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. Truth

    Revelation 12:9

    August 23, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  2. Martin

    The article itself uses language to describe an event in the Bible that the Bible text itself doesn't support. "The Genesis story about the fall of humanity". No where in the original story is there any mention of a fall. The action described is rebellion. The idea of a fall from something can probably be attributed to Thomas Aquinas. But the event is often referred to as the Fall, or as the writer described it, the Fall of humanity.

    August 23, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • MR

      Hi Martin,

      I agree that the "Fall" is just an editorial insert.

      Just curious.... Do you think that man was created as a sinful creature?

      August 23, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  3. Jeffision

    Visualize a post-religious era.

    August 23, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Amber

      It would be he'll on earth in simplest terms.

      August 23, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  4. K.owens

    Those Quotes that are said aren't said to be in the bible. When people say those things it is just a reference: I have never heard anyone say that those quotes are directly in the bible : people always mis -interpret everything or take everything to deep into context that's wrong with America now when the coach said the reference it was meant for encouragement unless he quoted like this " as in the bible says" where are we to judge what he means SMH America stop reading into everything so much take the time & really just see what the man was trying to do.

    August 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Gregory

      Nonsense. Ditka said: “Scripture tells you that all things shall pass," so yes, he patently attributed it to the Bible. The problem with Americans today is that many aren't accurate, knowledgeable and truthful enough - and big problems arise from that in business, in politics and in social life. It's time to stop coddling the "dumbing down" of our country and hold people accountable for their words before they do any more damage.

      August 23, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  5. Donald Holly

    Death is a wonderful thing. It is a transformation back to the great "all that there is" much like birth is an arrival from the great "all that there is". What most people are concerned with is more pain and suffering than birth or death.

    August 22, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Joel

      If it really is "all that there is" how could ever possibly leave or come back to it? That is extremely flawed logic. I've noticed a lot of your posts are flawed. You must be a dumb man.

      August 23, 2011 at 2:43 am |
  6. John


    August 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  7. Anne H


    August 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  8. baulblart

    religious people are universally stupid.

    August 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • justme

      do you have any idea how ignorant that comment is ?

      August 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Seattlite

      What a well-developed sense of irony you have.

      August 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  9. Barry Hughes

    What are the chances CNN posts any articles like this about other religions? You'd think with all the racial tension between us and the middle east that a similar article about Islam would be pretty relevant.

    August 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Ya know what cracks me up is I just came over from another story where several posters were citing "CNN and it's Christian agenda" man oh man, which is it?

      August 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  10. Just-A-Guy

    Since the bible is just a collection of made up stories, who really cares if somebody makes yet another story or saying. For example, I am pretty sure that the bible says "No religious leader ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of his followers." and "A religious sucker is born everyday." Hey you knuckleheads, nothing in the bible is true and there is no one waiting to greet you at the pearly gates. When you die, its lights out, party's over.

    August 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Jordan

      I'm sorry sir but the Bible is not just a bunch of made up stories. The Bible is a guide book to how the Christian is expected to live his/her life. It's a book that guide your steps and really to try to make our lives easier, it gets hard sometimes but its just a test to see if you can handle it. I'm just commenting to let you know that Jseus Christ died for you and loves you more than you can imagine, i encourage you to find you a pastor or Christian leader that can help you. and what ever you do....dont forget that Jesus loves you more than anything.

      August 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  11. David

    Genesis 3:1-3 (Amplified Bible)

    " 1NOW THE serpent was more subtle and crafty than any living creature of the field which the Lord God had made. And he [Satan] said to the woman, Can it really be that God has said, You shall not eat from every tree of the garden?(A)
    2And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat the fruit from the trees of the garden, 3Except the fruit from the tree which is in the middle of the garden. God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. "

    August 22, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Sarah

      Er, yes, except for the part where when you see brackets in a text it means that portion has been somehow modified by the text's editor.

      That's embarassing.

      August 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  12. Ryan Casey


    August 22, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  13. Charles

    Try searching the scriptures:

    August 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      I thought you said search the scriptures, not some book "book of mormon" that the bible says couldn't exist. take your mormon a$$ out of here.

      August 22, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  14. Charles

    Try reading Proverbs stupid. Just because a saying can not be found word for word, it does not mean it is not covered in the bible. Cant Fix Stupid.

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

    Proverbs 29:15
    15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

    Proverbs 22:15
    15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him

    August 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Wow, you missed the entire point of the article and then go off on a tirade calling others stupid? Cat meet kettle. The point was that they didn't exist exactly and in some cases not at all in the bible. See, if you are "quoting" someone or something and you change 90% of the language, but in your estimation it's close enough... YOU AREN'T QUOTING.... STUPID!

