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. Brian

    Wow, it must be a very slow news day for CNN to focus on this.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Paul

      It's Sunday. They publish a religion-focused article every Sunday.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  2. x500

    The bible is a pretty good fiction book.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  3. PeeLo

    Actually, that is in the Bible.

    Rev 12:9 identifies Satan as the serpent in Eden: "the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan"

    June 5, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  4. Lewis

    The statement “the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years.” Jesus would disagree. He taught that the devil has been around since the beginning. John 8:44, The Devil was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
    “Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” perhaps not, but I think the apostle John clears this up. First, He agrees with Jesus’ teaching. 1 John 3:8, The devil has sinned from the beginning. Second, John clarifies the relationship between the serpent and the devil. They are one and the same individual. Revelation 12:9, And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world. Revelation 20:2, And [Christ] laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. It is clear that many journalists and Bible scholars rank right up there with the Biblically illiterate.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • R.J.

      1) Jesus might disagree, but since he did not come along until 1400 years after the writing of Genesis (1450 B.C.) the author is correct in his statement. Jesus, or anyone else, making a statement 1400 years later does not change the content of Genesis.
      2) Again, the author is correct, what you are pointing out is an expansion, clarification, or perhaps a retcon of the existing text. Whatever might have been said in 1 John or Revelation in the first century A.D. those statements there do not change the facts that:
      A) The Book of Genesis does not say Satan, it says the Serpent.
      B) The Concept Satan as we know him today did not appear among Jews until later.

      Does this mean Satan did not exist? No, it means Jews did not write of him in the sacred works until later.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Moe

      I think they meant historically the belief in Satan or the Devil came 500 years after the original writing of the book fo Genesis, so the original writer could not have meant the Devil. Both John and Revelations are in the New Testament written long after Genesis. From your quotes it appears that the writers (or compilers) of the New Testament are simply giving their interpretation of the Old Testament. It doesn't mean its the right interpretation.

      That being said, I am a firm believer that no one knows the "correct interpretation" of the Bible. Whatever makes people happy and gives them comfort is up to them. However this is exactly why the Bible should never be used as a reason for certain laws.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Lewis

      If Jesus, who called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) doesn't speak the truth then He is liar ("C.S. Lewis"). If you cannot trust the words of the apostles then your faith is vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). Jesus is the Word of God incarnate (John 1:14). He is the final authority when it comes to what God said (Hebrews 1:1ff). While Jesus did teach new trurths to people during His earthly ministry (Matthew 16:18), not all of it was new. There are clear examples where He is reaffirming the truth that the Jews either misuderstood or had distorted (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34,39, & 44). When Jesus said "From the Beginning" He meant from the beginning, not "almost from" or "500 years after. " I purposefully chose to quote only from the New Testament. I have nothing against the Old Testament. I just didn't want to overwhelm people with too many details.

      June 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  5. Bora

    There are some interesting thoughts throughout this article. The one thing I think we must all understand is that many of our proverbs that we have in the English language come some of the principles and teachings from the Bible. But, that does not mean that all of them come directly from it. The Bible has had a lot of influence in the way our proverbs, thoughts, and even parts of our language have developed over the years. So, yes don't say these things came directly from the Bible maybe, but there is not denying a lot of the close links with Biblical principles that are taught with many of the proverbs we have today and this article shows that some.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  6. Peace

    Jesus wept.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • remorse2

      Do you know why?

      June 5, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Sean

      He read these posts.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  7. The Quickening

    You earth creatures are a very sad species.
    You have been genetically engineered to serve others.
    You are being controlled by a book of fairy tales.
    But your planet is nice real estate.
    Soon to be ours.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  8. bill stapp

    Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently)."
    Prov 19:18: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying."
    Prov 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
    Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."
    Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel)."
    Prov 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."

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

      I think you just put CNN back to the stone age in article writing. Too bad CNN won't fix the article. Journalist are just poor researchers these days.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • DaLe

      What are the original meanings of the words "rod" and "beat/beatest" anyways? Is it really about domestic/school corporal punishment? Isn't it more as "setting the bar", in the meaning of standards?

      June 5, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  9. Andrew D

    This article is true to the fact that the quotes are not word for word , but very misleading of the message of the content of the scripture , so before all you none believer's speak on the spiritual truth of his will, and a knowledge of his will you would have to first stop serving the creature, and running off your own gas of being above that you know nothing about. very sad and very true!

