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. Spunky Ferret

    I remember a picnic; a bunch of strangers got into an odd discussion about zombies. Some thought that zombies walked with hands in front of them, others that zombies walked with arms at their sides. A pleasant conversation, with pleasant folks.

    Strangely, we talked as if one of us would run into a zombie in the next week or so, take note of arm position, and email us to let us know the solution to our zombie confusion. Hmmmm.....

    June 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • This is...

      ...a perfect analogue. 🙂

      June 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  2. Bill

    At least it was a quote from a living being, most of the bible was word to mouth information. Middle east people are great in story telling and exaggerations.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  3. Ali K.

    I have a feeling Jon Wesley got the "Cleanliness of Godliness" quote from Islam.

    Narrated Abû Mâlik Al-Hârith bin Âsim Al-Ash’ari: Allah’s Messenger said, “Cleanliness is half of Faith..."

    (I didn't quote the whole thing)

    June 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  4. Farhan

    "God helps those who help themselves" is a teaching of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Benjamin Franklin, being a well-read man, was familiar with Islam's teachings and owned a copy of the Qur'an.

    Moreover, that Satan was in fact in the Garden of Eden and caused Adam and Eve to be sent out through his temptation is also in the Qur'an. Satan challenged God by vowing to lead as many of God's new creation (mankind) astray as possible. Islam states that those who believe in God and follow His teachings will return to Adam and Eve's initial home - heaven.

    The author of this blog post should consider that other world religions have also contributed to the religious discourse in America and that some commonly held beliefs find their origins in other faiths.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • John Richardson

      The fact that Satan is overtly mentioned as in the Garden of Eden in the Koran simply means that Mohammed probably just appropriated some early Christian corruption of the story. No surprise there, Texts do have histories and the original myth had probably already been corrupted when it first appeared in earliest Hebrew texts.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  5. Name*T.

    GENESIS 3:1-7. The King James Bible I says a serpent was more "subtil than any beast in the field..." and was the tempter. That is not a made up story whether one chooses to believe it or not.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Newsjoke

      Subtil? Really, I always thought it was subtle, but hey, I may be wrong.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  6. John Richardson

    "All things must pass" was the album ti-tle by George Harrison's first post-Beatles album. I had always as-sumed, given George's fondness for eastern thought and the Buddhist doctrines of impermanence, that the quote had come out of some Buddhist text. And look what I found on a "Buddhist tours" webpage about the city where Buddha died: "This is also the place where Lord Buddha preached his last sermon and said, "All things must pass. Decay is inherent in all things"."

    June 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  7. Shelnutt

    No books of the Bible were written while Jesus was alive, which makes the saying: "I guess you had to be there" very relevant. In our case, none of us were there. Many people read books that are supposed to contain truth, however truth does not sell books which is why Revelations was chosen to be the final chapter of a very long book. I'm not knocking the message of Christ, but the few that do follow it are drowned out by the millions who do not.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  8. Jesus

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkXOwBIRX7Y&w=480&h=390%5D

    June 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Newsjoke

    Does it actually surprise anyone that most people misquote the Bible? People misquote everything, so of course they'll misquote the Bible, I'm sure there's millions of muslims that misquote the Quran. Most people are just idiots that like sounding more intelligent than they are, so they "Quote" Scripture, or Shakespeare, or anything else they can think of at that moment that might make them sound smart. It's generally vanity that drives us to misquotes.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  10. Spud J Dog

    it's all blarney.............fairy tales for adults

    June 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  11. Megan

    I'm unsure why both sides get so enflamed by religion. I am a Christian, but am not offended that other people don't believe as I do. Who is to say I am right...that is why it is faith. All religions are beautiful, whether correct or not. It is how they are used that presents problems.

