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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 • Evangelical • Faith

soundoff (8,604 Responses)
  1. Ahoffner

    This arcticle just goes to prove the truth of scripture that man is not without error. Use scripture to interpret scripture and the truth of scripture will come through. Man in his fallen nature cannot trust himself to interpret the word of God.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Amused

      You mean the word of MAN. People wrote the books that became known as the bible. Not a single one of them were written by an imaginary being.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  2. framous

    It's profoundly odd that we still quibble over the gods. I prefer Zeus.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  3. Chuck711

    It's pointless to debate religion. I believe this, you believe that, and there is no way to determine who is right and who is wrong. I guess we'll all find out one day. Until then, bring me another beer!

    June 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  4. Billy O

    It is unfortunate that mis-use of the bible is the root of all evil.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  5. AK37

    "Biblical ignorance" is redundant

    June 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  6. GreenieInPA

    Jesus said, :I am the vine, twig, and berries, and unless you eat me, you will surely die."

    June 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  7. Andrew

    nolapearl

    This country was founded on "Freedom," not christianity. You're so bogus! All of you people who make the claim that this country was founded on christian principles, yet the actual Bill of Rights says that government shall not infringe upon the free exercise of RELIGION, not one particular religion. It says that the church and state will be seperate...and it's not for no reason.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • john

      you are CLOSE
      the founders did want a seperation of church and state...but not bc they didnt expect all americans to be christians...they did! they did it so the congregationalists wouldnt have an advantage over the baptists. or so the methodists wouldnt have an advantage over quakers, etc....

      June 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  8. paxman2

    Still no reasonable explanation from any of you non-believers as to what has been going on in Medjugorje for 30 years now. In this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSbN0T6rAIc&feature=fvsr, Mirjana says as children they were arrested by the then communist police, they were put in an insane asylum and told they would live there for the rest of their lives, then they were brought to a mortuary and were left in a room with dead people and told they would have to live there for the rest of their lives. The threatened teenagers, the youngest one 10 years old never backed down from the 'story' they were telling – and still are 30 years later.

    Starting in June of 1981 6 kids, ages 10 to 15 dropping to their knees at the same time, focusing on the same spot (even though they have side –blinders on), bright flashing lights and hot skin probes not showing up on their EEGs, all raising their heads simultaneously when she leaves. Being arrested by the communist police and threatened with jail and torture and refusing to change their testimony. And now 30 years later, still going to church daily, praying many hours every day, all sticking to their ‘story’ while raising families. Six pathological liars? I guess the proof will be if they die without the signs happening that they say will happen in their lifetimes. Search vimeo for Mirjana or Medjugorje. Look how young Jakov is in the 1984 vimeo video 10286499, how they all raise their eyes at the same time. Someone said there's no sound (which is true) so maybe there was an audible signal so the children would synchronize their looking up. Well, there's a crowd of hundreds of people all around them, don't you think they would have heard the signal. They've done this in front of crowds of hundreds of people hundreds of times. Search u-tube videos of Mirjana. Please reply with your explanation. She says in one of her videos that Our Blessed Mother doesn't refer to atheist as non-believers but as ‘those who do not yet know the love of God’, so at least there’s hope in the way she puts it, sounds like you'll eventually come around. But she also says you'll regret waiting until the great sign, don't let your hearts become too hardened. Keep an open mind and look into it. Also, how do you explain similarities and out of body experiences in people who have had NDEs? I almost drowned as a teenager and I know what I experienced wasn't just my brain failing from lack of oxygen. I’ll keep praying for you.
    Pax.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      I think you are still suffering from lack of oxygen to the brain.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Fordham Jock

      And what, you haven't seen the Glee episode "Cheese Bejesus" (Jesus in his grilled cheese). It's equally preposterous. You ARE kidding, right ?

      June 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Faux Paws

      Mass hysteria is a well known phenomenon.
      You seem to be fishing for an explanation. You are not convinced ?

      June 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • jim

      The medjugorje people are false visionairies, the apparitions they claim to see of the virgin mary made predictions and they didn't come true. The books and videos claiming that they are real are written and directed by biased individuals that denied their own scientific backgrounds in lieu of belief. They consistantly ignored things that would lead you to know, not think, but know that these people were faking it. Enough said, do some research.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  9. SeansCat

    Due to the general ignorance of what is really in the Bible, I initiated the True Scripture project, which simply tells the stories that are in any mainstream Bible. The humorous, entertaining and disturbing stuff – which you are simply not going to get on Sunday school or from the pulpit, is all in there. The Book of Genesis is up on Amazon as a cheap e-book.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • GreenieInPA

      True Scripture – isn't that any oxymoron!?!

      June 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  10. dj

    Another one is " Money is the root of all evil". Bible never said that, it does say " The LOVE of money is the root of all evil" Big Difference there.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  11. Barbin

    My husband recently read the Bible cover to cover looking for references to abortion. He found none.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • jim

      It does say you are not even supposed to spill your seed on the ground, I believe it can be inferred that we shouldn't murder unborn children.

      June 6, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • john

      the only reference to abortion issue in the bible is in jeremiah where god tells him that even while he was in the womb, there was a plan for his life

      June 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Jim

      THAT is quite a 'leap' my friend. I certainly would not make that 'inference' from what you posted.

      By using your standards, one could very well make a leap that no one should every be killed, etc... yes...?

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      June 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • jfonty1

      Well he must not have been paying very good attention when he got to Exodus. It's in the 6th commandment "Thou shalt not kill".

