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)

    the bible was compiled of a bunch of books ,marry maddelin and marry the mother of jesus did not need a bible
    the word was not mans words but gods you can belive what you want to {dead sea scrolls}you were giving what
    acording to the times as always to the victor goes the spoils. we of faith who judges and show our disslike
    and admeration for oh how as a child we become just not the child we aspire to be

    July 24, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  2. stoirin

    While it is true that some of the oft-stated lines are not the full quotation, you are REALLY splitting hairs on some of these. I have been a professional writer all of my life and i am very sensitive to changing the meanings of words/phrases - but I do not see how the meaning of "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is essentially different “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.” The point of either phrase is that it is the job of a loving parent to correct a child. I am not a literalist, and I would never advocate beating a child - I think that you can get the respect and obedience of a child by making them love and respect you and want you to respect them. But I do definitely agree that correction IS needed and that people who think being a good parent means having your children like you and think of you as a "pal" will find out very quickly what a major mistake they have made! YOur kids can have many friends in life - they only have one parent. And while everyone wants their kids to like them - the most important thing is to do what it takes to help a child grow into a moral, ethical, responsible, contributing member of society.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  3. Holly

    The myth that illegal aliens only hold jobs that American workers won’t do is just that — a myth. Recent studies estimate that 20 percent of cooks, 25 percent of construction workers, 22 percent of maids and housekeeping personnel, and 25 percent of groundskeepers are illegal aliens. In addition, 40 percent of illegal aliens are visa overstays, many of whom take high-end jobs from Americans.
    When fast-food company Chipotle was audited and hundreds of its illegal workers were fired, American citizens lined up the next day for a chance to work at those jobs. . .
    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data from last year show that 98.3 percent of employees were confirmed as work-authorized instantly or within 24 hours using E-Verify. A 2009 report by research firm Westat found that those eligible to work are immediately confirmed 99.5 percent of the time.
    E-Verify is free, very accurate and reduces paperwork for American businesses.
    Please put your efforts into helping the truly down and out Americans. Please put your efforts in helping mothers, fathers, teenagers find work. There are generations of families who cannot compete with the under the table dealings of illegal’s and have gone out of business. Fax your representative today. Faxes and calls work and are free at Numbers…..(look it up and just do it!)

    July 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  4. REALLY?


    July 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Lisa

      I know, really??? See Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Who wrote this article, anyway? HE is the one who does not know the devil, and is dangerous to deceive the world himself that Satan was not in the garden.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  5. mary

    First of all, NO ONE ever CLAIMS that "God works in mysterious ways.” and “Cleanliness is next to Godliness" came from scripture. They are APHORISMS or WISE SAYINGS. Just becaause they are about God does not mean they came from Scripute. I have heard those all my life and never heard them attributed to the Bible.
    Secondly, The serpant REPRESENTS Satan! That is a virtually undisputed fact about Genesis. It is a mythical story! Mythical meaning it is a story meant to tell TRUTHS about humanity -NOT that it is FALSE. When God says to the serpant, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." (Gen 3:15) that is a prefiguration of Jesus (the offspring of Mary) redeeming the world as the new Adam and Eve.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Lealem

      Kim from Canada,You are so right about choosing your sposue carefully. There is hope for people who are already married to someone who is not seeking God's will. The growth my husband has experienced over the last 2 years is amazing no supernatural and it didn't have anything to do with me. The growth I experienced over the last 6 years did have a lot to do with me submitting to my husband, as I would submit to Jesus. I remember one day, driving home from the store after a little argument we got in. I was talking to God and I was saying I know You want me to submit and I don't want. I'm sorry God, but he is wrong and I'm not going to be the one to give in. When I got home the scripture a soft answer turns away wrath just popped in my head and I did talk sweetly to him. At which point he apologized to me and took full responsibility for the argument. Now, I am not saying we should submit because the outcome will be better for us, but just that many times, because of our obedience to God, the outcome is better. Even though we do not have a perfect marriage, it is 200% better than it was. There is HOPE that husbands not submitting to Christ's authority will eventually do so.

      June 29, 2012 at 4:27 am |
  6. I'm just saying....

    The bible talks about life. So people may read something and interrupt it as saying something else. Like the golden rule, don't say anything bad to people. Well it's not in the bible per SE but the bible does say to speak with a sweet tongue. Get it?

    July 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Manda

      Actually, the Golden Rule IS in the Bible, in Luke 6:31.

      July 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  7. Jennifer

    CNN has the worst articles. this is just garbage

    July 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • zyan globosits

      You got that right.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  8. Danny

    Why did God give us the Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, etc. too? Yes, there are many paths to the top of the mountain. To believe otherwise is a child's folly.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Josh

      He gave you Buddha, Krishna, and Mohammed so you could see for yourself that Jesus is the only way. Why? all three of them are dead, and you can visit there graves. Go to the tomb of Jesus (if you can find it) guess what?? Its empty!! False can only be exposed when truth is presented, Jesus said I am the way, the TRUTH and the life

      July 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • I'm just saying....

      Those people are dead. Jesus is alive.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Eris

      I know Jesus is alive. He just finished mowing my lawn.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  9. Ace

    The examples given are definitely not in the Bible, but what the Chicago Bear's former coach said wasn't completely false. His statement wasn't an exact quote from the Bible but it is still indeed true. The Bible does tell us that this world and all moments to ever exist in it will not last forever and in fact come to an end. Read Revelations. So therefore this article was kind of a waste of time.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  10. JAB

    You people are the perfect example of why there are so many versions of christianity. I think you all should fight it out in a cage match. So many christians and so few lions. Now there's a shame.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • I'm just saying....

