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.”
In that day the LORD with His severe sword, great and strong,
Will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
Leviathan that twisted serpent;
And He will slay the reptile that is in the sea.” Isaiah 27:1
This appears to be an Old Testament reference to the serpent as Satan
Quite a stretch.
appears to be. the key part
No, it just gives the name Leviathan to the serpeant... Leviathan was a name commonly used for whales. You have to remember, this was a time before modern science and marine biology, so a whale seemed to be a monster to most.
Pro 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
Finally an article that makes sense. Hope readers develop common sense and stay away from bible nonsense. Has been nothing but one big problem and source of evil in world history. For those Americans of european or even african ancestry, christianity was not your indigenous spirituality/religion. It was literally thrust upon your ancestors – its stories/myths come from quite far away in the Levant and not your homelands. Seek and you will find your ancestral paths a live and well. It is very liberating.
Wow. The Bible is a source of evil? That's interesting that you say that. The Bible is one source that only speaks of love, accepting others, helping others, making sacrifices, and having faith in Jesus and the Lord, yet you say it causes evil. I'm curious how you arrived at that conclusion. What I do know is that people do things (like holy war) in God's name, which is not the Bible's fault, but the person or group's fault for misunderstanding and being very misguided. The Koran is the same way. I know some Muslims and they are the nicest people you would ever want to meet, but these terrorist killing for Allah are severly misguided and just plain wrong. I pray that you and others find their faith.
The freaking BIBLE wasn't originally in the Bible.
"God, so atrocious in the Old Testament, so attractive in the New–the Jekyl and Hyde of sacred romance". – Mark Twain
The Bible is a joke
That’s odd, I have read it cover to cover; I did not laugh, cried though, couple of times.
@Servant – Your name says all we need to know about you...
I figured He would get the point.
Just another FYI of biblical misquotes.....it's the book of Revelation.....NOT Revelations
The word "scripture" can refer to "any writing or book, especially when of a sacred or religious nature" (dictionary dot com). It doesn't necessarily mean the Bible. Also, few of us know actual biblical passages since they were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, etc. And at least one of these quotes can be substantiated in spirit by actual biblical passages. Maybe John Blake can knock himself out writing a useful article someday.
Two examples: The scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah.
NOT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, BUT IN MATTHEW 12: 40, IT SAYS.......FOR AS JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE WHALE'S BELLY, SO SHALL THE SON OF MAN BE THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH. Even if the writer does not know his Bible, the concordence reference would connect these two verses!!
Wonder why Jesus lied?
Furthermore, in Matthew look who said these words........plenty authentic for me!!
Yea but the original says a fish. So my guess is that someone in Mathew was miss quoting the old testament. Hey maybe that could be the authors next piece. WHY NEW TESTAMENT GOT THE OLD TESTAMENT WRONG or something like that.
"It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries."
This is a very important point to those who may think there is no development behind these "pithy" Biblical sayings, as Blake calls them. Perhaps these 'diluted' verses show just how much the Bible was integrated into the lives of many Christians and people immediately identified then simplified Scriptural references. Sayings like “God works in mysterious ways” and
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” could well be 'oral' redactions of larger verses, chapters, or concepts in the Bible, as William Copwer demonstrates in his hymn. Yet many people, as in Ditka's situation, still use sayings without knowing any citation but only through oral tradition (e.g. song, story ,etc) . I am sure Copwer would know the citation since he wrote the hymn.
Interestingly though, the idea that "Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden" is not the literally in Genesis. Yes this is very true. Yet, the concept behind the serpent is enlarged greatly as the entire Bible is explored from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible starts by introducing a controversy involving a serpent who challenges God's authority and later on reveals who that culprit is – Satan.
It's cool to see an article like this on CNN. Although it's a bit nit-picky I get the articles point. If your gonna quote the Bible, KNOW if it's there and WHERE it is first.
If they began drug testing all state and federal level workers (especially elected officials) then I'd be impressed. This is simply an additional way by which the wealthy will stick it to the "unwealthy".
It really is class warfare.
You're on the wrong article.
Not a whale, a fish, probably a white sturgeon.....I seen them on that new show river monsters; they get pretty big.
I always thought of the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" not to mean, "Help yourself at the exclusion of all others," rather I think it means, "Don't sit around waiting for a handout when you have the means to help yourself."
Having Biblical scholars around can be helpful, but their idea are still opinions. They do not agree on a universal interpretation of scripture. To believe one biblical scholar or minister or priest as the ultimate authority is dangerous. Look at that idiot who predicted the world would end last month. How many people were suckered into believing that one?
The whole damn book is a cric-of-a-fat-pile-of-it anyway so why waste time discussing rubbish.GET A GRIP PEOPLE!
