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. John

    The word rapture is not in the bible either. A woman created the word long after the bible was finished being written. In fact there is no such thing as the rapture theory as you will find the words "the last day" in the bible meaning people will not fly up to heaven when a rapture begins. A huge misunderstanding of the last "day"!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  2. Bri

    Tricky,tricky, the author uses the same smoke an mirrors he make accusations of....

    June 5, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • ben

      I know, This very article had errors that proved that even the author didn't read the Bible for himself but just took other peoples word for what the Bible said. If he'd actually studied more of his Bible, he'd see that that serpent was the devil. Possessed by the devil probobly very much like the suicidal swine herd in the new testament...

      June 5, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  3. Chris

    What about all the things that are taken out of context to suit their argument? Or the things that are blatantly ignored?
    For instance, (on the issue of abortion) the argument is that life begins at conception citing the passage "Even in the womb I knew you". It's completely out of context. It appears in the book of Jeremiah starting at 1:4. The ENTIRE passage shows that god was speaking directly to and ONLY about Jeremiah on the fact that god had decided before he was born that he would be a prophet. This does NOT apply to everyone. EVERY other reference in the bible about when life starts is at First Breath. NOT Conception.

    What about churches that have loud bands play, everyone jumps up and down yelling and singing... the bible actually says NOT to do that. Beginning at Matthew 6:5.

    Or that Jesus came to bring peace to earth. HE says otherwise at Matthew 10:34. "... I did not come to bring peace but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against a mother-in-law and a mans enemies will be those of his own household" and goes on to infer that if you love anyone but him he will kill you. And if you don't kill those who love someone more than him... he will kill you. Nice guy.

    If most Christians actually read the bible it would blow their mind.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Jesus

      Excellent post! And how about the Infancy Gospels excluded from the Bible at the First Council of Nicea. That's where Jesus kills on a whim.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  4. Rui

    @Chris Mankey lol my point has been proven, thanks dude 🙂

    June 5, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  5. Ralph

    Whether miss quoted or misunderstood, the Bible is a guide for those of us who accept and embrace Christianity. Imperfect beings need a principled life. The Bible offers those principles to those who read it.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Chris

      if you believe ANY of it, you MUST believe all of it. Otherwise you are a hypocrite, and by your definition, a "sinner".
      So it's ok for a man to divorce his wife and find another, but a woman can't do either. A womans place is cooking, bearing children and servicing her husband at home. Only. If you're hard up for money it's ok to sell your daughter into slavery. If you find someone who doesn't love Jesus and ONLY Jesus, it's your responsibility to kill them.

      Ya. have fun with that.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • FugginMorons

      Hail Satan

      June 5, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • emma65

      There is a lot to learn formt he bible however a lot of 'followers' [and I use the term literally] simply allow others to read and interpret the bibile for them in the form of sermons and preachings that often say more about those preaching than they do about God. Many evil or greedy pastors and preachers have justified their actions with their own biblical interpretations so follow a Latin proverb "caveat emptor", let the buyer beware.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • JT

      Anyone who requires this book of blood, guts and horror to tell them how to behave properly are either insane or a criminal. I'm an atheist and I've actually had Christians ask me what keeps me from raping and murdering. I just shudder and beg them to never lose their faith if that's how they think.

      I've also had Christians tell me that I had all the qualities of the ideal Christian....lol.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Leon

      As mentioned in the article, a problem is that people use the misinterpretations to support their opinions – many times incorrectly.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • oldostritch

      You'll do alright if you stick to the gospels themselves but if you take anything from after Paul infiltrated and corrupted it...

      June 5, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • TBM

      The bible is a terrible book to use to guide ones life.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • rodbuilder

      The bible offers nothing if you have to interpret it in order to understand anything in it.

      Think about that and come back to reality.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Hilikus00

      "if you believe ANY of it, you MUST believe all of it."

      That is ridiculous. I respect a person infinitely more if they have looked into their religion and decided what it means to them, rather than what they've been told to believe. As an atheist, getting a bit of an outside perspective on Christians, those who understand man's "inventiveness" on the bible generally are much more intelligent than the literalist (who probably hasn't even read enough to understand what it is they are being literal about).

      June 5, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Hilikus00

      "if you believe ANY of it, you MUST believe all of it."

      That is ridiculous. I respect a person infinitely more if they have looked into their religion and decided what it means to them, rather than what they've been told to believe. As an atheist, getting a bit of an outside perspective on Christians, those who understand man's "inventiveness" on the bible generally are much more intelligent than the literalist (who probably hasn't even read enough to understand what it is they are being literal about).

      This line is added because CNN tells me this is a duplicate post...for some reason or another

      June 5, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Hilikus00

      ...and i now see why CNN told me that.....

