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. Marduk

    Christianity has plagerized other Ancient Religions and most of the Bible is simply without proof.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Muneef

      You said; All theist's are mistaken because they do not know what else to lean on. Be a Man of the Universe.

      My say; Am a Man of the Universe in belief of God and not in disbelief...Atheists are not being mistaken,they rather attack believers on belief blogs with nothing to lean on...

      Feel that I wish I can help them to realize the truth but seem they want to attack rejecting any mention of the Holy Book asking for a proof...!? What other proof there would be if not the Holy Books...!!

      I wish they are believers but pretend being Atheist for some balancing reasons then that is fine and may we support but to do that because they believe so, well then that means for their own favor a Rod might be good for them that they might be saved...

      July 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • chi

      what kind of proof would is needed? there isnt proof of how humans came to exist...and yet here we are.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Muneef


      The proof for us were the holy books which had been handed over from generation to another from Adam's time....

      [2:31] He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels, saying, "Give me the names of these, if you are right."

      [2:32] They said, "Be You glorified, we have no knowledge, except that which You have taught us. You are the Omniscient, Most Wise."

      [2:33] He said, "O Adam, tell them their names." When he told them their names, He said, "Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth? I know what you declare, and what you conceal."

      July 8, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Sam

      what proof do you need? How about a man working miracles? no?
      OK, how about we put him to death, have people certify he is dead.
      Then is he come back to life then perhaps there is a God?
      What's your response? Only if I see it?!?

      July 8, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  2. Paco the Avenger

    The whole book is a phantom book. "God" never said any of it. Neither did "Jesus"

    July 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Mike Thomas

      How do you know for sure the Bible is a phantom book?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Amused

      Because it was written by PEOPLE, not by imaginary gods.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  3. Tim

    How about... let's do this an ancient text: Do research, read whole thing, always read in context, pay attention to ancient translations, don't quote or judge it unless you've read it and researched it, and don't get into an argument about it unless you're actually equipped to speak of what's in it (this goes for BOTH Christians and non-Christians). For some reason, everyone thinks they know what's in the Bible simply because.. it's the bible! Right? This is a text spanning thousands of years originally written in ancient languages and you can NEVER just take it at face value. Some text is literal, other is metaphorical, other is anecdotal. But you may not know which is which if you don't do research. So when you are talking about the Bible and don't try to learn this stuff, it would sound just as stupid if I were to review a novel based on the abstract I read on Amazon.com.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • well put!

      if only this point were more widespread than just here. thanks Tim!!!!!!

      July 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Tell it like it is!

      Thank you Tim. Can we get you to put that on a billboard?
      It clearly says that we are to STUDY it, not just give it a glance and make assumptions. It also says that arguing with a fool will make you foolish...

      July 10, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  4. Shawn

    Thats why Sola Scriptura is such a down fall for so many

    July 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  5. Truth Squad

    You've gotta love the false teachings mixed in the article designed to avoid false teaching in the Bible.

    I was and always has been CLEAR that Satan was the snake at the garden, fools all, who believe these false prophets.

    Satan is also clearly described throughout the Old Testament as is Jesus. The new Testament just points out CLEARLY and Plainly what those references were for those who were confused or doubted.

    The prophets of the Old Testament CLEARLY understood the spiritual battle.

    Do you fools really think the scripture that says there will be constant emnity between you (man) and the snake meant that man is in a constant ageless battle with snakes???

    July 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Muneef

      The Quran scripture says there will be constant emnity between you (man) and (Satan,Devil,Ablis) meant that man is in a constant ageless battle with (Satan,Devil,Ablis) and his forces...!!

