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. Tired

    There are believers, non-believers and those that will take teaching out of context and twist it to meet their own end. Those who believe only scholars are capable of accurately reading and interpreting the Bible are of the latter ilk.

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

      And THIS above is the reason why scandal plagued priests have parishioners still loyal to them

      June 5, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  2. James Black


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

      A dead butterfly ?


      June 5, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  3. Coreso

    To Shelby: I wonder if you are looking at the same translation today as your 1965 bible was? There are a handful of different translations of God's written word. But don't kid yourself for a moment to think that our Almighty and Omniscient God has not the power to ensure that all translation writers are Spirit driven and are putting forth His mighty word in the correct manner with the correct meaning. Don't forget this dude created the heavens and the earth, and by the way He also created you and I!! Besides, one must also not forget that it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates the Bible's meaning to each and every one of us...not our own intellect or reading ability. With the illumination of the Holy Spirit, you will find each translation, although worded slightly differently, to impart the same meaning of truth that God wants you to be blessed with.

    So call on the Lord to reveal to you the truths in His word that he wants to impart to you and believe me you will be richly rewarded! God Bless!

    June 5, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • AthensGuy

      there is always a made up justification to your fairy tale, doesn't it?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Rafael

      And if you lose a tooth and place it under your pillow the "Tooth Fairy" will come. Also don't forget that if you pray to Asator you won't get struck by lightning, and if you pray to Neptune you will have safe travel across the ocean. Human beings fear what they do not understand, thus their most basic fight or flight reflex creates ideas and beliefs that will comfort them. Misquotes are like the author of the article said. " the fool's attempt to seem intelligent" (see: misquote) 🙂

      June 5, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  4. Beckie

    Context, context, context.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • humberto

      Function, function, function.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  5. Joe Somebody

    That's how the Bible works, you twist its contents to work in your favor. It's sad but true.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  6. Lainey0828

    "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is in Proverbs...it's just been paraphrased which many of the items in this article have.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • John not the baptist

      I suppose that if in your "evil" impulses you want to justify hitting kids this qute is very important.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • jidekanni

      this reply is for 'john not the baptist'...be smart, 'spare the rod and spoil the child' is not literally telling you to hit your child with a rod, it means if you dont take steps to instill discipline in your child he/she would grow up being spoilt and turn into something else or probably become as dumb as you

      June 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  7. Mike

    Actually, the verse "Spare the rod spoil the child" is in the Bible. It's just a shortened/re-worded version of what the Bible says depending upon how you translate it. You can for the most part directly translate it to "spare the rod spoil the child".

    Check out Proverbs 13-24

    Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

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

      It's quite clear that you didn't actually read the article. Is this how you read the bible, too?

      June 5, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  8. Dave

    So many ignorant people in this world who put everything blindly on their faith.

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

      Blind is right, there are people who never read the Bible but go to Church, there are many who are desperate and follow a false prophet because they don't know the difference , there are many who will never read the Bible but will claim they know everything that is in it. And then there are the non believers who have read the Bible , and are the first to stand up and repeat scripture to try and dismantle it to believers. What do they all have in common..... They are blind!! None will ever understand what is truly in the Bible unless you have a relationship with God, it's amazing what is shown to you that you never saw in the Bible. So it's sad to watch the blind keep running into walls and shouting we are right and believers are wrong. Only one way to find out, wouldn't you say!!

      June 5, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  9. Coriolana

    Armaments 4:7: And thou shalt take thy Holy Handgrenade, and lobbest it at thine enemies, who, being naughty in Thy sight, shall snuff it. (Scripture Monty trans.)

    June 5, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  10. spottedsharks

    The traditional manger scene we see at Christmas - manger, baby Jesus, wise men, star of Bethlehem, etc. - is also not to be found in the Bible. The scene is a combination of the two birth narratives found in the Gospels. The two stories hopelessly contradict one another.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  11. espero

    A couple of questions;

    Why do Christians feel the need to (so aggressively) defend the Bible? Either you believe in it or you don't. Being so adamant about convincing others of it's truth seems an attempt to justify one's own beliefs.

