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Actually, that's not in the Bible
Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden right? Nope. That's one of many phantom passages that people think are in the Bible.
June 5th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Actually, that's not in the Bible

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) – NFL legend Mike Ditka was giving a news conference one day after being fired as the coach of the Chicago Bears when he decided to quote the Bible.

“Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka said after leading his team to only five wins during the previous season.  “This, too, shall pass.”

Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ditka was quoting a phantom scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.

Ditka’s biblical blunder is as common as preachers delivering long-winded public prayers. The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches - all types of people  - quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.

These phantom passages include:

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

And there is this often-cited paraphrase: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

None of those passages appear in the Bible, and one is actually anti-biblical, scholars say.

But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

“In my college religion classes, I sometimes quote 2 Hesitations 4:3 (‘There are no internal combustion engines in heaven’),” Bouma-Prediger says. “I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse.

“Only a few catch on.”

Few catch on because they don’t want to - people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, a Bible professor says.

“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who once had to persuade a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University that the saying “this dog won’t hunt” doesn’t appear in the Book of Proverbs.

“They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in,” he says, “but they ignore the vast majority of the text."

Phantom biblical passages work in mysterious ways

Ignorance isn’t the only cause for phantom Bible verses. Confusion is another.

Some of the most popular faux verses are pithy paraphrases of biblical concepts or bits of folk wisdom.

Consider these two:

“God works in mysterious ways.”

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Both sound as if they are taken from the Bible, but they’re not. The first is a paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).

The “cleanliness” passage was coined by John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism,  says Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.

“No matter if John Wesley or someone else came up with a wise saying - if it sounds proverbish, people figure it must come from the Bible,” Kidd says.

Our fondness for the short and tweet-worthy may also explain our fondness for phantom biblical phrases. The pseudo-verses function like theological tweets: They’re pithy summarizations of biblical concepts.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” falls into that category. It’s a popular verse - and painful for many kids. Could some enterprising kid avoid the rod by pointing out to his mother that it's not in the Bible?

It’s doubtful. Her possible retort: The popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

Another saying that sounds Bible-worthy: “Pride goes before a fall.” But its approximation, Proverbs 16:18, is actually written: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

There are some phantom biblical verses for which no excuse can be offered. The speaker goofed.

That’s what Bruce Wells, a theology professor, thinks happened to Ditka, the former NFL coach, when he strayed from the gridiron to biblical commentary during his 1993 press conference in Chicago.

Wells watched Ditka’s biblical blunder on local television when he lived in Chicago. After Ditka cited the mysterious passage, reporters scrambled unsuccessfully the next day to find the biblical source.

They should have consulted Wells, who is now director of the ancient studies program at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. Wells says Ditka’s error probably came from a peculiar feature of the King James Bible.

“My hunch on the Ditka quote is that it comes from a quirk of the King James translation,” Wells says. “Ancient Hebrew had a particular way of saying things like, ‘and the next thing that happened was…’ The King James translators of the Old Testament consistently rendered this as ‘and it came to pass.’ ’’

When phantom Bible passages turn dangerous

People may get verses wrong, but they also mangle plenty of well-known biblical stories as well.

Two examples: The scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, nor did any New Testament passages say that three wise men visited baby Jesus, scholars say.

Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.

Most people know the popular version - Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.

But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.

“Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.

Getting biblical scriptures and stories wrong may not seem significant, but it can become dangerous, one scholar says.

Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It's actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation's founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

Where do these phantom passages come from?

It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries.

Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists.

If, say, you were an anonymous artist painting the Garden of Eden during the Renaissance, why not portray the serpent as the devil to give some punch to your creation? And if you’re a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn’t it just sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, not a “great fish”?

Others blame the spread of phantom Bible passages on King James, or more specifically the declining popularity of the King James translation of the Bible.

That translation, which marks 400 years of existence this year, had a near monopoly on the Bible market as recently as 50 years ago, says Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

“If you quoted the Bible and got it wrong then, people were more likely to notice because there was only one text,” he says. “Today, so many different translations are used that almost no one can tell for sure if something supposedly from the Bible is being quoted accurately or not.”

Others blame the spread of phantom biblical verses on Martin Luther, the German monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the massive “protest” against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the formation of Protestant church denominations.

“It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone - milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper - to be able to pick up the Bible and read for herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text,” says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California.

But often the milkmaid, the cobbler - and the NFL coach - start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says.

“You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, ‘What does this text mean to you?’’’ Hazen says.

“Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Faith

soundoff (8,604 Responses)
  1. Lisa

    @Alyssa, while I agree what you are saying is true it does not speak to the logic and competence of both groups, rather it highlights the laziness of some Christians. It's takes time to invest in yourself and read the bible with so many other distractions calling out but it is so worth it if we want to know Christ and live as he lived in love.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  2. Philabias

    Wrong again CNN. Although spare the rod and spoil the child isnt in there. the precept is in old english. the actual way it was worded is Pro_13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. and Pro_22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. AND Pro_23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. AND Pro_23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. And t6his is just the start. But obviously CNN has an anti christian agenda. OR YOUR STUPIDITY IS SHOWING!