      July 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  6. atomD21

    “Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”

    I completely agree that people regularly distort and misuse the Bible for their own ends. Just look at any church in the country that claims to follow the whole Bible, or says that is is all to be taken literally (Song of Solomon literally...ugh). Regardless, the part of the article that caught my eye was the quote I started with. The last line belies what the real underlying issue here is. They get the interpretation wrong? Which interpretation is right? Give one seemingly ambiguous scripture to multiple denominations and watch as you get many different views back as to just what that means. We need to stop treating the Bible as a science text, a complete history of the world, and as a weapon for political and social tyranny and start using it as it should be used. It is a guide to help us realize how we're supposed to live in this world and help make it the best it can be.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Tim

      The Bible is a guide to find Christ, not a guide to the improvement of self and the world. However, finding Christ (truly finding Christ) will improve self and the world. Those are byproducts of Christ, not the meaning of the text. Old testament – shows that nobody can live a godly life. New Testament – delivers savior.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  7. CheeZ-US H Christ

    Google normalbobsmith visit the site & enjoy. Great DressUpJesus games for the kiddies.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  8. Ryan McGinnis

    What's ironic about this article is that the author mentions the "apple" in the Garden of Eden, when in fact there is no mention of an "apple," only fruit.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • atomD21

      Yeah, I've never understood why if an apple was the "forbidden fruit" of the creation story, why they're still around today...

      July 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Muneef

      For even the Quran states it was a fruit tree but no mention what so ever of the fruit name or type...

      July 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  9. rupert

    "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)

    Bad fact checking....

    July 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  10. Sam

    For Biblical understanding in a lay persons view, if you wish to understand Revelations....Google Living Church of God and watch as your eyes are opened. They make the Bible fasinating!!!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  11. Dave

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. 'Holy' books are not proof of anything.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • atomD21

      Exactly. While I choose to follow what the Bible (that I actually have read from beginning to end) teaches, I'm not so arrogant to assume that my beliefs are now somehow universally true for everyone. Using the Bible to prove a point only means something if both participants in the debate believe the Bible to be "true."

      July 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  12. Get It Right

    Satan did tempt Eve in the garden. Genesis 3:1 and Revelation 12:9, 20:2. You have to read the whole things, not bits and pieces.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Tax The Churches

      The article does get it right. The concept of Satan occurs 500 years later. Revelations was not written until around 230 ACE so almost 4230 years AFTER Genesis supposedly occurred. Your statement pretty much sums up what the article is trying to convey, that people only get what their preconceived notions that they want to get out of reading that overly retarded book. The very fact that you actually believe in an invisible bogeyman who "tempts" you pretty much rules you out as a deep thinker. Anyone who reads the bible and does not take it to be nothing other than fiction written by conmen and bronze age goat herders needs to seriously take a course on literature and logical thinking. Really you believe in Unicorns and Dragons, and Ninja Bears, and A boat 400 feet long filled with farting animals lit by oil lamps with an 18 inch hole in the roof to vent all that methane? Really that boat would have been a huge methane bomb without getting into the physical improbability of the boat made from wood that size.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Ru

      @ tax the churches. Right on! Couldn't have said it better myself... Unfortunately, you know that "get it right" will not listen to you and just have "FAITH," and live "piously." Just like this article is written with pure fact.. this guy still refutes with some passages that he/she/hes-he hasn't even read yet.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Truth Squad

      That's why "Tax The Churches" wrote a book that has lasted thousands of years, countless attacks on it by persons of higher intelligence than himself or herself, and has attracked followers of every race, economic standing and intelligence.

      Tax the Churches falls under the mistaken idea that because they are self-proclaimed "intelligent" they actually know anything.

      The Bible has NEVER had even ONE iota of it proven false by anyone. The only way people claim it contains false things is when something has not been proven one way or the other. Many times in history have "Scholars" or "historians" made claims that only later became true.

      Tax The Churches live in a fairy tale world where they make up their own reality and claim it fact. Fortunately, as long as you are alive there is still a chance to repent and believe.

      However, as was said, you refuse to believe the truth and so be saved.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • atomD21

      @Truth Squad... As a fellow Christian, I have to say be careful what you say. Regardless of what scriptures you use to define salvation and everything, you do not have the authority to decide what will happen to anyone after death. We have placed ourselves on far too high a pedestal when it comes to these things. Telling people that they are essentially eternally doomed because they choose not to agree with your theology is a dangerous game. Only God gets to decide that.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  13. Geoz

    The bible. what a mixed bag of advice. Some relevent, some just not.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  14. pat

