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.”
He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly proverbs 13:24 is where the spare the rod spoil the child came from
genisis chap 3 the serpent and eve in the garden
it does tell us in Matthew 2 is that they brought three different gifts to Christ: gold. frankincense and myrrh. As custom would dictate that each nobleman visiting a king would bring a gift, this would seem to indicate that there were three "kings" among them.
The magi of that time would never have traveled alone. As a nobleman, he would have had servants to care for him, warriors to protect him, and probably even a wife (or two) along for pleasure. The group that visited Jesus probably numbered in the hundreds. But there were three noblemen in the group, thus the three gifts.
But, as no number is given, that is speculation. There is also nothing that says there were NOT only three of them.
im not exactly sure what this guy is getting at other than it is true the word has been misquoted many times whe npeople want to make it fit
This author is taking advantage of semantics by entirely neglecting the biblical messages. The spare the child not the rod quote is the exact same as the following verses:
Proverbs 22:15 – Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.
Proverbs 23:13, 14 – Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell.
Proverbs 29:15 – The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Unfortunately, Christians are not robots with the ability to quote the bible word for word. I think this is an appropriate biblical reference.
As for Eve in the Garden...no response necessary. Just read Genesis and Revelation. As for God helps those who help themselves...I don't know any Christian that thinks that is in the bible, let alone a Christian principal. This author reminds me of the media's ignorance of Christianity that was so prevalent in the 80's & 90's. I thought we had overcome this.
Actually, in 1 Hesitations 3:18, it makes very clear mention of christians being "of a robotic nature."
I totally agree, the author has missed the point of these proverbs.
People have a tendency to misquote the Bible to fit their agenda which is what this article does I would agree that some things get twisted over time in terms of its context in relation to the Bible but the meanings do not change with respect to one's interpretations unless they make a half attempt to really analyze the meaning of what is meant in a given passage.
There is a serpent mentioned in genesis. Genesis 3:1 Now the SERPENT was more subtle than any beast of the field...
That was from the King James version.
That's not the point. He was stating that SATAN was never mentioned in relation to the serpent.
It's amazing to us non-believers how much time people waste on reading and discussing and arguing about this old book of mythology. Get a life, people: a life here on earth!
It amazes us believers how much time non-believers spend worrying about what others believe.
I find belief fascinating and so have studied mythology, a little about eastern religions and so forth. So being interested in what western "mainstream" religious people believe comes pretty natural to me. But it's more than that. Christians have for centuries worked hard to make more and more of their mythology the law of the land in europe and america (and to a lesser extent elsewhere) and are now fighting hard to limits rights with no better argument than certain things are prohibited in some old texts that prohibits lots and lots of things that christians do all the time. They have fought incessantly to dumb down science curricula till its in agreement with their benighted beliefs. They are a threat to public welfare like few other things can be said to be.
We believers are amazed at the bigotry of those who can't help but to comment on what we believe.
John Richardson " a threat to public welfare' or 'dumb down science" boy these are bold statements. Do you live in the now or 50-100 years ago?
Its amazing to me how non believers are guided by their own ignorance in their attempt to justify their many self serving lives and agendas and deep down feel threatened by the Bible.
@Spirit Rules I live now, Duh. You don't think Texas science books are being dumbed down at the behest of Christians? You don't think that anti-gay hysteria is being whipped up Christians who cite Old Testament texts that call ho-mo-se-xuality an abomination, but also condemns all sorts of behaviors that Christians do all the time without giving it a second thought?
John Blake is an idiot. CNN hires some stupid guy to write about pointless trash on how people misinterpret the bible wrong. They do this in order to diminish people's faith in the God's Word, knowing that most readers of CNN do not know the bible well enough to truly judge for themselves. Blake twists every bit of fact in this article. For example, Ditka never refers to "This too shall pass" as a passage from the bible. He was referring specifically to the context of the situation he was in. Also these so called "phantom verses" he gave examples of are poor illustrations of how the bible is misused, since many of these are found in the bible but written in a different fashion. He also makes generalizations that most people use these phantom verses but in reality, many people do not quote these as bible passages. For instance, when people say "God works in mysterious ways" or "Cleanliness is next to Godliness", people are not necessarily quoting Scripture. They are just conceiving these thoughts from their Christian faith knowing that God cannot be fully known to mankind. 1 Corinthians 2:7 says, "No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." John Blake most likely does not know much about the bible himself, only probably reading it for the first time to find evidence for his arguments. If you're going to write an article about the bible, write about something positive that will strengthen one's faith in God's word rather than sneak in a way to dishearten the faith of others without directly writing about it. But should CNN seriously be putting up this article on a Sunday morning? Regardless, CNN is not the best news source to read from when it comes to topics on faith.