    Furthermore, why does it bother non-believers so much that some choose to follow Christianity. I appreciate your reservations....I have many questions myself. However, that really shouldn't lead to such aggressive and rude remarks. A better solution would be to create a sensible dialogue between people, kind of like what this article tried to do, but which people on both sides of the argument are so biased it ultimately always devolves into name calling.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Spud J Dog

      All religions are NOT beautiful, some are hateful and violent. Mankind would be to the stars by now if religion had not wasted so much energy, productivity, and life. Religion spoils everything.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • helpurise

      Well put, Megan.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Megan

      Perhaps you are right. All should be supplanted with most religions are beautiful. But I do not think that that necessarily means that religion spoils everything. If people were not fighting about religion, they would inevitably be fighting about something else. Many "religious wars" have really just been a means of cloaking ulterior motives for fighting, whether they be for money, power, land, etc (ex. the crusades). Religion does not ruin everything...people ruin everything, whether they are religious or not.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • aerie

      I care and get p i s s ed because x tians are steadily and heavily trying to legislate their own brand of mo ral ity. Their ultimate goal is Xtian theo cracy, so yeah...I'll be silent no longer.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Yuri Pelham

      It doesn't matter so much what people believe; how they have is what counts. Suicide bombers and beheaders are evil despite their religion.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Megan

      Aerie. I fully appreciate why this upsets you. This country is wonderful because it was founded on the principal that everyone should enjoy the same rights and freedoms, no matter what religions. I am a strong supporter of the premise that while I have my own personal convictions about things, that does not mean everyone shares them, thus our government should allow people to make their own choices, within bounds. Obviously there must be some agreed upon bounds of morality, otherwise there would be anarchy. It is true that Christians have long made up the majority and so have long had the heaviest influence on policy, BUT as the law is trial and error, I believe we are slowly trying to get to a better place for everyone. The fact that people are discussing issues, such as gay rights, that they wouldn't have previously even thought of shows progress.

      Yes, there are many Christians out there who believe that our government should be only God-inspired. But it is unfair to place that upon an entire religion. The real target should be that subsection, not the whole group.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  12. Adrianne

    This is disappointing. It took me less than five minutes to look up one of the verses and it was there. John Blake, I can tell that you didn't take the time to look up any of these verses for yourself. Do that and then read the article that you wrote again. It's not accurate. You may want to look at different versions of the bible, King James, NIV, Amplified and the Message bible. You may want to start with "spare the rod spoil the child" and see what you find. Gone are the days when journalists actually do research.

    June 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • helpurise

      I agree.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Donna


      June 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Chris

      Please share with us the "Quote" from the bible, but first look up and see how to define a quote.

      June 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  13. darte

    Which bible?
    Old Testament, New Testament, King James, ect.......

    June 5, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  14. Donna

    Anyway, the way I see it clearly, this article was yet another ploy to discredit the infallible word of God,'the Holy Scriptures', it was a one sided article with a hidden message and intent to harm those who practice Christianity and who base their entire belief that so called 'religion' church doctrine and the Roman Catholic church system harm the invisible church, and in fact have killed the bride of Christ for reading and choosing to follow Jesus alone, and His Holy word. We will never be deceived into a One World Church order, ever!!!

    The scriptures are the only infallible words and teachings that this bride of Christ will follow.

    Not so for the billions who never read the bible themselves, but who blindly follow the Pope and its Roman Catholic church system building and false Mary worship, praying to dead people, and bowing to idol doctrine.

    Therefore, even if you keep writing these articles with the obvious intent to discredit the scriptures, Protestants, and the martyrs killed by the Roman church for following the words of the Savoir and not a liar, so be it. The truth will be known and every knee will bow and acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ and His sovereignty as God the Son.

    Romans 14:11"For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God."

    I don't see the Roman Catholic Church or the Pope in this clear statement of truth, and nor will I ever, and honestly, do any of you?

    June 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Ogre

      Donna: "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God."