    Does the belief in a 'creator' necessarily mean that you have to believe in the Bible verbatim? Clearly there are millions that are absolutely convinced that their interpretation is the only valid course to follow.

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

      Because they are insecure in their own beliefs and they believe if more people will jump on the bandwagon, they will have fewer doubts.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • geneo

      Why do others try to disprove what I believe? How does it hurt you or any others what my beliefs are?

      June 5, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Jacob

      It doesn't unless those beliefs effect your decision at the ballot box.

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

      geneo; I've made no attempt to prove, or disprove anything – but my questions have begun to draw out responses that speak volumes bout their authors.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  12. Max

    Ditka specifically said that "all things shall pass" is in Scripture, but he didn't say, "This, too, shall pass," was in Scripture. In the original 1611 King James Bible, Matthew 24:6 says: "all must come to pass." ALSO "Heaven and earth (ALL THINGS) shall pass away..." – Matthew 24:35

    Therefore, Ditka wins.

    "That old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan" – Revelation 20:2. It doesn't take a scholar to understand it's the same character as the one in Eden. In fact, this whole topic about "what's in the Bible and what's not" is completely irrelevant if you're going to start limiting your arguments to one book at a time. What's the point of that?

    The Bible has issues and has "messy" stories about a particular God (it didn't fall conveniently from heaven or get written all at once) but the cohesiveness of the overall story, from Fall to Final Redemption, is very much worth knowing. Whether one adopts the story as real or not, the one basic overall story that unfolds within the Bible should be known, understood, and appreciated.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • espero

      Why is it about winning or losing? It's my understanding that the Bible consistently encourages sharing and discourages the concept of winners and losers.

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

      That doesn't change the fact that it took 3000 years for the story to mutate so that the serpent became Satan. The addition of Satan to the story was the result of the newly founded Christian cult trying to merge their beliefs with Jewish folklore.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Max

      The topic is, "Actually, that's not in the BIble" but the serpent is Satan in the Bible. Whatever your views on other aspects of the Bible, the fact remains, the serpent character of Eden is called Satan in the Bible. The author of this article tries to make this fact seem as if that is not the case.

      The author of this article also said that the serpent tempted Eve to eat from the Tree of Life. Actually, he tempted her to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Just saying, the author made some boo-boos – and Ditka wins.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • espero

      max: Like I said. Winners/losers are clearly a high priority for you. Higher than what the Scriptures teach?

      June 5, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  13. Mark Allen

    The reformation was the worst thing that has ever happened to the church. The one thing the Catholic church tried to prevent was having the bible distributed to everyone. Why? Because they knew that everyone would have there own interpretation of scripture. People say that you don't need the church to teach scripture and that you only need the bible. Name one place in the bible were it says that?

    June 5, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • PSw

      Name one place where it says the opposite.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Max

      The Roman Catholic Church now has home study bibles and encourages people to read the bible at home for themselves which comes after the model of the Protestant tradition. They try to appeal to youth with catchy graphics and such... that's from the Protestant influence, not a Roman Catholic tradition. If Roman Catholic tradition prevailed, everything would still be in Latin and people would still think they could buy forgiveness with money. Even the Orthodox Churches translated for the common man, and they're Apostolic.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  14. Sefi

    Book of Proverbs 13
    "Spare the rod, (hates) spoils the child"
    Who does your research?
    Sometimes CNN is not the best source of info.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Fandango

      Maybe a little reading comprehension wouldn't be wasted on you. The author does say: "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.”"

      June 5, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  15. Doug

    You world loving atheist are funny. You spend tons of cash and time to do anything to disprove the Bible in hopes it will fall apart. If what you say is true about the bible then it should have fallen apart long ago, but its a solid book of God's truths and it frustrates you to the core that there is nothing you can do about it. If you read about end times in the Bible and the Koran you will see they mirror each out perfectly as if by design. What would be the odds of that? "If you save your life you will lose it. If you lose your life you will save it." Choose wisely.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Good Try

      You give yourself too much credit. We're not wasting our $$ trying to disprove your beliefs. We've moved on and are focusing on reality and facts, not speculation and interpretation.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Good Try

      "If what you say is true then it should've fallen apart ..." The reason it hasn't is because so many people want to believe it's true regardless of any other evidence against it.

