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.”
"this too shall pass" may not be verbatim in the bible, but anyone who has read ecclesiates will be familiar with the sentiment.
The reporter is too harsh on ditka.
Not harsh enough. People need a good kick in the pants.
wg, you're absolutely correct - the author has manufactured this issue.
Scripture tells us that Jesus is the Christ and the son of God the Father. But I'm fairly certain that the Bible doesn't say those exact words.
Well, here's are two that ARE in Scripture: John 8:31 and 32;
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Search for it, the Truth is there, misquotes or not ...
Thanks for bringing up something that has nothing to do with the article to make yourself feel like you are right about something.
LOL @ Tom's bigotry and ignorance. Relax tom. Everything is fine.
satan said through the snake "is it really true ..." and Eve may have even thought that the snake had eaten it and now could talk, the scripture tells us she was deceived hence the original lie that we could live on our own and be better off witout God
The serpent was truthful with her. God told her she'd die the day she at it. She didn't. The serpent told her that God didn't want her to eat it because it would giver her the knowledge of good and evil, which it did, and immediately God said, "Oh my, now they shall be like us knowing good from evil."
SO the snake was talking?
Yes. Didn't you know that snakes talk? They have a strong lisp.
Oh man... 8O !
If the snake had said, "She sells seashells by the seashore" I would be impressed.
Few mistakes by the author of this article:
Ditka specifically said that "all things shall pass" is in the Bible and he's basically correct according to Matthew Chapter 24.
"all shall come to pass" – Matt. 24:6 (KJV 1611)
"Heaven and Earth (all things) shall pass..." – Matt. 24:35
Ditka did not claim, "This, too, shall pass" was from the Bible. That was his own commentary on his situation.
Second, the author makes a mistake by saying Eve was tempted to partake of the Tree of Life. Oops! Eve was tempted to partake of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" not "The Tree of Life." It appears the author doesn't know the Bible.
Third, you can't say it's not in the Bible by limiting your discussion to just one book: Genesis. Revelation 20:2 clearly states that the serpent is Satan: "that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan" – Rev 20:2
Three strikes and you're out... Ditka wins!
Bravo!........... Well defended and quite accurate.
The misquotes listed in this article may not have been found exactly as listed in the Bible, but in principle, they are truth.
One example is “cleanliness is next to godliness.” In their wilderness sojourn the Israelites were instructed by God through Moses to keep their camp clean as He, the Creator of heaven and earth, was walking in their midst. They were instructed to bury their human waste outside of camp, and to burn the waste of their animals. (See Numbers 19, Leviticus 11 and 15, Deuteronomy 23:12-13). Without these sanitary practices, the Israelites, numbering over a million people, would have been exterminated by an epidemic due to unsanitary conditions.
Also, we must not forget that the Bible is not a regular book. The Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Tim 3:16). Prophecies were written by holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21).
The enemy of God's people from the beginning of time to the end of time has always been referred to as the “great dragon...that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” Rev 12:9.
Using pagan rulers as a front to persecute God's people, Satan, is as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
In the time of Moses the Pharoah of Egypt was the great dragon who persecuted God's people:
"Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself."–Ezekiel 29:3
In the end time, Satan, the dragon was wroth with the woman (church of God) and went to make war with the remnant of her seed which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17; 14:12; 22:14-15).
"And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed." Rev 13:15.
I don't think the phrase "God helps those who helps themselves" is necessarily a contradiction of charitable values, which I gather is what the scholar means by designating it as anti-biblical. The phrase is quite specific, emphasizing the importance of an individual acting proactively and responsibly, but it does not prohibit or discourage a person from helping another who is struggling or in anyway less fortunate. In fact, an ideal scenario would be a person in difficulty helping himself, say by working hard, and another individual who is more fortunate, like a mentor or boss, lending support to his (or her) admirable effort. I believe the scholar is reading more into this phrase than is really appropriate. I would say that this quote shouldn't be taken alone, but as a way to emphasize one important aspect of behavior: self reliance, when ever possible, is very important, but we should also reach out to others in need and encourage them to succeed. Of course, these concepts work in a secular context as well as a biblical or religious one.
Who cares? The Bible is a collection of mythology from the bronze age... am I missing something?
Yeah. You're missing a whole lot of things.
Yeah, an education and respect from the general population
As long as people believe these fairy tales we need to care.
Yep, you sure are
Actually, a good bit of said mythology pre-dates the bronze age.
nope not a thing. people need to move on. still going on about a STORY from thousands of years ago. Santa and the tooth fairy are lol right now!
You are quite wrong. Satan is named in 1Chronicles 21:1 and in Job chapters 1 and 2. Thanks for playing.
