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. Chuck E.

    demons are lost for eternity.

    satan got himself kicked out of heaven because he was a loser and is still a loser.

    Losers hate suffering alone. They want to make others suffer with them.

    Praise Jesus Christ. Reject evil. Reject satan and his loser demons.

    There is only ONE God and that is Jesus Christ.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Walter Weinzinger

      ... AND God the Father to whom Jesus prayed and ascended to and is one with.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  2. Jacob

    Chuck demonstrates that religion is a haven for psychosis. Delusions of this kind indicate a serious mental illness and he needs help before he hurts himself or someone else.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  3. Nacho1

    God loves you all...........even with your pointy little heads and lack of finesse........................He loves you even though you don't believe in Him because He is forgiving........................but.................unfortunately..............I can smell your flesh burning now in the bowels of Hell...................good luck to you all.....................I am on my way to a mountain called Heaven.............there I will sit and look down upon your smoldering and rotting flesh way below the mountain................enjoy

    June 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Oso

      How wonderfully loving and tolerant. How polite and utterly rabidly insane.

      Too bad you don't know what the hell you're talking about, otherwise it might be interesting to discuss your delusions with you.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Zachary Brubaker

      In response to Nacho 1,

      This is why people "hate" Christians. When comments are made that are condemning like yours, then there is no wonder as to why people feel this way towards Christians. The first part of your statement was true, God does love all of us, but who are you to judge and condemn the people by being PRIDEFUL, which is a sin, and boasting that you are going to watch them burn. It's just heartbreaking. The Gospel of Jesus is to be shared in love, not disrespectful and ignorant comments like yours.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • grist

      Really, your god loves us. Then why would it burn us in hell? Not exactly a loving thing to do. And all for just not believing in it? Wow!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Uncle Fester

      "Pride goeth before a fall" and your pride in your own self-righteousness will condemn you, you sad fool.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • really?


      June 5, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Oso

      Zachary, consider it from our perspective: You are all brainwashed into a cult and it is heartbreaking to see the psychotic and distorted remnants of the original people you once were.
      I care for all of you even as I write insulting things because at that point I have given up any hope of making you see the truth.
      To me, you are all children who need help. Children who have been abused and bullied for so long that any rational discussion is an extremely rare thing in this blog.
      I hate the lies you have been brainwashed to believe are truth. I hate the fact that you would fight against the truth, preferring your lies over everything else.
      Christians and other religious believers have done great evil throughout human history. Evil based upon their religious beliefs.
      This is heartbreaking. Chuck e's rabid hate is only a symptom of the brainwashing he has received. It is typical, although not usually indulged in to this extent. It is a psychological reaction he is unable to control.
      I do not hate him. I hate what religion has done to him.
      Religion is lies, plain and simple. Your beliefs have no basis from which you can reason your way through life.
      All you have are some bits of folk wisdom mixed into a great mass of bloated lies, like diamonds in a cesspool.
      From my perspective, you are all very lost indeed. My wish is that you realize your errors and come to the honest truth instead of the lies that blind you.
      But you are blind, aren't you? I only typed this out to get it off my chest. No need to protest. Just realize what is really going on, that's all I ask of anyone anymore.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Scott

      If there is a heaven you will spend the rest of eternity in one long, boring church service

      June 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  4. William H.

    The Holy Spirit interprets scripture.
    Misguided men and women, ignoring the Truth, misinterpret scripture and knowingly or unknowingly make up their own.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Chuck E.

      There are believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

      Then there are those who merely appear to be "misguided" but are demonic in nature and intention.

      If anyone rejects Jesus Christ as God, that person is lost for eternity.

      Praise Jesus Christ. Thats all God wants from you.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  5. Chuck E.

    Know how demons can constantly persecute you? They have nothing else to do in their existence. They are lost for eternity to hell and hate Christians because Christians are saved and reserved for an eternity of peace and joy.

    Reject evil. Worship Jesus Christ.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I think Satan is possessing you, Chuck.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  6. Retired veteran

    John 3:16

    June 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Oh, how original!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  7. tina noelle

    Actually Chuck E. I have to lovingly disagree with you when you say Jesus is God. On two occasions, at Jesus baptism and when he went to the mountaintop and was transfigured, God said regarding Jesus that this is my son, in whom I am well pleased. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that the child she was going to have would be the son of God and when Jesus was asked how to pray, he did not say to pray to him but to pray to the Father, who art in Heaven.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Chuck E.

      demons are clever and twist God's Word and distort truth.

