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. Author even misquotes...

    The problem is sooooo pervasive that the author himself misquotes the Bible. The story in the Garden of Eden NEVER mentions an "apple" as the forbidden fruit. It simply has always referred to it as "fruit". We will never know what kind of fruit it was, but for centuries, people misquote this and refer to the fruit as an apple. Sheeesh...

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  2. LBCSongbird

    In Genesis, the serpent was severely punished for his role in the downfall of Adam and Eve. His punishment was to "crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.: [Genesis 3:14b NIV] In this way, it indicates that at one time the serpent was a legged creature and lost his limbs as a result of the eating of the forbidden fruit. The bible never says the word "apple" although it is widely believed to be the fruit in question, as it is by our misquoting blogger. We must also refer scripture to scripture to reveal truth. Revelation clarifies the writer's misguided argument of the serpent of Genesis. 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." [Revelation 12:9 NIV] I guess the author did not consider he should include himself among the creator of "phantom passages".

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • LBCSongbird

      - Sorry, quotation in the wrong place. "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." [Revelation 12:9 NIV]

      June 5, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Susan

      One can find a variation on the serpent/dragon in the earliest known scriptures – The Puranas – from India. In that version a snake drank amrit – an exlir of immortality – which only the gods were allowed to drink – when it was discovered the gods could not take back the exlir but cut the snake in half. Humanity has mythology, always has and the bible simply picks up stories from books like the Vedas and shifts those storie to suit the times, people and culture.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Gloria

      hmmmm . . . Satan and his angels were cast to the earth before the "fall" of man because they lost the war in Heaven which they fought against God and His favored which included the being we call Christ. Satan is not a serpent or a snake with or without legs. He is a "fallen" angel with mighty powers who misleads mankind with brilliant confusion. Satan was one of God's most beautiful creations, but his ambition and pride led him to disasterous rivalry for himself and us all. Tame your jealousy and your rivals will disappear.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  3. Tnmtl

    Usually when people quote hhe bible it's self indulgent or to shove dogma down someone elses throat. I really don't care what people quote because the bible has been used oo much as a weapon.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  4. jma58

    While reading this article, I thought about another story in the bible about god asking for a human sacrifice to test one of his followers. This is taught all the time as it was when I was a child. When I became an adult I changed my thoughts about religion and refuse to believe mythology.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  5. Jason

    LMAO@ the amount of athiest that gravitated to this blog. It's almost like they try harder than the christians. Lol pathetic

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • pazke

      What a very Christian-like thing to say.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • doughnuts

      It's been shown that atheists generally have a better knowledge of the Bible than people who claim to be Christians. Perhaps it is because we were searching the scriptures for answers to our questions, rather than just blindly accepting what we were told.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  6. C

    from the info provided in he article, I would say that spare the rod spoil the child is indeed a fairly decent shortened rendering of the actual scripture. So I think the point of the author is largely negated by his own support.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Hilikus00

      On that particular quote, I'd have to agree.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Ahab

      "Beat your children" would be a more precise rendering of the sentence. Today, we would put the author of that verse in jail.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  7. Joe Atheist

    I will never understand why people believe Jonah lived inside of a "great fish" for a few days.

    I ask "believers" and they tell me that it is "just a story" in the bible.

    Well, how do you know that this is just a story and the guy hanging from the cross is not "just a story" also?

    June 5, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Hello

      There was a man named Jesus/Yeshua. There is too much historical data to deny his existence. Who one thinks he is...is a matter of faith.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  8. STR

    Another thing that is not in the Bible is the "trinity or any concept of the trinity."
    The trinity was formally promoted by the Sun worshiper Constantine and the defiled church leaders in 325 AD.
    Where in the Bible does it say that God is made up of three persons?
    We know Jesus did not believe in the trinity.
    [Jesus prayed] "This is eternal life that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ who you have sent."
    God bless, STR

    June 5, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  9. Diana

    As for the muslims burning down cnn if the koran was questioned, probably. Just like christians bombing womens health clinics. Religon,what a great thing..If the christian church had it's way the earth would still be flat and revolveing around the sun.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Jason

      I totally know what you mean. How dare those Christians believe that the Earth orbits the sun! What madness!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Gudermannian

      Actually the spherical earth was known since classical antiquity. At the time of early Christianity, every educated Jew, every educated Greek or Roman, and every Christian (since Christians came mostly from those groups) knew of the round earth, and indeed knew knew its size. There were never any flat-earth Christians in history. Here, rather than fake Biblical verses, we have an example of fake history.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Putradumplaktingting

      Good luck with those exhibitions, Tracy! And thank you for the link to my tsebiwe ... just seen it!hope that you sell plenty ... any prizes to be won?