      August 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  15. IndepenentThought

    The bible also has the word "ass"

    August 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  16. Steve

    The final point of this article seems to be that individuals should not have access to the Bible because they abuse the interpretation. If you can read English, then you can understand most of what is in the Bible. The more you read it, the more there is to apply to your life. It's very interesting that "tongues" existed in the early church prior to the written word to deliver God's Word to his believer's. Once the Gospels and the Letters and been committed to writing, there was no longer any need for "tongues." Tongues in the early church was not glossolalia, but known foreign languages.

    August 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • GodPot

      "The final point of this article seems to be that individuals should not have access to the Bible because they abuse the interpretation. If you can read English, then you can understand most of what is in the Bible."

      I disagree, the point of the articile is not that people shouldn't have access to it so they don't misinterpret, it's not to assume that every seemingly scriptural phrase or quote you hear someone spout is really from the bible. And if you can read english, then you can understand most of what other people who can translate Hebrew and Greek believe the bible says, but even then they are working off copies of copies of copies.

      August 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Steve

      Read the last paragraphs of the article.

      August 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Steve

      P.S. to GP.....The study of textual criticism gives us good confidence that we have the original text within the variances of the outstanding texts that are available to us. Indeed, there are no significant variances in the texts that affect anything of fact or theological significance. I don't know what is taught about this in liberal universities. I suggest that you do a personal study of the subject.

      August 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      That isn't the final point of the article at all. The final point was just because you have a bible and someone is agreeing with you about what YOU think it says, doesn't mean your correct AND your error could be detrimental to you and others.

      August 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  17. meow

    da bible says! hyuck!

    August 22, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  18. Thor

    God? Now, .... which "God" are we speaking of here?

    August 22, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Steve

      THE God who created the universe and all that is in it, Who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, the Triune God.

      August 22, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • GodPot

      "THE God who created the universe and all that is in it, Who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, the Triune God."

      You know, MY God...

      August 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Michael Andrew

      None at all. We are talking about the bible. You know, the book that protestant christianity is based on.
      If you insist we're talking about a god, then I should think it is clearly implied we are talking about the God of the aforementioned bible...

      August 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  19. 1Dats4given

    Not sure if anyone said this...but the biggest and probably the most dangerous misquotation/phantom verser is...Accepting the Lord as you personal Savior. Not only is that NOT in the Bible ANYWHERE, but it's not even a part of the plan of salvation...PERIOD.

    August 22, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • someramdomguy

      @ 1Dats4given read Romans 10

      August 22, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • KD

      Romans 10:9 – "That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

      By confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you have ACCEPTED Jesus for who He IS. Therefore you have accepted Christ.

      August 22, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • C. Smith

      True, KD and someramdomguy, but you're missing the point that the real passage says you have to confess Him as L-O-R-D. Too many people accept Him as savior and go on living their loves like they always did, not caring about what He told them to do. That's not accepting Him as Lord.

      August 22, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • S

      No accepting Jesus as Lord is the problem many believers have in their personal faith journey.

      August 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • MR

      Can you explain in more detail?

      August 22, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  20. Chris Z.

    Out of the 8,000 responses to this article, I'm sure many of you have explained that Satan appears IN THE FORM OF A SERPENT in Genesis.

    Catholic Answers further explains that Mary, Mother of God is the "New Eve" who would not sin: "After the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, God promised the advent of another "woman" in Genesis 3:15, or a "New Eve" who would oppose Lucifer, and whose "seed" would crush his head. This "woman" and "her seed" would reverse the curse, so to speak, that the original "man" and "woman" had brought upon humanity through their disobedience.

    August 22, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • GodPot

      "Satan appears IN THE FORM OF A SERPENT in Genesis." And again, the point of the article. You, like everyone the author is speaking of, just put words in God's mouth. No where in Genesis, as the article points out, does it say that Satan is the serpent. You can read into it all you want, and reference Johns writings a thousand years after Moses penned Genesis to come up with an explanation of who the serpent was, but again, Moses never specifies. You can believe what you like, but don't go around paraphrasing what the bible say's in an attempt to feel righteous or look smart, it just exposes your ignorance. Oh, and the whole serpent bites the woman in the heel but then the serpent is bruised in the head prophecy you are refering to, I've heard a dozen different explanations as to who the woman is, some of them claiming it as Mary, but most believe it to be what is talked about in Revelation as the bride class or the bride of Christ, not Mary, but again, it's just a bunch of people opinion's since Moses does not specify, thus the point of the article.

      August 22, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Joel

      Moses didn't write the book of Genesis. Charlatans did.

      August 23, 2011 at 2:45 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.