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. TG

    The religious leaders of Christendom have fed their "flock" nothing but spiritual "crumbs".(Luke 16:19-31) It is therefore not surprising that the Bible is misquoted or wrongly attributed as a "passage". Very few take seriously their study of the Bible, so as to be able to understand or "mentally put the pieces together"(Greek verb sy·ni´e·mi, used 5 times at Matthew 13 and again at Matthew 15:10 by Jesus) what the Bible really means or says.

    In addition, most translations of the Bible leave much to be desired with regard to accuracy, with the King James Bible being notorious for such inaccuracy, besides being archaic, out-of-date with respect to words, using "shambles" in place of "meat market" at 1 Corinthians 10:25, along with "thees" and "thys".

    June 6, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  2. Betsy

    The New Testament, actually, in the book of 1 or2 Peter, says that the Satan was the serpent.
    And the Bible does NOT say that the Forbidden Fruit was an apple. It just says it was fruit.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  3. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  4. Fox Mulder

    "God said, 'Let there be grilled cheese sandwiches.' And there was grilled cheese sandwiches. And they were good."

    June 6, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  5. Steve

    While this article does have a lot of truth to it (even though most of it is semantics and makes no real contribution), it is so riddled with errors that it's impossible to take any of it seriously. Next time, get your facts straight before you post something like this.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  6. kidbaltimore

    from pulaski street......nice read big bro.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  7. Purebredmutt

    Everyone calm down. This is just another attempt to turn loose believers from the truth. This will become more and more common over the next few years. Stand firm in your beliefs and learn to ignore this type of article ("turn the other cheek" so to say – yes it's in there too). There was another terrible article crafted last week to attempt to discredit the new testament as fraudulent because the disciples were illiterate – nice try boys, but the church is still here and we are not so easily fooled.
    Keep the faith – 11:11.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Yeshiva Boy


      June 6, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • arjen

      You fool! That is your way to deal with unconveniant truths, turn your cheek and shout bla bla bla?

      I cry inside for the stupidity of religious people...

      June 6, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • arjen

      Just to enlighten the silly people that live across the ocean in a land they stole from the native Americans, the bible has been translated to modern day English so you silly religious lot can fully understand it. Try reading a Greek or Latin bible if your interested in what the bible really says.

      Also, you realize that the catholic church have on many occasions altered the bible and have decided which books and which not to include? Really you thought it was the infallible word of god but in reality its a mixture of different letters, stories and books all mixed and matched to enhance the power of an organization that would like nothing else but complete world domination and unparallelled human obedience?

      June 6, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • fsmgroupie

      keep the faith
      don't ask questions
      bahh bahh bahh
      give me your money

      June 6, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  8. That's Funny

    John Blake, CNN Epic Fail

    June 6, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • Boots

      Wow. A lot of people sure are dumping on that guy. And here I found it to be a pretty good article. Huh. I guess no one likes being made a fool of, eh? Especially religious fools. They resent anyone pointing out their mistakes.
      But not you. No sir. You are better than them. God bless yuo.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  9. That's Funny

    This article is so poorly written, it really makes you wonder what the good folk over at CNN are paying their writers. Is this all they could muster up?

    June 6, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  10. Meliza

    SInce when does the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” mean to help oneself to the exclusion of others as the author implies? In the Bible or not? Who cares? At least understand how it is commonly meant- as an encouragement to actively work to mitigate one's problems. Some would say it is a recognition that sitting around awaiting God's help is insufficient, that only in expending effort to find resolution does one see the helping hand of God. Either way, it has nothing to do with minimizing charity towards others.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  11. Reader

    This was a very poorly written article. To me, the author decided to neglect any reading of his own regarding the subject matter.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  12. Jay Plemons

    Actually, the bible does say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Jesus is speaking here.

    Matthew 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  13. BelieveInPeople

    The author seems to be assigning ALL phrases of a moral or religious nature to be "phantom bibllical passages". Seriously, I dont' think that most people actually take many of those phrases that are referenced here as if they came from the bible. Most of what is referenced here I would have been more likley to assume came from Poor Richard's Almanac. These are a collection of phrases and sayings with sources that range from pastor's sermons to grandmother's advice. The author is then attempting to claim that some huge majority of people mistake them for bible passages. This article gives the impression of a deadline that was looming and a complete lack of real story which the author was prepared to write.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Derrick

      Exactly! I never took many of these quotes as being taken directly from the bible, especially the phrase "God works in mysterious ways." I always took this quote as face value meaning that we are not privy to God's plan, therefore the things He does and why He does them seem mysterious to us. "God helps those who help themselves" is another one. I never believed this to be a direct quote from the bible, but just a matter of fact. I am afraid my biblical knowledge of books and phrases, but I do know for a fact that there is a phrase that says something to the effect "that if you look for me as for buried treasure you will find me". My understanding of the whole phrase when I read it, and again can't remember it, was that God will help you find Him if you will only look with all your heart. "God helps those who help themselves." I think these "phantom phrases" are, in reality, like the short answers to questions people have of God that ARE in the bible, just not phrased exactly the way we phrase them today.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  14. steve

    Actually, you are wrong about the “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” bit. It is in Proverbs 13:24

    June 6, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Matt

      Did you read the article? That's mentioned...

