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. ralph

    continue to read the good book you might be suprise at its revelations

    August 28, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  2. Tyrone Turner

    Mr John Blake you needto read the BIBLE for yourself, because it not in the BIBLE do not mean that the BIBLE do not teach it.
    These quote you have said that not in the BIBLE the BIBLE do teach them. If you think that the BIBLE is not true try to prove that JESUS CHRIST IS NOT GOD to yourself, because the the BIBLE said that every tongue will confess and every knee will bow that JESUS CHRIST is LORD, and JESUS CHRIST said that Jonah was in the Belly of a sea monster for three days. Matthew 12:39. Read the BIBLE and try to prove it wrong, if you can tell me so I can live the as i did when i was young.

    August 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  3. Just.The.Facts

    The forbidden fruit of knowledge of good & evil .. it's forbidden to eat of knowing the difference between good & evil? think about that. Perhaps it was actually meant as to don't subscribe to the perception of what is good & evil, instead try common sense & logic

    August 28, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  4. John


    August 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  5. nana

    What a load of camel dung. Go fix that poor old lady's roof down the street or
    get those kids in your local orphanage some sports equipment and computers
    and get on with your lives.

    August 28, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  6. pete

    In the illustration for this article, why do Adam and Eve have belly buttons? Just wondering...

    August 28, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • JOregon

      Artistic license.

      August 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  7. Ram

    Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

    August 28, 2011 at 4:07 am |
    • Paul J.

      My religion doesn't cause me to fly into buildings! And the same can be said for %99.999 percent (give or take) of other religious people. In fact, I dare say the majority of religious people are better for their faith; at least they feel better. Science created the technology that allows people to fly into building. They didn't bring a bunch of biblical scholars in to build the atom bomb either. Science and religion both have their dark aspects.

      August 28, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Moe Smith

      Careful Paul J,i bet a dozen doughnuts that "your religion" has indeed caused many a war in its time. except Buddhism, every single religion has justified war/violence to promote the spread of its influence.

      that's the point he was making. get a fncking clue and get off your self-righteous high horse before you break your neck.

      August 28, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • JOregon

      No Moe,
      Religion has rarely been the excuse for war.
      Wars are fought for land and power.
      Even in the bible when the Jews warred they did it to take the land not influence outsiders.

      August 28, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Alex

      Copy that!

      August 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  8. tryecrot

    Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.

    August 28, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  9. CraigH923

    How can anyone have the audacity to think that something written as fiction 2000 years ago is REAL??????? People have no brains, and guess what, the offsring if these dopes will be worshipping Harry two thousand years from now........Harry Potter that is!!!!! Reta%&s

    August 28, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • JOregon

      It wasn't written as fiction 2000 years ago.

      August 28, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  10. Brenda

    "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in
    Christ Jesus our Lord....." Rom 8:38
    "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteoursness of God." Rom.19:3 ....How dark it would be, if there was no God....He is the light of the world, in him we live.....in him we survive....

    August 28, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • BradW


      If you are going to quote from the bible, make sure you have it right: the word is "angels" not "angles" – only one of these "angles" actually exists, but you could at least get it right. Also, you have run together Romans 8:38 and 39 thereby making your sloppiness even worse. And I'm not even going to bother with the rest of it.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:56 am |
  11. Scott(MO)

    The writer in the article states "......And if you're a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn't it sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and not a Great Fish."

    The reason we "preachers" use the term whale is because that's what the Bible says! Yes, in the book of Jonah it mentions "Great Fish", but if you go to MATT 12:40 Jesus said "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."


    August 28, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • BradW

      Only one blatant example of inconsistencies in the bible.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • Jotoole

      Spot on Scott!
      Brad if you think "Great fish" and "whale" is proof of an inconsistency then yes you are right, this is a good example of the things that get called inconsistencies in the bible. However they are not inconsistencies.

      August 28, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • JOregon

      ketos found in Matthew 12:4 can also be translated "huge fish", according to Strong's. It only appears once in the bible.
      dag or dawg which is the Hebrew word in Jonah 1:17 is translated fish all 20 times it appears in the OT. (KJV)

      August 28, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  12. Mark Kupietz

    Here's another verse for you:
    2 Timothy 2:15
    Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

    Stick to the King James Version of the Bible, it's far superior in translation method, manuscript evidence, and literary form. Unless you want one of the 100+ different version from the money hungry book publishers; who turn out a different translation every year for the purpose of increased revenues, disregarding that the Bible is not just a piece of ancient literature but the very holy words of Almighty God.

    August 28, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • BradW

      That's your "belief"; now prove it.

      The scientific evidence that the bible is no more "divinely inspired" than any other writing continues to mount and mount.

      August 28, 2011 at 6:05 am |
    • joe

      Interesting you should claim that, considering how roundly and widely criticized the King James version was for the poor quality of its translation when it was first published (not to mention the instructions King James himself gave to the translators to choose their words in such a way as to distance the Church of England from the Catholic Church, and of course make it look better than the Catholic Church).

      August 28, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  13. Mark Kupietz

    No it doesn't say 3 wise men but;
    Matthew 2:1
    Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in THE days of Herod THE king, behold, there came WISE MEN FROM THE EAST to Jerusalem,

    It DOES say Jonah was inside the belly of a whale:
    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.

