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. James Black


    June 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  2. Christian

    About Satan as the serpent in the garden of Eden, the bible clearly mentions satan as the "old serpent" in the book of revelation in the new testament, which indicates that it was really Satan that tempted eve.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Chris

      You're stretching... Also, please note that the book of Revelations was written LONG after Genesis and added in by the Church to scare believers.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Mei

      Don't listen to Chris. I'm sure God, Who is not limited by human time and history, would realize what would be written in the Book of Genesis and later in Revelation. Most conservative biblical scholars see Genesis not in literal terms, but rather as a story which God relates to His people.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Monty

      I agree with Christian. What most people fail to see is that the books were written over a span of thousands of years. As a result of that the writers can only write from what they know and their perspective. If one truly studies the scriptures, what they see is that more and more information is being revealed to us. As we continue to experience God and learn, we continue to learn more things and our perspective changes. Case in point. In Genesis 3, when their punishment comes down, vs 13 talks about how the serpent will be on his belly and eat dust. But in vs 14 it transitions to "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed, He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel." This is the first reference to Jesus Christ coming into the world. It just that the writer of Gen had no idea about the ultimate plan for salvation. Because it had not been revealed in it's entirety at that time. I don't have enough space to thoroughly explain this but if one studies the scriptures, it's very clear that satan wants to do battle with the children of God. Whether you believe that or not is up to you. But the scriptures make it very clear that it was Satan who tempted Eve through the serpant in the garden. Which again is nothing new because the scriptures record how Satan used David and used Judas Iscariot to accomplish his purpose.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • maxximus

      Yes, Revelation 12:9 speaks of the "old serpent" and the original Greek can actually be translated as "the original serpent" so it's not a stretch at all. Plus those who argue this point would still agree that the serpent's statements to Eve would be the first lie and at John 8:44 Jesus calls Satan the father of the lie. At the very least you would have to concede the likelihood that Satan arranged the whole thing.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  3. 2truth

    The true evil is ideology, not religion. One may worship and not hurt anyone.
    Nazism, Communism, the Roman Empire have destroyed the lives of millions of people and other living creatures with their ideology.
    Now, the latest ideology is "Democracy" which has killed many in Iraq and Afganistan.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Mei

      Good point!

      June 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  4. David

    Any time someone quotes the bible, you should always demand a citation and read the verses before and after for context. I disregard any passage "from the bible" if the person can not show me where it is from.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Colin

      You should have left off the rider and I would have agreed w/ you.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • JT

      Anytime someone quotes the bible you should laugh in their face.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • VastlyAmused

      I think the rider is quite appropriate. People have quoted one-liners all the time, but then cannot tell me any more than "it's in the Bible!". Go back to that George Carlin routine about Peter's betrayal and a word that means two different things and you'll know what I mean.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • burgeee

      how often do people quote you the bible?

      June 5, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  5. Judith

    The KJV, of the many Bibles, has been a very popular version in the English speaking world, but there are other Bibles that are older than the KJV. They don't all read the same. The Catholics use a Bible that is different than what is commonly called the Protestant Bible; KJV or other current Bibles. Their Bibles have 11 of the 14 books of the Septuagint that are not found in the Hebrew Bible. At early count, there were over 200 translations of The Bible. It seems the concept involved is more important than the exact wording.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  6. asu

    "There is no God"-Me

    June 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  7. Bill

    I don't see the relevance to this at all except that people never remember anything correctly. It follows that, since the bible (any version) was writtent by a bunch of monks from around 800AD to 1300AD, that not much of anything relating to historical fact is correct in the bible so it follows it is a bit of a morality guidebook and not much more. None of these fellows writing the bible passages were either worldly, knowledgable of real factual or scientific information or well educated (outside of religous instruction) and wrote in an era where folks still believed that cats were connected to the devil and eliminated them, bringing on the great plague. Ignorance of the facts or reaility is always our downfall.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  8. Pam

    I am wondering why this article was written. We have seen results of a survey conducted previously that shows how ignorant we "Christians" are. That is old news. But this article seems to repeat that, but with it's own flaws. While we Christians are criticized in the article for not knowing our Bible, what are we to do? At the end, we're told by Craig Hazen, that we all get it wrong anyway. So, we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't? Damned only by our fellow humans, and that is not my concern. I know that "...God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." I hope and pray that all can see that for what it is.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  9. Glasgow Self Hypnotherapy

    All alleged divine books and scripture from organised religions are human inspired: just like how language changes and-

    -evolves over millennia offering different meanings. Non-divine humans invented and created the bible, thus they're still-

    -adapting it to this day to fit their needs.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  10. Lairbear

    This is my opinion…those that are religious have been quoting their bible quotes, for the past 2000 years or more. The bible is your only defense, which is full of quotes that say one thing is ok and then later, the same thing is NOT ok.
    Innocent people die each day on this earth...According to the bible, they died because of someone's sin(s) or whatever labels you put on such chaotic events.
    Just look at all the wars that have occurred in the name of God.
    When you to pray to God for healing prayer and when there’s no healing, again you pray to God for the answer, why didn’t God heal me? Or why God will not grow new limbs that have been amputated from ones body.
    That answer will come in God’s time, right?
    I think the bible is a bunch of words/quotes to scare people into believing.
    Non believers go to hell?
    In the early days in Spain, the Catholics killed many that did not convert or believe, if I’m not mistaken.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  11. mcore

    The creation story in Genesis – including the "Apple" story – is a retelling of several earlier creation myths that were prevalent in Mesopotamia at the time. The main difference is that the Hebrew version recognizes one god over the many that went before. Startling to some, perhaps. But true.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  12. ihl0700

    He said "scriptures said..". It is not necesarily mean that he is quoting a verse literaly. "This, too, shall pass" might refer to the conclusion of many biblical story like Exodus, Babylonian exile, etc. He points out that God will help him to overcome his difficulties, just like in the biblical stories.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  13. Aften

    By the way Mr. Blake, William Cowper is a 18th century poet. He died in 1800. Might help your credibility if you cite poets and their time periods correctly.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Nate

      The 1800's were the 19th Century....The 1900's were the 20th century and the 2000's are the 21st century....duh

      June 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Aften

      But he DIED in 1800, which means he lived in the 1700's, which means he was an 18th century poet. Duh.

