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 Pence

    Proverbs 13:24

    New King James Version (NKJV)

    24 He who spares his rod hates his son,
    But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

    Spoil the child is putting it mildly. Discipline your children or you do not love them (love being the opposite of hate). Don't know that anyone ever said this was a "verbatim" assumption. Author tends to misconstrue the scriptures by saying "they don't say exactly that, so it's not in the Bible – but it is.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Ulaa

      "Oh David, David, would my God that I had paid for thee....""

      June 5, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Tehamaddmh

      I still don't understand how people construe this Scripture as legitimizing the hitting of children. I have never seen a shepherd hit a sheep or a goat. I have seen a shepherd guide the animals in a certain direction by applying gentle pressure with the rod or by using the rod to block a certain path. If the Proverb is interpreted as "...whoever gives his child no direction hates his child", that would be perfectly consistent with "...raise a child int he way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."

      June 5, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • gladly a sheep

      Exactly !!!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Sandra

      The rod was used to GUIDE the sheep, NOT beat the sheep. The definition of discipline is to train by instruction. In other words, guide and instruct your children in the ways of the world. Any yahoo can hit a child. A smart, intelligent and patient parent knows and understands child growth and development and will train accordingly. Responsible parenting is exhausting and a feat like no other. Always remember that we incarcerate adults and juveniles for physically harming one another.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  2. Observer

    Nice illustration.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  3. chris

    Maybe someone can help me. Who is King James and why don't we study him more. The Bible is HIS version, I would like to know more about the man who had final cut.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • remorse2

      King James commissioned scholars to translate the bible. I understand he was doing it to get the protestants and the catholics to quit fighting each other.
      The KJV is only an English version.
      The original language of the bible is Hebrew, Aramaic and Koina Greek.
      Since I dont speak those ancient languages I count on people translating it for me.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  4. E A

    Hell hast no fury like a coaches scorn!

    June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  5. Rui

    The bible was not compiled by the catholic church dude he first bible was in greek, now do some research.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Actually the old testament was written in Hebrew...the new testament was Greek....and the entire compilation was edited and selectively crafted at the council of Nicea in 325AD. Thats where the bible everyone here is familiar with first appeared.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • John

      And who do you think these people were that wrote the New Testament Gospels and Epistles? Were they not Christians, first called as such in Antioch in the 2nd Century, and how did Ignatius of Antioch refer to the Church in his farewell letter to the Christians in Smyrna as he was led to his death in 107 A.D.? "Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church"

      June 5, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      @AtheistSteve – I see that you have a decent grasp on the history of the Bible, but still deny that the original words were penned by men through revelation by the Holy Spirit (which is part of the Trinity-in which you probably don't believe if your post name is a true indicator. Granted, man has tried to pervert what he calls "religion", but can never pervert a relationship with God. If you have faith in God, no explanation is necessary, If you do not have faith, no explanation is possible. It appears to me that Atheists do have faith in the fact that this all came about by accident and not a Divine plan. Takes a strong faith to grasp that one – but then in the end, I guess to atheists, it really doesn't matter what you believe – it is over for you – the end, no resurrection, no life after death – just rotting in the ground. Doesn't give you a lot to live for in my opinion. I guess that's where the Eat, Drink and Be Merry comes from. Just my opinion

      June 5, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  6. Jason

    Another common mistakes is to attribute Shakespeare quotes to the Bible. For example, the Bible does not say "Neither a lender nor a borrower be." Sounds like it should be from Proverbs, but it's actually from Hamlet.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      Jason, Would be nice if when people say the Bible doesn't say something, to post what it does say. As listed below – "the borrower is servant to the lender. Granted, does not say a borrower or lender be, but credit cards and high interest rates teach us that it is not good to borrow unless you want to be a servant. Our government would do well to heed this lesson.

      Proverbs 22:6-8

      New King James Version (NKJV)

      6 Train up a child in the way he should go,
      And when he is old he will not depart from it.
      7 The rich rules over the poor,
      And the borrower is servant to the lender.


