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. Chris

    The bible is just a book! Nothing more and nothing less. No such thing as magic. Once you have passed on you don't come back. Have you seen any of your friends or relatives lately that have passed on? No. Moses parting the waves? Didn't happen. Blood from a stone? Lets see if science can make that happen.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  2. B Hayes

    After spending countless number of years of theology study I have learned one thing that religion and "god" are nothing more than man made ideals that he forces upon others for his control and personally after being on the inside for decades I find religious people to be filled with hate, resentment, and fear of the unknown. I fell that we as a society should see each others differences and accept them for what they are. Human beings.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • gingersrule1

      You are exactly right. Religious people are religious out of fear. God is not found in fear. God is in each of us but not as some all powerful Creator watching over us. God is the glue that holds everything together. From our births it is obvious that humans are intended to change the Universe. Meanwhile we are stuck on earth with people who say they worship God and actually believe he will come here and remove them from earth and leave the bad people to ruin it.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  3. PeaceKeeper

    People have a terrible habit of bringing out the bad in everything. I could do 1000 nice things for you but the one bad thing I do will be remembered above all the good. Just like in the bible there are so many good things that God and Jesus did but people will pick apart the bad parts to justify their beliefs or doubts. It's a shame they have missed the message and the big picture. The bible has been around almost since the beginning of time itself. If it were nonsense why is it still around? Why does it still have so many believers? Surely there must be something GOOD to it. I grew up with a religious grandfather and an atheist dad so I've seen both sides. I can remember being 9 years old and having to debate the existence of God to my dad. My dad believed we came from apes and believed in the big bang theory. He said we came from apes after the big bang but where did the apes come from and for that matter all the stars and the universe? He couldn't give me an answer and actually got very angry with me. I argued with him further asking, why is Earth the only planet that has plants, animals and people? Surely if the big bang were true then why are we the only ones? Also how do scientists know the big bang actually happened? Were they there when it happened? Oh, that's right – it's just a theory and there is no undeniable proof. The bible and it's written record on the other hand, have been here long before all the scientists.

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

      "The bible has been around almost since the beginning of time itself. If it were nonsense why is it still around? "
      So you are saying the world is only two thousand years old?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • ObjectiveOpinion

      You are similar to the bible. Too many words.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • William

      If your post was tongue in cheek, very funny! If you are serious, wow. There billions of other planets in existence that are many light years away, it would be very presumptuous of you to assume none have life. Further, significant evidence suggests that life existed at one point on mars, and could still exist there. That point eviscerates your mindless drivel.

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

      Oh my, where to begin. How about with, "honor thy mother and father". (I think that is one of the ten commandments, but I am no bible expert, so I could be misquoting.) Not sure why your pa who you so freely argued with until he was angry couldn't explain where the apes came from, as science does have answers for that. And as for why the earth is the only planet with plants and animals, what makes you think so?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  4. rodbuilder

    The bible is the first instance of the saying: If ya' can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshhit!!!!!

    There's not 2 flowing, consecutive thoughts in the entire 'book'. Books have a beginning and an end. The bible has neither.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • HZD

      Look, you are perfectly free to reject the Bible, but making completely factually wrong statements like that shows that you are ignorant of the Bible–just like the author of the article is saying.

      Research things like Deuteronomistic History, for example. Scholarship laughs at your assertion.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • William

      Had- you did not just suggest that the bible be the source of proof that the bible isn't just a bunch of stories did you? That argument is the same as me telling you that huckleberry Finn is real, just read the adventures of huckleberry Finn as proof. You fall into the religious vortex that requires circular logic to avoid sounding like a medieval dolt, only the doltish thoughts sound even worse when the circular reasoning is exposed

      June 5, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Aaron

      No beginning or end...I find that interesting because God has no beginning or end.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  5. Dan Heidelberger

    Kinda silly that the picture for this story included navel on Adam and Eve. Think about it.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • sealman

      You are too smart to be in this forum.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • DB

      Maybe it wasn't an Apple Tree after all. Probalby a Naval Orange tree!

      June 5, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Sean

      Why is there no stork in the picture?

