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. John


    July 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • .....

      Another TROLL ALERT- don't bother viewing this garbage, click the report abuse link.

      July 21, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  2. Mark

    Hmmm....I didn't realize I was a poor sap.

    July 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  3. Pam

    Mt 23:24 "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." (NIV) Granted, scripture is often misquoted, but many of the misquotes are based on Bible verses, having been passed down throughout the years more as sayings than ver batem quotations – which your "scholars" have chosen to ignore. Many of these sayings are within the spirit of the text if not equal to the text. So, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. And Sidnie Crawford is ignoring the teachings that show how God cares a great deal about what a person does with what they have! Consider the parable told by Jesus of the master who gave talents (money) to his servants. The servant who hid his portion so that no one could steal it was reprimanded and his portion taken away from him and given to the one who already had gained an additional 10 talents. (MT 25)

    July 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  4. Jodey

    The more I learn about Christians, the more I realize how severely brainwashed those poor saps are!

    July 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Jodey, Christians are a Myriad of Multivaried Socialisms from Staunchly Aggressive to Mildly Meek. The Audacious or Daring Qualities Of Christians' being Vocally embittered should be as a grain of sand with a beach of the stuff.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • vivian

      The actual meaning of scripture has not been given to the "educated or others who have interesting theories" about God. It has and will always be a hidden mystery that confuses the weak who think they have strength of knowledge by reading and interpreting according to the dictionary or thesauras. It will drive an everyday person mad with reason and conflict, but this is one thing I know for sure, it is God's word–like it or not! I feel sad for the millions, maybe billions, who don't know HIM. Vivian

      July 19, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Stephanie

      If it wasn't for people like the ones snegid up on this list, my step-daughter would never have lived to see her newborn graduate high school. My Granddaughter graduated the beginning of June and it was one of the proudest days of her Momma's life. If it wasn't for her kind donor she would not be here 19 years after being diagnosed with Leukemia. Thank you to everyone who takes that step to commit to making a difference in another's life and the lives of their families.

      March 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  5. Jodey

    Jesus, please save us from your followers.

    July 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  6. John


    July 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • .....

      3rd TROLL ALERT- don't bother viewing this garbage, click the report abuse link.

      July 21, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  7. Jake

    Should've asked Rabbi Shapiro about "this, too, shall pass." Or just Googled it. Wells is way off: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_too_shall_pass

    July 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  8. heath

    Jesus, please save me from your followers, amen.

    July 19, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  9. SingleServant

    And that's why I love the Father because He created us with the ability to choose to believe in Him or not to believe. I choose to believe and if you don't that is definately your choice. I'll never force or throw my faith in anyone's face. "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." That is bible (Matt. 7:6) That's why I don't argue with people who refuse to believe that's their choice. The arms of Christ are open to those who recognize their need for a savior.

    On the mis-quotes it is funny how many who do profess to be Christians and bible believers fall into that category. Alot of it is because preachers tend to have sayings that have a biblical basis but are not actually scripture and unfortunately many don't read their bible.

    July 19, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      SS, you wrote. "I choose to believe and if you don't that is definately your choice. I'll never force or throw my faith in anyone's face. "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine,"

      You SS may not have "forced" or even Thrown tour Faith but you sude did pick 2 verses I have not heard or read in quite sometime! It is a Truth that Mankind's Societies are riddled with Dogged and Swined Individualists who care not about their own Improprieties or lack of Moral Composure.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  10. Cletus

    Good Lord... How do I get off this planet?

    July 19, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  11. somebody

    how about Matthew 12:40 kjv "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

    But you are right in part. There are a lot of misquoted scriptures, a good deal of paraphrasing, and some outright fabrications thrown in by some people. But that is their mistake. People not knowing their scripture or understanding it does not make it any less factual or truthful.

    July 19, 2011 at 3:26 am |
  12. somebody

    "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)

    People need to learn to properly interpret the Bible. In the crudest laymans terms, it does say if you spare the rod you spoil the child. One should always use exact scripture however when quoting scripture. Tends to clear up the mess.

    July 19, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • Daehenob

      I was going to quote from Proverbs but someone beat me to it. The character of "spare the rod spoil the child" is contained in several places.
      Proverbs 22:15
      Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, and the rod of correction shall drive it away.

      Proverbs 13:24
      He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.

