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. :)

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYt31nQabYA&w=640&h=390] :

    June 6, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  2. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  3. jeromy

    nice way to teach someone. teach them by fear and intelligence is never needed. teach them by pain and it's all they will ever know. i could care less whether it's in there or not. love me or burn in hell is a rather grotesque view of love. is it really love, or is it simply fear of hell? beating a child with a rod today will rightly get children services all over you. what do you say to them? "god says do it. who are you to question god?" in a world where nothing happens without the will of god, god sent the children services to your doorstep. i wonder how many children in history have been abused because of supposed book written by a supposed violently loving god so full of understanding, in a time when most common people were illiterate – probably due to their own insane childhood beatings – for a group of people that he supposedly made that seems to be only flawed from the very beginning, so much so that he destroys the world, save 8 people and a few animals, who only proved that nothing had changed and another testament needed to be written...guess the first attempt was the failure of an omnipotent being. now we witness people leaving jobs and families for a rapture based on false interpretations of this glorious moral guide, based on the idea that the world's 2nd destruction is only due to the 2nd failure of this god talking some sense into his magnificent animal. does it really matter what is said about a rod? only for parents who are tyrannical enough to use this book as a guide, as opposed to people who are genuinely understanding and loving enough to learn how to teach a better way.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:59 am |
    • Nate Rooman

      I am amazed I could read that without any proper formatting. Maybe it's because you wrote that pretty well.
      Good post.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Jim R.

      As much as I would love to deconstruct your post more thoroughly, let me just quickly comment on one glaring error – it's where you say "in a world where nothing happens without the will of God ...". While it is true that nothing happens without the awareness of it by God, it is not true that everything that happens is the will of God. But then, atheists understand Christianity the way men understand labor pains.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  4. plnsfrd

    CNN posts articles like this because they attract a lot of attention, especially from those who hate God and love to harass His children. Nevertheless, despite the inane banter of those who know not God, which is usually disregarded by intelligent readers anyway, there are a number of good responses from informed Christians. God is being discussed. Christ is being preached. God can use this discussion (such as it is) to expose people to His word who may never have heard it otherwise. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17) God often uses Satan to accomplish His will. So don’t be too critical of CNN because this is an excellent platform that we should take advantage of. Mature Christians know the truth so they’re not moved by such ignorance. Babes in Christ are protected by the Holy Spirit and “that wicked one touches him not.” Therefore, Christians should respond to these articles the way Jesus responded to the people of His day. The Apostle Paul said that it doesn’t matter how Christ is preached as long as He’s preached. And by the way, that’s a simple paraphrase of what Paul said. If one insists on the exact quote it’s Philippians 1: 15-18.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  5. Ble ble ble...

    If you don't interested with religion don't act like you know something about it. That's all.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • Michael

      When religions try to tell people how they should act, live, reproduce, or what type of birth control to use or what they shouldn't buy on Sundays, I guess I DO want to know what kind of sick mind feels like they have to control or have the moral judgement over everyone else.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • Sean

      Many of us know a great deal about religion. It's why we want nothing to do with it.

      June 6, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  6. FrankG

    The most common of all is the CONCEPT of "Praying Jesus into your heart" ... it does not occur ANYWHERE in the Bible. A total American invention ... this concept DOES NOT EXIST in any of the Old-World Churches ... we (the Americans) invented this heretical hogwash ...


    June 6, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  7. MikinAZ

    Here is a quote...but not from the bible: "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

    June 6, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  8. Chad

    What's odd is that we would NEED so-called "biblical experts" at all. If there really is a god, and the bible is really his one true word, don't you that such a god, you know, being omniscient at all, would have been inclined to make the thing easily understandable without assist from "experts"?

    Face it, folks, the whole thing - literally ALL of it - is fiction.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • Luis

      God didn't write the Bible. He didn't assemble it either. People with an agenda did. That's why it's so hard to understand. Some books, like Isaiah, are hard to read so that people who don't care to know anything about God will just dismiss it and it wil take faith and effort and a desire to know the truth. You don't need an expert to understand you just can't have a chip on your shoulder.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  9. JerBear

    This article is confusing and scatter-brained in my opnion. Which makes me think that there is a deeper motive which seems consistent in most religious articles on CNN. To discount and discredit Christianity or the Bible. The final paragraph in the article takes a shot at basically any normal Christian or person in general in the world trying to interpret the Bible for themselves. The Bible hasn't been the best sold book ever and translated into the most languages ever for the sake of Biblical Scholars to lead people into an understanding of it. They talk of the saying "God Helps those who help themselves" and say how it's not in the Bible and how the Bible really talks about helping the poor.

