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. Jmama

    The article has some really good points, but some are disputable. Some of this article's interpretation, particularly that of Adam and Eve's story, relies on interpretation of the Bible by others. Satan being there, tempting Eve was a fact based on scriptural knowledge, since the serpent was Satan. Whoever heard of a talking serpent. Those familiar with the scripture would correctly state that the serpent was Satan, tempting Eve to go against the will of God. 🙂

    June 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • thought

      What about a talking mule/donkey?

      June 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  2. Joe Fattal

    But I am still amazing about the Bible when it says that Eve had three boys from Adam, and one of the boys when out and found a woman. If God created Adam and Eve and they had three boys, where that woman came from?. That is enough to tell me that that the book is all about relationships and whoever wrote it years ago try to make it that it came from the word of God which I don't believe it is. God wouldn't have made that of a mistake. As someone said, the Bible is a book of family structure.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Molly

      The Bible states that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, not the only man and woman. I think there are a lot of missing pieces of the Bible that either weren't deemed necessary at the time it was compiled, or was just lost.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  3. puppo

    True many historic phrases aren't in the bible, but I agree with the poster that says this article is nit picking. Just a bunch of holier than thou people attempting to show how spiritually smart they are.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  4. M. S. Waters

    (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.” – John Blake

    Quite interesting you say “one day after” when in reality it was the same day, as stated below.

    January 07, 1993 / By Eric Zorn

    "This, too, shall pass."

    Mike Ditka choked out these words as he began his farewell speech Tuesday and again to conclude his remarks. And later, when fans were woofing for him in the dusk outside Halas Hall, he came to the window and shouted it to them still a third time.”this, too, shall pass."

    Ditka Fired By Saints
    January 05, 2000|By Rick Hepp, Tribune Staff Writer.
    The New Orleans Saints today fired head coach Mike Ditka and his entire coaching staff after the team finished last in their conference with a 3-13 record.

    January 06, 1993|From Associated Press
    “Mike Ditka, who led the Chicago Bears to a 1986 Super Bowl victory, was fired Tuesday, nine days after the end of a 5-11 season.”

    Seems you’re not a reputable source for sports, and yet you attempt to cast your lot amongst religion,

    “But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.” – John Blake, CNN

    But when the whole Bible is researched, then we see the truth is quite evident, the serpent was Satan

    Rev. 20:2 “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, ….”

    That old serpent? Why old? Well below, speaking to the serpent after it was cursed;

    Gen. 3:15 “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
    For one who works for such a prominent company, I marvel at your lack of research. Then again, since this is CNN, I doubt they would hire someone lacking such skills, which leads me to believe you don’t believe all that you just wrote, but just wanted to provoke the religious ire! In that case, CNN needs to raise your pay, because you’re great at professing ignorance.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • humberto

      Ignorance is the jist of the politically correct plantation moral people that are touting human rights .

      June 5, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  5. Carson Weber

    For inquiring minds, check out the Understanding the Scriptures Podcast at http://catholicboard.com

    June 5, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  6. Maria

    The Bible has been rewritten and translated so many times that it isn't even funny. Nor should it be taken verbatim in any language but Hebrew, which was the first written-down version after thousands of years of oral tradition. Language has screwed up even the most basic lessons like the Ten Commandments. "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is ACTUALLY "Thou Shalt Not Murder"–you CAN kill to protect yourself, your family and your property but you cannot PLAN to kill/murder someone. The Latter-Day Saints are rewriting the Bible based on divine inspiration... I think that's what a lot of Christians are too heavily reliant upon, the notion that "it sounds like something God would say, therefore it must come from God's inspiration" (like the poetry and sayings quoted in this article).

    June 5, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  7. Annunaki3600

    Just read everything in the original Greek and Hebrew, then will find out the true meaning of the scriptures as well as the meaning of the thought conveyed in its message.
    Remember it was the Catholic Church which burned people at the stake, and there is not one word of truth that the Holy Scriptures has anything to do with " Cleanliness is next to Godliness."

    June 5, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Jack

      The Church is not perfect, you are correct that there have been many abuses and wrongs committed. However, Jesus entrusted his church to imperfect human beings, to carry on after he ascended to the Father. He said that he wanted his Church to be one, as he and the Father are one. This should be our focus. We start by not being divided within ourselves. Even St. Peter (the first Pope) had his faults and denied the Lord. Yet, he was the "rock" that Jesus said he would build his church on. He was even married. If our Lord can accept and forgive each of us with all of our imperfections (and He does), then we must try to do the same, too.

