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. Timothy

    There's is enough evidence to suggest that what has been handed down through the ages has been tampered with and should not be taken seriously.

    June 9, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • empiric

      Yes... in fact, I've discovered that an astonishing percentage of books have noted somewhere on them "Second Edition", or amazingly, even a higher number than that. Sometimes they're so bold as to not even hide it and put that right on the first couple of pages or, incredibly, the cover itself. Glad to know I'm not alone in not taking any of these books seriously. It's not like it's possible to make minor corrections or translations while still retaining any accuracy, as we both know.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Jeff M

      Timothy: 0, empiric: 1

      June 9, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • SafetyGuy

      Don't even bother with them. Ever try telling a kid who's convinced of the existence of Santa Claus that it's not real? They cry, they whine, they use specious logic until they convince themselves to believe. I really like the childlike score keeping Jeff has implored to make his point. Nothing says critical thinking like not bothering to make an argument.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • civiloutside

      I wonder how many of those "second editions," though, claim to be the perfect, complete, eternal, and unalterable word of a perfect, eternal, omniscient and omnipotent being? Because such a claim, if true, would seem to preclude a need for error correction.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Jeff M

      "Don't even bother with them. Ever try telling a kid who's convinced of the existence of Santa Claus that it's not real? They cry, they whine, they use specious logic until they convince themselves to believe. I really like the childlike score keeping Jeff has implored to make his point. Nothing says critical thinking like not bothering to make an argument."
      I didn't need to make an argument because empiric handled it beautifully. Look through my previous posts and other columns where I've commented on things of this vary nature. I believe in the Bible by faith. Some call it blind faith...but that is a presumption, believing that I have failed to do my homework. We all have the same facts to work with. The difference between our results is that I have a different set of presuppositions than you. I can easily accept that Jesus of Nazareth lived because there are secular historical records of that fact. They are the same records that support the lives of many other historical figures, many of which were more "notable" by our modern society. Furthermore I believe that, before subjecting something to scientific study, it must first pa-ss a basic "logic" test – aka "common sense". Common sense tells me that it is far more believable to credit an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent enti-ty with the origins of all life and our current existence, than it is to believe in Evolution – a theory that has repeatedly failed to show an evidence. The scientific theory of Evolution explicitly requires an *increase* in genetic information spontaneously. A third arm, a shifting of colors, or even a second heart – albeit potentially extremely beneficial – is simply mutation.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  2. gryphon50

    Quite frankly, the Bible is just the myth of our culture, with no more validity than the myths of any other culture. And the whole Eve story is just a justification for women having second-class status in ancient times. It's the exact equivalent of the Pandora story in Greek mythology (women screwed everything up!)

    June 9, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Louise

      Couldn't have said it better myself – the sooner these religious books get lost FOREVER in trnslation, the better!

      June 9, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Jeff M

      While we're at it...let's just throw out the Consti-tution, since it has been continually modified through time to meet the whims of the people... Oi vey. Man repeatedly overwrites what previous generations have built up... It's not because we are any more "enlightened"...but because our understanding is not the same as our forefathers. Nobody has "revised" the Bible, merely put it into language more suited to the times and cultural understandings/norms of that period.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  3. bible expert

    the Bible does say "Spare the rod, spoil the child".
    Do your research first.

    June 9, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Jokester

      Then please post the book and verse. Always cite your sources.

      June 9, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  4. LoriF

    Actually, "God helps those who help themselves" comes from Aesop. Originally it was "The gods help those who help themselves" http://home.earthlink.net/~gdpifer/God_Helps_Those_Who_Help_Themsleves.html And it was Martin Luther who connected it with Christianity, not Benjamin Franklin.

    June 9, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  5. Brononymous

    Good article but none of that is even real.

    June 9, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  6. Don

    What a poorly written article. While the Bible doesn't say "spare the rod, spoil the child" the idea is certainly there. Proverbs 13:24 says, "He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly." It teaches to discipline your children if you love them.

    Also, to writer plays on the very biblical ignorance of his readers that he condemns to make a case that Satan did not temp Eve to sin in the garden of Eden. What a logical fallacy. Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). The serpent was in the garden with them (Genesis 3:1). You know they are in the garden when the serpent is talking with Eve because that's where the tree is planted (Genesis 2:8). The serpent does tempt Eve into eating the fruit (Genesis 3:1-6, 1 Cor 11:13). We also know that the serpent is Satan (Rev 12:9, Rev 20:2). This serpent has always been known as Satan. If it is not Satan then the messianic prophecy following Eve's tempting (Genesis 3:15) makes no sense. They sinned but were promised that Eve's "seed" (Jesus Christ) would come and destroy the serpent (Satan) at a future time. Wow! Way to claims some are ignorant of a subject while being ignorant yourself!

    June 9, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Don

      Must have hit close to home...

      June 9, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • eddiemeboy

      Not sure, but I think the reference is to the "apple" not being in Scriptures.