      March 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  10. jim

    Dale – because in this country it is the book shoved down all of us non-believer throats.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Name

      Nah, freedom of religion. You can believe in whatever you want. The government is forcing anything.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Dale

      Jim, true, but there still has to be miss-quotes in all "holy"books. They are all written by man and man is not perfect regardless of how their "holy" book is read or written.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  11. Jim Weix

    All of the so called "Holy Books", one for each major religion, are nothing more than a collection of writtings by various people. The people that wrote these were uneducated. In addition, as these collections were translated, it was often done in a self serving way.
    All of the "Holy Books" belong on the same shelf as "Alice in Wonderland".

    June 5, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • James

      Lewis Carroll went to Oxford..was a mathematician

      June 5, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  12. oldbones2

    My favorite Proverb; 'take not the wine from the poor man for that is all he has.' My husband's favorite; 'tis better to live in a barren desert than with a nagging and resentful wife.'

    June 5, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Bob

      The whole thing is a load of crap; society will never realize its full potential until we purge Christianity from it.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  13. Mir

    'God helps those who help themselves'...is actually a translation of a verse from the Qur'an:
    "...Verily, God does not change men's condition unless they change their inner selves;..."

    June 5, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • GUStavo

      No man is able to change himself!!!!!! Reformation without regeneration leaves man in the same condition before God.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Mir

      Both 'reformation' and 'regeneration' requires an active effort from man (or woman). If a being themselves make a conscious effort to reform, God is not going to help them reform!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Mir

      Both 'reformation' and 'regeneration' requires an active effort from man (or woman). If a being themselves make a conscious effort to reform, there is not going to be a divine help in helping one reform!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  14. kc

    1Co 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  15. Many

    That is what the evel what to the world to come to be all not shure of the bible .Not all religios are the same that why some word are seen in your bible.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  16. terri

    All in all, I would say that the writer fumbled just as badly as the coach in the story. I would hardly label Bible paraphrases as Bible errors. Perhaps what the writer meant to say is that many paraphrases (from Bible passages) are not direct quotes. That's hardly newsworthy.

    However, this story does succeed at demonstrating that individuals need to study the Bible for themselves rather than relying on coaches or CNN news-writers as sources of Biblical truths.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  17. kc

    Gee, CNN is following Satan's lead
    Ge 3:1 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?
    Hath God said is a common way to question God's Word.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  18. Pam

    I'm a recovering Catholic and wonder about the 10 Commandments.. you know the "Thou Shalt not kill." thing. Does it depend on who the killers and killees are? Seems like a lot of cherry picking goes on with the Christians – and I can only speak for them as that is the only 'religion' that I know. Also... what about the Crusades vs what the fanatical beliefs of other religions preach today? Doesn't seem to be much difference to me. I believe that mankind will destroy itself in the name of their 'god' and that will be the big joke.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  19. Dale

    Why not find fault with the Qur'an or the book of Mormon? Why is it always the Bible?

    June 5, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Trewth

      that would be politically incorrect. thats like posting statistics like 96% of black americans voted for obama. it makes them look racist, no matter how true the statistic is

      June 5, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • effelbee

      Actually the article finds fault with ignorance about the Bible, not the Bible itself. And there is far more ignorance about the Koran and the Book of Mormon!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • jim

      It has nothing to do with being PC. It is because it is the one book shoved down our throats regardless of our own beliefs

      June 5, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • ed

      It's the most abused book, the one used to hurt people the most and kill in it's name, and the most hypocritical when it comes to modern Christians. By the way the Koran has most of the Old Testament in it, and in fact it mentions Jesus more then Mohammad.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Winston5

      relax Flanders, did u actually read the article? They're not finding fault with the bible, just pointing out how people commonly misquote it.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  20. Dovi

    Re: ben franklin embodying self-reliant american values. It may be worth noting that franklin also had a mischevious side that thrived on deeper or double meanings. Faith is like a hybrid car. It may go 1000 miles on the wizardry of electric power, but it goes nowhere without old-fashioned internal combustion to get the ball rolling.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:23 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.