    But have these Biblical scholars not read the verses "There is none righteous, no not one"...All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God...our righteousnesses are like filthy rags...Ye must be born again"

    The Bible is about salvation, redemption and forgiveness. "For the son of man came to seek and save that which was lost". It's not about doing good works or feeding the poor through our own good efforts.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • morsecoder


      June 6, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • Chad

      That's not really what the bible is about at all. That's what a few select verses of the bible are about. The vast majority of the bible is utter nonsense. Open it to any random page and read - actually READ - the whole thing. You'll be shaking your head.

      The article specifically mentioned people like you, who only know the few verses that reinforce already-held beliefs. You ignore the parts about mass murder, slave ownership, misogyny, executing unruly children, etc.

      God is imaginary and the bible is sheer fiction. You are living a delusion.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Luis


      I'm sure JerBear has read the Bible. Even more so I'm sure JerBear has studied the Bible.
      Taking writings out of context is what you're doing.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  10. tony Gomes

    “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
    "With regard to discipline, the Bible states": “The rod and reproof are what give wisdom.” (Proverbs 29:15). Proverbs 17:10 tells us: “A rebuke works deeper in one having understanding than striking a stupid one a hundred times.”

    June 6, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Vicky H

      Why are all you people that you declare are Christians, fighting and arguing? If you are a true Christian, and you all believe in "Christ" why are you arguing? The So called "Bible" wasn't written by God! It was written by man! To put the fear in man. It has been written and rewritten.... It's crazy! It causes wars! You people are idiots!!!

      June 6, 2011 at 4:08 am |
    • Goy

      Thanks, Lesly, No prizes, this is a lrgleay who represents my work and so these are considered run of the mill group exhibitions. I have a few entries out for juried shows, but I have probably jinxed them now by this mention.

      March 2, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  11. Andrew

    It's almost as though people want to put even more doubt into the heads of those who already disbelive and to put doubt into those who do believe. Spare the rod and spoil child is apart of Godly Biblical teaching.
    Pro 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
    Pro 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  12. Editor

    Ohhh... Is that true??? so wait.. It will be there soon on the revised edition.. be patient

    June 6, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • Vicky H

      revised & revised & rewritten & reinterpeted oh I bet you are a polgimist

      June 6, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • Vicky H

      Yes Yours! and I hope no one reads it! You Crazy +uck!

      June 6, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  13. Whats this about?

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-04A2tFO1l8&w=640&h=390] :

    June 6, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • steve

      This Video talks about Cherub in the bible discussed by the Muslim scholar with Christian is baseless. Muslim is trying to take that particular word and interpreting to quote something else. He is insane scholar. The Bible and its writings are true and worth reading. Muslim has faith to steal, destroy and to kill thats it. I invite the mad scholar useless baseless speaker to debate in its own book.

      June 6, 2011 at 4:33 am |
    • Auth

      It seems that when the U.S. administration rauspedes the administration of Israel to divide Isreal/Jerusalem for the sake of the Palistinians there always seems to follow a disaster in the U.S. And that disaster is to the same degree, or greater, than the U.S. backing of the divisional act against Israel.With a Democracy, as those in power are now realizing, the problem is that it is a Democracy. We vote! We speak with our ballots. For the most part we believe in and worship the G-D of Israel.I agree with the Rabbi. The U.S. has the ability to choose its destiny. We, as believers, need to pray for this conglomeration of people called the United States of America!VA:F [1.9.11_1134](from 0 votes)

      April 1, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  14. Mz Bellz

    Yes it wasn’t an apply but a fruit .
    But We all know the devil was there in the beginning when the world was created and thus known as the serpent or the old serpent as referred to countless times in the bibile REV 3, rev 12:9, rev 20:2
    9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him
    Satan is the same old serpent who came in the Garden of Eden and deceived Eve
    the three wise men that visited the baby Jesus
    1 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
    “and when they had opened their treasures”,( I believe when one opens his treasure it’s to get something , so each of them opened their treasure bag hence the 3 gift from 3 men
    so you don’t get to choose for me what to believe if I believe they are 3 then they are three don’t tell me to believe your side of the story it’s not all right and don’t tell me it’s wrong perception .