Sorry James, but if you look up the original text, you'll find that word Christians translated as Satan in the Old Testament is actually "an adversary." We can keep playing if you still have any chips left.
If I'm not mistaken, the creation story is 'originally' told in Genesis. There is no reference to Satan, by name, in Genesis. One can certainly assume that the serpent was Satan, if one is so inclined.
what the guy meant is that snake in the garden of eden is never mentioned to actually be the devil himself.
There are almost 60 pages of comments because religion DOES matter. If religion was simply a fairy tale, people would act like they do towards children who believe in Santa Claus. But they don't because it really IS a big deal. Every person's eternity hinges on it. Many, many people in this comment section claim they don't care and that the Bible (and Christians) are just stupid. So, why the rage? Why the vehement bullying and hate? (Which is hypocritical since these same folks demand tolerance and equality for themselves and their belief systems but reserve their "right" to rage against others.)
The simple matter is that religion is the most contested debate because it DOES matter. It's the biggest and most important decision every person will ever make. If that's not true, then all the people here that are raging bitterly, name calling, bullying, mocking, etc., are nothing but hypocritical, horrible and detestable people.
Ahh, but religion matters to YOU. I myself happen to "disdain" Christianity and any other religion for that matter- most of the strife and unnecessary bloodshed in this world stems from organized religion. In my life, I treat people as best I can- I give money to charities, I practice goodwill and kindness and help the helpless when I'm able. Does religion factor in anywhere there? Absolutely not. To quote a book, "..it is a better world. A place where we are responsible for our actions, where we can be kind to one another because we want to and because it is the right thing to do instead of being frightened into behaving by the threat of divine punishment." My belief is that religion exists so people can have a hope that someone else can alleviate their suffering when all seems unbearable. I myself do not need false hope. I make my own destiny.
Religion is made powerful by popular belief in it. The existence or non-existence of divinity itself is on it's own irrelevant to the power of many people sincerely believing in something, whatever it is. A given belief system will seem the most important thing in a given society, but over time these traditions give way to new ones. For example, the ancient Egyptians had no word meaning 'art', yet the extant remains of their culture are all covered with carvings, paintings, giltwork, etc; each symbol or object having important religious meaning. For 3,000 years, the pantheon of gods and goddesses were profoundly important in every aspect of Egyptian life, but over time and the influence of other cultures, these beliefs, even as sincere as they were, became replaced by new traditions. Now, i'm imagining that you probably regard the Egyptian gods as little more than faerie tales; however, the earnestness of their belief that these gods promised them eternal life was no less than your own.
Furthermore, the bitterness toward Christianity you mention is mostly reactionary; a product of some Christians trying to force their beliefs on others.
blackHat. Very well put!
TURN TO JESUS CHRIST
Come sheep! He is the Sheppard!
"If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
Your statement: "scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet" is not true.
Please Matthew 12:40 where Jesus said that "Jonah was three days in the whale's belly"
In the original story it's referred to as a great fish. Jesus calls it a whale because he apparently didn't know that a whale is not a fish.
Hi, Stacy. I'm a Christian, myself. But, even I have to admit that we can't be certain that a whale was what swallowed Jonah based on our translations. The KJV says "whale". The NIV says "huge fish". The NASB says "sea monster" - and so on. Technically, a whale isn't a fish. However, anyone living back in those times would have considered it a fish. And, I can't think of too many other "sea creatures" - if any - that would fit the description. But, still, it's all a matter of interpretation, as the three translations I pointed out attest to. The bottom line is it doesn't matter so much, because the gist of the story is God made some sea creature swallow Jonah - where he was for three days and three nights.
I'm loving this whole thing. Is none aware that the words of the bible, Old and New, have been changed sooooo many times that it bears little recognition to its original? I choose to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I am certain that the children of Bhudda's teachings, or of the Hindu beliefs will be safe and sound when the one loving and almighty God, ONE GOD, comes back to see how we've turned out. I believe we're lab rats that have been observed thousands of years and we're still killing ourselves and our fellow man. We require keepers, police, armies to control our wrath toward each other. We have been a giant experiment and we haven't turned out too good as I see it. God bless us all.
Actually what Matthew 12:40 says is "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
None of these quotes or verses are actually in the bible either, since it wasn't even written in english. What you're quoting is a mistranslation of a mistranslation of a mistranslation. Meaningless.
So true, Dave. Kudos.
I studied for several years in an American catholic school. Before that, I was raised by believing lutheran parents. I can today say that I am a newborn. I do not believe in fairy tales, I believe I make my own future, nobody is watching me and nobody else but me and my closest family and friends do actually care. It is SOOOO good to rely on myself. Whatever happens to me, I can either blame myself or congratulate myself. I don't have to thank a Santa, an easter bunny or somebody called God for whatever happens to me.