Doesn't sound like you actually read the article.
Well put sir.
Who cares. the Bible is just a book of fairy tales that has been handed down and changed thousands of times. Nothing in the Bible is true, it is a sham. You aren't reading the book of God, you are reading a story book that has been revised numerous times by people that were seeking personal glorification. You wanna make the world a better place? Put down your bible, and pick up a REAL book. Religion is the biggest scandal in the history of mankind.
Most historians accept the Bible for historical fact. Many accounts in the Bible are supported archaeologically. You would have to be a complete idiot to call the Bible nothing more than "fairy tales." Regardless of your belief in God, the Bible has immense historical and cultural wealth. As a side note, religions, thousands you might say, have come and gone over years but Christianity, the largest world religion, has survived scrutiny for over 2000 years (2000 plus if you want to include pre-messianic Jews).
Please read it before you bash it.
"Most historians accept the Bible for historical fact. Many accounts in the Bible are supported archaeologically. "
No they don't and no it isn't. There's is not one scintilla of evidence that Moses wandered the desert with a couple million people and countless livestock for 40 years. In fact there's no evidence he ever existed. The evidence that Jesus existed is scant at best.
J: It has NOT survived SCRUTINY! It only survives because weak minded people continue to cling to it because they just can't imagine a universe without their catch-all "god" crutch, their comfort blanket. It fails miserably when SCRUTINIZED with any amount of logic, wisdom, regard for the established laws of physics, with regard to paleontological discoveries that were only made within the last century or so. Shall I continue? Your argument sucks!
Anyone in the field of this study knows that the evidence for Jesus EXISTENCE is overwhelming. Roman historians and non-roman sources including Josephus provide an account extremely similar to that in the new testament.
Look it up for yourself. Obviously it HAS stood up to scrutiny if people still believe it.
So are we arguing here that the semantics of the catch phrases people have been using culturally in English, apart from the Church, are not from the Bible? I don't think that undisputed, just kind of redundant. I mean, the same thing IS found in the Bible. Mr. Blake's whole argument is semantics. Even the point about Jonah and Satan are incorrect. Jonah WAS supposed to be swallowed by a big FISH, not a whale, but anyone who's read the Bible will tell you that. Satan WAS claimed to be in the garden, as the "serpent" as he is referred to in other places as.
Weak stuff Mr. Blake, and all kind of irrelevant actually.
Peter,I think it's a good challenge you've given ysloreuf.You write: "I'm not reading it to understand G*d, I'm reading it to understand the writers' experiences of G*d."This speaks my mind. For a long time I've believed that the books of the Bible–in fact all our religious language, texts and stories–tell us, not about G*d, but about how we understand our relationship with G*d. And, of course, how that understanding evolves.I've recently finished a year and a half study of , a fresh translation of "all twenty of the known gospels from the early Christian era, offering a fuller and more fascinating picture of early Christian origins than found in the four canonical gospels alone...."Very rewarding.I've now begun reading Robert Alter's .From the Barnes & Noble synopsis: " Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary shines a light on the obscurities of the text."Alter previously published .Alter is a Jewish scholar, translating to recover the pre-Christian readings of the texts.I share your interest in hearing the original writers' words.Blessed Be,Michael Bright Crow
This is why religion is a fraud! Nothing is true and too many opinions on the way one should live have erased all validness to any bible. If there were just ONE bible we wouldn't have 5,000 different religion, our o called faith would all be the same towards one god.
WOW Tammy really? Why wouldn't there be a variety of beliefs system? We all don't speak the same tounge, nor have the same eye, hair or skin color, nor same body shapes, nor same body metabolism, nor intelligence, nor music taste, nor artistic abilities. Such a small, generalized statement typed from you.
You j&rk offs who keep posting HUGE VIDEO CLIPS.....and the SAME ONES over and over......NEED TO STOP!!!!