    June 5, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  10. spike

    If it's not clear to you by now that most organized religion is designed by power-seekers who want to control people, then you're one of those being controlled. Read all the religious texts from all cultures the world over, not just the bible. It's the same across the board, back to the beginning of written history - a set of rules, which have come directly from a deity, and unspeakably horrible eternal torture for those who don't follow the rules or unspeakably wonderful eternal rewards for those who do follow the rules. Take off you blinders. Religion = politics.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  11. ArniePerlstein

    "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."

    Haven't any of your experts heard of John Milton's Paradise Lost, written 350 years ago??? Milton is the "culprit" who made Satan tempting Eve a household meme.


    June 5, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  12. TRH

    All religion is silly.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • christian

      The bible never says that the forbidden fruit was a apple it says "fruit" from "the tree of knowledge of good and evil".

      And for all atheist, I'm concerned with the logic in your belief. If there is no God, what does your body need it's head for? If any of atheist would like to demostrate how that would work it would be great to watch you make the separation.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Zoo Keeper

      @ christian
      for the same reason a frog needs it's head

      OMG !

      June 5, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  13. David Emiley

    This just goes to show that the vast majority of Christians have never read the Bible. For the record, I, and Atheist, have read it cover to cover twice, not counting dipping in to it hundred of times.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • pimple

      Your so special. *hug* You want a lolly-pop?

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

    I'm paraphraseing here,but would love to remember who it was who said..'Everyone has some spark of spirituality in them, even the most unspiritual amoung us, like evangelical christians' I've slighlty misquoted,but I wish I could remember who that little gem came from

    June 5, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • remorse2

      Romans 1:19-21

      19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

      We are without excuse because God has made himself evident to everyone.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  15. Sal1943

    "Does the harsh language in the Koran explain Islamic violence? Don't answer till you've taken a look inside the Bible."
    Interested in a comparison of the Bible and the Koran? Google and read "Dark Passages" published in the Boston Globe Mar 8, 2009. Author Philip Jenkins, Professor of History and Religion at Penn State.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:56 am |
  16. philedifier

    The Bible was chopped up by a group of bishops and low and behold Gods message still seems to come through to his chosen people. The age of fishing for men is over. You can't just claim it you have to believe it, live it. 5ont allow yourself to be dragged into the reality of your neighbor(non believers) listen to your brothers and sisters.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:56 am |
  17. Trewth

    philippians 4:7
    And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    ^ this is what christianity is all about. Without it, life is desolate and meaningless

    June 5, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • Allen

      I ate a piece of God once. Tasted like chicken.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Ionut

      This is so funny! We were just talking about this at a tiltle league baseball game. ( Northeast Ohio.) We (4 different people) were commenting on how many chipmunks are around. I have at least 7 regulars this year and normally we have only one or two.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Chopara

      Oddio Cecil the conduit taastecolpre per essere un gioco wii e questo nessuno lo toglie, basta vedere i video in-game; ma per quanto riguarda spettacolarit in senso di realismo non pu niente contro le giganti produzioni per le altre piattaforme. Credo che Gianco volesse dire questo.

      April 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  18. NW1000

    My favorite one is, "Thou shalt not put a milk bucket under a bull."

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


      June 5, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Pam

      That quote is the best one yet!!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Sean

      Woe unto he who attempts a tug.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  19. Satyr

    http://www.GodIsImaginary.com and he exists only in people's imagination and in the http://www.EvilBible.com.

    June 5, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  20. Michelle

    Whatever the message of the original bible was, it has been erased, edited or misinterpreted over hundreds of years. The bible was rewritten by those in power who wanted to keep their greedy control over the masses.

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

      And your proof is? You are making idle claims. The original mss are still available today.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • objecttothis

      Then how do you explain the 14,000+ manuscripts and manuscript pieces that are in current possesion all of which are 99.9% identical? If people had been changing things then these manuscripts would have major differences. No power has ever existed that could gather all the manuscripts (take by force) and change it then redistribute the text without anyone saying anything about it. Yet there is nothing in history of this sort of thing happening.

      Please do your research before regurgitating information that simply isn't true.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Jon

      your comment is based on what facts? do you believe Jesus to be The Christ? if you do you have to retract your statement. every thing you know about christ comes from the bible period. whats easier for God to do?... Make the sun rise each morning or to preserve a book that contains his words from evil men?? Think about it. you Don't trust the testimonies in the bible then you can't believe in Jesus. "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." http://www.thecomforter.info

      June 5, 2011 at 8:22 am |
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About this blog

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