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. Enlightenment

    (Leviticus 19:28) Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

    (Leviticus 20:13) If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    I quoted the second one from the same book, in case you don't believe the tattoo statement in the bible yet believe gays will go to hell. Quit cherry-picking what you like from the bible.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Zipper

      "Quit cherry-picking things that were written by man in the first place."


      June 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  2. Miguel

    How about Apocalypsis 12:9: and 20:2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:2; Rev.12:9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • N10ZT

      I'm not sure if I understand what you are trying to say here but I thought I would note that the book Apocalypse appears in the original Greek rather than Revelation. The name of the book is more accurately translated as the Apocalypse of John since Apocalypse in the Greek does not mean destruction, as it can commonly be used in English, but rather Revelation. If you are quoting verses from two different texts the reason they could be the same. The word Apocalypse could be translated as destruction and cataclysm but I would say that this meaning is probably chosen due to the content of the book rather than the definition of the word, however, the actual Greek translation is the reason for the book being named Revelation in most English translations of the Bible today. Revelation of John and Apocalypse of John should, unless someone has written book outside the common canonical books by the same name, actually be the same book.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  3. paul

    I used to be disgusted,now Im just amused! Ohh the unbelievable ignorance of the unbeliever, and so called believer alike is so overwhelmingly amusing here at CNN belief. Many are called,but few are chosen, yes it is in the Bible, Jesus said it,but It really does not matter at this time.someday when were all dead we are all going to stand accountable for what we said, done, and thought.Lets just eat drink and be merry,we will all worry about our souls another day. Ignorance is bliss.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • EJL

      Or not.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Nacho1

      You are right Paul......and all humanity will know exactly what you did right and what you did wrong.................we will all be exposed one day................each and every one of us.............I, of course, am not happy with this thought because if ANYONE on earth has sinned against the bible and its teachings it would probably be me...............I have followed the 10 Commandments but I have also strayed.................

      June 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Jim


      June 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Ignorance is bliss""".

      Then you must be a very happy man.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  4. Andy

    \spare the rod and spoil the child ... bible references pretty close to the expression

    Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently)."
    Prov 19:18: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying."
    Prov 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
    Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."
    Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel)."
    Prov 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."

    June 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not the same in meaning or in spirit.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • alex

      I read that in 2 Hesitations 4:3.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Scott

      Well, no wonder my very christian mother was so abusive. It explains a lot

      June 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  5. opinion8it

    If anything, the bible teaches us that Republicans are not practicing Christians.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Nope

      Great logic.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  6. 3N1Amen

    Also, pray and ask God to reveal Himself as you read and study His Word. He is truly an amazing and wonderful God and will reveal Himself to you IF you will open your heart up and allow Him to be a part of your life.


    June 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Oso

      I was a pillar in my church for years, my "faith" was strong. I prayed every day over many things.
      There were no answers to any prayers, no communications from any god, and Jesus is just a happy-faced delusion to make you into a gullible idiot.
      I prayed for the truth and my eyes were opened to the lies within the Bible big-time. Was that an answer to my prayers?
      No, it was just me looking harder and thinking harder. No god exists but in your own fantasies.
      Your brain is wired to reinforce delusional behavior. Schizophrenia should not be possible in a universe where a real god exists, yet it exists, along with billions of other things that prove the non-existence of your god.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  7. David

    Hi everyone!

    the bible is not just a book of knowledge or historical facts. read what the Lord Jesus told the Pharisees:

    John 5:39-40: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

    when we read the Bible, we come in prayer to contact the Lord Jesus! Come to Him!

    June 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Jacob

      Very little of what's in the Bible has been verified through historical records.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  8. 3N1Amen

    Study yourselves people...
    I myself prefer the closest to the original with a King James study application Bible. When a preacher preaches, study along in your Bible. Keep your eyes on Jesus, not man.

    And make sure you do not add or take away from His Word...the Bible.

    God bless you!

    June 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  9. J KIm

    >>“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.

    That's a hilarious quote, I just had to laugh out loud. Craig Hazen is either very misguided or intentionally misleading. The fact was, there was NO guidance given, NO dissemination of Bible text that led to the Reformation. To infer that highly trained scholars used to guide individuals through Bible text is a baldfaced falsity that ignores the facts of true history. What kind of a pseudo-reality is this person living in...?!!!

    June 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  10. Doug

    You'd have to be pretty dumb to think most of these came from the Christian bible. But then again, we are talking about the USA.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Veritas

      Look, 45% of Americans don't "believe" in evolution. People in this nation are more stupid than any European or Asian nation. We're a nation of ignorant delusional religious nuts. It's really quite sad...

      June 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  11. J.R.

    Screw the Bible. I believe in SCIENCE – the faith that is right in front of you.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • seriously8

      By science I'm assuming you are talking about evolution which is nothing more than a theory...So what are you getting at? You are the making fun of people who believe (what you think is a theory) in The Bible yet you yourself believe in a theory. Makes Sense...

      June 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • alex

      Why would belief in science and the Bible be at odds? Science speaks of degrees of probability. The miracles in the Bible are possible and could be explained scientifically. They just would be highly improbable to happen on their own. Now if a being that surpassed several dimensions was guiding these events, that would make it more probable.
      Keep in mind that many of the great pioneers in science were also devout Christians (Newton, Decartes, etc.)

