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. Been there done that

    REPOST this was a poorly written article last time I read it and it's a poorly written this time that I didn't.

    July 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  2. Ch Mac

    This is symantics. There are many truths taught within Scripture that make their way into common sayings. To say that a specific phrase like "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is NOT in the Bible is mis-leading for the principle of that phrase is certainly well support in verses such as Proverbs 13:24, 22:15 and 23:13 & 14, etc. I recommend you read the Bible for yourself and not trust the agenda laden opinion of these columnists who subvert biblical truth through articles such as this.

    July 28, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Been there done that

      That's basically what I said to the columnist last time they posted this story. It is just semantics, some of the stuff they are right about, but they're basically saying that the paraphrase of well known biblical lessons (most of which I've read in the bible myself) aren't legit. This person needs to do research.

      July 28, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  3. AvdBerg

    By reading the comments on this Blog it seems very obvious to us that all the foundations of the earth out of course (Psalms 82:5). For a better understanding of this scriptural verse we invite you to read the latest article ‘CNN Belief Blog ~ Sign of the Times’ listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    July 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • ....

      AvdBerg is a troll on this site trying to promote their cult and book, click the report abuse link to get rid of this troll.

      July 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Stand4Truth

    @GodPot, sounds like you have not read the Bible since you obviously have a tremendous misunderstanding of what it says and a very bad understanding of God. I suggest you take some time to read the Bible (particularly the New Testament) before saying things that just are not true (for example: "unforgiving God who tortures people for eternity if they do not follow his every command").
    I would be more than happy to show you plenty of proof and evidence to contradict your statement from the Bible (and by the way, now you're misquoting and representing the Bible) but based upon your statements, I am sure you probably are not very interested in reading them but if you are then I will be more than happy to provide them.

    July 28, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • GodPot

      I have read the bible in it's entirety, three times so far in my life and was an ordained minister for over 12 years. I know what the bible says and have heard countless different people with countless different explanations for why the contradictions are not contradictions and the laws in the hebrew scriptures were from God the father and they didn't change when he become God the son, except that they did, and everyone version of the God of the bible is different because they only see what they want to see and only read what they want to read. Every single evangelical I have met and discussed the bible with had the same problem, they do not know, and cannot show you nearly anything from any other part of the bible but the gospel's. And they will tell you that Christians focus on Christ's life, but if Christ is God, then he supposedly "wrote" the Hebrew scriptures as well, and was fine with Abraham impregnating his wifes slave girl, was fine with Lot's daughter's sleeping with him to continue their lineage, was fine with the slaughter of the inhabbitants of the promised land, women and children alike, was fine with stoning disobedient children, was fine with having multiple wives, wasn't fine with eating shellfish or pork or rabbits, wasn't fine wearing clothes woven of two fabrics, forgave the murdering adulterer David but let Job suffer watching his family die and his wife and friends leave him and is inflicted with boils and pain all because he was faithful. I know my bible sir, and I think the only thing you "Stand" for is when your puppet master pastor's rally their troops and pull your strings.

      July 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  5. thelma

    i do read my bible and if whoever wrote this article reads a bible he will know that some of these things are in the bible.

    July 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  6. Tommy


    Enough with the HP plot spoilers! 😉

    July 28, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  7. The Truth

    "It's like Harry Potter except it has more killing, s3x & violence and ends with most of the planet being killed to appease and angry unforgiving God who tortures people for eternity if they do not follow his every command. So basicly it's like Harry Potter except Voldemorte wins."

    The idea that people interpret the bible as fact leads me to believe that evolution did not occur... in everyone at least.
    I have even heard people argue that the story of Noah's ark is real lol!
    hmmm... So what did those animals eat on their trip? Because more than a few eat OTHER ANIMALS!!!

    July 28, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • partly true

      What did the animals eat is a good question. (remember, you asked...) Noah stored food for him and the animals on the ark. And, it was after the water receded that God allowed people and animals to eat meat – until then they all only ate green plants.

      July 28, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • slayerwulfe

      The best comment of all, too good to not acknowledge, made my day

      July 28, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  8. Andrew bolton

    Religion is made by man. Moses was man. Constantine was a man. Everyone involved are men. That's why religion is man made.

    July 28, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Mildeus

      I meant "Man" made, in the sense that is invented, does no exist, it's a work of fiction, it's a lie, it is made by a man or woman, it does not involve some superior being because there are not superior beings. Religion is very important to millions and miliions are living a lie. That's ok with me as long as they stay in their corner.

      July 28, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Stephen Daedalus

      Stay in their corner! Best comment out of 137 pages IMO.

