Actually, that's not in the Bible
Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden right? Nope. That's one of many phantom passages that people think are in the Bible.
June 5th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Actually, that's not in the Bible

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - NFL legend Mike Ditka was giving a news conference one day after being fired as the coach of the Chicago Bears when he decided to quote the Bible.

“Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka said after leading his team to only five wins during the previous season.  “This, too, shall pass.”

Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ditka was quoting a phantom scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.

Ditka’s biblical blunder is as common as preachers delivering long-winded public prayers. The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches - all types of people  - quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.

These phantom passages include:

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

And there is this often-cited paraphrase: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

None of those passages appear in the Bible, and one is actually anti-biblical, scholars say.

But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

“In my college religion classes, I sometimes quote 2 Hesitations 4:3 (‘There are no internal combustion engines in heaven’),” Bouma-Prediger says. “I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse.

“Only a few catch on.”

Few catch on because they don’t want to - people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, a Bible professor says.

“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who once had to persuade a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University that the saying “this dog won’t hunt” doesn’t appear in the Book of Proverbs.

“They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in,” he says, “but they ignore the vast majority of the text."

Phantom biblical passages work in mysterious ways

Ignorance isn’t the only cause for phantom Bible verses. Confusion is another.

Some of the most popular faux verses are pithy paraphrases of biblical concepts or bits of folk wisdom.

Consider these two:

“God works in mysterious ways.”

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Both sound as if they are taken from the Bible, but they’re not. The first is a paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).

The “cleanliness” passage was coined by John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism,  says Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.

“No matter if John Wesley or someone else came up with a wise saying - if it sounds proverbish, people figure it must come from the Bible,” Kidd says.

Our fondness for the short and tweet-worthy may also explain our fondness for phantom biblical phrases. The pseudo-verses function like theological tweets: They’re pithy summarizations of biblical concepts.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” falls into that category. It’s a popular verse - and painful for many kids. Could some enterprising kid avoid the rod by pointing out to his mother that it's not in the Bible?

It’s doubtful. Her possible retort: The popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

Another saying that sounds Bible-worthy: “Pride goes before a fall.” But its approximation, Proverbs 16:18, is actually written: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

There are some phantom biblical verses for which no excuse can be offered. The speaker goofed.

That’s what Bruce Wells, a theology professor, thinks happened to Ditka, the former NFL coach, when he strayed from the gridiron to biblical commentary during his 1993 press conference in Chicago.

Wells watched Ditka’s biblical blunder on local television when he lived in Chicago. After Ditka cited the mysterious passage, reporters scrambled unsuccessfully the next day to find the biblical source.

They should have consulted Wells, who is now director of the ancient studies program at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. Wells says Ditka’s error probably came from a peculiar feature of the King James Bible.

“My hunch on the Ditka quote is that it comes from a quirk of the King James translation,” Wells says. “Ancient Hebrew had a particular way of saying things like, ‘and the next thing that happened was…’ The King James translators of the Old Testament consistently rendered this as ‘and it came to pass.’ ’’

When phantom Bible passages turn dangerous

People may get verses wrong, but they also mangle plenty of well-known biblical stories as well.

Two examples: The scripture never says a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet, nor did any New Testament passages say that three wise men visited baby Jesus, scholars say.

Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.

Most people know the popular version - Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.

But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.

“Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.

Getting biblical scriptures and stories wrong may not seem significant, but it can become dangerous, one scholar says.

Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It's actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation's founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

Where do these phantom passages come from?

It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries.

Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists.

If, say, you were an anonymous artist painting the Garden of Eden during the Renaissance, why not portray the serpent as the devil to give some punch to your creation? And if you’re a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn’t it just sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, not a “great fish”?

Others blame the spread of phantom Bible passages on King James, or more specifically the declining popularity of the King James translation of the Bible.

That translation, which marks 400 years of existence this year, had a near monopoly on the Bible market as recently as 50 years ago, says Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

“If you quoted the Bible and got it wrong then, people were more likely to notice because there was only one text,” he says. “Today, so many different translations are used that almost no one can tell for sure if something supposedly from the Bible is being quoted accurately or not.”

Others blame the spread of phantom biblical verses on Martin Luther, the German monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the massive “protest” against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the formation of Protestant church denominations.