      I know. I'm a Christian and I have my own people putting down other Christian denominations. Makes me sick.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  11. scott

    total hogwash almost everything they are saying is false do not be fooled by satan at CNN wow....

    July 24, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  12. Sam

    "But often the milkmaid, the cobbler – and the NFL coach – start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says."

    And there we have it. A call for amateurs to lay down their thesauri and leave Bible reading / understanding to the professional experts. Actually there is a religious precedence for this ... anyone here old enough to remember when a certain religion's operations were all carried out in Latin to ensure that the uneducated masses would not be tempted to stray from the flock? Eventually some poor fellow in Roma was convinced to allow non-Latin services and native-language bibles, and their whole cash-flow empire has been going downhill slowly ever since! Odd thing about FREEDOM ... once you get a taste, you just don't want to swallow anything else. 🙂

    July 24, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • tiger60

      Sam, Thank you for saying so. the church themselves didn't want the common people to be able to read and know what was really written, so they performed their rituals and yes they are just that "rituals" in latin to prevent these common folk form deciding for themselves if these religions are speaking truth and becoming free thinkers.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  13. Greg

    The examples given are poor. I will not quibble over wording–if the principle is taught in the Bible, then it is perfectly appropriate to say it's from the Bible. After all, if you've been taught about plagiarism, you know that paraphrasing is still quoting.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Tracy S.

      I think the issue presented in this article that some of these misquotes DON'T actually embody the message the Bible is trying to communicate–such as the phrase "God helps those who help themselves." It's a concept that's completely opposite everything the Bible says about how to interact with others. So you end up with a bunch of ignorant people who refuse to give charity even though charity is one of the ultimate Christian aspirations.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  14. nothingwrong

    if it is not from the bible, where it from?

    July 24, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  15. Mel

    The thing about modern times is that many scholars and theologians are learning Latin, Greek and Hebrew. They are going back to the original Greek (New Testament) and seeing the layers of English that were slightly misunderstood. The scripture actually has a richer meaning. There is an even richer love of God that was not originally revealed because they lacked the American English we use today.

    July 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  16. RabidinL.A.

    Adam & Eve are ALWAYS pictured with navels...kinda kills the myth.

    July 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Uriah

      have you seen Adam or Eve?

      July 24, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • lastonestanding

      looking for perfection, is imperfection It does not exsist, except the universe that is on the fingertip of GOD

      July 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • I'm just saying....

      Those are pictures. You think that's really Adam and Eve?

      July 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  17. CNN is total BS

    Provers 23: 13-14 Its obviously a simple paraphrasing but get over yourselves....all three themes are biblical, although I have to admit "God helps those who help themselves" is a little misconstured

    July 23, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • tisha

      "God helps those that help themselves" to me means you cant pray or ask God for somthing and excpect it to just fall in your lap or knock on your door. For example: if i pray for a job i cant just sit at home n hope someone will knock on the door and say heres a job, i have to ask God to lead me to the right place. Which means i have to be able to know his voice. then when i get to that place I know that his light will shine through me and he will set favor upon me. The employers will be compelled to hire me. In other words u have to get out there and" let your light shine".

      July 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  18. Miguel

    Joe, the original New Testament texts were written not in Aramaic, but in Greek, the common language of the Middle East under the Romans. The Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, were in Hebrew and translated into many languages, Aramaic being only one of them. The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew into Greek is the closest you will get to the original Hebrew.

    As for intended meaning being lost in translation, anyone who has read Ovid or Homer in English can be sure that what they are reading is what was written, and when scholars have equivocal translations, they are usually heavily footnoted with alternative meanings, as is the case with any good Bible translation.

    July 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  19. OEA

    Granted the fruit was never identified, so calling it an apple is incorrect. Rev.12:9 Identifies Satan as the Original Serpent....the one called Devil and Satan. Also is Rev 20:2. Other bible verses Satan as the tempter who deceived Eve. Further, the prophecy at Gen. 3:15 provides a connection between the "seed of the woman" and "the seed of the serpent". See also 2 Cor 11:3 , John 8:44

    July 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  20. Holly

    All I can say is please see for yourself what the bible has to say. Please do not merely listen to men, but read for your own knowledge. Proverbs Chapter 23 verses 13-15 and Genesis Chapter 3 will contradict what these men are saying, you can choose the NIV. Its a good version and easy to ready. Mabe then you will actually see that these men are not completely truthful in writing this article. People are quick to listen so called "Educated Men", without even looking at their qualifications first.

    July 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Joe

      I would read the Bible if I could only read Aramaic. Bear in mind your version of the Bible is a translation of the original... who's to say that "something wasn't lost in translation"? After all... it was a King's scholar that did most of the "popular" translations. Just something to ponder while you look down you holy nose at people who you find distasteful.

      July 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • biblereader

      @Joe... you dont necessarily need to know Aramaic, or Greek, or Hebrew for that matter, to be able to understand the Bible from its original languages. The best way to look at the original content is to read the same passage of the Bible using different translations and also going to blueletterbible . org where you can see the original text with the translation side by side.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:00 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.