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. Dennis

    Being atheist is so overrated

    October 2, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • Keenan

      When atheists get in a jam, who's the first person the call, God. Also, more people misquote Sunday as being the new day of worship in the Bible than all those quotes combined. What they, including the "so-called" scholars mentioned in the article, don't understand is that the Sabbath (Saturday) is the day of worship. Jesus never changed the day. It was the Roman Catholic Church that acknowledged they changed the day from Saturday to Sunday with no Scripture to back them. They say because they are "above the Bible" and don't need to follow God's written Law.

      October 2, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  2. Rich

    The surest way to become an atheist is to read the bible.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  3. Joe B

    It;s amazing how everyone is overlooking that the bible was written over several hundreds of years from people who did not have a printing press or cell phones to communicate, yet it has no errors and continually confirms itself. Either people were telepathic or the bible was truley written by a higher source.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Adrian J

      The bible only includes a handful of gospels. They were specifically chosen and put in the bible. Many others were thrown out. That isn't a coincidence.

      October 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • nonbeliever

      @Joe B- No errors? The bible is INCREDIBLY contradictive, and the fact that MAN decided which books to put in and which books got left out, because they couldn't have other gospels (other than the 4) telling a different story. Wake up sir! Please, study your religion. Atheists know the history of christianity so much better than most christians because they actually spent the time to try and find answers and decided in the end that it was all too much to be real.

      November 20, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • i wonder

      JoeB, [The Bible was written by] "people who did not have a printing press or cell phones to communicate..."

      It is a compilation of stories told by NOMADIC desert people of the Middle East. They got around, you know, and shared this stuff. There is nothing in there which was contributed by New Guinea tribesmen, nor from anywhere else in the world that was very far-flung from that area.

      And what @Adrian said - the stories which seemed to follow best were the ones which were chosen by early church leaders and councils to make the final cut and be included in the Bible. I'm not sure how the Torah was compiled and how certain stories were selected for inclusion, but it seems as if it would have been the same type of deal.

      November 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  4. Phill

    Speaking of open mindness... the creation of God that turns their back on him don't deserve a sign or any proof. But never the less, God does offer proof. Deuteronomy 4:29 But if from there you will seek (inquire for and require as necessity) the Lord your God, you will find Him if you [truly] seek Him with all your heart [and mind] and soul and life.

    Matthew 12:38 One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority. But Jesus replied, "Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  5. Goddess IsIs

    The Master, the Author of the Bible is Lucifer, Satan, Devil (all one), and they are the gods that rules and reigns on/in Earth. GOOGLE SEARCH: RELIGION IS A MENTAL ILLNESS. GOOGLE SEARCH: BIBLE WARNING LABEL. People need to read the Scriptures/Scrolls written in their PSyche DNA SOUL MIND and have a conversation with COMMON SENSE in that PSyche DNA SOUL MIND, there where we will SEE, SEE, SEE, not just LOOK, Look, LOOK, but SEE (within) what is and what is not.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  6. emma

    My favorite is "Judge not Lest You Be Judged" which does not refer to judging others in general but judging others when YOU are doing the same thing. Another is, "An eye for an Eye" which actually is a means of protection, not revenge. But the most misleading is when people say, "Where two or more are gathered in my name there I am ..". It does not mean there have to be 2 or more people for God to be present (God will meet you alone anywhere you are) – it actually is taken out of context from a discourse on determining punishment for a believer. The Bible calls for 2 or more witnesses to a crime or infraction before any kind of punishment may be performed. I have to agree with the Rabbi, most Christians don't read the Bible for themselves, it's too much work. Or when they do join a Bible Study, it's a lightweight 'life application' topical devotional, not the deep study of a book and its Hebrew or Greek words. Time for tv though.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  7. cwjmem

    what about this


    September 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  8. SilverSky

    John Blake, before putting out an article like this, please ensure that (a) YOU have read through the Bible in it's entirety and (b) learn how to cross-reference – helping to avoid the Eve-Serpent-fruit-Devil blunder that you made and (c) Check the passage/words in the Greek or Hebrew to get the proper meaning.

    Agree that there is a lot of ignorance about the Bible, but God's intention was for us to get to know Him personally. Bouncing off thoughts with other christians is helpful, but we should check the Bible ourselves as well.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • snow

      Well, as a person passing judgement on some else, have you studied the bible in its entirety? if not, you do not have a right to comment on others and you are still doing what you said people should not do.. that is, bouncing ideas with others!

      September 16, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • prognosis

      Are you talking about the Book of Revelation where the devil is referred to as an "ancient serpent"? Some people think that means that the devil was the snake in Eden, but the text doesn't actually say that. Just because the term "ancient serpent" is used, it doesn't mean that it is referring to the snake in Eden. In fact, the same verses in Revelation use the term "Dragon" for the devil and the serpent in Eden was never referred to as a dragon.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  9. King James Bible Society

    King James Audio Visual Bible -and it is free http://kingjamesbiblesociety.org

    September 13, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • MiaImuett

      to be fruitful and mplliuty, and to trust God, but it also says to be wise. The Bible also specifically says that before a man begins to build a tower, he first sits down and weighs the cost, or before a king goes out to war, he first determines whether or not he can win. Some marriages are simply not ready for children, as are some budgets. Some families are strained, even while love abounds, with the amount of children they already have. Introducing more children into these families can be damaging, and only abstinence or contraception can avoid that. The Bible definitively speaks against abstinence in marriage, but not once against contraception. Finally, while perhaps some people may never have heard anyone say they wish they'd had fewer kids, we must remember what a socially unacceptable thing that is to say, even if it's true. It's like admitting that we like one of our children more than another, or that some days we want to pretend like we're single and free again. There are things we sometimes feel, but never say, because we know how bad it sounds, even if it's true. However we don't base our doctrine or our moral decisions on what people say or don't say. I think those who want large families and feel like contraception becomes a trust issue for them should be supported in not using it. But people who use contraception wisely to preserve their marriages and to focus their love and attention on the children they already have should be supported also, not condemned for having little faith.