      June 6, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • David

      Did you actually read the article? Proverbs 13:24 is quoted, and says nothing about "spoiling" the child.

      >> The popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

      All translations I'm looking at agree with the article. There is no mention of "spoiling."

      June 6, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • DMcPherson

      Oy. No, his explanation of the Proverbs misquote is correct.

      Proverbs 13:24
      New International Version (NIV)
      "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."

      "Spare the rod, spoil the child," is an approximation and is not the quote... which is what the author says.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  15. SPL

    "And there is this often-cited paraphrase: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden."

    I thought he was talking about the apple. The apple is never mentioned.

    Kevin Dunn's statement is correct that writing passage of Genesis does not state via written scripture that it was the Devil. But he doesn't go on to mention Revelation 12:9 explicitly states that Satan the original serpent is finally revealed.

    I would politely like to ask the writer of this article to direct Kevin Dunn's attention to Revelation 12:9 and ask him why he doesn't mention this also important verse?

    I could be wrong but I would see his comment
    1.) still tries to keep people in the dark about Satan the Devil as the true instigator of all the problems we face today.
    2.) tries to direct praise to man's (or his own) ability to prove others wrong when the praise should be directed to God?

    Romans 3:4 – Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."

    June 6, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  16. Athena

    ...pretty funny article about a cobbled-together work of fiction.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • TEPPY

      ...pretty funny article about a cobbled-together work of fiction. June 6, 2011 at 12:35 am

      Right. And your cites are? (e.g., a list of those credible scholars or works you've read in support of your one-liner conclusion; MLA or APA makes little difference.) Please also, in your critical exegesis or thesis be sure to maintain text-source integrity with (preferably) parenthetical referencing of all quoted sources. That's because your one liner assertions don't prove anything other than a meaningless personal bias.

      But if not, then please at least spare more thoughtful and educated readers here the pain of your personal ignorance through said unimaginative one-liner judgments of historical works that in fact, Athena, predate your entire working class genealogy by a good 2,000 years.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:50 am |
    • tallulah13

      So Teppy, do you think the entire bible is true, even the contradictory portions? Certainly there are come geographical locations that are accurate, but the events themselves remain unproven. It would be important to see some proof as to the veracity of the bible. No one has been able to show it yet, nor has anyone managed to show proof of any god. If you have that proof, bring it forward. The world awaits.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Boots

      If Teppy has had his wheaties, maybe he/she would like to discuss things with people who don't make unverifiable claims.
      But I doubt it. No proof can be forthcoming to cover the baseless assertions of religious thought.
      We have won before the game even started, actually. Yet a bit of entertainment would not come amiss. Sunday nights are so quiet these days.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:37 am |
  17. Joe

    The Bible DOES say that it was a whale that swallowed Jonah ! ( Matthew 12:40)

    June 6, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  18. steve baldwin

    Hey John ... Im not quite sure where it says it in the Bible ... but ... you might be going to hell !
    good luck ... you're going to need it ... !

    June 6, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  19. Bret

    I can't believe the author, nor anyone else I have read in the comments realize what passage(s!!!) Ditka was referring to. This is incredible to me! It's actually in the Bible 3 TIMES!!! Matthew 24:35. Luke 21:33, and Mark 13:31 as well as not much of a stretch in about 10 other verses like 2 Peter 3:10 . I know this subject matter always provokes all the surrounding conversations, but how on Earth do you justify writing and responding to such a poorly researched article?! And who were these professors they were speaking to?!! As far as all the commenters, I will commit to pray for all the self-righteous ones, on both sides of the coin, and hope that a few of you will commit to pray for me. Love

    June 6, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Bret

      and to be clear, almost every one of the phrases he discusses, except for the one about cleanliness, are either directly from the Bible or are based on a clear foundational teaching from the Bible. Really, really amateur, and poor article. Shame on you.....

      John Blake, when can we expect your article on your view of the misguided teachings and misquotes from the Koran?

