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. Rwolf

    The Bible like any other book ever written on this earth, by mankind for mankind is a teaching tool. like any other tool it can and is abused sometimes very very badly and by those that are suppose to know how to use those tools. The foolishness of the argument is the argument.

    June 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  2. (((STOP))) (((YELLING)))

    @thomas j barnes

    June 7, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  3. Normon

    Wow, if 'all caps' is shouting, does @thomas j barnes have a freaking megaphone?


    June 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  4. stefan

    The Bible is a a book of fiction, that has some cool stories. Its the Christians that try to quote it, that look so clown like.

    June 7, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  5. Reality

    More updating of the bible----------------

    1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment.

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.


    June 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm |


    June 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  7. Powercosmic

    Fish or Whale?

    Does it really matter? Either case is utterly ridiculous. This is analogous to debating whether a "house" or a "shed" fell on the wicked witch of the west. In both cases we are talking about fantasy, fiction, foolishness, a bronze-age children's book.

    The human capacity for distraction by these irrelevant questions is astonishing.

    The old testament stories were stories told to children that happened to grow up during a time when if you were 13 years old you were middle aged, thats right, people only lived an average of 29 years.

    Americans are a foolhardy bunch.

    June 7, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  8. thomas j barnes

    At David Johnson: The Muslim (((GOD))) is the same (((GOD))) as the Christians and the Jews; in fact the differance is that only the Christians believe the GOD has a son, and too take it to the extreme end the Catholics believe the GOD has a mother.

    June 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  9. Dan

    This is not a bad article. The basic idea behind it is that we should not accept what we hear just because some random person says they got it from the bible. I think of few of the author's points are splitting hairs though. "A great fish" could be a whale for instance. Besides, the bible is translated so the exact words are not "great fish" anyway.

    June 7, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  10. mae b.

    Just a quick a comment on one of the statements mentioned, the King James Version of the Bible does say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The scripture is Matthew 12:40 if anyone is interested in acutually reading it and not make a false assumption by saying that it really did not happen the way the Bible said it did.

    June 7, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  11. michelle

    As to the serpent...who is also called the devil and Satan, see cross-reference Rev. 12:9 – –

    Passage Revelation 12:9:
    9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

    June 7, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  12. michelle

    As to Jonah, it doesn't say whale...it says great fish...semantics...meh!

    Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

    Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,

    Jonah 2:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land

    June 7, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Artist

      And Jonah really happened lol I wonder if lightning bolts flew out of his rear as well?

      June 7, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  13. Brian Kelly

    ‎"That dog won't hunt" was in the bible until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. It refers to Sandy, Moses' dog in Exodus. Moses was convinced that Sandy could get them out of Egypt, and he was right. But once the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Sandy's olfactory senses failed and the dog had them wandering around in the desert. When the Israelites were reduced to eating manna from heaven, they approached Moses and begged him to trust in God and not his dog. He acquiesced, and spent an entire day trying to figure out what to do with Sandy. After a litany of failed ideas, Moses realized Sandy was useless and admitted his foolish ways. In a fit of anger, Moses cried out, "That dog won't even hunt!" whereupon he slaughtered the dog, made sacrifice to God, and the israelites had canine barbecue with their manna. (The dog was served in woven baskets, and although it seemed as if there would not be enough to feed all of the Israelites, at the end there were seven baskets of ribs left over - a miracle!).

    Bishops Marcus of Calabria and Cecilian of Carthage were active in the nascent P.E.T.A. movement, and demanded that Sandy be excised from the Bible. Bishop Cecilian said, "From now on, whenever true believers use the word 'sandy,' it solely will be to describe the woeful Israelites' sandals.'"

    June 7, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • thomas j barnes

      Most of the people that were with Moses were Hebrews; now called Palestinians.

      June 7, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Normon

      @Brian Kelly,
      Now, you know this can't be correct.
      Since Canine is a descendant of Ham that definitely wouldn't be kosher.

      June 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Alan Klasi

      You're right, most people don't know of Moses' dog Sandy. But I've loved that story since I was a kid and so I gave all my sons the same middle name of Sandy in honor of Moses' dog.

      June 7, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  14. lucky

    This guy doesn't know what he is talking about in my opinion. These are not "misquotes" but rather "paraphrases" of actual Biblical verses, one doesn't have to quote the Bible verbatim to translate the meaning. The NFL Mike Dikta was correct in his paraphrase "Scripture tells you all things shall pass" and the author should apologize to him. The actual verse verbatim is "
    "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled:* for all these things must come to pass*, but the end is not yet."...

    For example "Spare the rod, spoil the child"..paraphrased of actual verse; "He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)

    This is the entire purpose of Bible study to learn to paraphrase verse to understand it in laymen's terms, and not Old English or any other Ancient text that is no longer spoken.

    June 7, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • MM

      Calling a paraphrase a quote *is* a misquote.

      June 7, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  15. C. Cortes

    By the way, if you consider roman Catholics "experts in the Christian faith". Perhaps you can show me where in the bible does it say Mary was eternally a virgin, or where does it say Sunday should be kept holy, or where priests should be maintained celibate, etc etc. Misquoting a verse or two, is far less a crime, that the purposeful, knowledgeable misinterpretation of the bible. According to Catholics, the pope supersedes god and the bible, that is why these mistruths continue...and these are the experts we should allow to quote the bible? Better a mistake made because of ignorance, than a finely crafted lie.

