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.”
As a Christian who believes in the absolute authority of the Bible as the Word of God, I wholeheartedly agree that biblical illiteracy is a problem, not only in America, but also in the Church. It is, to say the least, problemmatic when people mistakenly attribute popular sayings to the Bible and elevate the words of man to the same level as the Word of God. At best, it falsely attributes true statements to God; at worst, it attributes falsehood to God, who cannot lie, and undermines the truth and authority of Scripture.
As far as the Serpent/Satan issue goes, however, I disagree with the author's conclusion. Reading Genesis in isolation, it is true that the "serpent" is never referred to as "Satan." We must, however, read the entire Bible according to the analogy of faith and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. In Revelation 12:9 (English Standard Version) we again see "that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world." In deceiving Eve (Genesis 3:13), the serpent literally deceived the whole world, because Adam, too, was led astray. And in Adam's sin, all mankind, the whole world, was subject to sin, judgment, condemnation, and death. (Romans 5:12-21)
Furthermore, in cursing the serpent in the Garden of Eden, God announces this prophetic judgment: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." This prophecy is echoed in Romans 16:20 where the serpent is identified as Satan: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."
So, while I agree with much of what the author says in terms of biblical illiteracy, I would caution readers to take seriosly the whole counsel of God. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. And, by the grace of God, we realize the promise of Jesus, who is the Son of God, the Lord and Savior, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-21)
Good word Greg.
Meanwhile, you sulk in your inate bigotry thinking you're so faithful and so right while everyone else is so wrong and immoral. That's the reason this article is written in the first place. The bible is a book, that's all it is. It wasn't written by God unless you happened to live during the time it was written and had firsthand knowledge and experience seeing it being written. Nope, it's a plain ole book written by MEN who wanted nothing but to control and manipulate society so it wouldn't run into chaos with people actually thinking for themselves. The bible isn't something to be taken literally. The most noteworthy scholars and teachers of the bible will tell you that. The ironic thing is that the author of this article is trying to explain that to you but strangely enough you obviously didn't get that memo.
one person makes a mistake and the rest of humanity is condemed. Unless....you attend a certain church, worship certain people and god and give them a percentage of your income. Hmm. That's NOT a god I'd ever follow. It's a myth people!!!! Designed to get you to follow and pay the myth makers so they don't have to find real jobs.
Anyone who believes the Bible is the word of some "god" is literally insane.
To say that a book filled with known lies is more important than anything in the universe is insane.
Just batsh.t crazy. Lies are not truth and they are not words from your "god".
And somehow the fact that your god never shows up or says anything or even does anything makes no difference to you of course, because you are insane.
How horrible it is to see so many psychotic people running around!
More proof that there is no god!
Greg, your post was inspirational. It's refreshing to see such a well-written and thoughtful post.
Your message will certainly be attacked but your faith will persevere. Every religion has tenets that advocate peace and growth. Even Satanists, who purportedly do not even believe in Satan, advocate personal growth and self-actualization as individual "atheists."
Religion is not Israel v. Palestine. It is not Crusaders v. Jihadists. It is also not subject to Zionism and rights of return. It does not have to be about some paedophilia-prone Priests, a few hate preaching Imams, or an isolated number of ethnocentric Rabbis. Religion, by any name, is simply an ethical code amongst all living beings. It has allowed us to become a generally well-ordered collective and influenced many of our current laws. As an example, the idea of loving and not coveting your neighbour heavily influenced the creation of individual property rights.
So, whatever your ethical code or "religion," I hope everyone reading this post can agree to: 1) respect themselves; 2) respect others; 3) accept (not merely "tolerate") diversity, as a way to expand our minds and overall understanding; and, 4) consciously perform one good deed every single day. Love perpetuates love. The same formula is true for hate and indifference. Remember the world is not ours, we are on borrowed time. Protect and better it for someone or something you love.
That is the simple way, truth, and the light.
I'd still rather have a beer with Mike Ditka than John Blake.
William Blake? John Bunyan?
Christianity comes down to this: Accept Jesus or else! Talk about strong-arming mob tactics. God....the original Godfather!
I guess the author of the article wishes the Catholics would have finished their killing spree. The religion of the Inquisition is so saintly. No Martin Luther so no Martin Luther King. Don't worry, Catholic Hitler would have still have received his training on purity. Catholics could have wipe out the Jews in our Supreme Court like they did Protestants. We wouldn't have wise leaders like Perlosi, Biden, Boehnor, Biden, Roberts Sotomayor if Protestant Ameriuca didn't have so much toleration to tolerate intolerant Catholics. Mel Gibson for President!
Read the Quran, much more reliable and truthful , untouched in 1400 years
It certainly is truthful when it says "Allah" is the greatest deceiver.