      June 6, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  6. Mike

    This article is as misinformed as the people it hoped to bash. What a shame. "It's hard to be perceived as enlightened or otherwise intellligent when you attack those who are in your boat." Mike 1:1

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

    Dumbest and most pointless article ever! People know these aren't verses, these are sayings that reflect biblical truth! Why do you assume people are so stupid? As far as the bible never says Satan tempted Eve, this is true, but it's a theological interpretation, just like the doctrine of the trinity is an interpretation. Such an arrogant and uneducated article.

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

      True. Perhaps CNN has no understanding of tradition. They have to read the church fathers and become immersed in the liturgy to understand these things.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • a38679

      I found the article very true to what I've experienced living in the bible belt and interacting with a lot of bible-thumpers. I've heard these church-going folk espouse the very falsities this article points out. And when I have tried to point out to my god-fearing-friends that they may be incorrect about what they're saying, they stand steadfastly to their ignorant ideas. Interestingly enough, I'm educated in christianity, but not religious myself and I often know more about their god and their religion than they do. But because they are so stubbornly stupid – you can't tell them anything – they refuse to listen to me when I tell them the truths of their own religion and when those truths happen to conflict with what they PERSONALLY were wanting their religion to do for them. This is a very insightful article....

      June 5, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  8. Name*Shane

    You are looking for direct quotations...you wont find any...most, not all of the sayings are one mans interpretation of the scriptures...to him it meant that..so before u blast a man for his interpretation..why don't u try studying the bible a little more so u can get your interpretation....

    June 5, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  9. David Motari

    Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible.

    And Ditka did not say that it did. He said that "all things shall pass" is from scripture. He never stated or implied that "This, too, shall pass" was from the bible.

    The article should have remarked that "all things shall pass" was not from the bible.

    “God works in mysterious ways.”

    “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”


    Only a moron would think those came from the bible.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  10. svann

    The idea that the snake in eden was the devil might come from Rev 12:9 and 20:2.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  11. Cookie

    Why don't you list some misquotes from the Koran.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Erm

      Because the article isn't about the Koran?
      Why so hateful?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  12. Neal A.

    Jesus said (Matthew 10: 34-37) "do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter in law against her mother in law. And a mans enemy will be those of his own house household. He who loves mother and father more than me Is not worth of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

    Whats up with this jesus? Did you have a bad day or something?

    June 5, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Erm

      Makes it sound a bit like a cult, huh?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  13. Marty in MA

    there is no Satan, heaven or hell, all man made concepts. sorry

    June 5, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Erm

      Right-o. Hell isn't even mentioned in the bible. Sheol, yes. Hell, no. Two different things entirely. Sheol just means "the grave".

      June 5, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  14. Charles

    Let me just say this:

    Ignorance is an epidemic that spreads across the entire world, evident in the particular areas in which people are most passionate. Dismissing Christianity because it, too, has people who are ignorant, and people who don't read everything involving their most sacred truths, is hypocritical. Atheists, in order to claim they have "studied" their beliefs to the level they expect Christians to study their beliefs, would be forced to read and experience every religion the world has to offer that has either a monotheistic or pantheon belief system. After all, to positively prove and understand the non-existence of God, one would have to study all the religions that claim God exist. However, most atheists either ignore religion completely, or focus on one specific religion, which proves nothing as far as their belief system goes. True Christianity requires study; true Atheism does as well.

    Another note being that this phenomenon is common to all areas of literature. Misquoting lines, or mis attributing them to the wrong source, is as common a practice as can be found. The internet made famous quote by "Benjamin Franklin" that "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" is an excellent example of such. This quote is a misquote; Benjamin Franklin was proud to espouse wine, and not beer. But many people proudly (and ignorant) spout it as a true saying. I did so myself, before I analyzed it.