    History reports that the Al-Qur'an, written in the 6th century 500 years after the last book of the bible, due to Mohammed being illiterate but desirous of leading the Arabs from polytheism and their household Gods, had ghost writers, one being a Jew and the other a Christian. Explaining the redundancy and sort of copy cat type writings.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Muneef

      [96:3] Read, and your Lord, Most Exalted.
      [96:4] Teaches by means of the pen.
      [96:5] He teaches man what he never knew.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Muneef

      The Prophet and Messenger of God Muhammed s.a.w had been faced by Arch Angel "Gabriel" in one of his Caves of worship, while was worshipping the God of Abraham...when he was suddenly pressed up against the cave walls and was told to read...and those were the first verses he had ever received from The Holy Spirit Arch Angel "Gabriel"  ;

      [96:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
      [96:1] Read, in the name of your Lord, who created.*
      [96:2] He created man from an embryo.
      [96:3] Read, and your Lord, Most Exalted.
      [96:4] Teaches by means of the pen.
      [96:5] He teaches man what he never knew.

      So as it seems if ever had our learned to read and write would have been from that moment he was faced and forced by the Arch Angel...from that moments what ever words received were written by him or his companion Abu Baker AlSadiq..or Ali Bin Abi Talib his closest cousin and next of kin..

      The Quran was not written as you say after many years but rather scriptures were gathered and organized in it's last form in several years to have a one formal wording and readings rather than ignore that and end up with many bibles as was with Christianity...

      The instructions were clear from God to The Messenger that He is to ;
      [96:3] Read, and your Lord, Most Exalted.
      [96:4] Teaches by means of the pen.
      [96:5] He teaches man what he never knew.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  15. Muneef

    Tonight 7/7/2011 from 08.20 PM after the appearing and the speech of the Yemeni President Saleh for the first time since the failed assassination... The Skies in Yemen has become just colorful just as in the Fourth of July in America only here not only by fire works but as well by real fire by light and heavy artillery as a sign of celebration for his appearance alive...although God knows how many will suffer from injuries as a result of this as direct firings or from falling bullets...
    Just I pray to God that we will not have any opposition reactions for his survival so that we can sleep peacefully....

    July 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  16. rvolt24

    research... do some.
    Prov 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
    Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."
    Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel)."
    Prov 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."
    2 Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'"
    James 2:26 "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."
    Proverbs 10:4-5 "Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son."
    as for "Cleanliness", i grant you that one...
    Mark 7:15 "Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them."

    July 7, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Kateeh

      Did you read the article closely and in its entirety? It does go on to say that the concept of “spare the rod, spoil the child” is in the Bible, but that it is misquoted.
      “Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

      July 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  17. Muneef

    British Actress Inspired by Prophet's Life
    Myriam Francois-Cerrah Embraces Islam
    'Sense and Sensibility'

    Say (O Prophet!): The evil and the good are not equal even though the excess and abundance of the evil may impress you. So, O people of understanding, be mindful of your duty to Allah that you may succeed." Al-Qur'an, 5:100

    “The two feet of the son of Adam [human being] will not move on the Day of Judgment in front of Allah until he is asked about five things: about his life, and how he spent it? And (more specifically) about his youth, what did he consume it in? And about his money, how did he earn it? And on what did he spend it? And how much did he act upon what he knew?” Hadith


    July 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      For a better understanding of Islam we invite you to read the articles World History and Developments in the Middle East and Clash of Civilizations on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

      July 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Muneef

      Will do thank you.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  18. AvdBerg

    The reason the Bible is such a deep hidden mystery (Mark 4:11) is because the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

    For a better understanding what mankind must do to be able to understand the Bible and to be reunited with God we invite you to read all the pages and articles of the website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  19. Full Throttle

    There is no eternity in heaven. The fact that angels can fall and terminate their eternity becos of pride and ego very much attest that the rest are equally vulnerable. Theistic bigots top the list and should be blacklisted.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  20. Spot on

    The devil fell becos of pride. But the most egomaniac one is the mastermind who expect you to praise and stroke his ego all the time and one who burns you for the smallest mistake. Indeed pride is the bane of heavenly beings. It's little wonder why after pride comes the fall when rebels invade evenly heavenly courts.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:59 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.