“It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone - milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper - to be able to pick up the Bible and read for herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text,” says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California.

But often the milkmaid, the cobbler - and the NFL coach - start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says.

“You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, ‘What does this text mean to you?’’’ Hazen says.

“Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Faith

soundoff (8,604 Responses)
  1. Brian

    Mr. Blake makes some spot on comments, and I commend him for it, but perhaps he should be more careful in reading the Bible too. The Serpent is a direct reference to Satan in the Bible, and appears as such in many passages, including Revelation. This is also clearly realized in Genesis 3 by anyone familiar with Scripture. What's more, while "technically" we do not know where the "serpent" had his conversation with Eve, he alludes directly to the "tree of the garden". Just thought I'd clarify this.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Shar

      I agree, while there is no mention of an apple. We have good reason to know that the Serpeant/snake represents Satan as it is referenced in the scriptures at other times (Rev 12:9, Rev 20:2). While I disagree with a few points in the article, I like how the article points out it’s just not "phantom scriptures" but also phantom stories. Like for example the three wise men or kings. READ the account at Matthew Chapter 2. The bible never uses the words three or kings to describe the men who wanted to “pay obeisance”. In fact most common renderings and translations of the Greek text refer to the individuals as "astrologers" or "magi" That is they were involved in a practice in which God condemned (Deuteronomy 18:10). Another inconsistency is the idea that these “wise” men or rather astrologers witnessed the very young infant Jesus being after his birth. According to the account, Jehovah sent his angels to ministers to lowly shepherds regarding Jesus birth not astrologers or anyone partaking in practices he deemed detestable. The biblical account in Matthew2: 9-10 says that Jesus was a “young child.” Verse 11 states: “And when they (astrologers, magi, wise men) went into the house…” Remember Jesus was in a manger (place for animals) not a house when he was born. The magi served Herod’s purpose not God’s. God intervened with these astrologers by divine warning in a dream not to return to Herod as to protect and preserve Jesus alive. It should not shock us that God allowed these astrologers to see his warning. He has done this in times prior to that with the unbelieving (Nebuchadnezzar for example) to reveal and reemphasize His will and purpose. There are many more inconsistencies. Examining them closely exposes the “Nativity Scene” which is so popular in many churches and elsewhere as man’s contrivance not God’s.

      Though these may seem like minor differences at first. They have a huge impact on our understanding how God operates in the scriptures and impedes our understanding of His will and purpose in the world.

      This article brings to light that much of what many “Christians” believe is not really based in accurate bible knowledge and truth. For God himself, along with Jesus and the apostles knew this would be the case as it is written that men would be : “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. ” (English Standard Version, 2001)

      June 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • NH

      "Clearly realized in Genesis 3 by anyone familiar with Scripture?" Um, no. There is nothing remotely referencing or alluding to Satan in Genesis. Which is what the author of this article stated. He never said Satan wasn't mentioned in Revelations. He said that IN GENESIS there is no mention of the snake being Satan.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Sara

      High five, Shar

      September 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  2. kennth B, smiith, P.E.

    atten: Edttor: Quoting the Bible is above my pay grade, so i'llnot attempt to compete with the well read contributers
    in the well writtenparagraphs, abov e. Thanks for the opportunity.K.B.S.

    quoting nthe Bible

    June 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  3. Sean

    This forum is better than People of WalMart! Thanks, CNN!

    June 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  4. dtartchick

    Proverbs 13:24 (Whole Chapter)
    He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      All you're doing by posting this is reaffirming my belief that the bible advocates child abuse.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  5. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  6. Brian

    FIrst of all, I like the idea of people eating brownies and drinking decaf and saying, What does the scripture mean to you? That's better than one person getting up in front of people and saying the wrong thing. The best scenerio would be for people to ask 1. What was the original context of this passage 2. What is it saying to me 3. How can I apply it.
    Speaking of errors, you actually got the Genesis story wrong when you were trying to point out an error in the Genesis story. You said, "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." Satan (serpent is symbolic) actually tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of the KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL."