      June 6, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  8. Jack

    In the Catholic Church, scripture is highly revered. Indeed, the Church gave us the Bible. Protestants eliminated some books that they decided were not worthy. However, many people do not realize or understand the fact that from the beginning of the Church, scripture and tradition were equally valued. Much that is in the Bible was first in the form of oral tradition. Some Catholic beliefs are more tradition-based, than scripture-based, but this does not mean those beliefs are any less valid. If every copy of the Bible was to disappear, we would still have Christianity. The Word exists outside of time and space, as well as on earth. The reality of the Risen Lord is not dependent on any of man's writings. He is present in his body, which is the Church (community of believers). He is present in the Holy Eucharist, which really is his body and blood (transubstantiation). He is present within each human being, in some fashion. All of this is done by the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, He promised to remain with us until the "end of the age."

    June 5, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Annunaki3600

      That is not true, the protestant Church did not give the World the Lent (it followed it), the Protestant Church did not give the World Christmas (by saving face and trying to keep the Winter solstice in check, or the Feast of Saturnalia, it was the Catholic Church under Constantine trying to keep his empire together which allow this, and if you dig deeper, you just may find out that the majority of those corrupt bishops had a Bishop murdered to keep the status quo. . It is the Catholic or I should was the Catholic Church which branded Newton, Galileo both heretics, many other things can be found in this which were not part of the Holy Scriptures period.
      Read the Two Babylons,

      June 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  9. SearchingForAnAtheistExtremist

    Anyone who says the bible is the word of god is proving the point.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  10. Charlie

    To atheists: as an atheist myself, I agree that these religious works are the products of man. However, to relegate them to mere bronze age folk stories is a huge mistake in my opinion. These aren't just the products of men, they are some of the GREATEST works of men. Many of the greatest minds in the history of civilization have contributed, in one way or another, to these works of literature. I see it more than anything as a lens into humanity, a display of the best and worst in us. There is both wisdom and ignorance in these books, but to say they're worthless is a huge mistake.

    To the religious: I'm not going to try to bash you or try to convince you of anything. All I'll say is that from what I've read here, many of you sound as though you think you know exactly how this world and "the next" work. I think that part of truly accepting religion (as a person who was once very religious and is still interested in how it affects people) is also accepting that this world and especially "the next" are beyond our understanding. To say you could understand even part of the workings of the being that purportedly created the universe and controls every facet of it just seems egotistical. I don't mean to come off the wrong way, but I can assure you that we all want to know how the world works. Part of being human is that we don't.

    I feel awkward writing this, but after reading many of the comments on here I felt like I had to speak my mind.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Bboy705

      OKay Charlie, I was wrong to suggest religious books should be burned... to all here I apologize for suggesting such nonsense. Burning books, any books, is a really, really stupid thing to suggest. But please can't we drop the whole stupid idea that there is a phantom god creature out there somewhere? I mean really!

      June 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  11. Mark

    The article was actually not bad until you get to the bottom. Why on earth did you put in that crap from "Kevin Dunn" along with all the other biblical misquotes? Everyone else in the article was providing real examples of incorrect assumtions in the bible and then all of a sudden you've got this Dunn guy claiming the entire premise for Genesis is wrong.
    There was no "apple" mentioned in Genesis but Dunn mostly seems to be advertising his own agenda rather then pointing out fact. He claims that Satan has nothing to do with Genesis and that is simply not true. I suppose he's counting on the fact that most people will read his testimony and believe it without bothering to check for themselves.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Ash

      The Jews don't believe in Hell, or Satan (as anything other than the dark tendencies of human kind), so why do you presume to think a book written by them would say anything about it, if it wasn't was they thought or believed? You are just reading from a Christian interpretation.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  12. Ash

    LOL I am so glad I don't have to deal with Christians like the ones on this board anymore...though still vibrant and influencing, they are a dying breed, THANK GOD!

    June 5, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • HenryO

      Like some others on this board, you are absolutely wrong. Christianity is striving worldwide and increasing in numbers dramatically. You, as an atheist may WISH Christianity was dying, but the true point is, atheism is dying, and I thank God for that.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  13. Bboy705

    Somewhere there should be a verse like "burn the Bible, the Qumran and all other religious books and grow up! Start using reason and logic and stop relying on the writings of bronze aged people who knew so little that they thought the world was flat!" Isn't it about time humanity really left the bronze age and entered the 21st century?

