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. jc

    These ARE in fact in the bible not exactly but the general meaning behind them IS in the bible. Beleive me. Just because something isnt EXACTLY stated doesnt mean the the general meaning behind it isnt. these are all based on the bible for the most part as far as i can see.

    June 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Gail Bonfante

      That is so true. The more popular sayings that aren't from the Bible verbatim are based on many years of interpretation by Bible readers. The soul of the truth is still in them if not the exact words. EG, a "great fish" was interpreted to be a whale, because that was the greatest fish that people knew of that would possibly swallow a man. Please stop trying to discredit the Bible and its basic teachings.

      June 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • scenarionow

      very true!, a billion monkeys typing long enough will eventually write what you want to hear.

      June 6, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Burning Bush

      Thought out like a true monkey.

      June 7, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  2. Christine

    Mr. Blake, sorry! I stated in my comment that you didn't seem to know the bible, however, if I had been paying closer attention, I would have realized that you were quoting Mr. Hazen. Oops! I should do as the scripture teaches and "Don't shoot the messenger". Just kidding....I know that isn't in the bible.

    June 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  3. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Michael

    For 1500 hundred years, the Christian Church systematically operated torture chambers throughout Europe. Torture was the rule, not the exception. Next to the Bible, the most influential and venerated book in Christian history was the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), which was a step-by-step tutorial in how to torture "witches' and "sorcerers".

    June 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Burning Bush

      Deatails please? I thought the Inquisition started in the late 1100's to counter the Albigensian Cathars in order to better steal the wealth of their provinces for the French king. What organized torture occurred before then by he church. And how do you seriously classify the Witches Hammer as more revered than the writings of St. Augustine etc.? True, it got more use than it should, but aren't we stretching the point a bit?

      June 7, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  5. Lisa

    Interesting article. Three thoughts: 1) I also hear, "Money is the root of all evil." The Bible says "the LOVE of money is the root of all evil" (ie. Greed), and I agree as not one good thing has ever come from greed. 2) However, the author erroneously states, "But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden." NOT TRUE. Gen. 3:15 has God speaking to the serpent, and it is evident that He is speaking to Satan. Not to mention, only two (2) animals, that I recall, in the Bible ever speak: The serpent in the garden and Baalam's donkey. Pretty sure if an animal is speaking, it's possessed by something. 3) Bothers me when people speak about the Bible, reject the Bible and downright condemn the Bible – having never read it the way it was intended to be read. My father has a concordance that contains Greek, Hebrew and three English translations for every scripture.

    June 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • frances

      The phrase that Mike quoted in a slogan in the Alcoholics Anonymity program.; You will see it on their walls and in the literature..

      June 6, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Burning Bush

      Ignorance is the true root of all evil.

      June 7, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • Sean

      I thought Evel Knievel was the root of all evil.

      June 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Burning Bush

      Nope. that was just another mistranslation. It wasn't Evil Knievel you heard, it was "Evil can Evil".

      "Evil can Evil" is ignorance because there is always pay back, blow back, karma or whatever other phrase of the month we use to support cause and effect.

      So Evi can Evil = ignorance = root of all evil.

      Of course, thinking you can fly further than you actually can and tempting God in such ways, is said to have its down side as well.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  6. Frank

    Actually, Jonah WAS swallowed by a "great fish" probably a whale. Satan DID tempt Eve, whether it was inside the gate or outside the gate of the garden of Eden isn't the issue. One good thing, maybe it will lead people to reading the Bible, the Holy Word of God. God created the planets in perfect mathematical allignment, certainly he can create a book by influencing the humans who He also created.

    June 6, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • His Shadow

      Please stop. It's like listening to a five year old describe a computer. Farrows and pixies and invisible men will be involved.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  7. Brian Kerry

    Great idea, CNN. Hey, I have another idea:
    Actually, the "seperation of church and state" is not in the First Amendment. Follow up that headline with how that phrase has been distorted into something completely different from what Thomas Jefferson envisioned when those words were penned in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.

    June 6, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  8. Christine

    Mr. Blake....Sorry! If I would have paying more attention when I read your article, I would have noticed that you were just quoting Mr. Hazen. Oops! 🙂

    June 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  9. prazim

    Actually, what Mike Ditka said, affirms his belief in the revealed word of God, rather than being a direct quote from the Bible.

    Jesus Himself said: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Mark 13:31] Also, in 2 Peter 3:10-11, 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
    11 Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness? 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness...

    There are likely many other passages in both the Old and New Testaments which affirm this basic teaching.

    So, although he didn't quote Scripture, his statement makes it clear that whatever the event, he recognizes that it too will pass away, as we continue on our journey to our eternal destination.

    June 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  10. Michael

    You keep believing. We'll keep evolving

    June 6, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Artist

      CW, what are your thoughts on the The Book of Enoch?

      June 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  11. CW

    Another Biblical scholar ehh?

    Seems to me instead of making they the so called biblical scholars making themselfs look really bad they should try READING the bible a bit more.


    June 6, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Artist


      CW, what are your thoughts on the The Book of Enoch?

      June 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  12. Gr8isHE

    I do agree with most of what this author is saying because I too have tried to find famous "quotes" that could not be found in the scriptures. However, I believe it is because people tend to jus get quotes wrong. I believe everyone should search the scriptures themselves instead of relying on the words of others, which is what Paul said we should do as we imitate the Bereans. As far as the serpent in the bible that tempted Eve in the garden – yes, Gen 3 does say she was in the garden because that is where the fruit tree God told them not to eat from was located "in the middle of the garden." There are other scriptures that tell us the serpent was indeed satan in disquise. Rev 12:9 & 20 tells us "the serpent is also the devil or satan." This is how we know the serpent that deceived Eve was indeed satan.