Just throw them both in the trash. They're useless.
hmmm 8 billion people, 3.5 billion christians, 50% catholic/protestant of that over 300 denominations pretty much all believing "they are right" and everyone else is going to hell.
yup- the odds aren't in your favor. It's better to admit you don't know then to believe in something utterly absurd organized religion or the bible. YOU HAVE BEEN INDOCTRINATED. If you were born in India you'd be a Hindu, if you were born in Saudi Arabia you'd be a Muslim, born in America your a christian, Israel your a Jew...... It never crossed your mind how odd that is? How utterly stupid it is that God is so geographic- yet almighty?
How do you prepare for the cold ?
I've heard this hilarious Dawkins argument before. And both of you are wrong.
Just because you were born in a hospital, does not mean you're going to be a doctor.
I was born in hindu India, grew up in islamic Middle East all my life but i am a Christian. And guess what! Many hindus in India and many arabs in the Middle East are coming to Christ. The truth will cut through any indoctrination if you are willing to listen.
God is all knowing. Even all of your choices before you were even born. Therefore, he sets each of us who will choice him up for success. But you still are responsible for your choices!
3.5 billion Christians? No wonder we have so much hate and fear in the world.
If our choices were already known before we were born, then they are neither choices nor can we be held responsible for them.
Try thinking with more than two neurons, pls.
There's another way of looking at it Robert from Atlanta.
3.5 billion Christians in the world! No wonder you are still alive and can speak your mind freely.
Scornful, our choices were already known before. It is up to choose them.
I've heard many of what the author here include, but never thought that they were Bible quotes. Some, such as "cleanliness is next to Godliness" isn't even meant as a Bible verse when one says it. As for "all things shall pass" I've always heard the "this, too, shall pass" version...the right version...mostly from my Grandmother. I always took to it to be good advice.
Sounds to me the author has some of his own ignorance to check. Or was he, himself, a very confused person to begin with to think we need an article like this.
the bible like all @holy' books its fake rubbish. there is no god its a fairy tale.
The Bible has been proven false in so many ways its sad to see so many who still believe in the make-believe fearmongering and mystical claptrap therein after all this time.
Who needs to hope in facts? Who needs hope to see the truth and how different it is from the lies? Not me.
I have no need to hope in lies when the truth is so much better than the lies. :P
I am always fasicnated by Americans who will not say that Pepsi and Coke are the same, or McDs vs. Burger King, or Seattle' Best vs. Starbucks, or (fill in the blank with anything you care about and have expertise in...wines, audio equipment, alcohol, tabacco, cars...)
will wave their hand and say "Religions are all the same". Atheism is full of explanations but there is an account to be given for the great intellects that even an cursory examination of these explanations for life, the universe, and everything, are satisifying, yes, but woefully insufficient for the phenomonon they describe. Life from non-life...now that is a tricky one, isn't it?
My favorite: "Jesus said, 'I never said it would be easy, only that it would be worth it.'"
Hmm...seems to me being a Christian is rather easy. It allows people, typically, to be as ignorant as they like and use their religion as an excuse.
@Callmeishmael, Hope you were picking up on my satire.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Being a christian is not easy. The majority of men cannot deny themselves of sinful lifestyles.
there are more than one scripture that helps us identify the liar and original serpent that WAS in the garden of Eden. He is also described as a jewel until unrighteousness was found in him it would serve his purpose of clouding the minds of unbelievers for man not to know this. 2 corinthians 4;4
Sorry...this isn't a forum for you religious lunatics to proselytize and propound your fairy tales...got it?
Nor is it a forum to deny one's right to free speech and freedom of religion.
I have a lot of respect for CNN but I have to agree with Jane's and TKH's comments.The writer of this article either doesn't understand the meaning of some of the Bible verses or is intentionally misconstruing them. In Revelation 12:9 it is stated that "The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him." So as you can surmise from the aforementioned verse, the serpent is the Devil. I wish the writer had done a bit more reasearch it the meaning and context of some of these verses.
"biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better"
A book compiled 300 years after the death of Constantine, selected from 1000's of Christian scriptures at the time with the sole purpose of providing unity to his empire. The original bible had over 600 books, later reduced all the way down to 80 by King James, the Protestant Reformation knocked that number down to 66. Not to mention, the numerous translations from ancient Arameic all the way up to modern English- much of which their isn't even a direct translation for. Just 500 years ago the Book of Enoch, the The book of Jenu were supposedly "sacred" text of an eternal god... apparently that never occurred?
It's amazing how people like "shannon" above know so much about what's in the bible but are so ignorant to it's very human – and certainly un-divine origin and evolution.
The dead sea scrolls contained 16 of the original books of the bible. Im pretty sure those were written well before Constantine
I remember seeing my great grandmother reading the entire bible. She was Catholic. Your supposed to read so many chapters a day.
How many are we supposed to read a day, Sean? And what happens if we read none?
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Wouldn't go to say that the terrible things happening in America today, especially with tornadoes, floods, etc.. have nothing to do with God. God's wrath is revealed from Heaven upon all manner of ungodliness in those that hold the truth, in unrighteousness. I would agree the tornadoes are a form of God's wrath, but some people in those locations may, or may not have been pleasing God. God desires we fear him, and there is good reason for this. Heaven, and Hell are both real, and eternal. God has the power to cast our soul into Hell. We have the choice, and ability to choose. God said, he would reward every person, according to as their work would be. We are suppose to respond to the Gospel, and calling of God upon our lives in Jesus Christ, it is what God wants, it is what we need. God surely knows best.