      June 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Veronica DeVore

      Thou Shalt Not Kill

      June 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      "It does say you are not even supposed to spill your seed on the ground."
      Yes, always make sure there's an open mouth below you.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Sean

      "I believe it can be inferred" sums it up nicely. The Bible doesn't have to say something to mean it. You can make it mean whatever you want. Like Mad Libs.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • jfonty1

      Just like there is no exact word peodophilia, there is no exact word abortion. But God's word clearly indicates both are wrong.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • MM

      Thou shalt not kill? So killing any animal is wrong? Or any person, for any reason whatsoever?

      June 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  12. Jesus of Nazareth

    God, save us from this thread.

    PS- I love you all.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  13. MJPare

    Revelation 12:9 refers to the devil as the "original serpent the one called devil and satan"

    June 6, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  14. Lairbear

    Perhaps it would be nice if Amon-Ra, Ma-at, and Seth took part in these discussions.
    I think some of the posters hearts are going to go...Ammut!
    Turn to Min and indulge, you’ll feel better by the end of the day.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  15. zzzzwhat

    Also from Texas. Yes, those verses that Texan86 referred to are confusing. Not sure what all that means, but I wouldn't discount it as being wrong. Could be a translation issue or maybe we just don't understand what he's talking about. Texan86 does seem knowledgable on scripture to be able to quote all that!

    June 6, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  16. Platemaker

    "This too shall pass" – I've heard that it wasn't from the Bible.... but have never received a straight answer on where it came from... . Aesop's fables, Persian poets, a Hercules story... and now Ben Franklin?? You can quickly corroborate ALL of them with online sources... this strengthens my tendency not to believe anything I read.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Tim

      "This too shall pass" ... not directly in the Bible. I would consider it a paraphrase from Eccliastes which states (not quoted) that to everything there is a season. A time to be born, a time to live, a time to die. This too shall pass was probably meant to say that it is only a temporary state of time. And, in that context, I can constrew that from the Holy Scriptures.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  17. jewel

    "God's foolishness is greater than the wisdom of man" (dont go looking for those exact words for I think I paraphrased that one)....

    June 6, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  18. Laughing

    This article is a waste of time, and besides is ill-informed. While totally correct that certain exact phrases are not in the Bible according to the translation, the sentiments from which most sprang are there. For instance, being clean morally and physically is certainly largely emphasised in the Bible. If someone is looking for the exact phrase, they would not find it, however the fact is that the Bible clearly says God wants his people to be clean. Therefore, the essense of the phrase proves true.

    Also, Satan's name may not be directly in the passages regarding the serpent at the beginning, however later it is clearly stated that the one who mislead Eve was the one called Devil and Satan. That's why you read the WHOLE Bible, IN CONTEXT before you print this stuff. When you take one single passage, you can misinterpret an awful lot, which is why we have droves of people clammoring to "prove" that the Bible contradicts itself all the time. Because they know one or two specific passages out of context.

    I agree most people have faulty knowledge of the Bible, but for goodness sake, pick issues that are ACTUALLY issues to talk about.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Nunya

      Really? Where? This is exactly what the article is about. Where is it? quote it where the bible says "by the way, the snake, back in genesis, that was the devil."

      June 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Atheologystudent

      Most people don't know nor care enough to read through the footnotes. In the bible I have (which is the most popular bible in America) the word serpent in Genesis is footnoted as being "satan".

      It also makes me curious as to why did CNN coraborate this with DIFFERENT SECTS OF CHRISTIANITY! they all interpret the bible differently, that's why we have so many christianity based religions! CNN also quoted a RABBI as knowing the bible! Rabbi's wouldn't know the bible they would know the old testament, not the new! They would study The Pentatuch, genesis, exodus Leviticus deutoronomy and Numbers! The wouldn't study MOST OF WHAT THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT!

      June 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • John Ray

      My friend – I disagree. I think this is a relevant and well written article because too many people are lost and in the dark. This indicates how critical the church's mission is to compel men, women and children to get a proper knowledge of Jesus and His Word. If people had a better understanding of the bible (agree with you that parts can't be picked out of context and twisted) we wouldn't have had the terrible influence of Mr. Harold Camping (Judgement Date) recently. We should all agree that the bible does cover our "Basic Instructions before leaving earth" and assist in preparing others to meet their Maker in peace. Be blessed.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • efred

      I agree; you cannot pick only one verse, and ignore all of the other verses around it, or the paragraph surrounding it at the least. If the surrounding verses appear to have nothing to do with the verse in question, like in Ecclesiastes or Proverbs, then it probably is a stand alone piece of wisdom.

      Regarding the "innaccuracies" of Bible Study groups, a group of any salt will first open with a prayer for wisdom, and every opinion is backed up with scriptures, like the Bereans, who "...examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." This applies to everyone who listens to anyone espousing the Word, especially Church leaders, who can be "wolves in sheeps clothing." (Matthew 7:15, paraphrased)

      June 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  19. well

    Two statements of faith without factual support, and one reason based statement.
    Atheist "I believe the is no God"
    Theist "I believe there is a God"
    Agnostic "There is evidence for niether position. Pass me a beer"
    One admits he is making a statement of faith. One thinks he is making a statement of reason. One is now enjoying a cool frosty beverage.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • MM

      Atheists say show me the evidence; without it, your statement that there is a god is unsupported at best, wrong at worst.

      It is impossible to prove a negative. Atheists are quite aware of that. Theists, on the other hand, are often not.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  20. RichG

    You make your own heaven and hell here on earth, then you die.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • jfonty1

      You've heard a lie and believed it

      June 6, 2011 at 11:58 am |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.