      This really sounds more like something that your egotistical "Satan" character would say. Demanding worship - pffft.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Megan

      this article doesn't discredit the word...it discredits people who misquote and misinterpret it. No one says there is one clear correct interpretation, but there are certainly ways in which one can wrongly interpret the Bible

      June 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Donna

      ps. I am not bashing catholic's before anyone accuses me of this. I have family that are catholic. But, the system is corrupt, and the head of it does not follow the clear teaching of God's word. But, noone has an excuse for blindly following any system without checking it out by the scriptures first.

      Mathew 15:14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
      Luke 6:39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?

      June 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Yuri Pelham

      I don't see how the word of God is discredited. It pokes fun at people who are Bible adherents and who have never read or studied this great book. The same type of ignorance which has resulted in the election of our current public officials.
      Jesus is upset that we are giving lip service to his message. It's very disrespectful. He'd rather be ignored than experience the disrespect inherent in our hypocracy. And you Catholics out there, Jesus did not support the Inquisition nor the pedophilia coverup. He has a sweet spot for Unitarians and other kind peaceful people.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Linda Gulley

      The great thing is that it doesn't matter whether any of it is in the bible or not because the bible is a myth anyway. Anyone who would let a book make decisions for them needs mental help.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  15. t banick

    i heard an excellent statement last nite about the question "How could a loving God send people to hell. Many do not believe in a hell or a God. The statement was God does not send people to hell, they simply will arrive in a dark place separated from God that they were heading all their lives. God will not force you to choose him, you get the consequences of what you desired all along. The bible and the misinterpretation of it is a consequence of people choosing to ignore God and make it fit their lifestyle.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Yuri Pelham

      sounds plausible. hell is alienation from God. No relationship in this life.. maybethats a consequence, or maybe you are reincarnated and you get to try again.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Linda Gulley

      The great thing is that it doesn't matter whether any of it is in the bible or not because the bible is a myth anyway. Anyone who would let a book make decisions for them needs mental help.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  16. Oceloxochitl

    Two things.
    "This too shall pass," is from a story. There was a great king of Persia who worried that he might get too proud, but he also didn't want to become too humble to lead. He called his Grand Vizier to him and explained the problem. The Grand Vizier (or magician) brought to him a ring and on the inside was inscribed the words, "This, too, shall pass." And so the great king could remember that no matter what, his pride would be temporary... and alos his feeling so fhumbleness.

    b) The butterfly... what a nice interruption of our scheduled snarl. Thank you, James. I enjoyed it very much.


    June 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  17. James Black


    June 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  18. TOM

    CNN has started a mantra of posting these quasi non-meaningful religious articles on SUNDAYS. Dumpster diving.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  19. Colin

    Christianity – the belief that god impregnated a virgin with himself, so he could give birth to himself, then sacrifice himself to himself to negate a rule that he himself made.

    Would anything so silly as the Bible survive if it was written after the dark ages?

    June 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Josh

      Whenever Religion is discussed in the media, one can always count on seeing replies and injections such as yours Colin. I am curious as to what benefit you believe there is to you and others by saying things like this?

      June 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Colin

      Josh, to point out, in a concise manner, one of the fundamental flaws with Christianity. The end game is to open minds and have people question some of the nonsense they have been taught since childhood.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Ivan

      I feel sorry for you. You should read the Bible slowly so you yourself can understand simple basic info. In the Bible it is mentionjed that Jehovah God send he's son Jesus to earth to sacrifice he's life for us. You over used the word "himself" for nothing my friend. You thought you were being smart but on the contrary, you are dumb. Jehovah and Jesus are two different beings. NOT ONE. Read the Bible before you post a ridiculous comment my friend.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Interesting that you totally dodged the salient and concise points that -Colin made, and went after his 'intentions.'


      Hmmm... Isn't the God of the Bible a "trinity" as in 1 God, that has 3 facets that are really all the same, but just different expressions of "himself"...?

      Seems that -Colin's statements were spot-on, as far as I can see, unless you could further elaborate on more specifics, as to how exactly he is 'wrong'...?



      June 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  20. Steve

    Adults with imaginary friends are stupid.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Sean

      Don't you mean "enlightened' ?

      June 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
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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.