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. Mr. G

    Actually Rev 20:2 proves that the serpent in Genesis was Satan the Devil.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  2. jason stewart

    Mr. Blake,

    An interesting take on the concept and problem of misquoting Scripture. However, as you are trying to correct the problem, you've fallen in the trap yourself. The Serpent temped Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, not the Tree of Life. See Genesis 3:1 &2.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Pat F

      And it wasn't an apple. It is unidentified fruit, or maybe a pomegranite.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  3. blunt

    The fact that you can move ,think and talk. well there is some proof. That's enough proof for me.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  4. Danilo

    Outstanding item because most people will believe that if it comes from the bible then it must be a fact not realizing that the bible is almost always misquoted or credited for something that some other people said.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Chuck E.

      Any hateful or insulting chants against Christians or God himself or Jesus Christ are always demonic inspired.

      Reject evil. Reject demons and reject satan.

      Worship Jesus Christ and read his Holy Bible.

      BibleGateway.com is a free Bible reference web site.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  5. Jason D

    Live your life in a morally correct manner, you dont need a rule book, its your brain tells you right from wrong, experience teaches you the correct way of a good life...using words from a book of any sort written by the errors and wants of man, using texts they heard from someone else and embelished to the nines is like having some story teller famous for embelishment giving you the plans to build a house after a few drinks and told he has to keep you entertained.

    We were given a mond and the ability to be moral without a book, if god (any god) had wanted us to follow a set of guidlines as thick as the bible, torah, koran he'd/she'd/it would have written the think on mountains for us to read and given everyone the same language to read it with.

    The power of thought was given to us to think over what we've done and what we might do to tell us if its right, if its fair, if its morally correct, no religion is without its powermongers who have misread, misquoted and mis appropriated their books of religion, to be written by man, interpreted by man and used as an income provider for man is to create nothing more then a sales leaflet....and eye for an eye......forget the bit at the end about solving nothing...that wouldnt help the man wanting to con someone, rob someone, hit someone,,etc

    June 5, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Pat F

      Right, Jason, how hip and cool – just do your own thing, if it feels good, do it. Because what is right for you is necessarily right. That's because you are the smartest one of all, and much smarter than 5,000 years of recorded history!

      Your boomer parents raised you poorly, and your self-aggrandizing philosophy is why this poor planet does not have many years left.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • TheWiseOne84

      Pat F is clearly a follower. Try reading other historical books and tell me that its recorded history. The story of Horus and Jesus are pretty much identical and Horus was written first. This should be a nice break from coloring books for you.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • espero

      Pat: Spoken like a true Christian. it is possible that Jason lives a 'no-victim', generous life. Your sarcasm and speculation paints a picture of a person that may profess to be a Christian, but believes also there are times when he thinks he should kick the snot out of someone, in God's name. Is that the Christian way, or yours, or both?

      June 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  6. Poo Poo

    As it says in the book of Marsupials

    Marsupials 3:7 thou has been given the pouch, carry thee young and rejoice in their safety

    June 5, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Tew2010

      The Hesitations verse trumps this.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • P Cubed

      Now you just being funny!!!

      June 5, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Sean

      But leaveth room for thy iPod.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  7. gingersrule1

    Jesus couldn't write. He was illiterate as well as his disciples. Jesus meant for his true message to get passed down through the ages. Not in writing. The Holy Trinity is the main cause of all religious wars today. There is no such thing as father son and holy ghost. Look up Arianism. Jehovah's Witnesses get a bad name from other Christians because they call Jesus the great teacher and not God in the flesh. When Emperor Constantine oversaw the making of the Roman Christian Bible he made sure that all of the different people with different stories had the same story in the end. On his deathbed at his sisters request Constantine renounced the Bible we know today and endorsed Arianism. Sounds like a man who believed in a higher power and realized that his actions would spread mistruth about Jesus message forever. God gave us tools to fix things. Lets do it.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Benny boy

      i just looked up arainism, it's pathetic. The catholic church was created by St. Peter himself.
      "I find your lack of faith disturbing." Darth Vader 1:1 in the book of Sith

      June 5, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • TDJ

      That's right, ladies and gents! For 19 centuries until the 1870's, the world was in darkness. Then came forth Charles Taze Russell with his Studies in Scripture and his Watchtower magazine, proclaiming that those who ignore them would remain in darkness, and all was made right! What's wrong with that picture?

      Flee from the Watchtower or your soul – and you do have one – will die.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm |

    Actually, that's not in the Bible......