Taken to channeling Pat Robertson have you?
There is a lot of ignorance in the world and there is also a lot of stupidity. Ignorance is merely a lack of knowledge and is easily remedied by the person who is ignorant. I, personally, am ignorant in many scientific areas, in many mathematical areas. I am quite ignorant in advanced chemistry & physics, BUT I am not stupid. Stupidity is Or can be an inability to learn or a mind-set of refusing to learn. There is more of the 2nd then the 1st. Particularly when it comes to religion & politics.
I think you underestimate the amount of stupidity in the world. Talk to a creationist sometime. Correct him or her on some general error they're making in an attempt to relieve them of their ignorance. See if it changes their mind. It won't, of course. But lest you think this behavior is mere stubbornness come back to the same creationist a week later and watch them make the same error over and over and over again. There are only two possibilities for this; either they're dishonest (willfully ignorant) or they're stupid. While certain creationists certainly fall into the category of being dishonest (Ken Ham, Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, Harun Yahya, et al) the same can't be said for sheep that follow these con men.
If you don't believe in God, then you must not believe in heaven or hell...? What do you believe will happen to you when you die? A lot of people are in for a rude awakening when they stand before the thrown of God and their fate for eternity is decided. My heart really does hurt for the lost. It is so sad to read articles like this and past articles that completly degrade Christian faith and deny the name that has died for each and every one of you.
Matt 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
It's throne, you idiot, throne. Good lord, I'm sick of illiterate Christians. If there is a god, which I doubt, and if he is in fact all powerful, why does he always choose the biggest idiots to be his representatives here on earth?
hmmm 8 billion people, 3.5 billion christians, 50% catholic/protestant of that over 300 denominations pretty much all believing "they are right" and everyone else is going to hell.
yup- the odds aren't in your favor. It's better to admit you don't know then to believe in something utterly absurd like the bible.
Throne? Idiot? Please read Matt 7:21 and tell me where you find the word throne.
you mean the HELL concept that wasnt even brought to light until after 1400+ years after the death of christ (the same christ who we have no actual evidence even existed)?
pfy, have you ever had a surgical procedure where you were put under a general anasthesia? One minute you're aware and then nothing...until they brought you out of it. Well, death is exactly like going under general anasthesia, except you never wake up. One minute you are awake, and then you're worm food (or more exactly atoms from exploding stars, which some worms find tasty – that supernova stuff, that's science btw). Stardust to stardust. That's it. Oh yeah, your consciousness was just an illusion brought about by electrochemistry in the brain...just more stardust i'm afraid.
to ishmael: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.
Hey Rim, Matt 10:28 says:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Check your facts. The book of Matthew wasnt written 1400 years after the death of Jesus.
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
Just quoting some scriptures =D
Great, now go quote it to yourself, moron. I'm tired of you idiots feeling the need to foist your fairytales on others, now beat it.
I don't have anything against any religion, especially if it helps give people direction, purpose and all that jazz, but the organized part, yeah....not so much. The orginization part takes advantage of its followers in numerous ways, too many to list here. it's unfortunate. Not too mention, and it does say this in the bible....something about not judging others or be judged yourself. Why is it that born again christians continue to tell people they're going to "burn in hell' and how so and so isn't right with God because they like to party or whatever, blah, blah, blah. Stop using your religion to try to control other people by scaring them into believing, umm yes born again christians this means you!
'...biblical ignorance...' Redundant phrase or goal? Both. Monotheists and their infallible books continue to be the scourge of humanity, and will be the death of us all if given free expression in the nuclear age. Revealed Truth is the Original Lie, and Willful Ignorance is the Original Sin. Abandon Faith in the absurd and, in so doing, restore Hope to all humanity.
Amazing that you managed to type so much and say absolutely nothing. At least, nothing any sane person would understand or attempt to decipher. More proof religion often leads to mental instability.
Very, very well said. Bravo!
otherwise: "...As his custom was, he went into the syaggonue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read." (Luke 4:16b) A Hindu saddhu's virtue is all the greater if his wise speach does not come from reading, so Osho may be forgiven for jumping to conclusions here. But a Jewish rabbi? His learning is a valued part of what he has to offer!The standard Hindu view is that Jesus was an avatar of Vishnu, who meditated the way all holy figures do. But Jews did not meditate; they prayed. And early Christians believed that what Christ said was not meditational wisdom but the direct word of God.
Is anyone really surprised by this...funny too that the most religious people also seem to be the most illiterate to boot, but hey that's religion for you take what you thought was said, and use it as it benefits you.
It is the prevalance of misuse of Biblical ideas among the culture as a whole...not ignorance of those who study and worship the Bible. In essence, those who criticize it based on what others have said or the content of movies and tv shows versus reading it for yourself.
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.