      June 9, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • gryphon50

      They are saying that at the time Genesis was written, it was portrayed as just a snake. In multiple cultures, snakes are portrayed in folktales as having "stolen" immortality from Man (since snakes seem to be immortal, shedding their skin). Later (Revelations, as you say, written centuries later), the snake was equated to Satan. But I'm sure you believe all this is "real" so believe whatever you want.

      June 9, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Jeff M

      fuit vs apple...not much reason to write an entire article on people throughout history that have misquoted the Bible. As for serpent vs Satan, just read Revelation 12:9 or 20:2.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  7. Christopher Robinson

    Lets not think that the Bible was ever meant to be read and interpreted by the "experts". They were the ones who crucified
    Jesus. They were the ones who kept the Scriptures locked up during the inquisition and tortured those who attempted to read
    the Blessed Book for themselves. The pages of Scripture were meant to be read and understood by All. The letters written to
    the Churches were addressed to the CHURCH, not merely the Elders and "Leaders". Read the Bible the only reliable answers to life are found there. And if you have been filled with God's Spirit, then you already have the best interpreter living within you, and find fellowship with other parts of the Body of Christ and encourage one another to walk with Him.

    June 9, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • eddiemeboy

      You are correct. Perhaps Mr. Hazen hasn,t read the Book Of Rev. 2:6 or 2:15 Where God states He hates Nicolaitanism which is the Clergy/laity system which was in existence even then .

      June 9, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Jeff M

      "Nicolaitanism which is the Clergy/laity system which was in existence even then."
      This was a heretical sect of the Deacon Nicolas, which was condemned for allowing themselves to intentionally and habitually give in to lust. It didn't have anything to do with being for/against the Clergy system.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  8. Mark

    "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not." – Mark 13:31

    June 9, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  9. Tim

    BUT .... DITKA is GOD .... DA BEARS

    June 9, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Jokester


      June 9, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  10. Nama

    The article suggests that these common folk sayings are widely considered scripture without presenting evidence (takes it on faith you could say). Did any of you really think those were scripture? Or did you recognize many are just folk wisdom and proverbs? The article suggests this is common, but is it really? It would be interesting to see some statistics.

    June 9, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • Jeff M

      Personally, I've always taken them as paraphrasings – not direct quotes (especially without a source cited).

      June 9, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  11. Kupo

    God, they're so naive...likely saved themselves? or was this a mistake? I don't follow much of NFL but 5 wins from the previous season, I guess his sacking was prophesied by teh bible unless I read it wrong? (sorry if so). Interesting though, nice read.

    June 9, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  12. Chris Collino

    Mr. Blake
    You said in the interview that people make the Bible about themselves and that the Bible is about being kind to others and charity, etc. While true I think this is only part of the picture. The Bible says in 1 John, I believe, that "We love because God first love us..." It also says that we are to share our needs with each other: "The hand cannot say to the eye, "I have no need for you...." There must be a balance here as many Christians burn themselves out serving others and forget where they are getting the fuel from.
    I do appreciate your determination to help increase Biblical literacy.

    June 9, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  13. Greg

    The fact is, the New Testament is all about socialism. Reading it through thoroughly tells us that sharing is caring, we should love one another as we love ourselves, and wealth and status–those unique hallmarks of American "chosen" beliefs is, in fact, directly contradictory to the teachings of Jesus. Material ambition is bad, and avarice is one of the sacred sins. But of course there's the curious tendency for humans to fall victim to confirmation bias–we only look at what confirms our beliefs, and ignore evidence...no matter how compelling and overwhelming...that contradicts what we believe. In fact, when faced with proof that a cherished belief is, in fact, wrong, we will sooner discount the hard evidence than change our belief. So it has always been. So it shall always be. Until it kills us.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:41 am |
    • Nama

      Actually, Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus say to take people's property from them and redistribute it, or remove their rights to manage it. It does not say that individuals may not own the means to production. As such, it absolutely does not endorse socialism, only free-will charity.

      June 9, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • Don


      The difference between New Testament GIVING and socialism is the willingness of the giver. The NT teaches taking care of those who are in need, sometimes by pooling your resources to get the job done. When the government forcibly takes from some and gives to another that's not what is seen in the NT. You might even call that theft.

      June 9, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • Michael

      "The fact is, the New Testament is all about socialism." The New Testament talks about voluntarily helping those in need. It does not talk about that coercive form of Government called socialism.

      June 9, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • Sam

      ",,,the New Testament is all about socialism" - confirmation bias indeed.

      The New Testament is all about SALVATION through faith in Jesus Christ, the progress of His gospel in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, living a radically different Jewish faith in an often hostile polytheistic culture, restraint in the midst of excess, escaping the destruction of "the wicked" and so very much more.