      March 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  10. Megan

    Just because people say things such as " God works in mysterious ways " doesn't mean that it's not in the bible.
    Romans 11:33-35 says " 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[a] knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" We have simply paraphrased this verse to say "God works in mysterious ways." I have also come to the conclusion while reading the Bible that everyone enterperates it differntly depending on their personal experiences, how they are taught it at church, semenary, ect.., and if they take into consideration of the meanings of the word from different languages (i.e. Greek, latin, ect.. ).

    September 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  11. News Runner

    ya wow.... the writer of this article is competely stupid. Defintion of stupid is to be utterly ignorant about a truth. This is what John Blake is. John Blake are you kidding yourself? Your whole article was about people that don't know what IS in the bible, and then you, yourself, are completly oblivious to what's the first couple of chapters of the Bible. I can understand if you didn't know what was in the middle, but the begginning of the book says all the things about Adam and Eve that you said it didn't. What are you talking about??!!!!!!!

    September 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  12. kimsland

    What about 'jesus f'ing christ'? Is that in this novel?
    I hear people say it all the time, heck I even say it.

    September 10, 2011 at 3:05 am |
  13. George Washington Carver

    Have we considered, my brethrens, that perhaps Adam and Eve were unable to resist the temptation of the fruit, because that fruit was in fact, the wholesome and tasty peanut?

    September 3, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • trollar


      September 19, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  14. Mike

    Who cares.

    September 3, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  15. Lesar

    haughty http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdP27_z2QFc

    September 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  16. Dominic Kearns

    Eve was definitely tempted by Satan. Read Gen. 3:1-6

    September 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Skoal Man

      What Bible are you reading, Dominic? Genesis 3:1-6 (King James Version)...

      1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

      2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

      3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

      4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

      5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

      6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • close

      Obviously, you are on the right track, but it is Genesis 3:15 that demonstrates that the serpent is Satan. It prophecies that "he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." God is speaking to the serpent, talking about his relationship with Jesus.

      September 6, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Agree

      Yep the devil was certainly the serpent. Just have to read a little closer to the back of the book to prove it Revelation 12:9

      September 13, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • King James Bible Society

      2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. --– Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. -------kingjamesbiblesociety.org

      September 13, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  17. Daniel Dickey

    Roses are red and violet blew the whole soccer team because she doesn't have any self respect. – The Bible


    September 1, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  18. The Bible is a Fairy Tale

    This is why it is ludicrous for anyone to take the bible seriously.

    These people have the book right in their very hands and can't get it right.

    And somehow we're supposed to believe that this book, for 2000 years, has been passed down and remains correct?

    Did everyone forget the children's game of "Telephone"? Tell a line of people one phrase, and in turn they should tell the next person, and the next. And the last person tells you something completely not related to what was originally said.

    The bible was written by man, not god. It was passed down by man. It was embellished, by man. It is a man's book, not a holy or religious book.

    It may have good intentions, outlining a system of morality (which man again twists in using religion to start wars), but the book itself is nothing. A fairy tale.

    My father is a retired pastor, but me, I'm just waiting for some proof. Until then, I'll believe in science, or remain open minded.

    September 1, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • tak

      Of course, you don't ACTUALLY mean you'll remain open minded, since you've already decided for yourself to close your mind to Scripture, right?

      September 1, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Skoal Man

      @ Talk – uh, having an open mind doesn't mean being disconnected from reality.

      September 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • af090391

      @tak Open mindedness means being skeptical of everything. Accepting anything without hard proof is being close minded. A person who follows religion, or is anti religious exclusively without thinking he is wrong is close minded. A person who doesn't believe in something because of the lack of proof, but is open to some form of proof in the future is very open minded.

      September 13, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Sara

      Isn't spare the rod spoil the child a paraphrase of Proverbs 13:24: "He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" The author strikes me as splitting hairs.

      September 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  19. dd

    Some people are kinda silly when it comes to religion. They pay people to build a building so they can attend then pay some more just to be taught what\how to believe. If your God, whatever or whomever that is, is one of peace then the message is able to stand on its own without fanatics throwing quotes and apparently misquotes around, sometimes to inspire hatred....... We don't need to stop judging others cause it helps us know who we dont want to be, the problems come from wanting to change others. In my opinion organized religion can only misguide and dilute personal beliefs.

    September 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • stacy

      Well put. Their is only one life I want to judge to see if I want to be like him. His name is Jeusus.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  20. Tonelok

    Notice how the words 'satan' 'devil' are never used in Genesis. That is the extent that this article declares. Just because those words are added in Revalations hundreds of years later doesn't mean it's what the original text implied. Just like when people you the word 'abomination' in bible text to mean 'intense aversion or loathing' when, in fact, the word meant 'not customary' in the era it was used.
    Don't interperate what isn't there, only educate yourselves on what exists.

    September 1, 2011 at 5:03 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.