 666. The book, the revelation.
      Yet, the fire and brimstone minister today will ignore those facts and tidbits, claiming it as about today and Prince Charles, George Bush or whoever else they dislike's name is really 666, while never bothering to transliterate and compute...

      June 5, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Alwaeed

      stephanlmao on July 27, 2011 @Gamewalkthroughz3333 hey but that would be aaakaaaoay! cause id telll them eeeeeevery day, that iiiiiiiits okay, and that they were just boooooooorn that way, and as they say! its in their DNA! THEY ARE GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

      March 4, 2012 at 6:04 am |
  6. Colin

    I wonder how long it will be before school children look back with jaw-dropping incredulity at how, in the 21st Century, having put a man on the moon, people still believed in a collection of Bronze Age myths about sky-fairies from Palestine, that were cobbled together into a book during the Dark Ages.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Lou in ME

      Exactly, it's time to evolve!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Canuck1979

      I agree 100%. I say in another 1,000 years all these myths will be put to rest as we discover more and more about the universe and what's really going on out there.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • humberto

      meanwhile you can't even explain where you came from.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Colin

      Humberto, I just did. 13,700,000,000 years of cosmic and terrestrial evolution.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Spando

      Colin

      Your ignorant. If you dont believe and have faith in the bible, then don't call people like me(believers) dumb for having faith. You are the fool for not wanting to believe in something so beautiful.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • tomtom

      Spando,
      Do you know what I think about this article?

      ... GOD DAMN! ....

      June 5, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Bob

      humbeto, why is it so important know "where [we] come from"? What if the idea of where we come from goes beyond what the human mind can comprehend?

      This is my biggest issue with Christianity. Churches claim to have "the answer" of where we come from and where we are going, and the people who eat it up are the folks who fear death and the loss of loved ones. So what do you do? You read a book and attend services that tell you the heavenly afterlife is eternal bliss. Not only will you live in a euphoric state for eternally, but every one you ever loved and loss is there waiting for you.

      Let's face it, Christianity and the Bible was built to exploit the greatest fear of humankind...the dark.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Wzrd1

      Friend, people have been wondering that very thing for three centuries. The only thing that changes is the date on the calendar.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Barnabas

      Apollo 11 was in the 20th century, but awesome posy none the less.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Spando

      "Your ignorant. If you dont believe and have faith in the bible, then don't call people like me(believers) dumb for having faith. You are the fool for not wanting to believe in something so beautiful."

      Those sentences do not make sense. First of all they are not grammatically correct in more than one place, and secondly the conclusion you draw, does not follow from your premise.

      You don't know that he doesn't want to believe. He might. He may just find it impossible, for many reasons.
      Beauty may not be a "reason" to believe. Do you believe in butterflies ?

      Ever heard of an Ad hominen argument ? ("The last resort of someone who has no facts to back up his argument").

      The FACT that someone of your astounding ignorance would call one of THE most thoughtful, intelligent visitors to these boards says nothing but that YOU are the fool here.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  7. Fritz Snickle

    There is no god.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • GABRIEL

      Go f uck yourself Fritz, and do not speak of things you know nothing about.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Sean

      @GABRIEL
      Your helpless outrage is very entertaining. Thanks for the laugh.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  8. pa jesseson

    a beautiful Sunday to all of you. Whatever your beliefs, if you want there to be peace on earth, good will to all, and if you want to stop all wars, just shut up and go do something useful for someone else. I know it's a radical idea, and will require you to get up out of your chair, but your fingers and spine will be happy for starters. then you can move on to other people and for no good reason at all, with your spouting mouths pretty well shut, go ahead and make 'em surprised and happy and lend them a hand. but be careful, lest you start to think you've done something special. no no no. you are supposed to act this way, every minute of every day. as it says in the Bible: spare the service, spoil the world. you know it's true, so get off yr butts, folks, and give it a try.

    there, now I can go back to Fox News.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • That James Guy

      Trollolloll? News is mostly biased. I agree with helping people but whats to say Im not from my chair? No need to bash people then leave... Especially when its not relavaent to the article.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  9. Meandnotyou

    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)

    June 5, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  10. profart

    You assume all "true" Christians take the Bible literally? Or follow the Old Testament rules that were nullified in the "New Covenant" of the Christ (a common interpretation)?

    June 5, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  11. Kirk Williams

    Now come on. Everyone knows that The Bible is fiction anyways.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  12. bobster26

    science will get us all there. the bibles words are all medephors for you to live a better life, use it as a template in your society.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • wendy

      All I can say is, somethings in life cannot be explained by science.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Andrea

      Actually, most things in life are explained by science.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • TracyL.

