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. Iosias of Washington DC

    This is more of a slap-in-the-face to Protestant Christian sects than anything else. Things like the 3 Wise Men, among other things (like the name of St. Dismas – the Good Theif who was crucified beside Jesus) are part of Church Tradition that has been handed down through the centuries by either the Catholic or the Orthodox Church.

    The rest that isn't from the Church Tradition that cannot be attributed to a difference in interpretation of translations from older language where a whale was simply a sea monster (Jonah being in the belly of a sea monster, et. al.) can be attributed to things added by Protestants who abandoned the Tradition and, unwittingly, display why one cannot derive all Church doctrine based on private interpretation of the Scriptures which were written and preserved from within the Holy Tradition.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Doesn't the Bible say that Pinocchio was in the belly of the whale for weeks?

      June 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  2. MSfromCA

    I am surprised this article doesn't mention all the junk the "prosperity preachers" spout off – "God wants you to be wealthy" etc. Basically the exact opposite of what the New Testament says. Its also ironic to me that the religious right in the GOP thinks that Christianity supports their "take from the poor and give to rich" philosophy – its NOT in there.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • tom

      your comment is a lot more interesting than the article

      June 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Sean

      The "God wants you to be wealthy" is usually followed by "Give me money and he'll show you how."

      June 7, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  3. Adrian

    I see where you tried to go here, but you combined misquoting with just plain quotes in general. I haven't ever heard anyone ever try to proclaim that most of the quotes you referenced were in the Bible, but an item doesn't have to exist in an actual or literal context within the Bible to be true. The instructions to build a satellite, cell phone or DVR don't exist in the Bible, but there are several passages that confirm that God opens up the mind of the believer (or more accurately, to the mind of those who follow specific systems) to create, literally pull from the earth (or materials existing) things that most people couldn't mentally conceive. I thought this would shed some light on the recent uptick in Christ bashing, but it went off base early and often. God is real, pray for understanding; else, don't be surprised when one of His laws affect you adversely.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  4. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Please stop posting this.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  5. KGrace

    This article is definitely very interesting. Definitely a wake-up call to all Christians to "know your Bible". After all, atheists study the Bible looking for contradictions and errors, trying to mislead and degrade Christianity. How much more then should Christians be compelled to study and share our own scriptures the correct way? FYI: Most religion professors I've met are in fact atheists. Coincidence? I think not.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Sean

      Don't blame atheists. Nobody degrades Christianity more than some of the Christians in this forum.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • fernando Feliciano

      I wonder if KGrace has read scripture in the ORIGINAL language?
      How does Kgrace KNOW that "most religious scholars are atheists"?
      I believe that it is easier for an atheist to enter the "kingdom" of Heaven than
      someone who believes that the Bible is the word of a God!

      June 6, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  6. Tim

    The identification of Satan with the serpent in the Garden of Eden did not come from artists, it came from theologians. It was the identification of the fruit that Eve and Adam ate as an apple that came from artists. They had to choose a specific fruit to paint.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  7. Steve

    "God helps those tho help themselves" greatly predates Franklin. Its the moral of one of Aesops fables. The one about Hercules and the stuck wagon.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  8. Lance

    Wow, you missed another good one, Leviticus 18:22, "Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind, for it is abomination." Considering that it is part of the Torah, which implies that it was truly the word of God handed down by God to Moses, and directly condemns relationships not hetrogenous – why, you'd think someone would have mentioned that it IS in the Bible. Clearly, people pick what they want to read there...

    June 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Matt

      Lev 15:19 "IIf a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even." Next time your wife/sister/mother has her monthly cycle, make sure she stays outside your home for seven days. It's in the Torah, therefore you must do it!!

      June 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  9. TOM

    Anyone can take almost any religious phrase and turn it into enlightenment or ignorance. It just depends on how you apply the practice of the knowledge that really matters.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Steve P.

