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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. Bill

    It is very interesting to read all the comments from obviously religious people and all the comments from others who don't accept this philosophy. It is rather like a couple of 5 year olds arguing over something "Did, didn't, did, didn't, on and on" and there is no disident argument to convince anyone who has bought into the presumption of afterlife. You may as well argue with a catatonic or a psychotic person, or a schitzophnrenic...they don't want to hear. The real issue is whether a society operates based on theology like Iran or on a reality based platform where all beliefs are accepted but not enforced. The enforcement of religious belief, one over the other or one over none HAS caused all the worlds problems and Catholics, Muslims, Evangelicals are equally to blame. What we need to to accept and to do that, you cannot say you are right and someone else is wrong on any subject where there is no proof either way-that is why it is called a belief system, not a fact. If we cannot get past this point, we are doomed and no one will survive when religious extremists on either side start killing everyone who does not believe and does not share their belief. It is religion which is not based on ANY PROVABLE FACT after all. So you keep your belief, I will keep mine and stop trying to make the USA into a theocracy-which would be closer to Idocracy. I don't care what you quote-it is irrelevant. By the way-the earth is not 6000 years old-"Sarah Palin"

    June 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Karen Flanders

      You got it. People offend others with their belief systems...well I take that back. It's not just their belief systems, it's that they think it's their right and mission to force feed it to you. You better believe buddy, at any cost. You gonna burn in hell if you dont!!

      When we respond to that type of thinking, everything seems to go awry. We can never do enough. We're never gonna be good enough. The stress of that mentality creates bondage.

      A true Christian exhibits the fruits of the Spirit. There is NO condemnation in Christ Jesus!

      June 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Omo

      So, Bill, are you saying it is wrong for me to say, "someone is right or someone is wrong on a particular subject?" ;-)

      June 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Charlie

      So....Bill, do you really believe that it was religion that has caused all of the world's problems...problems like Mao's slaughter of millions of Chinese or Stalin's slaughter of millions of Russians. "all" is pretty inclusive word. This is especially true when historically, empirically, anti religious governments like these have murdered far, far, far more people than any religious movement that has ever existed. You probably should do your research before making such an erroneous statement.

      June 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Doug Vaughan

      Bill,
      Of course you are right. However, I try to communicate with people in there own language. And I believe there is some value to pointing out to bible lovers that even the book that they cherish does not opine on the concepts that they promote and try to enforce on others.

      June 5, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  2. rhinoqlit1

    As Paul Revere said in the Bible, "one if by land, two if by the grace our god-given guns." - Sarah Palin

    June 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  3. RW

    Who is assuming that these are bible quotes? The author of the article? I've heard most of these sayings growing up but never took them as direct quotes from the bible. I have read the bible a number of times and as a non christian feel that the bible implies many of these sayings.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Charles

      Did you actually read the article? Mike Ditka referred to his statement as being scriptural. First you say you never heard of them as being direct quotes and then say you feel the Bible implies them. If you read the article, that is pretty much what the author said. Where the mix-up occurs is when people assume that something implied by the Bible (implication being their interpretation of it) is actually a quote. Hence the article.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  4. Ron

    As do atheists, neo-pagans (environmentalists) and politicians. It's a byproduct of being human.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  5. BL

    Actually, all of religion exists simply to give people an excuse to justify their predetermined beliefs. It's all unadulterated, 100% pure, total complete, fairy tale nonsense.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Jacob

      The story doesn't say it's a whale. Jesus called it a whale. In the original story it was referred to as a great fish. Jesus apparently didn't know that whale's are mammals, not fish.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      ANd you apparently don't know how to use apostrophes or make nouns plural.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  6. Jennifer

    The quote "this too shall pass" is no biblical, but Sufi, and is mentioned in many old fables as the phrase that both cheers the sad man and saddens the happy man.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  7. MassiveMarbles

    I find that its just better to quote Dirty Harry, "A man's got to know his limitations!"....

    June 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Trip

      Good one! .............also "the secret to a long life is to try not to shorten it." Terrence Hill (They call me Trinity)

      June 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  8. Jedidiah

    The origin of Ditka's phrase: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_too_shall_pass

    June 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  9. dbinpitt

    "people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs"
    This is all too prevalent with the highly religious and pushes them to stick with their preexisting biases.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  10. Gayle Prignano

    Thank you Beliver for your correction on "Spare the rod, spoil the child." The Book of Proverbs is very plain on parents discipling their children. Proverbs 29:15 "The rod of correction imparts wisom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother." Proverbers 29" 17 "Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring deliight to your soul." "Cleanliness is next to Godliness"may not be found as the proverb as stated, however, Believers do know that clean living is a requirement of God. Example would be Psalms 24 beginning with verse 3 "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false." Taking that scripture in context requires that the Believer must come to the Lord clean. II Corinthians 7:1 says, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. So it could be said that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness"is a paraphrase of the Word of God. The mystery of God is that He allows people like John Blake of CNN blab on. The Bible speaks to things that are a mystery. Ephesians 5:32 declares "This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church". The Bible is not just a book. It is the Word of God and yes God does work in ways that we may not understand. What "learned" people don't get because of their "higher intelligentsia" is that the gospel is so simple, even a wayfaring fool can find his way. The fact that Mr. Blake has chosen to blog about " Phanton Proverbs" attributed to the Bible might be a good thing. It could cause someone to actually read the scripture to see if indeed it is phantom. However, I don't believe for a minute this was Mr. Blake's intention. He saw opportunity to ridicule someone and he took it. Shame on you Mr. Blake. Thank God I don't have to depend on the likes of him to know the Truth of the Word.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Demiurge

      Does the Gospel describe why all of its eschatology and the idea of a savior sent by a god was lifted wholesale from Zoroastrians by the Jews during the Babylonian Captivity?

