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. steven

    You play with words. The thoughts that come from the words are in the Bible. You say "spare the rod, spoil the child" is not in the Bible, but perhaps you should know the Bible yourself. The scripture says, and I quote,
    "Prov 23:13-14
    13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
    14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
    Prov 19:18
    18 Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
    And there are other sciptures when you put them together, it means "if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child."
    Try reading the Bible and get it beyond your eyes and ears into your heart and you will perhaps put together more valuable articles with real substance. The substance of this article is: Some people misquote the Bible." Big deal. At least they put their heart into it and not just their heads. This too shall pass.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Richard

      Please educate yourself about the meaning of "quote" and "quotation". If you were in court and an attorney or judge misquoted the law, but their heart and head was in the right place I don't think you'd say "big deal", would you? The Bible may contain passages that add up to something that generally kinda sorta mean the same thing as a commonly used idiom, but if you're throwing in the phrase "and I quote", it's supposed to be an exact quotation. Ya can't just "put together" some lines of text and call them quotes. THAT'S playing with words. And that's exactly what the author is getting at. Wrong is wrong.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Raymond

      One of the best examples of misquoting the Bible is in Pulp Fiction. A hitman claims to be invoking the word of the Lord as he kills his mark with this phony Bible quote:

      "Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

      This is what happens when you get careless with Bible references.

      July 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  2. paul

    overall the author is totally on point... biblical knowledge is often twisted or neglected to suite ones needs. However there are a couple of discrepancies Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

    And although the statement "But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden." is true to some extent it doesnt account for a few things. Adam and Eve were sinless as was the rest of creations (snakes included)... so just who was the serpent in Genesis 3 who decieved Eve?

    July 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Raymond

      We know it was Satan in the Garden because God doesn't even bother to ask the serpent why he lead the woman astray. God doesn't need to question the serpent because He has previously given Satan his fair trial and convicted him. God simply proclaims a sentence, as most judges do today to felons who break parole or escape prison.

      July 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  3. Leviathan

    "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." -Psalm 14:1

    July 5, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • BigNutz

      The Holy Bible = Mass Marketing 101

      July 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Dumbo

      Oh there is god. There is also a god who created god. Those who says there is no god who created god are fools.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • JamesT297

      To Dumbo:

      You nailed it and that's one of the reasons there was a need for the father to also simultaneously to be his own son and for the both of them to also to simultaneously be their own corpse – world without end.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • JamesT297

      As it was in the beginning, is now and forever shall be – world without end. Amen and halleluiah. Peace be upon you and may the shepherd walk with you and smite your enemies in my name because allah and the prophet cannot be depicted or else you die.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  4. Cesar Barroso

    It is in the Bible... It is not in the Bible..
    Who cares? It is a book like so many others.
    People, open your eyes. You are damaging society with your delusions about that book.

    July 5, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  5. Jeremy

    Wow. Even the author of this article does not know the bible. Read your bibles people before you start to make false claims about it.

    July 5, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  6. W

    Who gives a F what some dudes in the desert wrote thousands of years ago when they believed the earth was flat? Evolution isnt real but an arm somehow reached down from the clouds, played with some dirt and made a person. Seriously? Lol. We are NOT machines, we dont need a manual to tell us how to live and be decent people. Grow out of that ish already!!!!!

    July 5, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Alex

      If you don't care about getting your biblical facts straight, perhaps you should think about getting your historical facts straight. They didn't think the earth was flat back then... Isaiah 40:22

      July 5, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  7. Al

    Someone asked me if I had a PASTOR ... I told them no i have no animals to put there.

    July 5, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  8. Numbskull

    If god doesn't need a creator. So does the universe.

    July 5, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  9. Numbskull

    If god doesn't need a creator. candies the universe. The only logic creationism can exists is that we have always existed since the beginning of the universe and we have been creating our lives in various ways called evolution. The truth is bigger than what we think. What makes anyone think this is the first universe anyway.

    July 5, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  10. Numbskull

    The fact we come from nothing is possible simply becos there is nothing that is impossible. A cup with nothing can be filled with something. If the nothing in the cup is sterile and barren. It cannot give rise to anything

    July 5, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  11. Numbskull

    We are all a mistake. That explains why god only decided to make good those who deserves it in the end. Meanwhile we can continue to be a mistake.

    July 5, 2011 at 6:49 am |
  12. God needs salvation


    If the articles are true. These underhand methods. Are the evangelists doing work for the devil by doing what the devil would do with their schemes and lies or are they doing the work of god? Since god allows evil. I guess he is no different from evil as well. If everything god did is right. Then every wrong that ever happened in this world is right too simply becos if god can allow evil he allowed all that has happened to happen.

    July 5, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  13. SJC

    The bible is utter nonsense!

    July 5, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Guest

      You're right. I prefer the fact that something came from nothing and that we all evolved from apes.

      July 5, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • Joe the Troll

      Guest – evolution theory does not state that man came from apes. That is a very common misconception. It states that mankind and apes had a common ancestor, and DNA confirms that likelihood. As for something coming from nothing, Creationism says basically the same thing except that when you wonder where all the matter in the universe came from, Creationism says "God made it." That hardly explains where it came from, IMO.

      July 5, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Ptolemy

      The article should have mentioned how ignorant people are of science as well as the bible. Humans didn't evolve from apes, we evolved from hominids.

      July 5, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  14. nicole

    Actually the bible does place Satan in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:1 and Revelation 12:9. I was a little surprised to see that misquoted.

    July 5, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • Jan

      The KJV says "serpent", not "Satan" in the verse cited.

      July 5, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  15. Free your mnds. Dun be a bookworm

    If u can't get it right within yourself. What's makes you think your religion is right for others?

    July 5, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  16. Ignorance is the bane of humanity

    Religion doesn't save man. It is man who saves himself by chosing a religion by which he thinks will save him that he is saved. In the end. God doesn't save. It is man who saves himself.

    July 5, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  17. Religion is imperfect

    What do you get when u add imperfect man to manage any perfect religion? U get imperfect religions. Those that kill others to prove their imperfect religion are the bottom feeders.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  18. Salvation is an inside job

    The chaos religion bring. Who really is playing into the hands of the devil? Atheists or theists? The answer is very clear. The devil was a theist before so he knows wat u r thinking. Theists would stoop as low as they could to prove their gods and truth above the many hundreds of gods who claim they too created the world. Salvation is an inside job. Until we get it right within ourselves. If not, not matter how great a religion. It is always in the wrong hands of man

    July 5, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  19. Roger Rabbit

    Satan was a theist and it was the theist who betrayed God. Spare the atheists the shame.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  20. Pot calling kettle black

    Wasn't Satan a theist who betrayed and rebelled against God? Well done theists! Spare the atheist the shame!

    July 5, 2011 at 1:03 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.