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. Carol Mueller

    I love that so many people are arguing about facts in a work of fiction. Fascinating.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • BTL2010

      Yes, something that's always bothered me about the Bible is the collection of books they decided to throw out.
      Why was this done? Didn't it jel well enough with the story?

      June 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Artist


      They had to vreat god's word

      June 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Artist

      What is interesting is the "pure word of god" was different before they took out books. lol Yes the real word of god...oh wait let us cross this out...now we have the real word of god.

      It has always been the word of man.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Artist

      The Book of Enoch was always an interesting read

      June 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Sean

      "Some of this word of God is less real than the rest. Get rid of it!" – Editor

      June 7, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • Burning Bush

      What's even funnier is that they have found Jesus quoted from some the the excluded texts, once those text's were recently rediscovered. So what's up with that? Some church leader thought they knew more than Jesus about such things? It all gets so confusing.

      And yet I remember that Abraham smashed the idols long before any of the Bible books were written down to become new idols; and the commandments speak against graven images, at a time when the image of words were graven on stone or clay. Very confusing when you approach it with your God given brain in action.

      Of course this is why the church didn't want the average person actually reading or translating the bible for 1200 years between approximately 300 and 1500 AD. How much changes in the meanings of word, phrases and cultural use of same in 1200 years. Think of how words have changed just since the 20th century. Wasted/killed/drunk, high/high, gay/hom0se-xual, fired/resigned/job eliminated/outsourced, etc etc. etc.....

      God's logos(logic not word) is all around us. Regardless of what some want to convince us, it makes sense and agree's with science, when science is not in error on its boundries of speculation before true discovery (remember science once thought the world was flat). So when someone tells you you have to accept their ideas because God is mysterious and doesn't have to make sense...... be wary of who you are speaking with and what their intent might be.

      June 8, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  2. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • MM

      There's a special place in hell for spammers such as yourself.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  3. JBird

    This article makes a point but I'm not so sure it is a good point. People hear words of wisdom and assume that it comes from the Bible. To me, that might not speak well of them but says something about their impression of the Bible.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  4. Luz

    It really has opened my eyes, mostly where it says 'God, helps those who help them selfs' I knew that this doesn't make any sense but didn't know where to turn to. And what about this, does the BIBLE, say that satan, was called lucifer, before ? Tell me, if you will. Feel free to send me an email on luzsychalwe@gmail.com or luzvirto@hotmail.com. Thank you !

    June 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • David

      Remember, just because it isn't quoted in the bible doesn't mean it isn't true. E=MCC isn't in the bible but it seems to have withstood the challenges of scientists for decades. And if you need an older one, does it say anywhere in the bible that earth revolveth about the sun? No? So what do you believe. And finally: Noah had no bible but he seemed to do ok with God simply talking to him. If God really wants to reach you do you think he needs a book to do it? 🙂 Love your maker and love your neighbor as yourself and everything else will follow...

      June 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And just because it IS in the bible, that doesn't mean it's true, either.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  5. Anne

    Another one is "Heaven help those who help themselves" not also in the Bible!

    June 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  6. Buster

    And the lord sayeth, "Mmmmmm, donut."

    June 6, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • David

      Now that one was in the bible but Homereth sun of Joseph spilled powdered suger from his donut onto the page of said quote and his goat later ate the page -causing him to lament greatly...

      June 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  7. atypical

    we've been worshipping gods that don't exist for long enough now; really, when do we stand up collectively and say enough?.
    it is the time of the nunti sunya: the era of transparency and expansion. peeling away one layer of illusion at a time.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • JBird

      Yeah, why don't we all get together and refuse people the right to believe what they want!!! Wait... that would be stupid

      June 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Sean

      Why don't we just accuse anyone who doesn't share our opinion of trying to suppress our beliefs? Seeing ourselves as victims sure make us feel special.