      June 5, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  6. Skeptic

    The super-religious people don't tend to be the "confirm accuracy with research" type.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • remorse2

      I would suggest that you read a book from a skeptic turned believer called " A case for Christ"

      June 5, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  7. Corvus1

    One of many pitfalls of subscribing to organized religion: gullibility.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • FalseProphets

      Maybe so, but a World without organized religion would be a World of Total Chaos.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  8. Ronald

    Actually it gets worse than that...there are many churches that take passages and mix them and match them with others just to make their brand of what the bible says fit what they want it to say even though it has nothing to do with the way it was written. Talk about misrepresentation!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  9. Im in Him

    No doubt it is absolutely vital to adhere to the truth. But the best way to do that it to KNOW Jesus who is "the Truth" John 14:6

    And that is why Jesus left and sent the Holy Spirit- "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever HE hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come." John 16:13

    It is interesting that Jesus had His greatest battles with the Jewish religious/political leaders- the Pharisees and Sadducees who were the so called 'EXPERTS and keepers of the truth." They knew the word, but they didn't know God and in fact used their knowledge to reject Jesus as Savior and Lord.

    Jesus called primarily simple men, not religious experts to be His disciples, because He wanted men to follow Him who were absolutely dependent on Him and His Spirit to know the truth, not on there head knowledge.

    John 1:17 says – "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ."

    We tend to error on being too focused on either "Truth" or on "Grace." With Jesus these two seeming opposites come together in perfect harmony.

    John 8:31-32 "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

    Two keys in studying and knowing God's word are using scripture to interpret scripture and to allow the Holy Spirit to be the teacher- He is the expert.

    According to I Corinthias 8: 1b-3 another key is "...knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him."

    Many "Experts" use their knowledge to dominate and control the "...the milkmaid, the cobbler and the NFL coach" for their own benefit. A true shepherd uses their knowledge to guide the sheep into the heart of the True Shepherd Jesus Christ.

    The truth is, that whether you are "...the milkmaid, the cobbler, the NFL coach or the biblical expert" if you don't know God through His son Jesus Christ and if the Holy Spirit isn't the teacher you will end up in error.

    Head knowledge if of little to no benefit if we don't first know Jesus Christ as savior and Lord.

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father buth through Me."

    June 5, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  10. Chris Mankey

    "I like how atheists are the first ones to jump on stories like these and leave bizzare comments, lol"

    I love how desperate christians are to demonize people they disagree with . LOL

    "Here is a message for all you empty and lonely atheists......"Your parents raised you wrong" Nuff Said."

    Sorry, I'm not so empty and lonely that I need an imaginary man to keep me company Nuff said.

    "hey are so empty they come here looking for a path "

    Happy is he who takes your babies and smashes them to death in pieces-Psalm 137:9 Have fun worshiping the babykilling tyrant!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  11. Neal A.

    The best part of the Adam and eve story is that if god created everything, he created the serpent, and hence the temptation itself. God is Satan!!! Why else wouldn't he just be able to destroy him. Let me repeat my the revelation of Neal (2011). "Satan is god in disguise"

    June 5, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  12. Rui


    June 5, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  13. barbsharikvail


    June 5, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  14. perry smith

    Will share this with others.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  15. Rui

    We should all spam "WRITE AN ARTICLE LIKE THIS ABOUT THE KORAN" and flood this blog
    who's in?

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

      i'm in for debunking the Koran!!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Ego2gogo

      How do lies about the content and intent of biblical passages have anything to do with the Koran?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • dave

      Of course, of course- your myth is more real than others'.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Bob

      You can debunk the Kuran until your face is blue. In fact, I am sure most, if not all, of the non-Christian comments will agree with you. What you failed to address is the fact that this article has pointed out a HUGE flaw in the teachings of the Bible and many Christians really have no clue on what Christianity is.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  16. jp

    I think the reason why we only see "the serpent" in the creation narrative is because the writer does not want to give credence to a dualistic mindset (that there is a power equal and opposite to God). Satan appears as a created thing, obviously much lower than God, who is the creator and sustainer of the universe.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  17. ann

    I think this is rediculous and petty. some of this stuff does come from the bible, it just is not word for word..

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

      Ann, I'm sorry, but you are an idiot...

      June 5, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  18. hih

    “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."

    Sounds like the comment boards...lol

    June 5, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  19. Richard Cheese

    It's not in the Bible?? You mean....a lot of stuff gets "interpreted"??? Say it isn't so.

    The whole religion is a sham.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Joshua

      That's not what this article is saying at all. Straight up misquoting something is not interpretation. Religion might still be a sham though.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • boaz357

      So true brother.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  20. FalseProphets

    @ Robert – Atlanta

    God so loves ALL his Children that HE erased this Article so we all will stop Arguing with one another.

    And this benevolent ACT will be written into the Koran and Bible for the next Generation of Believers.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:07 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.