      June 6, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • David

      And you would be wrong. All of the scriptures you indicate contain mentioning of things "passing," e.g. "Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away." (KJV). Or If you prefer NIV: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Or for the 2 Peter reference: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

      None contain the oft-quoted "this too shall pass," so I think the article's point is made. Why do zealots continue to ignore facts in the face of truth? Oh yeah, because they're zealots who think they have all the answers and how dare anyone question their propaganda...

      June 6, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • Bret

      lol...so Heaven & Earth doesn't adequately cover "all things"? What part of all things is missing there? Should "baseball cards" or" hairspray" been specifically mentioned? Your words are shor' puuurty, but your heart is black....

      June 6, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • Bret

      BTW, the "this too shall pass", wasn't the Biblical reference....

      June 6, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Tourniquet

      I think when people, and I am one of them, quote the bible as saying "All things shall pass", the quote stops there. "This too shall pass is not included in the biblical quote but when used with the phrase from the bible, the speaker is merely stating "the bible says that all things shall pass... therefore this shall pass too." It is a good phrase to remember when you are going through the darkest times in your life. All things shall pass. With that knowledge that God has given us, we can surmise that "this too shall pass."

      June 6, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Nicole

      becktold on July 29, 2011 This is an indrecibly moving piece congratulations to 24 Hour Fitness and to the team members who's words will no doubt help others as they find their way to self-acceptance and happiness. It SO gets better.

      March 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  20. Jean

    All of this bickering about bible verses is giving me a headache. I wonder how many people have actually thought about what they will find in heaven when they get there. I have a feeling that there are going to be a lot of unhappy people wanting refunds. Think about it. What will people have to complain about? Could you complain even if you wanted to? Your annoying neighbor...she'll be there. Your sisters noisy children...they'll be there, too. That cranky guy at the check-out counter...yeah, he'll be there. Your boss...yes. Maybe everyone will be transformed into people that get along with each other. If that's the case, would people still technically be themselves? If not themselves, then who will they be? If the point is to get to heaven where everyone gets along, why not practice here and now? See what it feels like. Test it out. Do you still want to go to heaven?

    June 6, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • heaven-bound

      who says "get to heaven and get along with each other" is the purpose of heaven? oh, but to enjoy the full presence of the living, loving, beautiful and glorious God? who would desire anything else? surely we all appreciate love, light and all the beautiful things of this life on earth; but they are only a shadow dimly reflected in a mirror. God has now opened a way for anyone who is willing, to enter in and see the Fullness and Reality of all things beautiful, summed up in His Son. would you choose Him? or would you choose a place completely void of Him? by God's grace, He who gave us the free will, will honor our choice. May the Lord have mercy.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Stan Dupp

      There is nothing anywhere to suggest that our souls even exist, nor if anything happens to them after death.
      Our souls might die along with our bodies for all we know.
      There is no proof of any after-death events at all.
      That's why you are supposed to believe something without proof. The utter lack of proof will bother you unless you have some way of ignoring it. It's a comfort-illusion.
      And it's your favorite security blanket because it has nothing to do with what's real or true – and you like it because it insulates you against the harshness of reality and the stark qualities of death.
      If the chill of reality is too cold for you, then snuggle into the warm fuzzy feelings of make-believe, but don't expect me to respect your actions when you base them upon lies.
      I'm one of those that hates lies. Your Bible is on my sh.t list along with the Koran and anything else that pretends that lies are truth. But that sure is a thin blanket you have there. Try growing some hair and you might find you don't need a thin blanket to keep you warm against the howling wilderness.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • fsmgroupie

      and will you enjoy being in heaven knowing that your children are burning in hell and jesus has his finger on the thermostat with a big stupid grin on his face

      June 6, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • Bashleon

      Well what would you have us believe in Stan Dupp? Nothing? What is there to gain from believing in nothing? If we have no soul and there is no God as you say, then there is nothing wrong with us believing. It would seem to me that you have the most to lose. If we are wrong, we die and that is the end. We become nothing and it would be as if we never existed. But if we are right, then we get everlasting life in Heaven with a God that loves us, you on the other hand, will have everlasting life in Hell. So again, it seems you have way more to lose than we do. And no I am not simply believing in God "just in case". When you know God and you can feel Him in your life, there is no doubt what is real and what isn't.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Boots

      I am amazed that anyone would bother trying to use Pascal's Wager, which has been debunked for decades, as an argument for believing in lies.
      How sad that some people never understand that they are risking their souls on the words of con-men and swindlers.
      Their souls are worthless, having been given away for nothing. No proof required to lose your mind and waste your life.
      Sad sad sad.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:43 am |
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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.