    June 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Atom Spectre

      Those who believe in this book wear their stupidity on their sleeves.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Adrian

      You need to read the article again. It states that while that particular phantom proverb doesn't exist in the bible, there exists a proverb that says the same thing but worded differently. And surprise, surprise the article then goes on to quote the same exact proverb that you did to show that a very close approximation is in there. Maybe you need to ease up on the jesus juice and actually READ the article before you make your ridiculous declarations. BTW, your stupid is showing.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  3. Dan

    "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."

    Sounds like the biblical scholar interviewed for the article doesn't know the bible, either. That or the reporter badly paraphrased what was said.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Truth

      I think the "bible scholar" who interpreted "God helps those who help themselves" is wrong. The saying does not mean "be selfish", as he seems to suggest. It means be proactive. Do not wait for God to give you what you want, do not just sit and pray. God will help you if you act. In fact, it's a kind of truism, since anything that happens you could attribute to God, so in helping yourself, God has already helped you. Ben Franklin probably found this funny.

      This "expert" doesn't seem qualified to interpret anything. As for the point of this article, I think it is quite silly. "Many religious people don't consult facts". Is this news to anyone?

      June 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  4. beth

    "God helps them who help themselves" is from Aesop not Franklin.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Philabias

      Your right ben franklin said cleanliness is next to godliness

      June 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • D

      Doubtful, seeing as Aesop liked in the 600 BC range and was Greek.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Judith

      You are right! And to Doubting "D" – look it up, then offer an opinion.
      "The phrase originated in ancient Greece, occurring as the moral to one of Aesop's Fables, and later in the great tragedy authors of ancient Greek drama. It has been commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, however the modern English wording appears earlier in Algernon Sidney's work."

      June 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  5. Marty

    An apple is assumed to be the forbidden fruit...the Bible does not say...

    June 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  6. Billy Goat Gruff

    Can't tell if trolling or just really, really stupid.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  7. Catholic

    Well, who owns CNN and other media outlets? What Bible do they use and what god do they serve?

    June 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • steve g

      They serve the God whose priests like to touch and molest little children....how about you Catholic?

      June 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • JT

      I know it's a small thing but if you serve God, have respect when when your writing about God. Use a capital G when your talking about the Lord, and to the other person who believes that Jonah was not in the belly of the whale or the snake didn't speak to Eve. How can a God who created us,the earth and the heavens not do these things?

      June 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  8. steve g

    People also misquote "Goldilocks" and attribute the phrase "IT BURNS...IT BURNS"...however, that was actually Gollum from "Lord of the Rings"...what Goldilocks really said was "this porridge is too hot"...Just an example of other misquoted FAIRY TALES....

    June 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  9. Joseph

    Interesting that the "bible scholar" forgets that Jesus states very clearly in Revelation 20:2 "And he laid hold of the dragon, the (SERPANT OF OLD), who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;" Very clearly the Serpant of Old is a referance to Satan.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • ben

      the terms 'serpent' 'beast' 'dragon' Etc. are used hundreds of times in the bible, to refer to hundreds of different things. You are cherrypicking. Was the serpent in the garden refered to as a DRAGON? No of course not. You have no case.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • M-kell

      Not in the old testament! As stated in the text of the story Satan came later, he was stolen 500 year later from the Egyptians as way of giving the unrepentant a beast to frighten them back the the flock !

      June 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Aesc

      No, you are missing that Revelations was written a thousand years After Genesis. Genesis does not say Satan. Revelations later attributes it to Satan, but that doen't change what Genesis says.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  10. Tomas

    Great article. I think its hilarious that as an Athiest Ive read the Bible more than 90% of all christians.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  11. Splinter48708

    And now I'd like to quote from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and... DUCK!

    June 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • steve g

      Yes Duck is an interesting book...however...only my opinion mind you....there is a lot of unnecessary quacking.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  12. Jesus of Nazareth

    Like any good business religion has always been about the PR. Don't tell people that somethings not in the bible. If they like it, then tell them it is. The best way to make someone think you know stuff is to agree with what they say then tell them 'there's more of that in this book'.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  13. Frank in Kentucky

    While i agree that there are many "lay people" who claim to know the bible and actually don't. I also contend there are far more so-called "experts" who have no idea what they are talking about, despite going to some Theological School. Remember Jesus own disciples were considered "unlettered and ordinary" by religious leaders of the day. God is the author of his book. He had it published to educate honest hearted ones of his purpose for Man for the earth and more importantly to educate mankind about himself and his son. Keep seeking for the truth and you will find it. That is a promise form the creator of the universe.

    (Proverbs 2:1-5) 2 My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, 2 so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; 3 if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, 4 if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, 5 in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God. . .