      June 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Bob

      Enjoy the absurdity of it all.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Joe Dixon

      Referring to the verse: "Spare the Rod, Spoil the child". The verse is actually listed. Proverbs 13:24
      "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." It does not say spoil, but it does say "hate".
      As for the serpent and the supposed verse about 'God helps those that help themselves"; your sources was correct. I'm a nerd who thought I would help this story out.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Moogle

      Wow, way to judge someone for pointing out some inconsistent sayings. Also, I believe that clean hands refers to no blood on your hand's, as in not to kill. But that's the beauty of the bible is it not? It's very open to twist into what you want to believe. Not to mention that if you followed everything to the letter, almost everyone should be put to death before they reach adulthood. That's also assuming that the hundreds/thousands of translations weren't done in error, which they have been proven to be. If it really is the "book of god" wow, he is really messed up. No wonder we are created in his likeness, a bunch of crazy, bloodthirsty, hypocritical, delusional people we are as a whole. Well done all powerful being, job well done in creating a bunch of mass suffering across the board.

      June 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Karen Flanders

      Ditka was right. Mark 13:31– Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will never pass away.

      We shouldn't strain at gnats. We need to all be on the same side– God's!!!

      “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

      Don't be confused with fruits of the Spirit vs. gifts of the Spirit. EVERY person professing to be a Christian should strive to have the fruits. The gifts of the Spirit are exactly that– GIFTS!! They vary from person to person.
      Name calling, lopsided arguments belitting one another accomplish nothing except hurt feelings and wounded spirits.

      We shouldn't worry about who does what and who says what. We should be rooted and grounded in God's word, and we will have all we need to stand.

      Please remember, God's ways aren't mans ways. What happens when we die, and we realize nothing was what it seemed?? We are fighting principalities here people, not flesh and blood.

      The good news is that God's love and grace is sufficient!!! All we must do is surrender our will. Our earthly, carnal, think we know- it- all will. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.

      karenmmc3@gmail.com

      June 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  11. daniel pearl

    "this too shall pass" is actually a ring on king solomons finger, to remind him that all shall pass, the good the bad and the ugly perhaps.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  12. dolfina

    Well, one thing it DOES say is a quote by Jesus, "I AM the Way, The truth,and THE light, no one comes to the Father except through Me". Also, "the fool has said in his heart, "there is no God'!

    June 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Jacob

      More proof of the silliness of it all.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Rd

      John 14:6 I Am the way, the truth, and the LIFE (in this instance.it is "life" not "light"

      June 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • S. Paul

      It's actually, "the Way, the Truth and the LIFE."

      June 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Scott

      It also says
      "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; Matthew 10:34-39

      June 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  13. John

    http://biologos.org/

    June 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  14. Michael

    This too shall pass is a paraphrasing of Ecclesiastes 3. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die... etc.
    Made popular by the Birds in Turn! Turn! Turn!

    June 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  15. oye

    All the vrs quoted by the author and the ones he claim are not biblical is the same. 'Spare the rod, spoil the child' is a shortened form of what is in Proverbs. If he is heading a church with member who do not know the chapters and vrs in the bible, it is his failure and should reassess his teaching. The bible is a guide and one needs the presence of God to understand it. Why are pagans, and so called modern day believers attacking christianity. If u don't believe in a religion, stay away from it.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • RckyMtnGrl

      I would hardly consider this an attack on Christianity, but merely a reminder that we should all know our facts as best we can before attempting to argue them or substantiate said argument with said facts with someone else (say, a non-believer, perhaps?).

      Know your material, and your case becomes more valid.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  16. Richard

    Does it really matter what's in the Bible? The first half is fable and hind-sight history and the second half pure pipe dream.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • joel

      AGREED

      June 5, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • someguy

      If the Bible was just a collection of stories, why is it the most talked-about book, and by far the best-selling book of all time? There's more to it than any other book ever penned.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Bob

      Agreed

      June 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Karen Flanders

      “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” Leviticus 23.22

      June 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Karen Flanders

      Oops sorry. I put that comment as a reply (above). It was meant to go somewhere else on this discussion board.

      At any rate, Richard, what you believe is what a lot of people believe.
      I pray for peace for you and yours, and that when it's all said and done we meet face to face in Heaven. ;-)

      If you ever have any concerns or questions please write me. I may not have the answer, but I can promise you I will search diligently for one. In saying that, know that "seek, and ye shall find" holds true.

      In His love

      June 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  17. Truth

    "All things must pass" – George Harrison

    June 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  18. scribble

    The Bible is a group of stories, some of which teach life lessons, and is written by humans. Stories that were written down to pass them on from generation to generation. Harry Potter is also a group of stories, some of which teach life lessons, and is written by a human. I think we should remember that both are stories not divine messages. But observing human behavior, I wouldn't be surprised if years from now, one of the many books we read today gains a strong religious following.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  19. dolfina

    Origin

    Spare the rod and spoil the childThis phrase has quite a long genesis. The coiner of the version that we use in everyday speech was Samuel Butler, in Hudibras, the satirical poem on the factions involved in the English Civil War, which was first published in 1662:

    Love is a Boy,
    by Poets styl'd,
    Then Spare the Rod,
    and spill the Child.

    [by 'spill', Butler did mean spoil - that was an alternative spelling at the time]

    The precise words were Butler's, but the proverbial notion is much older. William Langland's The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, 1377, includes this line:

    Who-so spareth ye sprynge, spilleth his children. (spilleth, then meant spoil)

    June 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  20. Michael

    I'm an Atheist, but in defense of Ditka saying as our scripture says all things shall pass, technically Christians believe in a revelation, doesn't sound like he was making a direct quote, rather referencing the Christian view that life has a definite end for all.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:31 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.