      HAVING ALL THINGS IN COMMON was indeed a feature of Christian community, but it was in a context of graciously giving what was ONE'S OWN. Compulsion, whether by the state or "ecclesiastical authority" (an undeniable hallmark of the preponderance of socialist polities), was entirely alien to the Christian character - always has been, always will be. Self-labeling of medieval "christian" crusader-rapists or modern "christian" pedophile-priests or "christian" money-grubbing pulpiteers (and so many other such like) does not a "Christian" make.

      The New Testament is far too deep for a socialist sound bite.

      June 9, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • LoriF

      My favorite political quote is "The principals of liberalism are nothing else than the application to public policy of the religious spirit in action" Herbert Samuel.

      June 9, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • gryphon50

      Didn't Jesus say that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven? That IS in the Bible. But Christians don't like that quote so they ignore it. Cherry-picking at its finest.

      June 9, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  14. Kimo

    There are many people who mis-quote the word of God. Mostly because they do not read, study and try to understand it. Equally the same from remarks such as those from, Ridley who is trying to sound intellegent about something he obviously knows nothing about.

    June 9, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  15. jerry

    God told Adam, to not eat of the tree. Eve told Serpent , they couldn't even touch it. I wonder where she got that update from. Altering God's Word, even before the Fall. Tsk Tsk.

    June 9, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  16. Ridley

    I think the articles hints that any partially brain dead human being that is trying to justify his own lack of freedom of thought, creativity and willingness to face the world hides behind verses or the #1 Best seller fiction book (the bible). And its absolutely hilarious that said group of people try to justify their mindless quoting of the bible by quoting the bible? Maybe the bible trumpeters should get together ( they might synapse).

    June 8, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Jeff M

      Or it could be that people are selfish by nature, and therefore only want do/listen to what benefits them. Christians are just people as well...so it would only make sense that they suffer from the same innate desires. The problem is what you do to combat them. Do you just say "forget it, I'm just going to live for myself", or do you decide that you are here to serve a higher calling?

      June 9, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  17. Michael

    Nor does the Bible name the fruit with which Eve was tempted as being an apple.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Greg

      A great point, and I vividly remember a pastor some years ago saying exactly this, and pointing out that the "fruit" of the tree was not supposed to be taken as literal fruit anyway, but as a caution against a particular type of...ahem...uh..."knowledge". His sermon was about taking this literally (made a joke about how, if you take it wrong, this passage could undo all the good that the then-famous food pyramid was trying to get us to do to be healthy!). Taking it literally and not in the tone it was probably intended could lead us to sins brought on by curiosity, even when we know there are some experiences that are wrong but pursue those experiences anyway, just to satisfy curiosity. That's the real message of the temptation of Adam and Eve, I think. Says a lot about sacrificing parts of the self in order to be a better person.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Jeff M

      The fruit is never mentioned, but it was Satan that did the tempting. Not sure what the author's intent was...

      June 9, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  18. Hal Eaton

    An interesting point about "Spare the rod, spoil the child." Read it with the noted emphasis, and it becomes a mirror image of most interpretations: "SPARE the rod; SPOIL the child!" As always, we miss the personal aspect of most all Biblical injunctions, the enunciation of the speaker, body language, etc.

    And who can forget that the "serpent" of Genesis not only talked, but evidently stood upright for locomotion; thus his punishment was to be sentenced to slithering on the ground thereafter. Amen.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  19. Katie

    Technically, Satan isn't mentioned in the Garden. Yet the references later in the Bible (especially Revelations) clearly indicate that a demonic being (possibly the devil himself) is the serpent. So it is reasonable to say with some reason Eve was tempted by a devil. Considering most animals don't talk in the Bible (unless by an angelic/demonic host) it is reasonable for readers of the Bible to conclude again that this serpent represented a devil.

    Reading the Bible means you have to cross-reference because the context would have been understand to those readers while obscured from our modern mind.

    June 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • John

      Except, of course, that Genesis is a Hebrew story written some several thousand years before John's Revelation. The Hebrews would have had some difficulty cross-referencing, wouldn't you say? Better to suggest that Satan was a creation of John than of Genesis.

      June 8, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Steve

      ...or of whoever wrote the Book of Revelation

      June 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Rosco

      Actually the serpent that tricked Eve was Adam's penis. It is right there in the bible!

      June 9, 2011 at 3:30 am |
    • Louise

      The mere fact that animnals in the bible 'talk' at all makes a joke out of the entire thing – it's fairy story pure and simple, it has changed many times over the years like any other fairy story and people's interpretations of it will change equally as much. Good people interpret the phrases for good and bad people for bad e.g "An eye for an eye' – this is often quoted by people who want revenge but the 'fairytale' book actually says that if you take an eye for an eye then the whole world will become blind (paraphrase) – I do agree with someone else here though who said that people use the sayings/phrases but don't necessarily believe them to be from any particular source, just sayings passed down over the years from authors/artists etc.

      June 9, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • Jeff M

      Re-read Revelation 12:9 and 20:2. It says the "ancient serpent" is Satan.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  20. Marie Kidman


    June 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
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