      Read the Holy Bible.

      God is a trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All are God.

      Have faith in Jesus Christ and worship him.

      The demons are lost for eternity and they want you to suffer along with them.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • purplepuppy

      Tina you have it somewhat correct, but that There is no Jesus Christ. He was Yeshua, Jesus means man horse, and is a Greek invention

      June 5, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Kay

      Actually, the Bible never refers to "the trinity". Yes, it refers to 3 things: the father, son and holy spirit...but nowhere does it say they're the same thing.

      For example, Matthew 3:16–17 says "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'" In other words, the voice of God speaking from heaven, a dove (the Holy Spirit) was sitting on Jesus' shoulder, and Jesus heard God introducing Jesus to the Holy Spirit (and/or anyone else present) as his son. But God most certainly did *not* introduce Jesus as being the same thing as Him.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Dennis Clough

      Your point shows that you have read the Bible and I would gather that since you correctly quote it, you view it as a reliable source of revelation regarding Jesus. All that's good from MPOV! I would suggest the best way to make sure we have the bible's message correct is to take all the scriptures on a given subject and compare them. For instance, Jesus is a man;true. Jesus is God; true. So I hope this scripture will be found helpful in your considering Christ's claim to be God;(context will show that it is God the Father speaking): 8 But to the Son He says: “ Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
      A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
      Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions. Hebrews 1:8 Hope this helps!

      August 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  8. Chuck E.

    Although satan and his loser demons are lost for eternity, they do know what God writes and will attempt to twist the truth.

    That is why you must worship God and read his word so you can reject the demon losers and their half truths and lies.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Chuck E! Satan is using you to make believers like like even bigger blithering idiots than most of them actually are, which is saying something!

      Well, that's ONE theory, anyway ...

      June 5, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  9. Chuck E.

    God's Holy Bible is his written word.

    The article is right. You must open the Holy Bible and read it.

    Read Psalms for a calming, enjoyable prayer time. You don't need to be an expert. Just read God's word and he will fill your heart with joy.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Jacob

      There is medication that can help you.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Scott

      Here's some of my favorite Psalms
      Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who teaches my hands to wage war, and my fingers to do battle.–The Bible, Psalms 144:1
      "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." (Psalms 137:9, KJV)
      "The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked."
      –(Psalms 58:10)
      "For I have done your bidding, I have slain myne enemies in your name. I have put women and children to death in your honor; I have caused great pain among them, for your glory"
      –Psalms 5:4-10

      June 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Veritas

      Here my favorite psalm: "...and no religion too" John Lennon, Imagine

      June 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  10. mjg

    I wander if the "religious scholar" knows that the word scripture even with in the bible means written word. look up the Hebrew and Greek.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  11. roger

    Eve didn't tempt Adam with an apple. It was a pink Calillac. ?Ask The Boss !!!

    June 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  12. Chuck E.

    Praise Jesus Christ as our ONLY God.

    Reject the losers who are blind and who follow demons.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Veritas

      Chuck, you must not sleep this next week. The great Demon Satan is coming to take you home to Hell! Be very cautious....

      June 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • John Richardson

      So what happened to the other two thirds of the trinity? Ok, the Holy Spirit is pretty lame as gods go. But God the Father isn't a god? His son set the old man out to pasture or something? Hey, it happens sometimes in family owned business. When one family owns the whole universe, yeah, I guess the stakes are pretty high and maybe the son felt the father was just too far behind the learning curve in dealing with new market realities ...

      June 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  13. Bill

    I love the devil, let me lick his pen*s

    June 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Not sure he actually has one, but hey ...

      June 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  14. Chuck E.

    demons are losers.

    satan is a loser.

    the followers of evil, who still live on earth, are losers.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Veritas

      Chuck, do you even realize how sick you are? Your have a mental illness, and need to seek professional help.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Scott

      Oh I don't know. Look at all the televangelists, they seem to be "winning" a lot of money and extramarital girl friends too

      June 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  15. Chuck E.

    Every word in God's Bible is Holy.

