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. sealman

    Christianity was hijacked by Paul of Tarsus- a guy who never met or heard Jesus speak. Half of the New Testament is his writing. Real Christians were eventually slaughtered and made illegal as the Roman Empire learned that religion could be a more powerful weapon than swords.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Doug

      It was Saul of Tarsus, and you are inaccurate about a number of other things.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  2. philedifier

    Every one has a right to live and be how they choose, thats what makes free will such a wonderful thing. feel it or not you do what you want to do,no one but yourself to thank for your own actions. i have love for everyone but dont love everyone. Like all not perfect, so why dwell on the neg, if thats were your mind is thats were your at. Some dont' want God bless you or peace be with said to them well a message suited for all have a nice day. Is that thin enough milk for you to swollow.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  3. Gedwards

    "“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."
    Mr. Blake, are you just starting journalism school? As you offer the quote, Mr. Ditka WASN'T quoting the Bible. He was paraphrasing his interpretation of it. Who are you to say he got it wrong? Your entire premise is the same, and you've given no examples of people actually misquoting the Bible.

    You didn't write, “Scripture tells you that 'all things shall pass,'” a choked-up Ditka said...."

    June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  4. Monte Sonnenberg

    Do you mean to tell me that, when God checked in on Noah and the construction of the Ark in Genesis, He didn't say "Git 'r done."? I could have swore that was in the Bible. That's why I put that sticker on the back of my pickup truck. God's ready to make it rain, so He said to Noah "Yea verily, my faithful servant, git r' done." It's right there in the Old Fundament. Too bad Noah didn't make room for the dinosaurs. I think the world would be a much more interesting place if we had to share it with giant lizards. Praise Jesus. Let us all open our mouths and let the spirits enter our body.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • William

      Uh, noah's ark is among the most insane fables of the bible to believe. Did Noah have refrigeration for the cold weather animals? Why didn't the animals eat each other? No intelligent point can be made, even in jest, if the premise remotely even suggests that Noah and his absurd ark was real.

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

      If Noah's Ark really did exist, It was a DNA time capsule. The whole store was explained in a metaphorical sense because that was the only way we could describe what we were seeing back way then. Aliens were most likely "God" and they selected Noah to do their bidding for them. They knew a giant storm has going to happen and gave him the intelligence and tools to build this "boat" (or whatever who knows, metaphorical remember) There may have been quite a few select animals on that boat, but it was only their DNA...

      June 5, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  5. marion brown

    And there is no apple in Genesis either. It is just the "fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" I could never understand where the apple same in.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Justin

      The type of fruit is actually irrevelant. People just wanted to pick a specific fruit for illustrative purposes. I've seen people use apples, pears, mangos, quinces, etc. But seriously, the type of fruit is just as important as the type of wood Noah used to build the Ark.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Ruby

      As a symbol it works because red and green (color of the tree and fruit) are opposites, like black and white.
      Perhaps it is this failure to understand the symbolic language used by ancient people that causes such confusion about the whole creation myth?
      And lo, it came to pass that man created God in his own likeness and image. Dual in nature, created he them.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  6. John

    Proverbs 13: 24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. How is this a phantom verse?

    June 5, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Justin

      Thank you, John! Apparently when we paraphrase, CNN just assumes we're making it up all together.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Rosaleee

      It is a phantom verse because it DOES NOT say "he who spares the rod spoils the child."

      June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • NSL

      If you would have read the article completely you would have seen the author say that the paraphrase is linked to that passage from the Bible, but that it's not the precise passage, and instead is a Twitter like shortening of it.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Rosaleee

      Why the emphasis on "spare the rod" and not: "he who loves him is careful to discipline him." Discipline does not require beating a child.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Read the ding dang article

      The article says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is a phantom verse, and is "perhaps a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: 'The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.'"

      June 5, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  7. Pamela

    I find this article at minimum a silly argument of semantics and leaning toward ridiculous.