      Proverbs 23:13
      Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die.

      Proverbs 29:15
      The rod and reproof give wisdom: but the child that is left to his own will bringeth his mother to shame.

      While being correct CNN, people do need to be specific and quote correctly, I don't think we can expect such intelligence from either celebrities or politicians.

      July 19, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • MC

      Thank you.

      July 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  13. Brent

    Jesus died for all of you. He loves you! You were on his mind while he hung on the cross! Jesus was beaten, took nails for you, and was speared!!!!!! He desires to have a personal relationship with you! It is the best thing and most important thing that has ever happened to me! I don't want you to miss out. One day, it will be too late!! In order to spend eternity in Heaven, you must have a personal relationship with Him. But, do not be deceived!!! Not all that says Lord, Lord, will enter into heaven. God will say "I never knew you" and you will go to Hell. You will know when you become an child of the King! When you turn from your sin, and accept Him as your personal Saviour, you will be forever saved. Hurry before it's too late. Spread the word of Christ! Let someone else know of the change that happened in you! Don't be selfish!!!! Share the love of Christ!!! God is Love! He is right there beside you!! Turn from your evil ways and be changed FOREVER!!! Have you got a ticket to ride to the other side? -Toby Mac
    I love you all, and hope to meet you one glorious day in heaven!! If you don't remember anything I say, atleast remember this:

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in him SHALL NOT PERISH, but have eternal life. JOHN 3:16

    July 19, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • HotAirAce

      No he did not! With the same degree of certainty that you claim your tribal sky daddy exists, I say THERE ARE NO GODS! And you have no evidence except a badly written book of fairy tales, so in reality you having nothing to support your extraordinary claims, so you lose.

      July 19, 2011 at 1:12 am |
    • TechnicallyRight

      Prove that he didn't.
      Agnosticism > Atheism AND Theism.
      You can argue whatever "facts" you want all day, but the fact of the matter is, neither side can definitively prove their case. Hell, Gnostics at least have the right idea, 'they' claim that you don't need proof and that 'God' is a 'collective consciousness' of sorts. I'd by into that long before I'd believe in wizards and savior zombies from Nazareth.

      July 19, 2011 at 5:34 am |
  14. Can't see beyond your nose

    Can the people who discredit and attack the Bible also attack books of other religions? Wait, maybe it's because the Bible hits a nerve when it sheds light on YOUR lifestyle? Hmmm...

    July 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Dawn

      No, it's because the Christian bible is the only one most of us are familiar with as it is the only one most of us have ever had thrown in our faces.... I can see fine beyond my own nose because I don't have my head stuck up my A$$. I pity the brainwashed masses....

      July 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • TechnicallyRight

      Personally, I'm agnostic because, quite frankly, it's a FACT that no human being truly KNOWS either way. I mock people who take their religions "holy texts" as anything more than an outdated guideline for how to be a good person. People who start their arguments with "It's a sin to -" or "God doesn't exist because --" I completely ignore and allow them to spout their one-sided ignorance somewhere else. However, I must confess (lol) that I do personally adhere to what you could attribute as being an "abrahimic moral code". I can't fault anyone who lives by the addage "Live and let live", but some Theists take their given text far too seriously. E.G. Semptember 11th, 1972 Munich Olympics, et al. More to the point, your argument is rather moot due to the fact that the bible (and other texts) are so wide-ranging about human behavior that they were bound to eventually have an answer for everything just through sheer volume of opinion. Example, if you were to guess my last name you'd eventually get it right- that doesn't, however, mean your psychic. Get my point?

      July 19, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • Ryan


      I agree with your thoughts. But at some point, I stopped taking the meaning of agnostic and atheism so literal, and used well...deductive reasoning....to solidify that there is no dieties. I use that same rational thought (and I'm sure you do too, so why stop using it on this matter?) when someone says to you. "I just saw the lockness monster over in the town lake". Get my point? It's ok to straight up say....that deities don't exist...instead of taking the literal route of saying well "we can't prove if a diety exists or does not exist".

      July 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Ryan

      Besides...you could never prove something does not exist if it is not real. No need to play the "technical" game anymore. It's just plain silly.

      July 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  15. HL

    Revelation 12:9 starts with "So down the great dragon was hurled, THE ORIGINAL SERPENT, the one called Devil and Satan..."