    June 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Buffy Summers

      Wrong. If the bible is literal, how can the serpent be symbolic for satan?
      Go on, pick up a KJV bible, read it, get back to us.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  7. Rick

    Proverbs 13:24
    Whoever spares the rod hates his son,but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
    Proverbs 13:23-25

    Same thought as: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

    June 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Shelley

      Agreed. Just a modernized way of saying it.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The problem is the misinterpretation of "rod" and the misunderstanding of the word "discipline".

      The idiots who don't know the meaning of either use such 'scripture' to excuse their desire to abuse their children.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Simon

      Ahh, the paraphrasing defense....

      June 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Norwood

      The danger in the shortening of this one is that some could take it as a command – to spare the rod and instead spoil one's child – rather than the caution that sparing the rod will spoil one's child.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  8. mouse

    "If we could get back to that time when the commoner knew the text like the clergy, we would be much better off."
    Jason, when was this? the commoner has always relied on the interpretation of others that is why even to this day very few who call themselves christians KNOW what they believe. Some have never read the bible but claim a knowledge because they've HEARD someone misquote something. Oh for a time when all will have read it and found it to be wanting.......

    June 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • john

      that never happened.
      if you refer to everything pre-1900s you had an illiterate population who had to rely on someone else to read and explain it

      and some "explained" it in a way that justified slavery!

      christians have never been able to give real answers to tough questions. like why some books were included in the canon and some were excluded. like why the church refuses to embrace scientific facts like evolution and the fact people are born gay/straight/ whatever.
      "just have faith" doesnt work for everyone.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Look up "lollard" if you've never heard the word. Very enlightening.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  9. Keith

    Actually no its not in the Bible but the concept is!

    June 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  10. Adevilson Silva

    That is not in the bible. That is in another book, also of folklore, called "The Lord of the Rings" and the sentence is spoken by Gandalf when fighting the Ballrog.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  11. GreenieInPA

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

    June 6, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  12. john

    i am not a christian anymore BUT


    gotta give them this: they feed more hungry people and donate more to global charities and build schools and hospitals


    so we have to give credit where credit is due

    as mother teresa said, "how many lepers have you washed today"?

    June 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Sean

      Evidence, please.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • TOM

      That's NOT TRUE. Athiests don't generally congregate in meeting halls however there have been surveys that indicate that athiests give extremely generously to many causes from green and environmental causes to ones of human suffering. Many have donated entire estates to foundations, organizations, clubs and many many other causes.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • john

      name a SINGLE HOSPITAL that is founded and run by athiets

      just 1

      bc every state in america has MULTIPLE hospitals funded by christians

      June 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      There's no such thing as an "athiest." This whole discussion is embarrassing. THEISM is a belief in God, A-Theism is the lack of that belief. Also if you worship the Christ you are a Christian, if you just follow His words you're just christian. Spelling matters, guys, snort some cocoa if you don't believe it.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • JA

      @Bible Clown: Your name is appropriate,.

      August 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  13. Christine

    The author of this article doesn't seem to know the bible himself. One of the fundamental teachings of God's word is that the Holy Spirit reveals the meanings of the scripture to those of us who have accepted Christ as our Saviour. Therefore, so-called "biblical experts" are not needed to interpret the bible, nor do they neccessary know what they are talking about, unless they are lead by the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 2)

    June 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • john

      what happens when 1000 "experts" disagree?
      are you saying 1 is right and the other 999 are going to hell?

      June 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • jfonty1


      June 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • xyx25

      Very true!!! We need Spirit of God to understand the things of God. On the other hand no one is qualified to go into heaven unless God shows His Grace. It is not who understands the Scriopture but who follows it. Who follows it are showing the evidence that they are saved because following is a Work and we are saved by Grace alone. But the true Child of God is humble enough and willing to correct their doctrines under scriptural evidence, as God reveals progressively.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Andrew

      Christine, did your holy spirit tell you that necessarily was not an adverb in your usage, because it was wrong. I'm not just being a grammar nazi for no reason, it's to prove a point. People have been doing great acts throughout the history of the world without believing in a god. There's no reason to think that we aren't capable of doing so even further down the road.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Sally

      So in other words, the bible tells you it is pretty much OK to interpert it any way you choose. That explains a lot!

