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. Lino

    I like that CNN tries to approach belief by writing articles about faith and questions even believers have in their mind. From personal experience I learned these are not phantom verses but more interpretation of what you have learned in life. I just want to share that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • Mike

      " I just want to share that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God."

      I really hate how Christians keep telling themselves this.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • kc

      Welll said!
      1Co 2:14 But 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.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      Right on. Faith is personal. Religion is a false construct.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • Bernard Webb

      "Christianity is not a religion"? That's a new one on me. Is it in the Bible?

      June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • WithYouBro

      A'men... beautifully said.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  2. sickskilz

    Proverbs 13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

    That took 2 seconds on google. Cmon do some research

    June 5, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • kc

      This article is a bit erroneous. Some of what they say that is not in the Bible is not in the literal quotation they are using. But in fact much of what they say is not in the Bible is in the Bible.
      For instance there is no "spare the rod, spoil the child" yet
      Pr 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
      Another they claim that Satan did not tempt Eve yet...
      1 ¶ Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
      2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
      3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
      4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
      5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
      So basically this is just another Christian v=bashing article.
      Any chance of an article that exposes the hate of Islam? I doubt it.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Neslock

      How about "Cmon, read the article." That verse , word for word, is in there. The point is that everyone thinks the Bible says "Spare the rod and spoil the child". That's a loose paraphrasing of the actual verse, but most people don't know it because they don't actually read the Bible. Like they don't read the whole article.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • murtle

      I know! CNN isn't doing so good with their research. Are we gonna have to bail them out next? I-reporters and second class reporting makes me think there is a money issue. But come on, don't write articles like this and screw them up! Geez! We are to spread the Word, not knock it down!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • S Ddvis

      The Bible was not written in English, what you found was merely a translation. Part of what this article about is how translations muddy the meaning of the Bible. The translation you found differs only slightly from what CNN quotes. There are many current translations of the Bible, Come on, do your research.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Matthew

      I interpreted that as 'whoop that ass' and make sure you do it every time you catch them doing something deserving of such a thing.

      So what's your point?

      June 5, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  3. Matt

    @ Mark Yelka
    Please explain "magical beings" and "other nonsense."

    Do you own an owners manual, or users guide to an appliance, TV, or car? Be careful; those texts and manuals have been social engineered to manage power on those whom use such items. Or do you not abide by a manufacturers guidelines, They are 'magical beings', they are of weak minds and easily lead?

    June 5, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Sean

      The manufacturers don't try to convince of your doom for not following the instructions.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  4. Roger Sparks

    Make sure to know the Word before you go around quoting it and you won't be embarrassed. Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needed not to be ashamed rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (Read 2 Timothy 2:15)
    Also make sure you become DOERS of the Word rather than hearers only. (Read James 1:22)
    The Word will actually TRANSFORM your lifestyle if you will renew your mind with it. (Read Romans 12:1-2)
    He has magnified His Word even above His Name. (Psalms 138:2)

    June 5, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Geoffrey

      The word is not written in English. It is written in Hebrew for the old testament and Greek and Aramaic for the new. I doubt you know either nor have you bothered to even read different English translations.

      June 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  5. Agnostico Bombastico

    Actually, I've never heard anyone claim, "spare the rod, spoil the child" is in the bible...

    June 5, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Eric

      did you even read the article?

      June 5, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  6. philedifier

    All these tea-party members seem to not know the word metaphor

    June 5, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Andrew D

      Now that's butting it simple! May you continue to enjoy the peace within.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  7. P00P

    THIS ARTICLE NEEDS MORE T I T S!!!! ( . )( . )

    June 5, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • EDG

      Gee P00P let me guess what you believe (and where you're headed) R those places open on Sunday morning?