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you. -Deuteronomy 4:2
Fail. A whale would certainty have been considered a 'great fish' in ancient times, these other examples are mostly nitpicking of paraphrased biblical verses.
Not a bible believer but, c'mon, find something worth pointing out.
The article is right in the Satan is not mentioned in the Genesis. Another passage though helps to make clear who that "serpent" was that spoke to Eve. Revelation 12:9 in this verse several Bible's call Satan the "Serpent of old who was called Devil and Satan"
One says" the original serpent the one called Deveil and Satan" so as Coreso above mentioned about God's word "you will find each translation, although worded slightly differently, to impart the same meaning"
The Bible is good about helping itself to clarifiy things like that with other scriptures.
Its wonderful that people take the time to get together to consider the inspired guidebook that God has given us.
The wealth of wisdom good direction gained from looking into it unequaled.
For example if people would apply just this one scripture found in Matt 5:43
"43 “YOU heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 However, I say to YOU: Continue to love YOUR enemies and to pray for those persecuting YOU; 45 that YOU may prove yourselves sons of YOUR Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous. "
how much more peaceful our personal relationships to national disagreements would be just from applying this one scripture.
Well put, KL. The article makes some valid points, such as the adoption of the "apple" as the forbidden fruit. Familiarity with scripture usually sets that right as faith matures.
It is somewhat frustrating that there are so many different translations of the bible. Many pastors quote from numerous versions. The best version of the bible is the old family copy your Grandmother handed down to you. If you don't have one of those - and I'm one of those people that doesn't - the YouVersion app on the iPhone is really good because it has lots of versions so you can decide for yourself.
And if you use the NIV, you're missing a significant portion of the original.
Then there is the category of misquotes on stuff that IS in the bible, but which is taken out of context. A very popular one is the old "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" phrase which seems to condone the act of seeking unconditional revenge in equal proportion for every act of violence, crime, etc., but if read in context it is only talking about the one singular case that went something like...... if a couple of guys were fighting, and one guy accidentally hits the pregnant maidservant of his opponent's wife and that maidservant was injured, that same injury would be exacted upon the assailant. Of course it was PERFECTLY alright to beat the $h|+ out of the other guy, but who cares about that? :)
And this is the real reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed:
"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy." Ez. 16:49
Bet that's not what you learned in your Baptist Sunday school class. Republicans better watch out.
Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude 1:7 Looks like you fail the test yourself! Do your research before you run at the mouth!
You didn't refute anything I said. Why are you so angry?
Doesn't it ever bring up the memory of being a child playing the Telephone Game? You know – a bunch of you stand in a circle, one starts off by whispering something in the next in lines ear and by the time it gets all the way around it has nothing even remotely to do with what the original statement was...that's essentially how I view not only the bible, but the followers of any organized religion. Its just the most drawn out, ridiculous game of telephone which unfortunately has destroyed life, the planet and common sense.
There should be a Bible study test with grades before anyone is allowed calling themselves a Christian. This article hit the nail on the head. Considering that the Bible is said to be the most popular book in the USA, it must also be the most unread. Ignorant Bible debaters are among the most difficult to deal with because they defend silly biblical misinterpretations through the floor, probably out of fear being found out how little they’ve read. If they had to take a test they’d flunk it in flying colors.
For less than a $100 anyone can get a decent study Bible that explains biblical details in the comfort of your couch, you know, the same one where most watch mindless TV programs. Yes, a study Bible is necessary because without explanation of what one reads texts can be misunderstood easily.
It’s mindboggling that just about all Christians are thoroughly unaware the Bible as we know it was put together based on orders issued by Roman Caesars in the 4th century AD, insisting there should be only one biblical text for all Christian churches of the day. Until then most local church organizations used scrolls they got from who knows where as Holy Scriptures.
Of course, the same level of unawareness can be found in the simple fact that in those days written texts were unbelievably expensive. That’s why it took Roman Caesars to make the Bible happen. They had access to all necessary resources to realize such a project. It must have seemed like a miracle when the first Bibles were circulated because books on that scale just didn’t exist in those days. To purchase such a book was more expensive than most people earned in a lifetime. That didn’t change until the invention of the printing press over 1000 years later.
I'm not a devout church going Christian by most standards, but I find I know more about biblical texts and the meaning thereof than just about anyone I come in contact with in daily life. That is simply because I took the time to read, and that is no miracle.
I meant to type: "Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"
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.