      June 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • geckopelli

      Science isn't a belief.
      It's a Description of That Which is Observed.
      Belief has nothing to do with it.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • LeenGirl

      J.R., I agree with you 100%.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Veritas

      Evolution is a proven theory. Ask any biologist.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  12. alex

    The problem is that most people read the Bible in small doses rather than large chunks, so they proof-text verses and miss the bigger narrative.
    I don't agree that people who informally study the Bible will misinterpret it. The big ideas are easy to understand when read as a whole. The hard part is the application.
    Furthermore, many scholars grossly misinterpret the Bible.
    Ever hear of Bultmann? World-class scholar and completely contorted the interpretation of Scripture to fit existentialism.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Marc

      Yeah, its hard to misinterpret stuff like this. The bible is crazy. Just admit you believe in something irrational and move on.

      All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)

      For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. (KJV)

      June 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • alex

      @Marc: see my earlier comments about proof-texts then read the entire Pentateuch. Think why family unity would be critical for the survival of a new community in the ancient near east. How does this compare with the cultural norms and laws of similar societies? It's pretty ignorant to pull out a passage meant for ancient Israel without understanding the context, then try to use that to discredit a much larger book written over hundreds of years.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Marc

      That was just an example of the crazy stuff that's in the bible (in context or out of context), and there is much, much more of it. Face it. What you believe in is saturated with craziness.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  13. Joe

    Also, while "God helps those who help themselves" may not exist in the Bible, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat" is in 2 Thes 3:10. God does ask us to help the helpless, but he also asks us to be responsible for ourselves.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • David

      the bible is not just a book of knowledge or historical facts. read what the Lord Jesus told the Pharisees:

      John 5:39-40: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

      when we read the Bible, we come in prayer to contact the Lord Jesus! Come to Him!

      June 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • antichristianleague

      Jesus never existed. "god" doesn't exist. When one reads the bible and mistakes it for truth, their brain cells shrivel with delusion and their whole lives become pointless.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  14. Nope

    >implying religion isn't killing society

    June 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  15. nashawn00

    yes, these quotes outside the bible has been there and a couple of things lost in translation...like cain's conversation with God after killing Abel.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Scott

      I like the part where Lot (god's good guy) knocks up his daughters after god destroys Sodom and Gamora because they are naughty people

      June 5, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  16. Smokey

    Most of these examples are so close to scripture that I really don't think it matters, but some are wrongly attributed. I think people know the Bible quite well, but over the years you have people who (for instance) base lines in a song loosely on scripture, re-arrange it slightly, that's how a lot of this muddling comes about.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  17. Josh

    Proverbs 13:24 He who spares his rod [of discipline] hates his son... A few translations say it as spoils his son. I take you just missed the few that people have proved you to be off on.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  18. 1163rieh

    To understand the Bible in it's original intent we need to understand the language it's is written in. Much is lost when it's translated but hopefully the true intent is still in tact. The Old testament points directly to the New testament and is incredibly interesting when studied with someone with who is trained.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Veritas

      The old testament is indeed interesting, especially the many parts justifying genocide, monetary compensation for r@pe, the benefits of owning slaves, !ncest, and just lots of insane violence on behalf on some hateful "god".

      June 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • alex

      @veritas – It's easy to criticize the Old Testament wearing the lens of a modern peaceful, democratic, society. However, when you compare it alongside other ancient Akkadian, Babylonian, etc manuscripts, that's where it stands out in its social justice, compassion, and mercy. In that sense, it points the way to the New Testament which would see the fulfillment of those values.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Scott

      By trained you mean properly indoctrinated and quotes the party line?

      June 5, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  19. iii

    muslims dont have like this in holy quran

    June 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Veritas

      The "quran" book sure has just as much irrational nonsense in it as does the "bible". Welcome to the real world when you're ready.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • JK

      No, but the Muslins that I know can't decide if something is good or bad unless it's in the Quran and lots of things are not. they ask the imam, and he says he doesn't know because it's not in the Quran. Where is the development of a moral sense happening when one can't tell right from wrong unless it's in a book, one that has a lot of unintelligible passages as well as some very clear ones that the Muslims just work around. For instance: The Quran says it's wrong to castrate a man. So, the Muslims paid someone else to castrate their slaves. A similar thing happens annually on the Jewish holiday when Jewish people are supposed to give up their worldly goods. They pay someone to take them for the holiday and then give them back. Both examples illustrate how being tied to rules rather than being moral and humane are misuse of religion and lead to much criticism of the religious and the religion, even though it's really not fair to blame the religion for the actions of those who profess it but behave hypocritically.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • IdiotslikeU

      Just more of the same babble as Christians. The greatest minds of our time have said there is NO God, so why are all of your fools still clinging to some imaginary creature that you have no idea exists, except in what is left of your delusional and scared mind?

      June 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Scott

      You mean the quarn dosen[t have problems like this one?

      "the only permissible war (in the Koran) is one of self-defense. Muslims may not begin hostilities (2:190)."

      "Let there be no compulsion in religion" Surah 2:256

      "Therefore expound openly what thou art commanded, and turn away from those who join false gods with Allah" Surah 15:94

      "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular Charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful"Surah 9:5

      June 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  20. Mark from Middle River

    I thought the Mormon article got a lot of attention 🙂

    June 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Oso

      All they have to do is keep it on the front page and the responses go into the thousands.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:41 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.