      June 5, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  8. Ron

    While I find much of this dialog interesting. You will find the mis-quotes of the Bible come from our leaders not from the lay people. True, it is the responsibility of each individual to read and search for what is actually written in the Bible. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Paul writes that we should "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good". If you actually read the Bible you will not find anywhere that it is should be read by "educated" and "trained" professionals. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;" (KJV) The Bible is for everyone. As Jesus Christ has said in John 15:26 "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:" (KJV) It is the job of the Comforter or Holy Spirit to teach and to guide. Not someone who has gone to school. Yes, there are mis quotes about the Bible, but it is the responsibility of each person to find the truth not someone with a degree.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Sean

      They won't bother researching anything as long as they're being told what they want to hear.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  9. SilverHair

    When some 'evangelist' stands before me with a 'book' and supposedly quotes from it, what is actually printed on that page? From some utterances, it must be gibberish because I don't understand most of the utterance. Therefore, it is 'interpreted for me' as I am deemed to be incapable. Sheeeesh.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  10. Daryl

    Leave it to a bible thumper to protest that this forum is merely for their viewpoint alone

    June 5, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Ms Galaxy

      I always wonder about that. So, we won't read the religious blogs and they won't read... Uh, the rest of the news?

      June 5, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  11. Chappy

    What am I missing? Proverbs 13:24 – Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • EDG

      Cause apparently sparing the rod and spoiling the child is most definitely not the same as spare the rod hate your child. Besides if this verse were true then where would all the time-out parents be. My children are living proof that sparing the rod DEFINITELY spoils the child.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • J. Nom de Plume

      As a Jew, I wish CNN would please stop referring to the 5 books of Moshe (Moses), the Bible (or Chumash in Hebrew) as the "Old Testament." This implies that there was a new testament from G-d, something Jewish people don't believe. If my understanding is correct the Christian writings known as the Gospels are writings of man not the writings of like the Bible dictated by G-d to Moshe on Mt. Sinai.

      I am not saying who should believe what; that is up to each one of us. I think a more balanced way for journalists to write would be to call the 5 books of Moses the Bible and the Christian works the "Christian Gospels."

      June 5, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Witchytiger

      Which version of the bible are you reading? I did another search on the one you posted and got this: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." Soooo who's right, and who's not?

      June 5, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      @ J. Nom de Plume
      Interesting post.
      the Gospels are writings of man not the writings of like the Bible dictated by G-d to Moshe on Mt. Sinai."
      Aren't they are BOTH the writings of man. How can you understand that the gospels came about, following a formation process, both oral, and written, and NOT understand that "the writings of like the Bible dictated by G-d to Moshe on Mt. Sinai" is bizarre. The Jewish scholars I have read almost all do not actually think that was the PROCESS by which your "bible" was formed. The LONG complex historically convoluted process that resulted in the formation of "your" texts does resemble in some ways the manner in which those later texts were formed, and came, (in another process), to be accepted. And and none of them think it was "dictation" !

      June 5, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  12. Paul NYC

    I find it interesting that the things that are often attributed to the Bible are things that justify the nastiest and most selfish instincts of humanity.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  13. Daryl

    "Bible Ignorance?" Now there's an oxymoron if I've ever encountered one. It's one thing to read mythology, but altogether a different phenomenon to interpret it literally. If ever there is a question concerning the darkest hour of mankind, it is answered within the annals of religious practices worldwide.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • Texan86

      Whats interesting is that i use to believe this crap. Now that i dont im baffled that i ever did. I think it has more to do with being indoctrinated from birth (in my case) that this is the truth, and you cant disbelieve it NO MATTER WHAT cause its based on faith. Now that my eyes are open... what in the hel was i thinking... or not thinking!

      June 5, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Witchytiger

      The point to remember here is that just up until very recently, the masses believed whatever their clergy told them... They either didn't have the skills to read (for whatever reason), or simply didn't believe they should read the bible themselves... I once asked an elderly Catholic where her bible was... (I love old books and thought her bible would be a real treat to look at...) She was horrified that I thought she'd even HAVE one... Her thought, at the age of 90, was that Catholics are not supposed to read the bible on their own... It was their job to believe what the Father told them, and it was the Father's job to know the bible... So many times it's either just plain ignorace, or the situation that they come from (IE: can't read, etc) that produces these types of situations... Thankfully we're coming out of those situations, if only little by little...

      June 5, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  14. Forgiven

    "Most of this article is just nit-picky semantics."