    Since the bible is an ambiguous and fictional piece it really doesn't matter to people whether anything they say is in the bible or not.....people are not well grounded in reality....they're great manipulators when it comes to getting the outcome they want and the bible is perfectly written for these people.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  9. AvalS

    May not have been in the version used by the author of this article but was in King James. How do I know? It was shown to me by a former associate during a trying and frustrating period. CNN, you and others really need to vet your articles.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Phage0070

      You could very well have cited specific verses to counter specific examples in the text. Except that you didn't, because you can't.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • tomtom

      All I can say is GOD DAMN!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  10. Indra

    I'm so agree with the article.. so many people quote bible here and there without wanting to understand the whole context of the article.. some people just quote the bible which support their idea or value.. not the other way around..

    The only part that I don't agree with this article is when they critize Martin Luther as one of the people who make this happen... that's kinda absurd.. because of him some of the misinterpretation of the bible had been straighten up, e,g. the repentance letter which can be bought at church.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Benny boy

      the catholic church has straghitened out and is now the biggest charity on earth. the holy church donated more to haiti than all o the world's countries combined.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Phage0070

      Benny boy, that is a blatant lie. The American Red Cross donated $468 million, and the Catholic church doesn't even get a mention.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • tomtom


      I know it what a wigger.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Harry Potter

      @Benny boy and @ Phage0070
      You are both wrong. The Gates Foundation gave more than either, and maybe both.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  11. Souknow

    "money is the root of all evil" is a quote mistakenly attributed to the Bible. The Bible passage is actually "the love of money is the root of all evil". Far more accurate and telling.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Phage0070

      Actually still wrong: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.." is the proper passage. It isn't saying that money is the root of all evil, but that money can cause every variety of evil.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • SolomonSez

      Further correction – "for the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils" 1 Timothy 6:10 (not ALL evil).

      June 5, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • LottaZeal

      @Phage0070 Thanks for pointing that out. While I have read the whole New Testament (working on the Old Testament) I miss interpreted that verse. Most likely due to societies interpretation, which is why I agree with a lot of people on this: Always read the Bible for yourself and ask questions. I have been to several Churches that communicated the Bible wrong.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  12. Jacob

    While it's true that within the story Satan is never mentioned, the addition of Satan came long before any sort of medieval work of art. It actually shows up in the New Testament, in Revelation where Satan is referred to as that "serpent of old."

    June 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Phage0070

      Except they were talking about a dragon there, specifically.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • tomtom

      Are you all talking about world of warcraft?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  13. angel

    Jesus an innocent man was contriversial and crucified by the religuos leaders and athiest? i don't get it?

    June 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • RGeneration

      What's not to get. OJ Simpson was a murderer who was set free??? You don't get it? It happens. Likewise, Jesus was tried , although innocent (and declared by the Roman officials) was sentenced to death by the Jewish leaders. Did you even read the Bible before commenting?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Phage0070

      Jesus was not crucified by atheists. Every group involved was specifically religious in nature.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  14. rick.e

    If it is the destination of MY soul that hinges on the validity of the bible then those minute details ARE not so minute. Religion binds ignorance and the article did a great job at showing that. Which means the author did a great job. Look @ the response. Mine included. Great job!

    June 5, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  15. Erich

    The drawing of Adam and Eve should not have belly buttons. They were not born from a woman and thus had no umbilical cord.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • humberto


      June 5, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Felicitations

      Good point! LOL!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  16. Jacob

    The serpent is actually the one telling the truth. God tells them they will die the same day they eat it, but the serpent says they will not and that God just doesn't want them to eat it because their eyes will be opened, knowing good from evil. The serpent turns out to be right on both accounts.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • RGeneration

      Eh....you took that to be a physical death whereas God was talking about the soul.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • LottaZeal

      May I ask what version of the Bible from which getting your information? Mine says, "...but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Gen 2:17 NIV) In that verse and where the serpent and Eve talk about it (Gen 3:2-5) a definitive time when they will die is not mentioned.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Phage0070

      And since by eating they would know good from evil, there isn't really any basis to punish them considering they were not morally competent until after they had disobeyed. And there certainly isn't any reason to extend their punishments to their children who couldn't have possibly had any say in the matter, or those mysterious "other" people who showed up to prevent Adam and Eve's children from being enormously inbred. Except of course that is exactly what the story says happened.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Jacob

      That's because you're reading the NIV, an evangelical translation that removed many of these troublesome passages.