      June 7, 2011 at 7:21 am |

    I like how people say the bible says drinking is a sin and yet the bible speaks of drinking wine. Christ turned water to wine. The only thing the bible either says or implies is to caution against too much. I have heard many a Protestant Preachers try to say drinking was a sin when , in fact, it was a caution against the excess. I even heard one years ago imply that watching the TV show Dynasty was a sin.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  9. Justsomeguy

    Perhaps this is the source for the serpent in the "tree of knowledge" fable.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  10. Jesus Follower

    In Genesis 3 it very specifically says that Satan, the serpent tempted and deceived Eve to eat the fruit in the Garden

    June 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  11. 1cky



    June 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • fixed that for you


      June 7, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  12. A.S.

    "“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." – WRONG AGAIN: (Revelation 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.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Yotes

      Note that Revelation is part of the New Testament, written after the time of Jesus. Genesis is part of the Old Testament, which was written well over 500 years before Revelation.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Joseph D.

      Actually Revalations was written a few hundread years ago. WAY after Genesis so the suthor of the article still has a point.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • A.S.

      The point is that the Bible as a whole connects all the dots. You must read Revelation and all other books to fully understand many things written in the old, or Hebrew Scriptures. ...

      June 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Robert

      Actually "Revelations" is "The Revelation of John the Apostle", or literally from Greek, "Apokalypsis Ioannoy"..."Revelation of John". One revelation, given to John by God. It was the last book in the Bible to be written, roughly around AD 78-98. Extrabiblical writers such as Irenaeus and Origen (3rd century) were very aware of its existence and inclusion with the rest of scriptures. It was NOT written only a few hundred years ago, and extant texts from the 2nd generation of Christians proves that.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Actually, Revelation was written nearly 2000 years ago (about 1920 years ago, to be more precise)... not "a few hundred." And Revelation is singular.

      While there are plenty of common misconceptions about what's in scripture, this one (Satan in Eden) and the one about "spare the rod, spoil the child" are pretty weak, since the Bible does indeed say that Satan was the serpent in Eden and, as the article later correclty mentions, "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is just a paraphrase of one of the proverbs.

      He's right on about several of the others, though. For instance, the Bible doesn't even say there were three wise men, much less name them. Roman Catholic tradition and Greek Catholic tradition both say there were three and name them (with different names, iirc,) but the Bible does not. The "cleanliness is next to godliness" thing doesn't even sound like something the Bible would say. I don't know why on earth people would think that's in there. As for God helping those who help themselves, that's also obviously not in there, though some similar ideas are, such as, "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thess 3:10.)

      June 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Chris

      Actually A.S.'s ignorance of the bible kind of proves the author's point.

      June 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • fixed that for you

      So, umm, how come this "god" can't even put together a book that's not subject to interpretation. For that matter, how come god needs a book at all to communicate?

      The "big guy" can't even blog, for that matter. Not even capable of a friggin tweet. That's one obsolete, incapable "god" you've got for yourselves there.

      June 7, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Big Guy - Bigger than you know

      The question is why can't you understand? The question is not why I've tried to tell you in a million ways, and you can't or won't look for the truth that is there. Granted, I've been crippled in my efforts by having to use limited humans as mesengers, but you couldn't understand it all, even if it was spelled out as clear as a bright and sunny day. So the messages are on different levels for different people. They don't teach physics or calculus in kindergarden yet do they. Same reason. Now look for the truth you can use and let others use the truth they can know. Just don't hurt each other doing so.

      June 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  13. byron g. curtis

    That claim that the story of Stan tempting Eve is not in the Bible–well, that's not the whole story. In Revelation 12:9 the New Testament writer identifies "the serpent of old" as both "the devil" and "Satan." True, Genesis 3 does not mention the word "Satan." But the Bible's own interpretation of itself makes the connection, long before renaissance artists and medieval storytellers got hold of the story. Most of the writer's other claims about what's not in he Bible are valid, however.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Stephen

      Oh dear! I've been worried about a cloven hoofed, pointy tailed demon all these years, when in FACT, according to Byron, I should be worried about the evil Stan!! Perhaps Eminem got it right after all! 🙂

      June 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • DaLe

      serpent is referred to as "more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made."
      [Genesis 3:1 KJV]
      "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so."
      [Genesis 1:24 KJV]
      "And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought [them] unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that [was] the name thereof."
      [Genesis 2:19 KJV 1769 http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org]

      Ergo, Adam name-called the serpent, and the serpent probably was angry about that.
      Anyhow, noticed that crime – punishment is there in Genesis 3?