      Like medephors on a collision course with the planet.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  13. tillzen

    Man killed god said Nietzsche. What he meant was that in that split second when man wrote the Bible he was killing god. By making "gods word" man's own, by interpreting god for others instead of letting gods love happen, man has NEVER stopped improving on god. A second Bible is ridiculous? And THIS is blasphemy. Not me, YOU!
    All religions are either blasphemy or cults or now Casserole Chub Clubs.
    And everywhere we see folks scared to DEATH . Worshiping Cup of Cake. And Yoda, Lebowski and Magic Jesus too.
    We find faith in our own personal Jebus.
    Gosh bless em but to we poly-theists or we agnostics y'all seem pretty quaint.
    As if we'd drive by you churches, synagogues, mosques and ashrams to snap pictures of those silly old fashioned lost tribes of Babel.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Hikmatullah

      30inventionman on July 10, 2011 @wnpp60706 how do you figgure. Guy satrts working out because gym is closed, so that is what it has to do because it is a result. u idiot

      March 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  14. Jacob

    Another popular misconception among evangelicals is that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all witnesses to Christ's ministry, when in fact neither Luke nor Mark ever met Jesus.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • profart

      Neither did Matthew or John. Nor were those the names of the actual authors, but attributions to important early Church figures. Does it matter?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  15. hans Dunor

    Please cross check "Spare the rod and Spoil the Child"
    with the folowing verses below
    Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 23:13-14

    June 5, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  16. GABRIEL

    New International Version (©1984)
    You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
    New Living Translation (©2007)
    You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected–even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.

    English Standard Version (©2001)
    You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,

    New American Standard Bible (©1995) Exodus 20:5

    "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,"

    June 5, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • GABRIEL

      So now you know. So do not blaspheme. If not for your sake, then for the sake of your children, their children and their childrens children.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Fritz Snickle

      blah,blah,blah....and more blahhhhhhh. There is no word of god, just Man's attempt to make it so. Just try to live a good life, and don't hurt other ppl. OK?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Auth

      Hi! Thanks for your comment. The crhdlien's Bible reading plan would be the same as offered here, if they want to read the whole Bible through in a year. Perhaps if they are younger, you could take just one of the four sections per day and finish reading the entire Bible in 4 years? You may download and print the four bookmarks to place in your Bible. Each family could make the decision on how many sections they will read each day .It is certainly an idea that I will think about. Offering some devotionals for parents to read with their crhdlien as they read through the Bible .great idea!Pam

      September 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  17. Jacob

    Spare the rod, spoil the child is from Poor Richard's Almanac.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  18. Mike T

    You can lead a horse to water. But sometimes he doesn't like beer so you have to give him soda. – G.W. Bush

    June 5, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  19. Joel Bryan

    I'd like to thank the writer of this article. He's opened my eyes. We laymen should stop reading the bible and go to wise men like this writer for all our interpretations. Our Bible studies are hours spent in confusion and misdirection, only by sitting at the feet of men like the great John Blake will I ever learn the Truth! I will drink your Cool-Aid John Blake! Please lead me! I such an ignorant clod, incapable of reading such a worthy Book!

    June 5, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Jeff B

      What he is referring to with the cleanliness reference is how it is used in a non-Biblical sense of keeping your room clean. Of course your interpretation is true. What is also true is most people don't know what is in the Bible and go by hearsay. I would guess most Jews, Christians, and Muslims don't know what's in their scriptures either.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Eliot Rosewater

      Oh, the irony....

      June 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • John

      Jesus didn't drink Kool-aid either!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  20. XD

    I want to know why Satan only accounts for a handful of deaths in the Bible...whereas God couldn't cross the street without killing hundreds or thousands of people. No pastor I talked to growing up (when my parents dragged me to church) ever gave me a real explanation.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Mike T

      How true. God lays waste to entire populations and when he's not killing us, he's wagering how much torturing we can take before we crack. Don't listen to the word of Satan and nothing happens. Don't listen to God and get covered in blisters while you watch your first born die a painful and horrible death. Nice.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • GABRIEL

      I can. It is because humans suck, and God knows this.
      Furthermore you cannot make an omelett without breaking a few eggs.
      So follow the word of God and keep his commandments, – and you might just avoid bubonic plague like you otherwise would have deserved.
      Simple as that, sinners.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:43 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.