      June 5, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Polly

      My favorite is when people attribute the line, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world" to the bible when it's actually Browning.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      @Polly – Not those exact words – until Christ returns everything with the world will not ba alright – but it does say
      "John 6:33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

      June 5, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  7. maximusvad

    The Bible has always been a plagarized anthology. Most of the great pagan philosophers are quoted in the Bible and given in the name of the Biblical prophets. It was a masterpiece created to control the masses and is still working after 2000 years. The Greatest lie ever told. It is so abused by so many of the corrupt and greedy that it is starting to degrade in its original function. The Bible- Morality for sociopaths...tool of politics.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  8. John C

    How is this any different than what everyone already does? People 'cherry pick' phrases out of the bible that suggest morals and laws... Yet, they skip over the line after line of text that support crimes against your own children, adultery, murder, and abandoning your family in the name of God.

    Sorry to say... Most Christians never even read the whole Bible! Reading the Bible is different from just knowing select verses from it.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  9. robert

    God is love. Words are words. People get caught up in words. It is what is in someone's heart and spirit that matter. Our civilization is based on christian values and all the rights and justice we enjoy are formed from those values.
    Jesus spoke against those religious zealouts who followed every ritual and practice. He didn't care about that – he simply wanted people to know God's love.
    Remember that it was the church and the very religious themselves who plotted against Jesus Christ. His life was testament of love to show the true nature of what humanity is and the only way forward that can save us. Through the compassion and humility of Jesus Christ and his message that everyone knows – but you also get to choose.
    It is obvious to me and many others that Jesus Christ was truly the son of God. His life is full of love and compassion and most of all - humility. So go ahead and scrutinize the contract of the gift of life you have been given. Many spend the entire lives doing that or simply say – thank you. Thank you for my life and my existence. But that takes humility and a recognition of how flawed we are. There are many people out there who believe they are uniquely brilliant and that life is just a fluke. It ain't no fluke or chance event.
    Think each day of all that we are given. An authentic life with pain and sorrow and joy. But hold onto God's love – choose God's love. You'll find that love within your lonely heart and in your life. We are the book – our life is the words. So what will you write and in the end what will your book have been about? God is love.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  10. G Guthrie

    Maybe the "biblical experts" should read the whole Bible with a little more care.

    Jonah in the Whale is noted in 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.

    As far as the serpent in the tree. . . The connection is quite clear in the book of Revelation. 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.
    Revelation 12:8-10

    June 5, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  11. Mic4life

    One of the biggest lies in the bible is Christmas. This is a pagan holiday, originated around the 3rd Century by the Romans in order to combine the Roman and Jewish groups at that time. The origin of Christmas is not of Christ’s birth, which the bible provides no indication of that date, but rather the celebration of the Roman’s god of agriculture, and also the Babylonian Sun God, which occurred during the time of the winter solstice.

    The Nativity story, which most people are familiar with, does not agree with the account spoken of in the Book of Matthew Chapter 2. In fact, the Nativity, Christmas and what most people believe in, is a perpetual lie. The actual account of Christ’ birth has been modified to fit man made traditions, and unfortunately most people do not know this. Have a read and you maybe surprised of the differences between the account given and what people actually believe.

    To summarize the account given in Matthew Chapter 2. Astrologers from the East, followed a star that signified the birth of the King of the Jews. The star led these astrologers (the actual number of people is not given) to Jerusalem, where they met King Herod and discussed the significance of the star and that how prophesy indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Herod asked the astrologers to find the baby and to report back to him so that Herod could do him obeisance.

    The astrologers went and followed the star, and found Mary with a young child at a house. Later the astrologers were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and inform him about Jesus’ location. Furthermore, Joseph also had a dream to flee to Egypt with his family as Herod was about to search for the young boy and kill him. Herod found out that the astrologers did not return to him with Jesus’ whereabouts. Having being outwitted, Herod fell into a great rage and had all the boys less than 2 yrs of age, in Bethlehem and surrounding districts, executed. This prophesy was spoken through Jeremiah about the morning and outcry of the women because their boys were executed.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  12. Jordan

    When William Tyndale began translating the bible into common english, in defiance of the church, he told a priest that had come to visit him, "If God spare my life, before very long I shall cause a plough boy to know the scriptures better than you do!" (http://www.tyndalearchive.com/Brewer/Alice/WilliamT.htm)
    Today we see that this has happened – there are many people who have no formal biblical education, yet know and love and live the scriptures better than many of those who live their lives as clergy.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  13. Becky

    Each person out here should do their own research to see if the passages are actual misquotes, paraphrases or accurate. One of Christs' messages to the disciples is found in John chapters 14, 15, 16 & 17 and explains much of true Christiananity. Not the twisted, American version. Check it out. 🙂

    June 5, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  14. Johnny Five

    It must be make fun of Christian day. Didn't get the memo on that.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  15. Marshack

    "You shall not pass" Lord of the rings............