    June 5, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  14. Brian T

    And here's another one I hear often: "God doesn't make mistakes."

    But of course he does. He's only human, right? We're all made in his image, thus God is human, and prone to mistakes.

    Need proof? Look no further than Genesis and his first few days on the job. Adam was the first man, but Eve was not the first woman. I can't remember what was wrong with the first one He made, maybe she had three breasts and talked too much, but God decided to erase and start over. Big mistake.

    People get their bibles mixed up all the time.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • HenryO

      God is human? Oh boy, do you have a lot to learn.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Brian T

      I do have a lot to learn, but God is definitely human. It's the only way the whole bible thing makes sense. Word of God, written by humans, thus God is human.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  15. Hans

    To settle the whole "the Bible doesn't say that the serpent is Satan" argument. It does, in Revelation 20:2:

    "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

    June 5, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Ash

      It's called post script. Revelations was written hundreds, if not a few thousand years after Genesis. I can write a book today that say Clinton or Bush was Satan, but that doesn't mean they actually are. Now, if we had caught them performing ceremony or killing virgins, we might be able to say so!

      June 5, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  16. Carl A. Patton


    Greetings Brethren,

    Peace be unto you. It is a tragic day upon this earth that our God created to see the ungodly hearts of so many people. Sadly many of these people are in the Church. We bear witness that we have confronted naysayers, Censors etc. for over 40 years.

    For the record the greatest opposition to the Truth of God from our experiences has come among those in the Church. Also many Churches that practice Christianity do not welcome those that bow to God and not man and the world.

    Are many of the established Churches of today that claim to speak for God established on false doctrine that resulted from the failed Reformation? Therefore those that profess a love for God should know the history of the Church if not they will be confused.

    This is why so many people embrace false doctrine and don’t even realize it.

    FreedomJournal Press

    June 5, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Ash

      Weren't you supposed to be raptured on the 21st? Jeez...i though I was getting 5 months of peace without you.

      June 5, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  17. Monte montierth

    The serpent is a metiphore for the devil like the dragon in revelation.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Ash

      "I believe the bible is the LITERAL word of GOD! But um, here, here, here, there and there, I think what he MEANT to say was satan..."

      June 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  18. Dee

    To the person - Read the Whole Book - who responded to my comment about the Sabbath is Saturday, Jesus was telling the pharises they were hypocrites. They were gathering grain to make a meal for themselves for that day. We as God's children are to do His work on the Sabbath. As for your statement that the Sabbath can be any day of the week, well, my friend, that's what satan wants you to believe. Any preacher who has told you that is doing satan's work. I don't care what Bible college he/she may have gone to, but they are teaching false gospel. Unfortunately, there are many false teachers who says they are a man/woman of God. There's nothing in the Bible that says the Sabbath was changed. There are a number of different sabbaths that the Jews honor but there's only one Sabbath as a day of rest and that is Saturday. God says so, not man, so, my friend, who will you honor, who will you follow?

    June 5, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  19. gts

    Book of Amaments 2:9-21

    ...And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the LORD did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large... And the LORD spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it." Amen.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Bboy705

      And Lo HE hath spoken... LOL

      June 5, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  20. joe bltzfk

    If your scholars are saying that the serpent in Gen. 3:1 is not Satan, they are right in verbiage, however, have them please explain Rev. 12:9 where it states that the great dragon, the original serpent, the one called the Devil and Satan was hurled down, how is the original serpent not the serpent, in a figurative sense, not Satan.
    Remember, scholars and church officials burned honest-hearted people at the stake for reading scripture in the middle ages.
    Come to think of it, they also hung a perceived evil-doer on a stauros, crux(Greek, Latin?) because he was accused of heresy. They did this in an illegal trial.
    His name was, is, Jesus.
    Do you want to burn honest-hearted people at the stake for reading scripture?
    Yes, some get it wrong, but correcting them with LOVE is far better than beating them into submission.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Chris

      He doesn't actually say it can't be Satan, it's just that it isn't said that it is. Also, points for quoting a book of the Bible written LONG after Genesis and only included in the final text as a means to scare people.

      June 5, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Ash

      Even people way back when were trying to interpret things the way we wanted them...look to what the earliest people in Abramic Religions thought...look to the Jews and what they believed concerning the Devil and Hell...(they didn't believe in either!)

      June 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158
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.