    A fish in the Old Testament (the Bible considers a whale the same as a fish):
    Jonah 1:17
    Now the LORD had prepared a great FISH to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the FISH three days and three nights.

    As far as Satan not being the serpent in Eden, you should STUDY the Bible before you make such claims.
    The following passage is referring to Lucifer;
    Ezekiel 28:13
    Thou hast been in EDEN the garden of God; every precious stone [was] thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

    Revelation 12:15
    And the SERPENT cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.

    Revelation 20:2
    And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,

    Careful study of the Bible will conclude that the 'serpent' can be no other.

    Although Jesus Christ referred to Himself as a serpent in this passage;
    John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the SERPENT in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
    15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
    16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    August 28, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • BradW

      : . . . (the Bible considers a whale the same as a fish): . . . "

      Where in the bible does it say that?

      August 28, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • Jotoole

      Brad, its a simple matter to work out. Would people at the time of the writing of the gospels have considered a whale a fish or would they say it is a mammal? Of course they would have no idea what a mammal is as this classification hadn't been created then. They would see a whale as a large fish.

      August 28, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • joe

      "Careful study of the Bible will conclude that the 'serpent' can be no other."

      Careful study of the article will conclude that the story of the Garden of Eden originated some 500 years before the notion of Lucifer (or Satan, or whatever name you want to give him) as he comes to be known from the Bible. There certainly seems to be a case to equate the serpent and Satan in modern interpretation, but the point is that the story could not possibly have been written with the modern Satan in mind - the serpent was a simple symbol of temptation.

      August 28, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • JER

      The bible never calls the devil "Lucifer". That was what the ancients called the planet Venus when they still thought it was a star. Lucifer means light-bearer. Not exactly what the bible would call Satan.

      August 28, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  14. Jamie

    It is plain to see that when you actually read the bible as a book, you can read other scriptures and clearly KNOW that the "serpent" is the devil. These are 2 of many examples.
    2 Corinthians 11:3
    But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

    Revelation 12:9
    The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

    August 28, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • BradW

      A "book" generally has a logical progression from the first chapter through the last chapter. That certainly can not be said of the xtian bible, so it is hard to imagine reading it as a "book". After all, the bible was put together by a lot of different people living in different centuries. And that is "fact", not "belief".

      August 28, 2011 at 6:18 am |
  15. Heiner-Smith

    Something seem funny to you, John Jacob and Jingle?

    August 28, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • BradW

      Was the last name "Heimersmythe"?

      August 28, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  16. Jingle

    Perfectly put Jim and John.

    August 28, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  17. Jacob

    Well-said Jim and John!

    August 28, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  18. John

    Jim's right, Ditka simply said that the Bible tells that all things will pass. That's most certainly true; I've read the Bible cover to cover and that concept is strewn all over the place. And Ditka wasn't quoting the Bible when he said "This, too, shall pass." He was simply discussing his current situation.
    But I'll forgive Blake and Wells for their mistake. Blake must have been pulling an all-nighter to make the deadline for this piece and was too sleep-deprived to realize his whole hook was structurally flawed, while Wells was probably over-eager bewail the public's ignorance of the Bible (with the self-assurance that he at least was a biblical scholar).
    Hopefully, other people won't be misled.

    August 28, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  19. Elizabeth

    Only in America will you see someone challenge Christianity, and then watch the challenged person reply with a scripture quote.

    August 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • A

      "Only in America will you see someone challenge Christianity, and then watch the challenged person reply with a scripture quote."

      What's wrong with that? This is how uneducated people such as the author know that their condescending articles are in fact just as wrong as some of the people they condescend. The only one challenged here is the author. "This too shall pass" was clearly a reference to the team which somehow spawned this ridiculous article full of errors. Even accurate paraphrases are ridiculed. It would be funny if its was so sad. It reads like a spoiled child's rant.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:06 am |
    • BradW


      The "wrong with that" is that it is no answer to a quite clear statement that many, many people(most of them confessed xtians) have no real understanding of the context or the meaning of the words that they quote from their "holy" book. The whole point of the article is that many, many people quote old "folk" sayings thinking and "believing" that they come from the xtian bible when in fact they don't. Xtians should be interested in accuracy and "truth"(whatever the heck that is) and not be so arrogant as to tell everyone else they are in error.

      August 28, 2011 at 6:32 am |
  20. Jim

    "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."

    When the coach said : "this too shall pass" he wasn't quoting the bible. He was saying that the team's situation was going to pass. He said that the bible said: "that all things pass". Once again, the phrase "This too, shall pass," was his own words. "This" as in his team's lack of winning games.

    I can't believe how this can be misinterpreted. Hopefully someone will read this.

    August 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Rog

      What? Ditka messed up a bible verse that's not even a bible verse? That's incredible. I understood the underlying theme of the article. It was interesting. I also understand that some of these articles are written to incite discussion. Did you happen to notice the AT&T advertisement at the top corner of the beginning of the article? Sometimes writers of mainstream media stories take a few liberties with facts or omit some. So what? I am a very faithful Christian. But if I wanted some press, I'd probably write an article on how many bible verses and works of fine literature Yogi Berra mutilated.

      August 28, 2011 at 10:55 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.