    The example of "spare the rod and spoil the child" and “Pride goes before a fall” are in fact in the bible in terms of context. The fact that we have rephrased some of these verses with modern language does not mean that people are misstating the bible. The quotes he references as incorrect are actually "contextually" accurate. I think God would appreciate us "getting the point" even if we don't "quote" the bible verbatim.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  8. scholar1

    Continue your research...why does He say this?...read the bible before and after this passage. 🙂

    June 5, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  9. Ronald Hussein Reagan

    When my kids were little I used to tell them the joke about why dogs sniff each others butts and attributed to the Bible. When they were old enough to realize it wasn't in the regular bible I told them it was in the "Dog Bible."

    June 5, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  10. Trevor Maddox

    You ppl can sit here and listen to this media illuminati crap if u want read da bible for yo self to get the true answers cause this i bull crap cant believe ppl listen to this mess

    June 5, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Name (required)

      Umm.....what? Google Translate couldn't figure out what the heck you were trying to say.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • JackStraw19631

      You want me to read "da Bible?" Ummm...thanks, but I'll pass.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • pmmarion

      Say what????

      June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • rodbuilder

      It's too damn bring and contradictive for me! I'm waiting for the Reality edition!!!!!!!!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  11. zach

    The Bible later calls Satan the original serpent. Just sayin'

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

    Here it is for those who missed. The prophet Mohammed asleep.

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

      lol... dreaming of ham. Don't forget that part.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  13. Usurper

    It's ok for CNN to assume most Christians are ignorant. Fine. Ok.
    But they were too afraid to leave my stickman Mohammed up in these very comments for more than five minutes?
    Grow a backbone CNN.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  14. P. Church

    God gives us choices, we choose to make the wrong decision. Like Eve did, there is only superor and inferior energy that guides us to making choices. Lots of the scriptures not just the bible have been twisted by men. Follow your heart. He is in your heart.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • remorse2

      Don't follow your heart.

      Jeremiah 17:9
      9 “ The heart is deceitful above all things,
      And desperately wicked;
      Who can know it?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Kandis

      I'm just waiting for all your christians, jewish, muslims, etc.. to realize that all your religion is bs. There is no man in the sky.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Follower

      It's only appropriate that it be twisted by men since it was created by men.

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

      Twisted into what – reality? Get a life.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • JT

      Following your "heart" is opposite of using your brain. How 'bout following facts for a change?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  15. THG

    The biggest phantom character in the world is Santa Claus with his Christmas theme. Oops, actually, that's NOT in the Bible.

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

      I was thinkin' Easter Bunny, but what the heck, I'll go with Santa!!!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  16. FalseProphets

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

    Sorry Chris Mankey, Can't help it if OUR Religion (CHRISTIANITY) is superior to ALL others. It is just the will of God.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Name (required)

      What makes it any more superior to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Jedi? A lot of people believed in the Nazi movement, that didn't necessarily make it superior.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • rodbuilder

      I love how desperate they are to bombard us with THEIR religion. When was the last time you went to a J.W.'s house and knocked on THEIR door to preach crap to them??

      Might be fun though!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  17. jo

    Love thy neighbor as thyself. This coach was obviously trying to grab onto some hope in a moment of great disappointment. Instead of finding mercy he gets his words picked apart. I wonder what kind of day he's having today. Maybe we should pray for him.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  18. LookAndSEE

    The biggest misconception of the Bible is which day is the Sabbath. Most people will say it's Sunday, but a careful study of scripture will point to Saturday.
    Does it matter? Jesus said,"Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
    Matthew 5:17

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

      Yeah.....and? Could you INTERPRET that for us?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  19. JT

    Most Christians I've ever known haven't a clue what's in their sacred book but depend on their pastor to tell them and they are quick to let us heathens and other non-Christians know how wrong we are for not believing as they do.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  20. David M.

    No shock that Biblical ignorance is pervasive. People don't take time to read it. Lots of people like to spout off about how many "contradictions" there are, yet when asked to give an example, they can't. Or the examples they give are not even in scripture. People are ignorant about a lot of things simply because they don't bother to actually study it for themselves or make an effort to simply read about it. The Bible is no exception.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:16 am |
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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.