    Every word must be read and studied.

    Never believe he loser demons who chant insults and persecute.

    Never listen to their half truths in which they take only certain words from the Bible and twist the truth.

    Jesus Christ is truth.

    satan and his loser demons are losers.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Colin

      To any Christian out there who wonders why we atheists oppose your nonsense and the effect it has on the human mind, please read Chuck E's posts.

      Have you ever heard any such blithering garbage from an atheist?

      June 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Scott

      Yes, you need to study it carefully other wise you"ll miss the contradictions like:
      4. God is seen and heard
      Ex 33:23/ Ex 33:11/ Gen 3:9,10/ Gen 32:30/ Is 6:1/
      Ex 24:9-11
      God is invisible and cannot be heard
      John 1:18/ John 5:37/ Ex 33:20/ 1 Tim 6:16
      5. God is tired and rests
      Ex 31:17
      God is never tired and never rests
      Is 40:28
      6. God is everywhere present, sees and knows all things
      Prov 15:3/ Ps 139:7-10/ Job 34:22,21
      God is not everywhere present, neither sees nor knows all
      Gen 11:5/ Gen 18:20,21/ Gen 3:8
      7. God knows the hearts of men
      Acts 1:24/ Ps 139:2,3
      God tries men to find out what is in their heart
      Deut 13:3/ Deut 8:2/ Gen 22:12

      June 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  16. Jacob

    Chuck, are the demons preventing you from answering intelligently?

    June 5, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  17. Chuck E.

    Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

    Jesus Christ loves his children and offers them an eternity of peace and job.

    Reject the loser demons and their loser king satan.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Scott

      jesus said men should castrate themselves for the kingdom of heaven
      "For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Mat: 19:12

      June 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Scott OUCH!!!!

      June 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  18. Jacob

    Chuck, when Noah got drunk, stripped naked and passed out, why did he then curse his son and all his decedents?

    June 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Nick

      Jacob, I'm willing to bet that Chuck and most of the other posters like him are actually just trolls trying to smear religion and religious people. Which is of course ridiculous because they don't need Chuck's help to do that.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  19. Chuck E.

    Hateful attacks upon the believers of Jesus Christ are always the most obvious for loser demons. Loser demons
    can never offer any thing of value. Everything they say and chant is a lie or an insult.

    Reject satan and his loser demons.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Kay

      I'm still waiting for you to answer some of their questions. I mean, some of the comments people make are valid. For example, while there certainly are beautiful psalms, there are some really nasty ones, too...so when people point out those horrible ones and ask why they would be thought "calming" and "peaceful", what is your answer? Don't you have any perspective to share? Surely you've given some thought to this? Or are we just supposed to ignore the "bad" ones?

      June 5, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  20. gman

    about the bears: (remember we live in a fallen world – bad shi*** happens to good and not good people all the time)
    something very imprtant to be noted, in the king james version, the term used is some youth, that exact term is applie to joseph while he was 39 years old, and they were not murdered they were cut up, it says "mauled" in the bible and when that word is translated directly from hebrew means, to be cut up. they were telling elisha a mentee of elijah who asscended into heaven to "go up". They were questioning elisha's validity of a prophet and insulting him. basically in a nutshell why havnt you gone up into heaven if your supposed to be a prophet like elijah. so forty two adults by our standards today heckled, insulted, and basically called the prophet a phony, which is calling his God a phony, and all they got for it was to be cut up by two she bears. seems to me they got off pretty well, one last point to be noted. there were 42 of them, its quite possible there was a physical threat to elisha, who by this time is pretty old.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • frank


      June 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      sure, anyway you want to spin a lack of forgiveness and getting bears to attack 'youths' for name calling, go for it.

      June 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Oso

      (rolls eyes)

      June 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Scott

      And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them." 2 Kings, 2:23-2

      June 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Kay

      These are the terms used in the 16 current English translations of the Bible available: small boys; young lads; little children; little boys; little youths; youths; and boys. Only the New International Version (1984) and World English Bible refer to them as "youths".

      And here is the entire list of the translations of the other word: mauled; tore; tore up; tore apart; tare; put forty-two of the children to death; rend.

      So, no...they were *not* adults by our standards and your "to be cut up" does *not* mean they got a few scratches and got off easy.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:13 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.