Acts 17:11 says – 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
Doesn't mater who is teaching, etc. We are to read the scriptures to see for ourselves. The truth shall set you free.....
Wow, John Blake. Great job! This is like a person in an Asylum yelling at me that I am crazy. Really?!?, Eve was NOT tempted by Satan the serpent in the Garden of Eden? It was a random talking serpent who is no longer heard of again...thanks for your spiritual insight. You must have read the whole Bible too or at least a book of "that's not in the bible" passages or maybe a talking donkey read it to you...oh wait your going to say that is not in the Bible too right? Talking Donkey
One way to know what's there for sure. Read it yourself.
Ah yes, this all follows from the premise "any serpent that is not Satan is random". NOW we understand!
Read it again. No mention of Satan, only a serpent. You believe in other improbable things in the Bible, why not a talking serpent. After the temptation and fall, God didn't curse Satan. God cursed the snakes and through him, all snakes. Apparently, God knew it was a snake but, let me guess, you know better.
So I do not like to post but here goes. I am a Christian I do read the bible and it does shape my world view. I am not afraid of God but I have a humble fear of him; much the way you would a good boss who you do not want to displease. I do take the bible literally and believe that even though some of the passages may be troubling to our modern psyche it does not make them less true. An environmentalist was trying to convince me the other day about the purity and goodness that was in the world before industrialization. After the conversation I prayed and realized that if someone could make the rational jump to a simpler time then why is it so hard to accept some of the truth that is in the bible. I would say that faith is the real issue here. Not some simple concept of faith but real faith. I would ask that all here seek out people who study the bible and ask them questions about their faith and why they believe. It is easy to dismiss someone who has no education and no power as being delusional or an idiot. Instead of going down that, much traveled rout, go to a church find a pastor and ask him point blank what he believes and why he believes it. I do not expect the pastor would sway the most ardent opposition on this page. However, I do believe he would at least be able to answer in such a way as to decrease the misunderstanding. Finally, if anyone is truly searching for the reality of Jesus I think I have some good information sources that you could start on. O and I mean information sources you could use the info to solidify your current view or change it if adequately convinced. Blessings and Love to you all.
Very nicely said.
What a pile of horse puckies.
The author seems sincere – painfully sincere. You almost want to hug the person. But I have to come down on the "pile of horse puckies" side here. Sorry. It's just the only rational thing to do.
Piles of horse what? Anyway horse excretions aside I give even the most ardent atheist the benefit of the doubt. Just because I don’t believe something does not mean I should discount it.; especially when about 1/3 of the earth’s pop self IDs as such. Anyway, if I truly believed it was horse excretions I would ardently try and convince every delusional person I run into of my feelings on the matter. Horse stuff seems kind of like an intellectual brush off.
@Servant You as-sume that non-believers never had that conversation with a pastor. I had an VERY intense conversation with a pastor I had planned to be baptized by about some things I found very troubling about the vengeful god we worshipped and came away KNOWING that worshipping such a monster god was itself an unforgivable sin.
I would never assume anything about anyone. I was just offering a solution if anyone was wondering about the belief. I am sorry to hear that you have not been able to come to tearms with what the bible says about God. I will pray for your search for truth.
Isn't it nice of God to make us all free-will spirits so we can actualy think the way we want to, act the way we want to, and choose where we go after we die – and regardless what you may say here, we all think about the after-life now and than – and we make the choice........
For everyone here who uses this forum as another opportunity to complain about how Christians don't live their faith: If you could visit Tornado Country you would see literally thousands of Christians of all denominations feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, cleaning up the destruction, and providing places to live. The government is helping, and so are private agencies like the United Way, but the overwhelming majority of the help is coming from Christian churches and Christian neighbors. If the churches, from the Catholics to the Mormons, and everyone in between, were not so heavily involved we would not be nearly so far along in recovery, and that is a fact.
Yes, you will see Christians, but not JUST them, you see mainly them because they are a majority. You will see people of all faiths helping out, it's not something you can attribute to any one religion.
Actually, I'd like to know where you're getting your info – the United Way is NOT a relief agency. The Red Cross is, The Salvation Army is, the Southern Baptists are, but not the United Way. The Red Cross benefits from the United Way – I don't know about the other two. Also, the Red Cross has shelter agreements with a variety of organizations INCLUDING Churches. Perhaps this is what you are referring to – a Church building being staffed by Red Cross or Salvation Army volunteers.
Personally, I am a Red Cross Disaster Action Team leader. I get to respond to minor things like fires in th middle of the night in all kinds of weather. I am not Christian – most of the people I have on the teams (we rotate) are not either. We are simply people doing the right thing.