      The Bible is not to be understood by just your average joe. Only the Holy Spirit of God can help a born-again Christian who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ understand the Bible. It's not open for personal interpretation.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • fernando Feliciano

      To SteveP
      Your post ranks up there with
      "God works in mysterious ways"
      thats the answer of anyone who is stumped for any
      sensible question on religion!

      June 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  10. recheckfacts

    I have a hard time believing the Bible since it was left up to a small group of people what was to go into the Bible and what was to be omitted. It's a group of texts bundled together and their authorship is questionable. When Timothy says that it is the holy word of God and that God was actually giving them the words to write- what was he actually referring to since the Bible was not compiled until hundreds of years later?

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

      It's about taking the Bible in context not about getting wrapped up in the supernatural and mythical aspects. Many good religous teachings are bathed in lots of language but that's how things were handed down in that time. You had to have a good story that people could remember exactly and pass down before writing began to be popular and widespread.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • NH

      What you say is true of the New Testament. But many people believe that the Old Testament was delivered directly from G-d to Moses, who wrote down the whole thing.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  11. what?

    "Much ado about nothing." William Shakespeare

    June 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Enough ado for you to comment 😉

      June 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  12. Jan Wood

    Proverbs 13: 24 Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

    Perhaps this was paraphrased over time. I think it is pretty close to the sparing the rod, spoiling the child statement we are used to hearing.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • George

      So did you get this Proverb from where it was in the story? Did you read the story?
      people quoting and misquoting the bible is proven by these posts....
      People are this unintelligent.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  13. Alex Majora

    "Spare the rod, spoil the child"? Actually, that IS in the Bible, in a slightly more elaborate form:

    "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly." (Proverbs 13:24)

    "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15)

    "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)

    June 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Doug

      Who cares. The Bible is a bunch of fables anyway, nothing but riddles and lies.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Doug- Who cares? You must care enough to comment right?

      June 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • MM

      What part of misquote isn't clear to people?

      June 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  14. tom

    I would like to apologize on behalf of all my Christian brothers and sisters, not just on this forum. But in all settings such as these. 'We' are suppose to be a witness and not a judge and we are not supposed to get all bent out of shape because someone has a differing view. – And above all, we have been conscripted to love above all else. – If there is to be any type of 'Spiritual revelation here folk's', it will not come as a result of us lashing out because our ego's have been a bit bruised. But through the very Biblical principles that some are trying so hard to defend here. It is not our job to fight about our views, Just lay witness to them.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  15. Jessica

    Rev 12:9: "So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him."

    It's clearly saying Satan was the original serpent in the Garden of Eden.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • kateiepea

      as already stated for this dumb argument a hundred times, the author is referring to genesis as not mentioning satan as the snake, not revelations which was written hundreds of years later.... for crying out loud people, read what you claim is wrong before you say it's wrong, all you're doing is making christians look illiterate.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • D

      You just got done quoting a verse from REVELATIONS, not Genesis! You proved your own point wrong as you were making it. Nice.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Steven Whitfield

      This is not meant to be insulting. But what you have done is exactly what the article is claiming. Objectively is it Willful misunderstanding or flat out Stupidity to misuse quotations this way? You did stay awake for that part of English class, that taught how to Quote; regarding relevance and footnoting right?

      June 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • ike

      are YOU^^^ guys serious???

      "Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden right? Nope. That's one of many phantom passages that people think are in the Bible."

      You just said the author of this article only mentioned it wasn't in Genesis!!! This is rediculous...

      June 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Adrian

      You nailed it Jessica. And based on the responses to your post, it continues to hammer down the understanding that you can't just read the Bible as though it were a book of literature or novel. There are interconnected stories and passages, but without proper teaching, or a heart and mind not bound by cynicism and assumed flaws, people really won't get it. They'll continue to spout out in disdain for Christianity, and really have no understanding of it at all. Good post.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • geezy4000

      If three people each wrote a book about michael jackson and one called him MJ, one called him the KING OF POP and one called him MICHAEL JACKSON would any of them be wrong? If he was originally known as michael jackson and later became the king of pop would that ruin any of the books? The devil, satan, lucifer, and the serpent are all the same.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Dawna

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

    June 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • kateiepea

      i've always agreed that sparing the road is always better than taking it..