    Let the Bible explain itself to you by you reading it, instead of listening to others' interpretations of what it says and doesn't.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Margaret

      Revelations was written a long time after Genesis.

      July 18, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  16. boocat

    George Harrison wrote a song "All Things Must Pass." Maybe that's what Ditka was really quoting. He just doesn't know it.

    July 18, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • SingleServant

      I know James Cleveland did gospel song called "This too will pass" and it's been a saying I've heard in church all of my life.

      July 19, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  17. j.a.a

    The spare the rod, spoil the child is a loose translation of Prov. 23:13-14 but it gets the point across just in a different way.

    For Thomas Paine who comes on here trying to quote scripture about Christias immunity from poisonous adders and casting out demons, those were Sign Gifts that were given for a time. The Jews were seeking a sign and the Miraculous gifts were signs that God had given his son Jesus and also through the Holy Spirit later on to the Apostles because the New Testament had not been completed yet. Those incredible sign gifts died out, but the Holy Spirit still gives all Christians the Fruits of the Spirit (joy, peace, gentleness, patience, etc) and to each one different special gifts such as preaching, teaching, helps, administration, etc

    July 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Fred1

      Well he certainly didn't give my christian mother any of those fruits. But apparntly spent extra time teaching her about not spairng the rod

      July 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  18. Dave Harris

    I've always though it rather strange that people who claim the Bible was written by their God and is absolutely true and is the rudder of their life have usually never bothered to actually read it. The few who have read it are reading translocations of translations, hardly the "literal word" they claim to worship. Hardly any of them takes the trouble to learn ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the languages in which it was actually written. (You'd think God would have stuck to a single language.) So what's this all about, just pretending to be better than somebody? They're not fooling anybody but themselves.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • SingleServant

      The thing that you don't realize about the bible is that it is a spiritual book, it's not just about the letter, no matter the translations, the Holy Spirit is our teacher and leads us into all truths. If we truly walk with Him, He will leads us to the right translations but more importantly it's about a relationship with Him, not just do's and don'ts, He changes our heart when we follow Him.

      July 19, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  19. ThomasPaine

    Here's a bible verse for you: Mark 16 – Whoever believes (AC) and is baptized will be saved, (AD) but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (AE) 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 they will pick up snakes; (AF) [c] if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm (AG) them; they will lay hands on (AH) the sick, and they will get well."
    19 Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus (AI) was taken up into heaven (AJ) and sat down at the right hand (AK) of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the accompanying signs.

    Sooo if your a true believer break out a bottle of poison and down if for me and I'll check back on you to see if that faith of yours is trueing where you say it is. This should thin out the gene pool pretty easily.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • jr

      Ive actually seen people drink poison because they are forced to or whatever and the Lord does protect them. It's not something like, "Oh Ill try drinking today". That's just retarded.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Dirrin

      @ jr: No. You haven't. You have never seen anyone "drink poison because they are forced to or whatever." That is just absurd.

      If you did, you either are a witness to or accessory to a felony, or were at a Penn and Teller show and didn't realize that what was happening on stage was for entertainment purposes.

      July 18, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • TechnicallyRight

      @jr – Hell did you know that you can actually build an immunity to potassium cyanide? Yeah bro, you should try it- start with AT LEAST an ounce of it.

      (In case you're to thick to understand cynicism; you can't)

      I'm sure that in some cases you 'can' build an immunity to a wide range of 'poisons' but I sincerely doubt that you've ever personally witnessed it. Besides, if the poison doesn't kill you, the inevitable damage to your kidneys and liver surely would.

      July 19, 2011 at 5:48 am |
    • SingleServant

      That verse is talking about God's protection in extreme cases, when a believer is out doing the work of God just like Paul when he was bitten by a poisonous snake and it didn't affect him. People who handle snakes in church using this verse has taken it out of context.

      July 19, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  20. JG

    I do agree with the premise of the article and what it's trying to say – however, it makes its own errors as well. It's not the "Tree of Life" – it was the "The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil." Huge difference philosophically – enormous.

    The philosophical implication of misunderstanding this part of the metaphor within Genesis is just another example of what this article is about. If people are being misinformed about the very beginning of the Bible, it's no wonder most of here can barely agree what the metaphor is actually describing and trying to teach.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.