    The crux of the matter is this: You point to Christians misquoting the Bible, and with your airs of superiority, mock the entirity of Christianity for the ignorance of a subset of the group. Well, my friends, grab the beer that God has made, and realize that this is a common phenomenon in all areas of life, which includes religion. What we should be realizing from this is the problem with our modern society. As Socrates is quoted as saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

    Liberals atheists who criticize religious conservatives for their blind belief in something so essential might want to examine the basis behind the economic theories which give rise to liberal agendas. Keynes has been out of favor with the majority of economists for quite some time, and yet you use Keynesian models to support liberal agendas. Mayhaps, my friends, the specks of sawdust in others eyes might wait. After all, that plank's not shrinking.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • William

      Uh, atheism does not equal liberal politically. It is simply the non-belief in a supreme being based on the lack of any competent evidence. Many atheists are republican, many are democrat. Atheists may dismiss the extreme conservative right because policy should be based on reason and logic, not blind faith.

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

      Keep swilling your beer, Charlie. Drink enough that you find Bacchus, because Christ was not a right winger.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Good Try

      Or, if you look at theology as a whole instead of one religion at a time, to get to the root of the matter. Belief is just that, it's not factual, it's a subjective thing, and there's nothing wrong with having beliefs, everyone does. But, it does get a little scary when people take things out of context to reaffirm a dangerous belief such as many cult leaders have in the past. Arguing a belief is pointless.... "Red is better" "No blue is!" .... that's basically what's going on any time you try to do that. Believe what you want but don't cram it down anyone else's theistic or not-theistic throats.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Charles

      Christ believes in providing for the poor, but the distinction between right wing and left wing is whether or not government should be involved. In this, Jesus actually refrains from speaking on the subject. I do not have any issue with providing for the poor... my problem is the methods by which it is done under government supervision are inefficient, and forcible. Neither of which were espoused by Christ. Charity is supposed to be just that: Charity. Not a forcible system by which your government takes your possessions and redistributes them, but rather, a sense of community wherein the wealthier choose to give.

      Forced charity is merely theft.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Erm

      Sorry, Charlie, but I'm pretty sure the bible espouses being humble, and you, sir, come off as completely smarmy and full of yourself. Doesn't really make me want to read what you have to say.
      And I'm not exactly sure why you're mixing politics into this, but, sure, I'll bite: the reason that we have "forced charity" as you put it, is because many people are selfish. We would not be able to run a country without "forced charity" as people do not give enough on their own to support our very necessary social programs. I work with millionaires and billionaires on a regular basis. If they DO give, they give a verrrry small percentage of their incomes. A drop in the bucket. And to even get that, one must kiss their butts and flatter them to no end. Meanwhile they own several homes, cars, etc.....and these are people who often married into wealth and don't actually work for their money, lest you try to use that argument.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Charles

      In re ERM:

      Try having everyone attack a deeply held belief with very poor arguments, and you'd be feeling a bit out of sorts, too. Considering that 75%+ of the posts on here are very weak arguments about Christianity that damn us all as idiots, it's understandable why I wouldn't be in the best of sorts. As far as my own failings, I've never claimed perfection. I never will. I'm a human being, who's saved by grace, because I sure as hell don't deserve it.

      As far as bringing politics into it, I was posting in response to all of the posts going "Ignorant right wing Christians." As far as the charity issue, if you'll examine charitable giving, there is a huge amount of charitable organizations sponsored by the wealthy, within and without the Christian community. As far as "very neccessary social programs", most of them are crutches we have grown up with, not necessary programs.

      Assurance Wireless. Because everyone on welfare needs a cell phone.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  15. PulTab

    the bible is nothing more than a bunch of made up crap in the first place. who cares if something is really in that book of fiction or not.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  16. humberto

    and whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a desciple, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  17. James Black


    June 5, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  18. HOD

    Ezekiel 23:20, and the slaying of the Midianites. All one needs really.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  19. Saul

    The picture above is strange...If Adam and Eve were created by God, not born from the womb, why then they have belly buttons?

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

      Lol....nice catch! You'll notice that Adam has only one nip-ple. Perhaps god transferred it to his belly. Perhaps Eve just has a belly ring or, since we can't see her nip-ples, god did a transfer as well for her.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Sean

      He was afraid they would evolve navels on their own, so he just had them installed.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  20. Chris

    They sound alike because both were made up by someone.

    June 5, 2011 at 9:39 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.