There are good people of all faiths (or lack thereof) in emergencies like this. To say that one group is overwhelming being represented is a slap in the face of these other volunteers.
Now critique the Koran you dimwit!!
Wow, could you be any dumber? He wasn't critiquing the bible, half-wit. He was pointing out that some quotes attributed to it are simply wrong.
That's the problem with christians: they claim to read the Bible but most never have, don't understand what it says, and let others tell them what's supposedly in there, and certainly don't follow the main precepts. But OMG are they pious.
Kind of sounds like our goverment voting on laws they never read – doesn't it!!
I think it was a monitor lizard, they make a kind of hissing growling noise that sounds like talking. Probably the monitor lizard was irate because they were too close to his tree and he didn't want them to eat his fruit. That's what I think happened.
The monitor lizard explains it for me. I have been puzzled all my life how women could accept the biblical explanation that they began as the lung of a man in a garden with a talking snake. Eve would most likely have paid more attention to the larger lizard who can almost talk. I am sure she misunderstood a “hsisssaplesssseatsss” with “get that man to chomp in this apple”. Dang lizards!
I always thought folks would follow the most plausible explanations of reality. Then I think about religion, and it all goes out the window. I would still never trust the intellect of anyone who believed such a ridiculous myth ever actually took place. If you believe the story of Mr. Adam and Mrs. Eve, you are either a child with a wild imagination or helplessly ignorant of the world around you. There is no God, no heaven, no hell, no Adam and no Eve. Please, please, let’s try to think, and put aside these childish notions of a fantasy called religion.
Shall we all assume that whenever we hear His name in a movie or on TV or written it is immediately sourced to the Bible? Of course it shouldn't but that didn't seem to stop you from thinly researching and writing this column. Because someone invokes God's name does not make it a biblical quote and to assume so is a mistake on your part and demonstrates either a lack of research or an agenda and either throws your credibility into question.
Your pedantic article may have fooled many of the people commenting here but it has not escaped me. This is an attack on Christians and their views and an attempt by you to trivialize our intelligence. Whether "spare the rod, spoil the child" is the same as the passage in the Bible is irrelevant. Instead what matters is the message and the message remains the same regardless of interpretation or translations.
Does it matter if “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is a quote from the Bible or does the message itself matter? Does it matter that the Bible says "Love others as you love yourself" or does the message matter? I, and am certain others as well, will maintain that the message is important and not the particular words. Whether King James manipulated the text for misogynistic purposes or translation errors from Greek to English occurred is not important. What I have learned from the Bible matters and I have grown for it and if others take the time to truly read it they will benefit as well.
Instead of attempting to conceal your obvious distate for Christianity and your unnecessary need to shed light on misquotes I think you'd be better served writing more important things. There are too many historical disservices that have been propagated and shedding light on them would be more helpful than attacking people of faith.
@John You missed the point of the article completely. But you're a Christian. So a little well earned intellectual insecurity is to be expected, as is the seemingly ever present persecution complex. So let's move on. I'm curious, for instance, what it means for a "historical disservice" to be "propagated".
"Your pedantic article may have fooled many of the people commenting here but it has not escaped me."
this is funny in three ways.
@frank OK, I see two ways: (1) John's letter is itself ponderously pedantic; (2) The meaning of the article has indeed eluded John. Nut I won't be able to get to sleep till I know the third funny!
Well, as we know, people will be "persecuting" Christians til the End of Days. It's the Enemy at work. Christ said Himself that if you are NOT of the world, the world will hate you. I'm glad that I'm Not of the world.
That's all part of it. Everytime there is an article that has anything to do with the Bible or Christian thought or theology, someone uses it to slam the Christian Faithful. But that is ok. I look at it like this, if someone has something negative to say about you; that usually means that you have made an impact or impression on them. God is good all of the time. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I see that you follow the common practice of attacking the writer rather than address the message. Apparently you have no gift for discourse so this ends my participation with you.
Your "message" is just a massive misreading of the article, and this misreading stems directly from your intellectual defensiveness (as I said, clearly well earned) and typical Christian persecution complex (which is delusional). I'm staying perfectly on topic? So what's your problem?
I guess there are only two; sorry, I'm not very good at arithmetic
@frank Yeah, but those two are SO funny that they seem to add up to three!!!
Proverbs 23:13 "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod and shall deliver his soul from hell".
I love how they always miss that passage when they try to avoid this subject. BTW I personally condone old fashion woopins. In the words of that dude from the Simpsons, "that's a paddlin".
Too bad countless experts and studies have found that physical punishment is the least effective form of discipline. Of course, you will disregard that since a 2,000 year old fictional zombie told you differently.
I enjoyed readnig your work! GREAT post! I looked around for this but I found you! Anyway, would you mind if I threw up a backlink from my site to your site?
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