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. Refudiator

    If you read the bible,you either accept that God changed from h-phobic slave owning vengeful god to liberal hippie sell your stuff and help the poor God – or – you turn atheist

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

      Again wrong, wrong, wrong. The Bible actually says a that a s-lave should serve his master. It does NOT state that a master should free his s-laves. Anywhere, ever.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  2. sayings

    While I have heard all of those sayings I have never heard them quoted as being from the Bible.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  3. stevie68a

    Don't buy bull!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  4. Lis

    How are articles like these even given the time of day to be published or posted??? If you think at all about what the author is saying you'd immediately see how ridiculous this argument is. Basically the author & the people he interviewed are saying that you absolutely can't say that something comes from the bible unless you quote it exactly the way it's written. But this in itself is flawed because the "exact" quotation differs based on which translation of the bible you use. By the logic of this article, these translations themselves must be wrong since they're not the "exact" wording that was originally written. Surely it makes sense that people refer to things they've read in the bible in their own words and with their own interpretation.....you do that with everything you read! When you're telling a friend about the latest novel or newspaper article you read do you quote the entire thing word for word, or do you give them a summary of it, which is quite likely "tainted" with your own interpretation of it? Get real, people! sheesh!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Good Try

      That's one interpretation. Can you quote where it says "you can't say this was quoted from the Bible" in the article?

      Hmm actually I'm pretty sure THATs the point in the article. Don't mix interpretation with facts.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Erm

      When people are saying something is in the bible and it's not? They shouldn't be saying it's in there. If I QUOTE something, I quote it, not paraphrase it. Nor do I ignorantly use misinformation. "God helps those who help themselves"...it doesn't say that at ALL. I think you are missing the point of the article.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  5. Harry Smith

    got my attention – I still read, believe, preach the Bible The Bible is God's Word!!!

    June 5, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Harry Balls

      No the bible is the word of men alive at the time of writing who stole from other ancient texts or created content that benefited them for their political power over the masses. The reason these fake phrases keep showing up faux bible quotes in an of itself shows that man is gullible to believe the words are of a higherpower because they server their self interest.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Erm

      Prove it.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  6. Steve

    Since when does CNN care what is on is not in Scripture. Since you care so much about what is in scripture perhaps we should have a discussion about Lev 20:13.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Ixnay

      Do you also want to enforce Lev 20:9?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  7. Mandy

    Actually, satan is refered to as a serpant in the Bible. "2And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years," Revelation 20:2
    There are many kings in the Bible who are refered to as animals. Jesus is refered to as the lion of Judah, Herod as a fox, and Nero a lion. The Bible speaks in both physical and spiritual truths.
    As far as the point of this article, people do the same with any other thing. We quote movies and TV shows and apply them in ways other than its original meaning. For this to be taken seriously when talking about the Bible is laughable. You have those who love the Bible and do seek the treasure that is found within.
    And on a side note,"35Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Matthew 24:35 a.k.a seek not those things which shall perish but seek the heavenly gift from the father (Jesus Christ) which shall last forever.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  8. Living Is Learning

    The term "scripture" also refers to holy books from many faiths. Some of the phantom verses, including the one attributed to Ben Franklin, sound very familiar to verses from the Qur'an.

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

      That's a good point. The Bible is a compilation of stories. The stories are abbreviated.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  9. Vixis

    People can believe what they feel they need to, for me, I will believe when this so called GOD shows himself. Going to church and "paying" your way to heaven is a joke, and as for the human race coming from Adam and Eve....hhhmmm...I don't think so.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  10. John Richards

    Bible plagiarises Judaism and Zarathustrism.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  11. 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. No I am not an Atheist. I am a Pantheist. I have read 2 different versions of the Bible and I would be very surprised that any woman who has read the Bible could still maintain a Christian/Muslim or Hebrew based faith.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  12. FalseProphets

    Robin, don't blame CNN. The Jews are the Chosen People so they are not to be discussed vainly.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  13. Mike Breen

    Of COURSE it was an apple...you think the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a POMMEGRANITE ? , or an orange...How would that look...."and then Eve tempted Adam with a nice Kiwi fruit, and they were banned from Eden "...

    June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  14. Exiquio


    Why are people so bent on making fools of themselves. I could read the caption and know this was a horrible article. I refuse to read anymore of it.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  15. icedawg

    It all started in the beginning when the serpent (Satan) posed the question, "Did God actually say?" (Genesis 3:1) It's apparent that Adam had not clearly communicated what God had said to him to his wife Eve. Or perhaps she didn't hear it correctly. And it's been all downhill since.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Paul Falduto

      And perhaps it is all a fable....

      June 5, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  16. raeellenphoto

    Many people mistake biblical concepts for biblical citations.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  17. James

    Soiunds like Ole Catholic nonsense. There AIN"T NO POPE EITHER>>>> Yeah///let the experts read it for you....what this article is..is lefist propaganda...charity comes from GOVERNMENT??? That's what they want you to believe....Spare the rod spoil the child IS IN THE BIBLE.........Th serpent was SATAN>>>>>It is no0t a misquote.....It is Catholic attacjking protestants that makes me angry...Fact is...Bible SUPPORTS death penalty...new tesament........Come on Catholics.....you can do better than that....UH?? I am a Christian....not a Catholic.......

    June 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |

      This is not a Catholic argument. CNN is not catholic. Furthermore this entire article is pathetic.
      "God helps them who help themselves...."

      What fokking idiot would ever believe that was in the Bible? No-one.
      This entire article is written to make Christians look like idiots.

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

      First, the author of the article is correct. None of those things are in the Bible – any translation. Second, Catholics are Christians. Just because you may disagree with something, don't try to dismiss or degrade it. It diminishes any credibility you may have and makes you look really, really small.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Oranj

      These are the sort of religiously judgemental rants that frighten me...so wrong.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:48 am |

    Again CNN fokks it up for themselves.

    In Revelation 20:2 there is left little doubt who The Serpent is:

    "And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years" (Rev 20:2)

    Is CNN trying to claim that this was not the same serpent that Eve met with in The Garden?
    Nice try.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • sealman

      What about the unicorn?

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

      If that is the same serpent, he slithered through the Fountain of Youth. That's the only way he could have live from the beginning of the human experience all the way through Jesus' life, death and resurrection. That's one hearty snake.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:40 am |


      a) It clearly says the serpent is "old"
      b) Since he can survive a 1000 years of captivity, he certainly is a resistent modderfukker.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Craig

      You do realize that not everybody who reads and believes in the bible believes in the New Testament and therefore, the book of Revelations.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Jean

      GABRIEL said:

      "In Revelation 20:2 there is left little doubt who The Serpent is:

      "And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years" (Rev 20:2)"

      Again ignorance prevails. The word satan in Revelations is NOT a name. It is a mistranslatioin of the Greek word meaninjg "The Accuser." That's a fact!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  19. Tom

    "Wherever two Christians are gathered together....someone will serve lunch." I'm sure that's in the Bible....somewhere...

    June 5, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  20. Chaina Nickole

    As far as God helping those who help themselves, while the phrase may not show up in scripture, it doesn't necessarily contradict the Bible. I doesn't have to mean be stingy or self-interested only. I have always heard it quoted to imply that God won't just grant you wishes, but that you must work hard/do your part to get what you desire as well. (i.e. looking for and qualifying yourself for a new job rather than having one just fall from the sky for you)

    Otherwise this was a very thorough and clear reading. I enjoyed it.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:32 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.