    June 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • K33m

      Well actually, the quotes you listed... didn't list the entire quote. It said: "And the great DRAGON was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Sa'-tan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." The part after the word, "world" was irrelevant. But my point is, the snake in the garden of eden was not a dragon. Though snakes are often referred to as serpents, so are dragons or eastern dragons. And as far as deceiving the world goes, the stories in revelations are suppose to take place long after the garden of eden. when the world population is much greater and the devil is known to deceive people. To sum it up, the quote you mentioned is not talking about the snake in the garden of eden. It is referring the devil, who is a dragon.... not a snake....

      June 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  13. LDavis

    For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

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

      Love your comment!

      June 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Sean

      Too bad some people here are confusing the second for the first.

      June 7, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  14. HereIAM

    Or maybe you aren't quoting the bible for authority because you have no need for it. Possibly because the origin of a word doesn't change its factuality. Some things are just true regardless of the wording that was chosen. This article is a pointless ruse meant to cast shadows on wisdom by subverting the origins of its base knowledge into a literary debate on grammar. So when you are told to get lost dirt bag. You can pretty much chalk that up to go away thou wicked servant. Or did I misquote that? Or does it really matter?

    June 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • K33m

      Lmao. You're trippin.
      The article is just saying that regardless of how useful or useless the quotes are, they were not from the bible. End of story. You're taking things out of context.

      June 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Burning Bush

      or maybe God doesn't restrict It's LOGOS (logic) to just a book?

      June 7, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  15. rick

    Blake – you win most ignorant article on CNN ... what a dillweed.

    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.”

    This... was NOT presented as a citation.

    IT WAS, however, presented as a teaching... And is in fact, QUITE accurate.

    Blah...blah...blah.. typical impotent pen...

    June 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  16. Name*leticia

    Your article is good but you also need same dip study to do,just two points,it was in the Garden of Eden,as stated in Genesis 2:8,10,15,16,23-24, I don't know where you got the idea it was not there and the you are defending the serpent you must be on his side or are ignorant on that subject ,very clear on Revelation 12:9 and the dragon was cast out that OLD SERPENT called the Devil and Satan,which deceived the whole world:he was cast out into the earth,and his angels were cast out with him....Ignorance will not be an excuse,Rom 1:20;Acts 17:30;3:23-25 blessings 😉

    June 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • K33m

      When the bible said, "that old serpent", how do you know that he is referring to the snake in the garden of eden as opposed to referring to the dragon form of Satan??? Seeing the context of the passage, it makes more since to assume that he is referring to the dragon form, not the snake. And you can say that the passage mentions the devil deceiving the world, but that doesnt imply that it was talking about adam and eve. if anything, it implies more so that its talking about after the world was populated by people to deceive.

      June 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • His Shadow

      Typical rambling tripe. You accuse others of ignorance and stupidity and then wish "blessings"? The Christian bible is a book of fairy tales, thrice told tales and myths. It's entirely useless as a guide to understanding the world.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  17. Rob

    Kevster, if you are repentent and ask for God to figive your sins. Then you are no less the same than any other Christian. All are sinners. Now if you are openly sinning with out repentance. Then you aren't really a praticing Christian, are you?

    June 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  18. Silver Fang

    The serpent that tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit was Satan in disguise.

    June 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  19. T

    Whether you believe in God or not, God still loves you!
    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Christ didn't have to die. He saw all of those people mocking him, telling him to come off of the Cross and save himself if he truly was God... Instead he demonstrated his love for us and said "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
    This is the greatest love of all.
    For those of you who are still in Sin it is not to late to ask God into your life. The thief on the Cross asked him "Jesus Remember me when you enter your Kingdom." Jesus response was, "I tell you the truth today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus forgave the man in his last hours and he can forgive you as well if you believe he is the Son of God that he died on the cross and rose again, and ask him into your life!

    June 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • A

      Yes, Jesus had to die. The Roman Emperor, Pilot, felt threatened by the following that He had. He felt the Jesus would eventually gain enough followers to be able to overthrow him.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Burning Bush

      You would trust a man who would kill their child for your benefit? That may have been great symbolism for people who were tired of killing their best goats for that man and were told they would now no longer have to do that.

      Why should the meaning be different when you change the word man above to God? Aren't we ready for a symbolism more relevant to our times?

      Also, Pilate was more of a govenor than Emperor. He was much more likely afraid of what the Emperor would do to him if things got out of control.

      June 7, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  20. Bregor

    While the article may be technically correct in that if you search for matches to the quotations, even using loose match parameters, you will not find them, it is also a bit misleading in that some of them have origination in Scriptural concepts. Some of those quotes are technically phantoms, but some are technically correct, being paraphrases or summaries of multiple other verses.

    For example, the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is a summary of the wisdom books and specifically various passages from proverbs on laziness. What specifically comes to mind is the comparison of the sluggard in Proverbs as opposed to those who are diligent.

    Another example, the phrase "spare the rod and spoil the child" is a trite rephrasing of Proverbs 22:15 which says: "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him." Where the Bible says "Use the rod, prevent a spoiled/foolish child", the popular phrase carries the same basic meaning just stated in different predicate form.

    And considering the temptation of Eve in the garden by a serpent, Revelation 12 and 20 specifically refer to the "serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan". So yes, a serpent, but generally considered Satan, unless you want to argue nits.

    But the article brings out something I think is very important. If you are going to try use the authority of the Bible with quotes, you better do your research and make sure you got it right before you start whipping it out.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • His Shadow

      And this is why it's impossible for a rational, thinking person to give religions any credence. Essentially, you have stated that no, these quotes are not in the Christian bible but if you read enough Bible verses you will find that they are in the Bible.


      July 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.