      July 28, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • perkhy

      Why are any of you reading this if you don't have a belief in religion? If you don't believe in God or religion stay in your corner instead of getting into a corner where you don't want to belong anyway. It's as if you are reading this article to use it as ammunition towards people who are religious. Let's respect each other's differences.

      July 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  9. Andrew bolton

    If god exists, why does he need you imperfect humans to speak up for him? Can he even make this right himself? Oh yes. He just flunked the omnipotence test.

    July 28, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  10. Woman

    Did anyone else find this hilariously funny? I enjoyed the part in this article where they say that people who follow the bible, many/most of them have never actually read it. And those who question religion more often than not have read it.

    July 28, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  11. TheTruthIsObvious

    The truth will be known. Islam is truth. Quran is a miracle just like Jesus's abilities, Moses abilitiy to split the sea, etc, etc..

    TO those who disbelieve I wonder what you will think to yourself when you are present of the Day Of Judgement. I just wanna see the sad look on your face that you were wrong. Believe me, there is time for you to change. Your whole life you will ignore that instinctice truth in you but one day (most likely the day of your death) the realization will become instaneously present.

    July 28, 2011 at 1:56 am |
    • TheTruthIsObvious


      July 28, 2011 at 1:56 am |
    • Donald

      I have an easy time saying that I do not believe in the words you have written. I also believe that Islam is the religion of tyrants. But this is America so pray to whomever or whatever you want! Now try saying that in some of your Islamic controlled countries.

      July 28, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • Mildeus

      One thing you can be sure: when dead, there's nothing after. No god, no virgins, no paradise and no hell. All religions are man made. The three main monotheistic religions are way more similar to each other than most people think. Islam is no better or worse and someone call her a "borrowed religion" because of the fact that the Quran is a copy of old religious books from christianity and judaism and the same "actors" (jesus, the archangel gabriel, moses, etc.) appear in it (with different names). So, believe in what you want. "The believers should leave the nonbelievers alone" (this is not in the bible...). From Portugal...

      July 28, 2011 at 5:48 am |
    • True christianity

      Islam is a borrowed religion, Mohammad took the first five books of the old testament and the new testament, translated it into Arabic and claimed it was inspired to him by an angel, furthermore Jesus told us to know the true religion from it's fruits, a rotten tree would not produce good fruit. The fruit of Islam has been death and destruction of human lives, look around the world today, wherever there is Islam there is war and human rights abuses, Islam spread by the sword, ALL the Islamic countries have the death penalty to whomever converts back from Islam. It is because of the shameful conduct of Christendom ( not true Christianity) that Islam spread because people think it is the true religion. The vast majority of Muslims can not read the Quran, in fact it is forbidden to translate. When the Quran is followed to the letter you will get people like the Taliban or Iran.

      July 28, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Andrew bolton

      A god who stoop as low as man has no right to judge. How can a god who can lived billions of years without any evolution of wisdom be a good judge? He kills people like they are nothing. He allows evil simply becos no one polices him. He is above his own rules and laws without consequences. Even he tells a lie. He is without consequences. If all the evil he can allow, how much harm would a little lie do. Thank goodness I believe in karma. Even the greatest of gods will fail in his own hands one day.

      July 28, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Andrew bolton

      What right has a god that preaches do as I preach but not as I do to judge. If a perfect god can't even follow his code of conduct. Can imperfect man do better? No wonder hypocrisy is the trademark of theists. Like master like servants.

      July 28, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  12. MatthewPaul

    When Jesus hurled Satan out of heaven down to to earth(which is why there's so many problems today), Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan the devil as the "original serpent". Of course 2 Timothy says "all scripture is inspired of God", so that should do away with any doubts. As for this article.... DUH! Most people want to like what they are told. That what 2 Timothy 4 :3, 4 prophesied people would do.

    July 28, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Buddy R

      Yeah, CNN's opinion writers are pretty much clueless about Christianity and the Bible.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • cosmicsnoop

      You speak as if what you're saying is fact, when it is not, it is your (limited) understanding and belief. This is why intelligent people dismiss people like you who act like they know what's going on when you clearly don't.

      July 28, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  13. Minister

    This article is totally off base....No It doesn't say spare the rod spoil the child but what it does says is "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)...but who has time to say all that so you get "spare the rod, spoil the child." read your Bible! As a preacher we aren't called to quote the Bible word for word. We are called to bring God lost souls and direct them to God's Word...draw people to desire to open the Bible and read the Bible for themselves. To want to have their own personal intimate relationship with God. If all we did was recite the Bible word for word that takes away from the work that a "infant" Christian needs to grow and mature on their own. We deliver messages that are Biblical base...John Blake next time pick one up before you write another post so journalistically horrible! I am so appalled by the inaccuracies in this post on such a "respectable" news source....well I question that for sure now...