      "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: FOR IN THE DAY that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." KJV

      June 5, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • LottaZeal

      @Phage0070: You seem to be very knowable in the contents of the Bible. I see you have point in the dishing of the punishment. I have to wonder though is obeying and good and evil considered the same thing. A child is told to obey a parent regardless of what is evil or good. I see that God wanted Adam and Eve to obey him and they didn't. I believe that is because God gave mankind free will. Going back to the child analogy, what child hasn't done exactly what his/her parent said which to do not? A parent will usually punish a child for disobeying weather or not the child completely understands the act, only that the parent's "I said so." Bottom line is did Adam and Eve know they were doing evil by disobeying, probably not. But did they know that they were disobeying, yes. Like you, I would have to say the punishment was rather harsh, but I am not God and do not fully understand a lot of things.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • LottaZeal

      @Jacob Did you know that the NKJ version was a translation of a translation overseen by ONE group of people back in a time with limited access to knowledge. The NIV (mid 1900s) involved people from around the world. And went where possible back to the original manuscripts. While all English versions are translations, I have to believe that a version created with the most sources available would be the more accurate one.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Jacob

      You can read any other translation and see that it says they would die the same day. The NIV leaves out a number of different verses altogether.


      June 5, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  17. John

    Do you read your Bible? Sounds like you need a real backbone instead of using a scholars.He chose the foolish to confound the wise remember. Jesus asked Pilate– "Did you say this or did someone tell you" that I am King of the Jews? I will not judge your heart Mr.Blake, so why do you judge Mr. Ditka's? In the end we will all be judged not how we interpreted Gods word, but how we loved it.This my friend will come to PASS.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      He was not judging anyone, but you seem to be.
      The article was about people misquoting what they think are bible quotes and are not but that seems to have flown right over your head.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  18. Aaron

    Funny, but only the first five books were written by "G-d"...the rest were stories written by people that thought they were better than everyone else (but definitely were more educated).

    "Roses are reddish,
    Violets are bluish.
    If it weren't for Jesus,
    All you cooks would be Jewish!"

    June 5, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • MarkNS

      Oh please! None of it was written by god. It's a book of myth. This whole article is like arguing what version of the three little pigs is the most accurate. The answer is none of them. They're just fiction like the bible.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • co

      Actually the gospels were written by men with direct contact to God in the flesh so get it right now those are the main books in the Bible try to find salvation in the other books and you'll find non other books of the bible speak of the devil as a serpant so we know who he is as far as spare the rod & spoil the child is spare the rod and hate your child better as far as people being smarter so the bible is not relavent what part of the smarter have people on this post attributed too can man create a universe and he command the animals & elements can he space the stars heck man cannot not even save himself disease I will not dispute that some people are animals and their cousins grandparents and aunts and uncles are crawling on all fours maybe only some of us were created in Gods image and the others are just here to cause death and destuction may into the image of doubting Thomas seeing only what a beat of the field bird of the air or fish of the sea can recognize

      June 5, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  19. Sandy White

    Thank you, CNN! I've been complaining about this for a long time. I'm originally from the North, but recently moved to the South. This ignorance is like a plague down here, more than anywhere in America. However, Holy Books and the Media are sadly both unreliable, because HUMANS are writing the material. As for the rest of the humans out there: unless God, Mohammad or Jesus comes out of the sky magically and writes me a book, please just shut up already. Let's try to keep religion a private matter and out of society, and the Government. I'm spiritual and believe in God, but I'm not trying to convert anyone nor read your so-called Holy books. My Holy Book is my soul, it's flawed just like your Holy Books and the people who wrote them.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Mr. Ignatio

      Amen to that!

      June 5, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Benny boy

      where did you live in the north. i live in illinois (distant suburb of Chicago) and we all love the bible and we quote it all the time. you must bee from New york City or something. Also, religion is not a private thing, it reverberates through you into others as you feel the soul of god. "I find your lack of faith disturbing" Darth Vader 1:1 in the Book of Sith

      June 5, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Harry Potter

      @Benny boy
      Wrong again. I live in Highland park, and I DON"T love it.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Serdar

      Hey Aunt Sarah, Does this advent pirtcue mean that you are gonna hold off on having the baby till Christmas? (you know to make it authentic and all 😉 ) Just Kidding,JoshPS: Great pirtcue! How is it possible that Karissa is that tall?

      December 13, 2012 at 5:59 am |
  20. Renaud

    I'm kind of disappointed at the arguments in the comments from both sides. Everyone's acting so childish. You want to understand the problem with religion and atheism ? Scroll through the 31 plus pages of comments and look at how ridiculous people are getting.
    It's kind of sad.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:31 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.