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

      You talk as a fool would. I feel sorry for you and others like you, when reality sets it will be to late for you.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Jacob

      "Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Jesus

      June 5, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • TheWiseOne84

      You are an idiot. Fact.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • The other Doug

      The bible and koran were conceived by the same guy.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Vin

      You don't seem to have any understanding of the concept of history. Religions,including yours, have fallen apart along the way constantly. Modern Christianity is not the Christianity that existed 200 years ago. Holidays such as Easter and Christmas didn't exist until they were assimilated from the pagans. Religions that came long before Christianity have come and gone. Religions after as well. Nobody believes Zeus or Ra or Ahura Mazda will be coming to lay the smack down on unbelievers anytime soon, because people grew out of such childish beliefs along the way. However, Ahura Mazda started something that older religions didn't have. The belief in a single god that is unknowable. Zoroastrianism was obviously a pre-cursor to Judaism and Christianity, however, many religious folks don't have any clue that it ever existed. Why? Because taking an honest look at the evolution of their religion from the point in time people started believing in the spirit of the fire to today makes them realize that there were other gods long before there was one true god.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • espero

      This is another example of what is couched to be Christian love and tolerance. Sounds a lot more like neener, neener, neener to me.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Dr. L

      You mean the odds of The Koran having many similarities to the Bible could not possibly be a coincidence, even though the Koran began to be compiled around the same time as the Bible being completed, and Muhammad believed Jesus was one of the last great prophets? Muhammad and his original followers (who compiled the Koran in about 20 years) certainly respected Jesus, and certainly could have mirrored parts of Revelations.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  16. JeramieH

    "people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs" – quote of the year. Religion is based on confirmation bias.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Good Try


      June 5, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Easter bunny i am

      The bible us a as real as any comic book.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  17. Shawn Selby

    The saying ' spare the rod, spoil the child ' is in the bible, just not in those words. It implies that in most cases if a child is spared from discipline for wrong doing, then they are more apt to do wrong in life, as discipline shows guidance and right from wrong. Pro 22:15 'Foolishness [is] bound in the heart of a child ; [but] the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.' You can see the phrase as being apparent in this scripture verse as with many other verses which denote that if you spare discipline then a child risks not knowing right from wrong as much. If a child does something discipline shows them not to do it again and to avoid it, lest they get hurt.

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

    The Genesis story is metaphorical. Satan becomes the personification of what is evil in this world along with many other terms like beelzubub, devil, fallen angel, demon etc. There is no harm is seeing the serpent in Genesis as Satan. Anything or anyone that leads us away from intimacey with God could be Satan, or a satanic influence. Some of the other quotes mentioned are paraphrases of Biblcal ideas. "All things shall pass" may not be an exact quote, but the concept is very clear from both the Bible and life. "God helps those who helps themselves" has no Biblical basis. The Bible teaches the opposite. God helps the helpless and so should we.

    June 5, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  19. Leon

    This is clear evidence of how the world actually is . It changes something , so it will fit its own needs . As the above text mentions , those people have not even read the Bible . My own Bible is from 1912 . It is the oldest I could get my hands on . But let me take it one step further . The Bible also contains more than just these misunderstandings above , it also has the revelation . The world does not believe that God would let something like that happen . Yet , it is God who said that it must happen . And it has already started . The world will not acknowledge it , but we already see the consequenses of "misbelieve" in the world . The Bible says that it will be like in the days of Noah . And we have such days right now . The older the Bible is , the more accurate it is . The Bible is not meant to be seen from our own views , but from the view of He who wrote it . God . It is Gods view that we need , in order to understand it . We dont need any scribes , nor do we need any scholars , we need God , and His ways . The 6th seal is the next that will happen for human eyes . That is how far we are in the revelation .

    June 5, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  20. ppoovend@comcast.netPete Poovendran


    June 5, 2011 at 10:41 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.