      June 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • MM

      I'm not sure what continually posting this verse is supposed to prove, other than the author's point. The verse might contain the sentiment, but it isn't the quote people think it is, WHICH IS THE AUTHOR'S ENTIRE POINT!

      Man, don't people actually read before commenting?

      June 7, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  17. kateiepea

    i've taken 12 years of religious studies courses, i can speak/read hebrew. i'm not christian. and everything in this article is factually acurate, anyone upset or disagreeing with it: sorry that you've believed everything you've ever heard, and sorry your faith is in something you haven't read. instead of getting on the internet and saying NUH UH, maybe you should read what you claim is gospel before you spread information, via false prophet.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • mwhite

      Where did you study at? The Bible was written in both Greek and Hebrew so reading just Hebrew doesn't give you enough to prove all these claims factually accurate or inaccurate.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • meissen

      @mwhite – Where did you study at? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew – not Greek. The New Testament was written in Greek and Aramaic. The Old Testament eventually was translated into Greek, but the original text is Hebrew. This article primarily seems to focus on quotes from the Old Testament (in regards to the verses that are paraphrased). It is quite possible that kateiepea's specialization is in Old Testament scripture, not New Testament.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  18. scir91onYouTube

    swapping wives is in MY BIBLE and that's all that matters. it is better than secretly cheating. we all get ourselves off, safely, agreeably, and enjoy it at the same time. we don't need a hypocritical book from the world's religions that preach falsehoods

    June 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  19. Tim Molter

    In Ezekiel 28:13-19 tells us that Satan was in Eden.
    Many other passages associate a serpent or a snake-like creature with Satan (such as Job 26:13 and Isaiah 51:9).
    Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 speak of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Buffy Summers

      Why not spell it out in Genesis. Seems to be a pretty salient point to miss in the first book, eh?
      Instead of going back, God knows how many years later, and inserting an interpretation?

      June 6, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • kateiepea

      the article which you're trying to say is wrong states:
      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.

      he says the book of genesis doesn't mention it, so you can pull out 1,000,000 other references outside of genesis where it talks about it and you'd still be wrong here.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • NH

      Ezekiel 28:13-19 says no such thing. Here you go, doing just what the article is talking about.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  20. T

    In reguards to the snake not being mentioned as satan in the Bible:
    2nd Corinthians 11:12-13 "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. "
    If Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, I am sure he can also disguise himself as a snake... Sometimes you have to read the Bible contextually as a whole in order to understand the Bible as a whole... rather than find the answers in just one verse.

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

      Perhaps he masqueraded as Jesus.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Buffy Summers

      Or the person posting!

      June 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Or you could just make something up, like poor crazy HeavenSent who was telling us that Satan is a ventriloquist who fooled God by making the snake talk.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • MM

      "I am sure he can also disguise himself as a snake... Sometimes you have to read the Bible contextually as a whole in order to understand the Bible as a whole..."

      In other words, if it isn't clear to you, find other pieces of evidence, no matter how tangentially related, to prove your point.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • T

      @ Buffy Summers: I know you were probably hoping I was satan, but I am not for Satan Nor the AntiChrist can ever say that Jesus is the Christ. He will always deny that... I can proudly say without shame that I believe that Jesus is Christ He is the Son of God, Conceived miraculously by the virgin Mary, with the Holy Spirit. He was born without Sin, and lived a sinless life. He was obedient to the Fathers will to the point of death, even death on a cross. He later rose again covering all of my sins. He then ascended into Heaven and is now preparing a place for me as I speak. There is one coming who will fool many into thinking he is Jesus this is The Anti Christ. I won't be here when it occurs because I will be raptured. Unlike others, I can not say when I will be raptured, for only the Father knows the appointed time when Jesus will return.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:32 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.