    July 28, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Bob

      You should read the entire article before you post.

      July 28, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  14. Pastor

    King James Bible: Matthew 12:40
    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.

    Suggest you do a little more research before being so definitively wrong.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • KCH

      Pastor, I'd like to respectfully encourage YOU to do the research. In the original Hebrew, Jonah 1:17 uses the Hebrew word da'g which is translated "fish". The King James scholars took it to mean "whale" for they had no concept of an actual fish large enough to swallow a human being. Yet, Scripture clearly called it at "fish" in the original form. As one who imparts Scripture and it's truthfulness to your flock, I am sure you would want to know the truth in this particular instance.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • askduane

      Trinity is not in the Bible, but, many twist scriptures to fit a trinity doctrine. What's wrong with just Father, Son, Holy Spirit, which is God's active force. Trinity doctrines try to get you to accept God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and these three are a trinity. But the bible does not say this at all. The Bible says "God the Father" and "Jesus is the Son of God, not God the Son". I remember in the Garden the serpent twisting God's command to Adam and Eve and said "Did God really say". Same with this "trinity" stuff. The Bible clearly says "Son of God", not "God the Son".

      July 28, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  15. Carrie

    Read Proverbs 23:13-14 it talks about the rod.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  16. STR

    I have studied the Bible over and over again.
    The beloved trinity doctrine is not in the Bible either.
    It was a man made doctrine by Constantine and the church leaders in 325 AD.
    John 3:17
    Jesus prays, "This is eternal life that they may know "you, the only true God" and Christ who you have sent."

    There is no doubt about it – Jesus acknowledges the one true God. The trinity was never ever taught in all the Bible.
    You all better know the only true God. There are hundreds of scriptures that contradict the trinity.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • MatthewPaul

      John 17:3***

      July 28, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • askduane

      @STR; thank you!

      July 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • crj

      Regarding the Divinity of Christ, I invite you to read John 1:1-18 (NIV) and help me understand how Jesus is not co-equal with God? " ... and the Word was with God and the Word was God..."
      Peace to you STR

      July 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  17. Voice of Truth USA

    “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.

    Well, well, well. This article likes to split hairs just to spread doubt. Based on this quote, when Jesus says (and I'm paraphrasing) "Before the foundation of the world, I AM" I guess Jesus was wrong, too. For Christians, we use the New Testament to understand the mysteries of the Old Testament. For non-Christians, this is a stumbling block. Who else is the Father of Evil? God is not the Father of Evil because He can't rebel against Himself. A serpent can't do anything on its own, certainly not talk. And though the EXACT phrase "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is not precisely in the Bible, Proverbs is full of verses that speak to that idea. It seems the REAL purpose of this article is to sow doubt and confusion. I found nothing eye-opening in this article.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • chris

      You probably think Harry Potter is real too, right?

      July 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • didyouread?

      @ Voice of the Truth,

      I think you just proved the article's main point: people's carelessness and poor reading comprehension skills has led to misinterpretations and misquoting of the bible. The article states:

      “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.”

      In other words, the author said, that "spare the rod, spoil the child" is not a direct quote of the bible; rather, it's a rewording (perhaps reinterpretation) of Proverbs 13:24. No confusion there. Next time, before you go on another tirade, takes time to comprehend what you are reading rather than thinking of a response before finishing the article.

      Secondly, can you please cite where you got "before the foundation of the world, I AM"? are you trying to quote John 17:24, which states "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, which you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world." If yes, you have once again reinforced the author’s point. And you should follow the his implied advice; before you go running around misquoting and misinterpreting the bible, take time to truly study and understand it. Try to learn from someone that actually has some scholarly and in-depth knowledge of it. Do not take anyone’s words for it because they (like you) could be wrong!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • didyouread?

      hahaha...i just got it. You combined John 8:58 "before Abraham was born, I am" with John 17:24: "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world."

      sounds to me like heresy!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  18. vicki long

    People tend to misquote God just as they misquote people.
    The Scriptures contain the thoughts of God, written by the
    inspiration of God. As with people, the only way to
    understand someone's thoughts is to get to know them.

    July 27, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  19. Name



    July 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  20. Cole

    what is this bible that you speak of? is it like harry potter?

    July 27, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • GodPot

      It's like Harry Potter except it has more killing, s3x & violence and ends with most of the planet being killed to appease and angry unforgiving God who tortures people for eternity if they do not follow his every command. So basicly it's like Harry Potter except Voldemorte wins.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:43 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.