    June 7, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • thomas j barnes

      Like Mary being the mother of (((GOD)))

      June 7, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • sestone

      Exactly!!! They are misinformed about a great many things. Now, if they would only read the Bible and not the books they create, they might be enlightened. Catholics have a number of things in common with Jehovah Witnesses. Pray for them.

      June 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  16. H

    With an illustration showing Anglos with chiseled features. Show Adam & Eve as they would appear- whether it is Africa or the Middle-East they certainly did not look like your ludicrious art deco Adam & Eve. Start seeing Black People!

    June 7, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  17. C. Cortes

    you criticize the untrained Christians who dare to interpret the bible while eating brownies no less. Is this a crime? Isn't this exactly how the Protestant Christian movement began? Here is a biblical quote for you: "Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst...". Matthew 18:20

    June 7, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • lucky

      Exactly, this is how the Protestant revolution begin. The readers interpret the Bible for themselves. This was the issue with the Roman Catholic church, they were solely responsible for interpreting the Bible until Martin Luther challenged them. I would not be surprised if the author of this article is a Catholic!! What makes them think they're an "expert" in Biblical interpretation, many passages in the Bible are ambiguous.

      June 7, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Powercosmic

      Two or more, huh?

      Sounds like Chr.istianity thrives on group-think.

      June 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  18. TMan

    Wow! Only 30% is true. Please highlight the 30% that is true... and tell how you know that 30% is authentic vs the 70% that is inauthentic. Elaborate please !!!! Amazing how people come up with this garbage

    June 7, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  19. Enough already

    Another day, another article that seeks to disprove the Bible's authenticity. We get it, you don't believe in God or the Bible. The handful of dedicated, orthodox Christians alive on Earth today don't preach half as much for the Bible as the media preaches against it. Me thinks you doth protest too much...

    June 7, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • SeanNJ

      Just trying to prevent more people from falling into that silly, mind-numbing trap.

      June 7, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Newo

      yay! ♥s a good Shakespeare quote in the morning

      June 7, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Shar

      Jehovahs Witnesses do. In 236 lands. Matthew 24:14 is being fulfilled.

      June 7, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • sestone

      @Shar. Jehovah Witnesses aren't the only people to preach or minister. Unfortunately, though, they are one of the many groups that preach a false doctrine and have failed at their many attempts to prophesy the end of the world – 1874, 1914, 1915, 1925, 1975 are all failed prophecies. Worse yet, all those followers of the governing body don't read the Bible enough to see that the GB is a false prophet – Deuteronomy 18:20-22.

      June 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  20. Randy

    If you believe in God and live your life like there is a God and there's not you've lost nothing, but if you live like there's no God and there is..you've lost everything.

    June 7, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And exactly how does one live 'as if there's no God'? Do you think only the idea of punishment propels people to live a moral life? That if one doesn't believe in God, it gives one license to be cruel, to murder, to abuse, to hate?

      Oh, wait. Christians already do all those things while claiming God gives them that right.

      June 7, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Sean

      This is an old – and boring – argument. I don't need the threat of eternal punishment or the promise of eternal reward to act like a decent human being. Your statement implies that you do, which says a great deal about you and those like you.

      June 7, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • prilyam

      This is the worst rationale to become a Chrisian. "Just in case. Hedge your bets". If you believe, do so wholeheartedly, not because you want to be seen waving the right flag.

      June 7, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • MM

      And what if you live your life following God only to find that the Flying Spaghetti Monster was the One True Way? And what if he hates Christians?

      This scenario is just as plausible as your thoroughly discredited Pascal's Wager argument.

      June 7, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • David Johnson


      You may be right, if the one true god, is the god you happen to be worshiping. But, what if the one true god is the Muslim god, instead? You would be invited to a very large barbecue. There is always risk.

      If this life is the only one you will ever have, then every second is that much more important. When you come to the end of it, think how much time you will have wasted on your knees.


      June 7, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Powercosmic

      Wow! Nice Try!

      You're leaving out all the BAD STUFF about believing in the non-existent deity, like the wars, the honor killings, the American Civil War, Sectarian Violence, etc, etc.

      No its better to live ones life understanding that WE are all we've got, there is no sky-daddy, no god, no Jeebus, no devil.

      Right now, there are 2 billion Chr.istians and 1.5 Billion Mus.lims, these two religions are completely incompatible. Major violence, war, misery, and death awaits the entire world if one of these monstrosities is to become dominant.

      Its time to leave the Three Evils behind...

      June 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Powercosmic

      Randy is obviously new to the debate, he's obviously a YEC whose been locked in a metaphorical Evangelical Closet, with local reinforcement of Memes by family, friends, job, etc, etc.

      He's a noob...

      June 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      I am pretty sure that if there is a god, and he cares about my behavior, he won't be fooled by me pretending to beleive, just i case, so I can get a ticket to heavan. From what I hear, he is petty and jealous, so he may find pascal's wager offensive, and have a special corner of his torture chamber set aside for you.

      June 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Rbnlegnd101: I really really hope that's true. I'll take eternity in hell if I get to watch those idiots suffer with me.

      June 7, 2011 at 3:18 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.