      June 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • fixed that for you

      Stan F-T-W

      June 7, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  14. Advice

    You are all like crazed fish flapping around within your narrow barrel fighting over–what you think– is the only sliver of truth.

    Please, step away from the computor and do something productive with your life.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  15. Gala

    Hang on, isn't he quoting the Lord of the Rings?

    June 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • ed

      Actually, "You shall not pass" is a reference to the WWI Battle of Verdun, where "They shall not pass" was a rallying cry for the French.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Stuck Up

      You're all wrong. It was the slogan for that laxitive "This too shall pass" and it looks like it has more than they ever expected.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  16. Spencer

    Satan was in the Garden.

    Ezekiel 28:11-19 (New International Version)
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    Ezekiel 28:11-19

    New International Version (NIV)

    11 The word of the LORD came to me: 12 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

    “‘You were the seal of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
    13 You were in Eden,
    the garden of God;
    every precious stone adorned you:
    carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
    topaz, onyx and jasper,
    lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.[a]
    Your settings and mountings[b] were made of gold;
    on the day you were created they were prepared.
    14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
    for so I ordained you.
    You were on the holy mount of God;
    you walked among the fiery stones.
    15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created
    till wickedness was found in you.
    16 Through your widespread trade
    you were filled with violence,
    and you sinned.
    So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
    and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
    from among the fiery stones.
    17 Your heart became proud
    on account of your beauty,
    and you corrupted your wisdom
    because of your splendor.
    So I threw you to the earth;
    I made a spectacle of you before kings.
    18 By your many sins and dishonest trade
    you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
    So I made a fire come out from you,
    and it consumed you,
    and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
    in the sight of all who were watching.
    19 All the nations who knew you
    are appalled at you;
    you have come to a horrible end
    and will be no more.’”

    And to say that the "concept" of the devil was unknown to Moses...that's devilish.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Dave C

      "But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden."
      He's talking only about Genesis, not about stuff written later.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  17. Elvin

    Eve & the Serpent: "Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1)

    Jonah & the Fish: "Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly." (Jonah 2:1)

    Wise Men: Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” (Matthew 2:7)

    June 6, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Wise men were in the Bible. The author just (correctly) pointed out that it doesn't say there were 3. It does, however, list 3 different types of gifts that were brought, which is where the notion of there being 3 originally came from. While it's possible that there were just 3, the Bible doesn't say that.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Elvin

      Agreed on the wise men. The bible also does not say they showed up on the night Jesus was born as they show in most of those nativity scenes.

      But seems this author knows little about the very thing he's accusing everyone else of not understanding.

      June 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  18. shicole


    June 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  19. David

    I grew up Christian in a Baptist church and am still Christian, and I have NEVER thought that any of those phrases used as examples in this article were from the Bible, and I have heard anybody– not family, friends, preachers, Sunday School teachers– use those phrases in-a-manner that made me think THEY thought those phrases were from the Bible!

    While some people may think those are Biblical phrases, I think most Christians know that those phrases don't come from the Bible! In Protestant churches, we read from the Bible every week in Sunday School– so, yes, some Christians do actually read the Bible! Some read it at home on their own, and some read it only when in Sunday School. When cleaning out by grandmother's house after she died, I noticed that about half of her Bible had been underlined, had asterisks written by phrases, notes in the margin, etc, etc.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Varda

      While attending bible study at my Episcopalian church, I summed up a thought we were having with the phrase "the Lord helps those who help themselves." I was quickly informed that did not, in fact, appear in the Bible. It is definitely true that those who are truly religious take the time to get their Bible right. It's the rest of us who get a little confused.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Yeah, most Christians I know are aware that these things aren't in the Bible. I do hear people outside the church and/or those who haven't been Christians long or haven't studied much misquote on a regular basis, though.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  20. Richie Colon

    Many also say that the Bible states that "money is the root of all Evil", when it actually says, "The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • CK

      1 Timothy 6:10 "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." KJV

      June 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • fixed that for you

      The bible instructs on many routes to great evil. See e.g. Leviticus.

      I'll see you at the weekly goat sacri-fice and burning of the offering.

      June 7, 2011 at 7:33 am |
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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.