    Yes. Satan is referred to by many other names. In Revelations 12, where he is cast out of heaven with his legion of demons, he is referred to as the great dragon, the serpent of old, and the devil. He is the one, in the form of a serpent, who tempted Eve.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • Marie

      Actually, the concept of Satan, a counterpoint to the Christian God, as well as the concept of a judgement day, didn't appear until after the Jews lived in close quarters to the Zorastrics during the time of Alexander the Great. Their theology is a little different but they had a counterpoint to their god and a judgement day. After encountering them, the Jews added books into the bible to incorporate these concepts. Google it. Theologians from such universities as Havard and Yale etc have all written articles on the influence of the Zorastrics on early Jews.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  15. al

    Actually, the vast majority of the bible is fake...life goes on.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  16. Jason

    Why are there nonbelievers in the belief blog? Lol

    June 5, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Mark Yelka

      Trying to make the world a better place. Doing away with delusion will make the world a safer, saber, and mire productive place.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • Mark Yelka

      Saber = saner. Darn iPhone autocorrect.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • EDG

      Cause I felt it was my Christian obligation to warn unbelievers of the outcome of their unbelief now what they do with that info is entirely up them.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Bert

      They haven't read the bible where it says "In the words of Wisdom, Let It Be".

      June 5, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • Bottom line

      Atheists/Agnostics have nothing of substance to do on weekends. Also since they are empty when it comes to faith or beliefs they have to make the attempt to urinate on ones who do so they can feel full and superior.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Ms Galaxy

      So, we don't read the religios news and you don't read the rest of the news?is that how it's supposed to go?

      June 5, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Sean

      @Bottom Line
      It's not hard to look superior to someone who makes comments like yours.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  17. Atheism is Great!

    Actually, the bible is nothing more than a collection of stories and moralities written by human beings thousands of years ago who's max age was maybe 30, who thought the Earth was flat, and who did not have access to scientific or medical science/information. It's not from "god" people, god doesn't exist either. Whatever helps you get through your life I guess. I personally don't need that crutch. Have a nice day.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  18. ImpishLisa

    15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth
    2 Timothy

    Only a fool believes what he is told. Read it yourself to winnow the chaff from the seed, folks.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • Texan86

      Lol. Yeah. When i got to the part where the serpent speaks... I knew it was all chaff

      June 5, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  19. EDG

    This article is not as important as all the reactions. I may be wrong/stupid for trusting a book of fairytales BUT last time I checked it hadn't hurt me to believe, it hasn't cost me anything to believe and I haven't hurt anyone else with my beliefs however when I pass away (you know die) according to this fairytale book if I don't believe it will be very bad. See I think tis better to believe and have my bases covered than to die and find out the fairytale was all true and now the NIGHTMARE begins.For all the non believers: you do realize if believers are correct you all are headed for eternal torment (yeah that part is in the fairytale book). My life wasn't all that stellar here on earth I'd hate to think all I had to look forward to was eternal darkness and pain beyond belief. Just sayin.......

    June 5, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • Dave

      Your a hypocrite.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Ithinkthat

      That's "Pascal's Wager" you're referring to, and it has a fatal flaw. We don't choose what we believe. Pretending to believe in God probably isn't enough to save you. So to suggest that the unbelievers accept such a ridiculous concept as God without any reasonable evidence is nonsense. Think about when you stopped believing in Santa and The Easter Bunny. Could you choose to believe in Santa now?

      June 5, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  20. Shawn Irwin

    Most of bible humpers are ignorant of anything to do with evolution too, so I am not surprized. These are the people who listen like sheep to whatever their religious leaders tell them, regardless of what they say. The sooner people quit listing to the hucksters and child molesters the better. The more people that actually READ the bible, the more will discover what a reprehensable book it is. For many who are ignorant of it consider it to be the ultimate truth and authority, rather than placing a high value on truth itself. They do no check to see if what their religious leaders are telling them is true or not. Religious leaders often say Darwin converted on his deathbead, but there is no such evidence, it is a lie.
    "Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile." Kurt Vonnegut – Author of "The Burden of Guilt". . . . . Kurt Vonnegut wrote about and understood the causes of the rise of Adolf Hitler. Hitler advocated belief in god, invoked god, and even prayed in some of his speeches. Allowing the church to participate in the political process is asking for trouble.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • Trewth

      I dont need to read thousands of ramblings about the evolution theory to know that my ancestors were not apes/animals. Same goes for the big bang theory.
      It takes more faith to believe those outlandish thoeries than it does to believe in an intelligent creator.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • Sean

      Your ignorance has served you well so far.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
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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.