      June 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Christine

      Sorry, Andrew! I forgot to proof read. What a sin! LOL You're right; there are generous, wonderful people that are non-believers, who do great things. John, just like any other answer, there is one correct answer and all the rest are wrong. It doesn't mean that the 999 experts you mentioned that interpret the scripture wrong are going to hell....just the ones that reject Jesus Christ. I'd like to comment on all the incorrect comments on this blog, but I believe the word of God is true and it tells me in Matthew 7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you... so good bye, everyone. I'll let you non-believers look up the interpretation of that one. lol Andrew, forgive me in advance for butchering my grammer in this one. 🙂

      June 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  14. Andrew

    Now we have a moral cesspool...people have very little concept of morality and it's getting worse by the day.

    Your mom's getting worse by the day too

    June 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "Yea, and verily, and it shall come to pass that your mom is so fat that when she sits around the house she really sits around the house." YourMom 3:16

      June 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Andrew

      How do you explain all 6 of them immediately going into an alpha brain-wave state, flashes of light, loud noise, even one had a needle shoved into her shoulder and nothing appears on the eeg. This is physically impossible. Go to medjugorje.com and look for links to scientific study. Why would the people who tested them lie about the results, gives an awful lot of authority to 6 'psychotic' kids. You believe in science until it goes against your beliefs

      A lot of things happen that haven't yet been explained, but that doesn't excuse IMMEDIATELY jumping on the religion train and claiming that it was something that was inspired by some kind of deity just because you can't explain it. Have you ever heard of an "Argument from Ignorance?" Yeah, that's exactly what your explanation is. Just because they don't have an answer now doesn't mean that they won't.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  15. Amused

    The pilgrims came to the new world so they could practice their radical extremist version of religion far away from the prying eyes of rational thought and judgement. Very similar to Jim Jones and the people's temple !

    June 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  16. Just Jim

    Kevorkian 3:16 says "all who thump the bible should grow the hell up and get a hobby".

    June 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  17. Erik

    I believe people can follow a Religion, especially to battle everyday life, but many of the comments here just proves part of the text right.It is when people are blinded by Religion that it becomes dangerous.....funny how many (not all of course) religious people demand tolerance but when it comes to their turn, show none.....many of the Biblical citations in comments show just that....come on people, it´s just an article, stop taing it as a personal offense....

    June 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Buffy Summers

      You'd think people would take this article as an incentive to pick up the Good Book and start learning... instead, just more ignorance.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  18. Jason

    Oh for the days where many would get together for Bible study in their homes and "get the interpretation wrong." Unfortunately, so few really know what the Bible says or teaches! Most of the "biblical experts" have no clue either. If we could get back to that time when the commoner knew the text like the clergy, we would be much better off. Now we have a moral cesspool...people have very little concept of morality and it's getting worse by the day.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  19. Andrew


    Still no reasonable explanation from any of you non-believers as to what has been going on in Medjugorje for 30 years now.

    Your story proves nothing, other than the bond that they formed while in captivity caused them not to break their bonds. They keep their hallucinations because it makes them feel closer and it was the hallucinations which kept them sane. Fear is a powerful weapon, and your story does nothing beyond proof of how powerful it is.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • paxman2

      How do you explain all 6 of them immediately going into an alpha brain-wave state, flashes of light, loud noise, even one had a needle shoved into her shoulder and nothing appears on the eeg. This is physically impossible. Go to medjugorje.com and look for links to scientific study. Why would the people who tested them lie about the results, gives an awful lot of authority to 6 'psychotic' kids. You believe in science until it goes against your beliefs.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      pax, ever read THE CRUCIBLE?

      June 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm |

    I've read the Bible from cover to cover; although it was quit some time ago. I'm aware of where it says, "Faith with out works is dead." FIRST people need to KNOW what that means; then they can move on!!! Now that verse comes from the Bible. Now if I wanted to say it MY WAY I would say "God helps those who helps themselves" It is My opinion that The Bible verse and My quote mean the same thing.....That nothing will be accomplished unless you put some ACTION to it; meaning you can't just wish something or JUST SAY it will happen you actually have to put in MOTION. Fortunatlly, I know the differance between The Bible Verse and My PARA PHASE, but to me they mean the SAME. PEACE!!!!

    June 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
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About this blog

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.