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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. jakob

    Jesus founded a church not a bible. the bible is a product of he Church. Nowhere in the bible does it say the bible itself is the sole rule of faith. Nowhere in the bible is there a table of context that tell us which books precisely belong in the bible. the bible is a collection of books and writings written in stories, poetry, idioms and medaphors about truth. So the modern translations say "fruit" not "apple", so what, the point is taken.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Michael

      The bible is the Word of God and to ignore it is to ignore God's will for yourself.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  2. DJ Ryan

    Proverbs 13:24
    Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
    Proverbs 13:23-25 (in Context) Proverbs 13 (Whole Chapter)

    June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  3. Always A Lady

    Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently)."
    Reporting the truth has always been the responsibility of the media. not doing creates unrest and falsehood. Think about what you report and do your research.

    Prov 19:18: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying."
    Prov 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
    Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."
    Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel)."
    Prov 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."

    June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • hmm

      I wouldn't worry too much on it-if that was all that we should care about in the bible I don't know that I'd still be a Christian. All I know is God rocks!

      June 5, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  4. thought

    are there junkyards in heaven (If there is a heaven :) ? why does science keep proving the bible to be true?

    June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Spirit rules

      Eventually they will meet. And when those who lack faith/belief will stand gob or I should say Godsmacked.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  5. Axir

    Correction: there were two trees in the "midst" of the garden according to Genesis 2:9: The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of god and evil, not from the tree of life; otherwise, she (and Adam consequently) would have lived forever (see Genesis 3:22).

    June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  6. MUSLIM

    June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • John Richardson

      Here's a synopsis of the video for those who don't want to listen to a guy in a funny hat blather on for over an hour: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

      You're welcome!

      June 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  7. eliteamericans

    Fish are in the bible

    June 5, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  8. Maurice

    The bible has so many passages that have been edited, translated, and re-translated from language to language, and even some scriptures kept out or thrown out. Christians don't care what is REALLY in the Bible or not when they quote phantom scriptures. That would be thinking logically, and they are NOT about thinking logically. They just want some demagogue clergy man, be it priest or pastor to tell them something that makes them feel better and say "AMEN!" Besides, the bible at times even contradicts itself. When it all comes down though, it isn't belief in the bible that defines a Christian; it is the belief of the cosmic zombie, Jesus Christ.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Aaron

      Maurice, for any perceived contradiction I suggest you look at the website, christian think-tank. As for the re-editing that you claim causes confusion, consider that Bibles specifically footnote what few verses may have been added at later dates, if you read the Codex Sinaiticus you will see that he Bible has hardly changed over the past 1600 years. The article is sadly correct, their is such an ignorance of the Bible that misconceptions run rampant in our society. I challenge you to read through it with an open mind and see the wisdom contained in its pages.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  9. idiot

    probably the dumbest article ive ever read

    June 5, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  10. wavada

    How about real Quran verse 9:11 "But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practise regular charity, they are your brethren in Faith: (thus) do We explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand."

    versus fake quran 9:11 that circulated after the attacks, "For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah; and there was peace."

    June 5, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  11. Russ

    I don't need a bible to know God. God an his many manifestations speaks to me directly and tells me what to think and do. This eliminates the need for preachers churches bibles an any of the man made controls called religion Men very often lie God never does. SHALOM

    June 5, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • JJ

      Lennon said it best:

      Imagine there's no Heaven
      It's easy if you try
      No hell below us
      Above us only sky
      Imagine all the people
      Living for today

      Imagine there's no countries
      It isn't hard to do
      Nothing to kill or die for
      And no religion too
      Imagine all the people
      Living life in peace

      You may say that I'm a dreamer
      But I'm not the only one
      I hope someday you'll join us
      And the world will be as one

      Imagine no possessions
      I wonder if you can
      No need for greed or hunger
      A brotherhood of man
      Imagine all the people
      Sharing all the world

      You may say that I'm a dreamer
      But I'm not the only one
      I hope someday you'll join us
      And the world will live as one

      June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • John Richardson

      I like John Lennon, but this song is SO overrated as philosphy, it makes me want to spit.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  12. Gedwards

    Actually, Ditka DIDN'T say he was quoting the Bible verbatim.