    June 5, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  16. Joe Rapport

    Writing a story on Biblical misquotation requires a passing knowledge of Bible:
    Jonah 2:1-2
    וַיְמַן יְהוָה דָּג גָּדוֹל, לִבְלֹעַ אֶת-יוֹנָה; וַיְהִי יוֹנָה בִּמְעֵי הַדָּג, שְׁלֹשָׁה יָמִים וּשְׁלֹשָׁה לֵילוֹת.
    And the LORD prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Justin

      Well, seeing how the articles says the bible doesn't say a whale swallowed Jonah and you say the bible says a fish swallowed Jonah.... a fish is not a whale and a whale is not a fish....

      June 5, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • muri

      Look at the back peddling ITT. Not that it isn't fully expected from the circular-logic brigade. It's not God most of us "non believers" have a problem with.....it's all the wacky fan clubs that sprout up to utterly abuse his teachings. It's only a matter of time before the whole thing comes crashing down around you.....is there a verse for finding out your whole way of thinking was a lie?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Luke

      I believe the author was pointing out that it doesn't specify a "whale" but people often retell the story using a whale.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  17. humberto

    For instance, is the glass half empty or half full – What is the function ?

    June 5, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Sean

      The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  18. galileo225

    The world is round, evolution is a fact, moses never parted the red sea. When religion find lies are so easy to believe or force from fear and ignorance who needs facts. Faith + Ignorance = Religion

    My Commandments

    1. You are no closer to the mind of God than the next person or religion, so treat everyone else like you would treat God.
    2. If you can read Gods Word, its man’s interpretation not Gods. It’s flawed.
    3. Respect the earth and the animals, they sustain your life.
    4. If your text says to harm others in the name of God or for his glory its false. You know it. Find another faith.
    5. To steal, harm or cheat damages your soul. Don’t do it.
    6. Science and Faith are each half of the whole truth, you need both.
    7. You ears should work a lot harder than your mouth.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Usurper

      Doesn't number 2 make the rest of your commandments null and void?

      June 5, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • humberto

      Whats wrong with the ten you were taught that were written in stone ?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • annabella51

      galileo225, your first sentence is a sad bunch of jibberish. Why would you speak that and then write words which have their foundation in the Bible. Those who are not afraid to understand God's Word do so.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • loki8447

      I love these commandments, brilliant!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • summer in Pgh

      @galileo 225
      I 100% agree!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Sean

      1. Be a decent human being.
      2. Take a hard look at yourself when you aren't.
      3. Repeat.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • MNinGA

      Bravo, I wholeheartedly agree with your view!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • ken

      Awesome post. Thank you.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      For me the equation it more like :
      Ignorance + Deep Seated Ho-mo sapiens' NEED, (by inherited brain chemistry patterns), for explanation, predictability, (sum pattern seeking), and desire for control of observed surrounding environment => Faith systems => Religion.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Sorry, left out a couple terms in my equation :

      Ignorance + Deep Seated Ho-mo sapiens' NEED, (by inherited brain chemistry patterns), for explanation, predictability, (sum pattern seeking), and desire for control of observed surrounding environment => Faith systems => Religion => Repeated Self Talking/Self Affirmations => Release of endorphins.

      What about the 618 other commandments ? Hoe did you pick and chose yours ?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  19. Marc

    God is all around you cm, you just have to see. "I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun will rise. Not because I've seen it, but because by it, I see everything".

    June 5, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • cmdvimes

      You speak, but say nothing. The sun "rises" due the rotation of earth in relation to the position of the sun. Religion has had its run, let science take over with the miracles from here on out.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  20. Usurper

    CNN sure loves it's controversy. I'll assist since they seem to only pick on those who won't martyr themselves for their beliefs.


    Above is a picture of the Prophet Mohammed asleep dreaming of pork tenderloin.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:52 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.