Pio (were you named after Father Pio?) .. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I, too was raised by devout Catholics and went to Catholic school. I, too, feel liberated to not have to pretend to believe in fairy tales any longer. I wasn't sure how I believed exactly until I moved out of the house at 19 and couldn't motivate myself to attend mass. I went a couple of times and realized that I believed in none of it.
Oops ... misspelled your name, sorry Peo. And your parents were Lutheran not Catholic (not much difference, really, other than the Pope).
The exact lines themselves may not be in the Bible but I think these are lines to paraphrase what the Bible is trying to teach.
So what? Even if they're not included, those sayings SHOULD be in the Bible... The book of revelations doesn't say anything about islam being the scourge of humanity, and yet we all know that it is...
Islam has nothing to do with "the scourge". It is the interpretation by people. Please don't say that there aren't christian fundamentalists... Westboro Baptist Church is only one example. Religion in general is what rots the community, not the fact that people believe in God or Allah or Shiva or Thor
All religion is the scourge of humanity.
The Westboro Baptist Church is neither Christian or Baptist so that example is moot.
I am not sure if you wrote your response as a joke because it is rather comical and portrays a sterotypic, uneducated, red-necked evangelical .Therefore, perhaps you are just being sardonic. If you did, I will bite. And if you did not, then here is my reply: If it is not in the bible, then you can't quote it as coming from the bible. And if it is not coming from the new testament, then you can't quote it as Christian.
Actually, that is in the bible! Peter says that the serpent in the garden was none other than satan! I forget where it is exactly in the new testament. Perhaps the writer of the article could inform the scholar he referenced if he would be so kind!
Actually, Revelations 12:9 calls the devil "That serpent of old."
As the article states, the idea of Satan as the Serpent was postdated. "Peter" was most definitely around long after Genesis was written. Furthermore, nothing written by Peter, or Paul for that matter, should be taken as words from God. They wrote strictly out of their own minds. Their writings don't belong as "scripture" any more so than books written by Billy Graham.
Yes, there are a lot of chipmunks this year. Not sure eclxtay why, but they tend to go through boom bust cycles, as to many small mammals. Perhaps the deep layer of snow was good insulation to allow more to survive the winter, perhaps abundant fall food allowed for good caches for the winter. There might be a corresponding bumper crop of some raptors.
Try reading Genesis Chapter 3 and then try to tell us again that Satan (the serpent) didn't tempt Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I think you missed the point. The story only mentions a talking snake, not Satan. Jews don't believe in Satan. Satan was a Christian addition to the story.
Actually – Jews did believe in the rebellious angel Satan – he is prominently featured in the book of Job written by Moses; and he is mentioned in Chronicles as inciting David to take the illegal census.
Christ identified Satan as the "original serpent" explaining how a snake could talk only by means of a super human angelic force.
"Actually – Jews did believe in the rebellious angel Satan "
No they didn't and no they don't. The word that xtians translated as Satan in Job was originally "an adversary". Christians later changed it say Satan. And Job was not written by Moses. Assuming Moses ever existed, he was dead long before that book was penned. In Chronicles, Satan is also "an adversary" in the original text.
"Christ identified Satan as the "original serpent" explaining how a snake could talk only by means of a super human angelic force."
This is a completely fictional statement.
Satan is first talked about in the book of Job. That's in the Old Testament or Tanakh (in Hebrew terms), which means it's a Jewish concept, not originated by Christians.
Jacob, the name Satan is straight from the Jewish word. It means "accuser".
A simple question.... How come every time it pertains to the Holy Bible??
Why is there never any article written of whats' not there in the "Torah"
Because the article is referring to people quoting the Bible improperly not the Torah
Everyone, I sincerely believe this all is an apt depiction of "straining over a gnat"
We don't know the mind of God, the future, or whether we will all take another breath.
The legalism in most religions has separated the Church (that is us!) from a true relationship with God.
None of us are worthy. We all know that. Let's accept it, and become worthy!!
I "officially" became a Christian some 40 years ago. I remember the bible studies AND the conversation about the serpent in the Garden of Eden. True, the Bible says that the serpent tempted Eve, who then ate of the fruit of the tree of life. Question is, how do we interpret the serpent? Two possibilties: human...errr....female curiosity or Satan whispering in her ear. Some would claim that they are one and the same. It's not a stretch to deduce that Satan was there in the guise of a serpent. Would he appear as himself? Nooooo. Remember too that a serpent also tempted Jesus in the desert.
Sadly the author labeled as nonsense without giving context.
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.