    (John 17:3) 3 This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  14. ML

    What the real Bible verses you should know look like:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsVZgdfxHoA&w=640&h=390]

    June 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Joshua

      "More consequences for thought and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other question." Mortimer Adler, coeditor, Encyclopedia Britannica

      Before you joke around with the Bible and God you better make sure you aren't poking fun at the living God and his written word. Either a God who is love exists or he doesn't. There's a 50% chance. Why are you willing to joke around with something so serious?

      June 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  15. The Truth

    This is less about news and more about blasphemy.

    June 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Jon

      Huh?

      June 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Aesc

      How is it blapsphemy? Its either in there or its not. Genesis doesnt have Satan.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  16. steve

    I don't want to get into all the 'misquotes', but one that really disturbs me is the first one in the caption from the picture. "Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden right? Nope. That's one of many phantom passages that people think are in the Bible." Did anyone notice that he did not substantiate his claim on this one? Well, I know why, he can't! Read Genesis 3:1-5... But, for those who don't have a Bible or don't want to take the time to look it up I will quote."1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, "You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die."' 4 Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." That is a direct quote and is more than a direct account of the matter. And did anyone notice that it says "fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden". MIDST??? would that not mean in the middle of the garden? As for the others, I will accept that they are not direct quotes from the Bible, but most of the are good paraphrases. And in todays world if a person were to quote the whole verse people would shut you off quickly, but a paraphrase that still keeps the meaning of the original is usually more effective, but can never replace the actual Bible. I think this author needs to not write about the 'Bible ignorance' of Christians without taking into account the size, scope, different translations, languages, and type of people groups that use this book as a life guide. The Bible is 100% true and is the word of God himself and although people may misquote or misuse it, it does not change the value, meaning, or its correctness one little bit. For example the crusaders used the Bible to support the crusades, but really they used it totally wrong and even went against its teachings. That does not mean the Bible is a bad book, it means the people who used it misused it.
    Just a few thoughts=) Have a good one all who took the time to read this. sorry for the length.

    June 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • gary

      god is pretend. bible is messed up legend and folklore

      June 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • DaRev

      Perhaps it is you who cannot read. Where in the verses you quoted does it say satan did the tempting in the 'midst' of the garden. Seems to me it says 'snake,' just as he said in his article.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • John

      Steve, you're right it says "The Serpent" in those quoted texts, but the author was saying Satan wasn't in the garden. It never says that Satan is the serpent.

      June 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  17. Lilly White

    .................Lets keep it simple mmmmkay

    June 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  18. j-tho

    actually, the majority of these "corrections" of traditional saying is nit-picky at best.

    “Spare the rod, spoil the child” ~ Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

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

    Both of those are merely different versions of the same thought. using such minor literary differences to support "it's not in the bible" is pure folly.

    June 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • j-tho

      [meant to include this thought too]

      such differences of verbiage probably reflect nothing more than different editions of the bible, or even oral traditions. in truth, most of what we read ~ in english ~ of the bible may or may not be interpreted and translated accurately. we don't know ~ can never know.

      i think these "experts" need to get over themselves.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  19. James Black

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=390]
    *

    June 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  20. Mike

    To Jean & Nacho1,

    "US" and "OUR" in Genesis 1:26 refers to the true image of God, the True Creator, Elohim. Eloi is singular in Ancient Hebrew, but Elohim, is plural and testifies that Creator God is plural, both male and female. Then what does that mean? It means that God, the true Creator Elohim, testified that God has both a male and female image (Genesis 1:27). Then, if we call the male image of God, "God the Father", what must we call the female image of God? Obviously, God the Mother!

    You can see more through the videos that explain your question in great detail at:

    http://uccspace.net/?mid=theme_eng&page=2

    The truth of Heavenly Mother, the bride and wife of the Lamb in Rev 22:17, Rev 19:7, and Galatians 4:26 is being revealed in these last days. She is our Mother God, just as Jesus, her bridegroom is our Father God. Study and see the truth. Don't be deceived by those who deny the truth in Gensis 1:26-27.

    Acts 5:38 - Truth needs no defense. It is simply truth. Therefore, what I say is true, no one can stop this true testimony from the Church of God, World Mission Society about God the Mother. If it is of human origin, it will fail. However, what we preach is from God and cannot fail. What I testify of is 100% true and the words of God Almighty. Therefore, it is certain that the fastest growing church in the world, the Church of God, World Mission Society that believes and teaches that God the Mother, the new Jerusalem, has come in the flesh will surely and quickly spread the love of God the Father & Mother to the whole world!

    God bless you and go and find the Church of God, World Mission Society that testifies of God the Mother who has come from Heaven to this earth in the flesh (Rev 21:9-10 & Gal 4:26)! There is a Church of God, WMC in every state in the US, and most large cities.

    June 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • gary

      god is pretend. bible is stupid folklore by and for the ignorant. Atheism is myth understood

      June 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.