    Same with your other examples.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  13. Im in Him

    "Oh my brother, my sister! It is what I ask for you, and it is what I am sure you ask for yourself. I ask it for myself. Lord Jesus! may we know Thee in thy divine glory as the risen One, our Jesus, our Beloved and our mighty One. Oh! if there are any sad ones who cannot take this in, and who say, "I have never known the joy of religion yet"—listen, we are going to tell you how you can. All will center round this one thing, that just as a little child lives day by day in the arms of its mother, and grows up year by year under a mother's eye, it is a possibility that you can live every day and hour of your life in fellowship with the Holy Jesus."
    Murray, Andrew (2011). 'Jesus Himself' (Kindle Location 61). Kindle Edition.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  14. Bob in LA

    The article was indeed interesting in what it proves about people and the willingness to believe whatever we hear.More astonishing is that anyone believes verbatim every word that is true within the Bible as we know it to be directly from God.
    Most f the stories are just that- stories. They were written as guides for our lives.
    Where they inspired retelling of God's word? Maybe- that's what makes religion and faith. But if it is truly God inspired, then give God credit for logic: Live by the meaning of those word sand not the exact letter.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  15. udobata Onunwa

    It is sad to note that the Bible is one of the most Misused, Abused, Misquoted and Misinterpreted Scriptures in the world ! There is a lot of what theologians call Reading In- (eiselgesis) instead of Reading Out- ( exegesis). We quote any passage to suit our ideas or what we want to say whether the passage is relevant or not. It is quoting out-of context! Many factors affect our interpretation and explanation of the Scripture . These include world-view,(cosmology), language, environmental influences, thought-pattern, etc. We quote out of context and of course do not understand that the printed Bible was originally in flying sheets or tablets written before the invention of Printing Press, copied by human hands, no verses, but in lines, and even the Hebrew had no vowels, etc. Translation is a big task. Many different manuscripts of the Bible exist and this helps to determine what people think, explain, interpret, etc In spite of all these, the Bible remains the Changeless Word of God to a fast Changing World. The Truth of God's word is immutable and does not depend on our rational and variable thought pattern.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  16. Sean

    Hintsfromheloise 1:8. "Useth thy swab on the outer part of thy ear only (let ye smack thy head repeatedly to remove stuck cotton and be considered a demon). Also, waiteth thou at least twenty minutes after eating before swimming."

    June 5, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  17. Skeptic10787

    It's interesting to see the "loving" christians spewing such hate for the content and writer of this article. It doesn't matter that the bible is misquoted and taken out of context? Yeah, you keep believing that.
    The funny thing about religion is that there is always an easily-obtained overly-simplistic answer to all of life's questions and problems, typically formed by twisting (and creating) scripture or just declaring that "god works in mysterious ways". Sorry, but that's not reality.
    Here's an idea: Either treat others with dignity and respect, or leave them alone. Simple life philosophy. Yet religious zealots can't do that because their "way of life" is always "under attack" by those who don't agree with them. Right. Better get back to kindergarten class, your teacher may get worried.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  18. JamesJust

    You need to read the Bible instead of listening to new-age interpreters of the Bible.

    You makes some points but you obviously did not do your research as is common with the press when they deal with the Bible. Experts on everything but know very little.

    Isaiah 27:1
    In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

    And that serpent is Satan, the tempter.

    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.

    Jonah 1:17
    Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

    But Christ certainly confirmed it was a Whale.

    Matthew 12:40
    For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

    What kind of a fish do you think it was? Come on! Stop stomping on the Bible.

    http://www.yahwehyeshua.com

    June 5, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • j burns

      I would like to think the Lord God maker of heaven and earth, would know the difference between a fish and a mammal.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  19. James Black

    -

    June 5, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  20. from the ants

    So god gave me a mind but i'm not supposed to use it? i'll just follow blindly to the slaughter. Hmmm

    June 5, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 billion BCE

      that should go on those annoying church signs that they try to have "clever" sayings on. Should really be, "Welcome to whatever church, leave you brain at the door."

      June 5, 2011 at 11:44 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.