      June 5, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  14. Jonathon

    The Bible never explicitly states a lot of things, that are still held to be true by Christians. The Bible never mentions "The Trinity" yet it is present throughout the Bible. When Jesus Christ is baptized in Matthew 3:13-17, the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) descends like a dove and a voice from heaven said "This is my son with whom I am well pleased" (said by God the Father). There are many other examples like this, and it shows the need to read the text holistically. You can't just pick out one verse that you do or don't see, and use it to prove a point, everything needs to be read in context.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Joshua

      That just seems like a risky way of justifying ANY interpretation, though, because you can carefully weave together an interpretation however you see fit, and scripture could ultimately be used to justify any behavior at all. There has to be a line drawn somewhere, or it becomes utterly meaningless.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  15. Lilly White

    ..........American freedom baby , thats where it's at ........... Genocide , slavery and Jesus

    June 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Boruch N. Hoffinger

      Very interesting article.
      There is VERY MUCH ignorance about 'The Torah' (So-called 'Old Testament).
      For instance: 'Ayiin tachet ayin,' "An eye for an eye," is often misunderstood as
      How can this be?
      Why would G-d say "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus, 'Vayikra') in one place then preach, command or espouse, revenge?
      Also, not knowing 'Loshone HaKodesh' ('The Holy Tongue', 'Hebrew') leads one to mistranslate this idea. A special word is used in place of the known one.
      Kindly check out, search: 'The 7 Noahide Laws' for fascinating reading, much study, and the solution to the world's problems.
      Contact me: bhoffinger@aol.com

      June 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  16. Ethan

    Actually that is in the Bible....spare the rod spoil the child.... This is found in proverbs 13:24, it does not say that as a quote, but it is the lesson that is being taught, and that is the point of the bible. The reason many do not like the bible or want it to be true is basically that they are to lazy to learn from it, or to ignorant. The bible is a book that teaches as Jesus did but it will only teach the ones that are willing to make the effort to find its vast knowledge!!!

    June 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Eloisa

      just shut up.. you sound stupid.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • wkh

      I guess you didn't read the article then, because that is not what the quote actually says at all. I'm disappointed the article doesn't get into the debate about what the phrase "spare the rod" actually means.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • ladiedragonfli

      The New King James version states Proverbs 13:24-'He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him properly'...meaning, give your child everything without ever disciplining them, shows them you'd rather spoil them then love them...

      June 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  17. Faux Paws

    If I see one more frickin butterfly, I'm goin to puke.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  18. Lord Cthulhu

    God helps those who helps themselves is older than Ben Franklin. It actually comes from a Roman parable about Hercules. It started as "The GODS help those who help themselves".

    June 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Judith

      Thank you for pointing out just how petty and inaccurate this author has been. A simple search for: "Origin of God helps those who help themselves" was very well covered in Wikipedia of all places (and yes I know- take Wiki with a grain of salt). It says:
      "The phrase originated in ancient Greece, occurring as the moral to one of Aesop's Fables, and later in the great tragedy authors of ancient Greek drama. It has been commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, however the modern English wording appears earlier in Algernon Sidney's work."

      June 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  19. MeatyPortion

    So we're arguing about misquotes in a book of myths. Outstanding.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  20. Muneef

    [7:26] O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of GOD's signs, that they may take heed.

    [7:27] O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.

    [7:28] They commit a gross sin, then say, "We found our parents doing this, and GOD has commanded us to do it." Say, "GOD never advocates sin. Are you saying about GOD what you do not know?"

    [7:29] Say, "My Lord advocates justice, and to stand devoted to Him alone at every place of worship. You shall devote your worship absolutely to Him alone. Just as He initiated you, you will ultimately go back to Him."

    [7:30] Some He guided, while others are committed to straying. They have taken the devils as their masters, instead of GOD, yet they believe that they are guided.

    [7:31] O children of Adam, you shall be clean and dress nicely when you go to the masjid. And eat and drink moderately; Surely, He does not love the gluttons.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Muneef

      22:52. We did not send before you any messenger, nor a prophet, without having the devil interfere in his wishes. GOD then nullifies what the devil has done. GOD perfects His revelations. GOD is Omniscient, Most Wise.*

      22:53. He thus sets up the devil's scheme as a test for those who harbor doubts in their hearts, and those whose hearts are hardened. The wicked must remain with the opposition.

      22:54. Those who are blessed with knowl- edge will recognize the truth from your Lord, then believe in it, and their hearts will readily accept it. Most assuredly, GOD guides the believers in the right path.

      22:55. As for those who disbelieve, they will continue to harbor doubts until the Hour comes to them suddenly, or until the retribution of a terrible day comes to them.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Muneef

      [5:90] O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and the altars of idols, and the games of chance are abominations of the devil; you shall avoid them, that you may succeed.

      [5:91] The devil wants to provoke animosity and hatred among you through intoxicants and gambling, and to distract you from remembering GOD, and from observing the Contact Prayers (Salat). Will you then refrain?

      June 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
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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.