    He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Prov 12:24
    No it wasn’t written spare the rod spoil child but it does explain it in short .
    Same goes for God works in a mysterious way, It doesn't. This quote comes from an old poem or hymn, but may be based on Isaiah 55:8-9. Isaiah 55:8
    Isaiah 55:8-9 (King James Version)

    For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    That to me Is a mysterious way to me I may not quote every inch of the bible , if am to pass a message like I tell them God moves in a mysterious and No its not a direct quote but its an explanations of the scripture that is in the bible.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Boots

      "his" ways aren't so mysterious to me. Vicious, petulant, jealous, sociopathic, etc. are the ways of your god.
      He murders children, tortures people for no reason, does insane things like saying everyone is guilty for something someone else supposedly did – with punishments to last forever for something as small as jaywalking.
      No, your god is insane. Totally batshlt insane.
      Nothing mysterious about batshlt crazy people who don't exist. Nope.

      June 6, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  15. Bill

    The bible is used by sweet talkers to make money and people love to go and hear them...Why do priests, Rabbies, and preachers die if they are so close to God....I am not going to deny god...but I am 81 years of age and have never seen a ghost or seen a miracle...but some thing did happen in my life time..A small play winder of an irish girl was given to me before she died.. and sitting on a shelf one day it started tp play an Irish song for which it was programed..and I called her sister in Calif. to tell them this story and the nieces told me that their mother was in Las Vegas, so I went down to see them and they asked how I knew they were in town..so I told them about the music being turned on by her dead sister..My lady friends name is Sheelagh McCarthy...a good Irish colleen...Bill The Greek from Las Vegas..

    June 6, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • Boots

      Well, Bill, if you're looking for possible answers as to why a doll manufactured to produce music actually produced music, then we don't have to go very far to look for answers, do we?
      It might be very likely that someone wound your doll up without you knowing or remembering it. Or the innards of the thing were set off for some reason like changes in temperature or humidity. If you think it's some supernatural event I can't help you there, as you would have already convinced yourself of it by now and I am not in the business of correcting the mistakes of other people. I just rant about it on the internet. Without more information to go on, there is only loose speculation that can be applied to the question of how it happened, like I have already written here.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  16. Jeebus

    "He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)

    June 6, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • anon

      A child can die from a beating with a rod and this sort of message certainly can influence less intelligent and uneducated people to do so. Basically God is giving license for child abuse. Amazing that this proverb is put forth as example of God's word by christians. It isn't helping your cause one bit

      June 6, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  17. Jorge

    Good article, however I did not like the last excuse you used on the Protestant reformation.At that time the church clerks had the right to interpret scriptures and this also led to corrupted interpretation. It was the access of the Bible to the common man that was key to transformation in society, as long as the elite scholars kept that to themselves, we will be back in the dark ages. We should teach people how to study the Bible so that they can interpret and apply it to their lives, society and Nations. The real author of the Bible will want everyone to be able read it, learn and apply it. The Bible is the most popular book in the world, not just America.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  18. dave

    ignorance is bliss sadly most people know more about sports then the religion they say they would kill or die for

    June 6, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • Boots

      Some of the happiest people are the developmentally disabled and such folk. I envy them their happy ignorance – at least those that have it. I have met some who were angry for no doubt good reason, as terrible things can happen anywhere at anytime, but I never got the chance to ask or find out why they were so unhappy. But I can certainly guess the sorts of things they are likely to run into.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  19. YBP

    None of the religion-based news articles on CNN are ever actually newsworthy or of real substance to anyone with an academic interest in (or college level knowledge of) antiquity and biblical studies. There's really no depth here. Just very basic stuff and trivial fluff. It isn't even timely. I mean, why report (if you can even call it that) on this topic now? What does it have to do with current events? Nothing at all. It's fluff. But that doesn't ever discourage CNN. Not when it comes to the most controversial topic of all. I firmly believe (pardon the expression) that the true aim of this otherwise notable and trusted news source is to encourage as much heated debate on religion as possible among the educated gays and atheists and the uneducated flock of mindless, belief-prone sheep. Open the flood gates. Bring on the vitriol.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • dave

      i agree but all American "news" is fluff or opinion

      June 6, 2011 at 2:38 am |
    • Boots

      dave, you need to get out more. There are some very sober and honest news organizations out there. Not as many as we would like, of course, but they exist. Mostly scientific journals of one sort or another. Reporting on politics is apt to prove discouraging and frustrating, so finding political news that is not slanted in some way is pretty hard for me. I haven't found much in the way of political news that is worth reading in all my years.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  20. Ban Islam

    Who gives a sh.t about what bible says. Bible should've been burned together with koran by reverent Jones from Florida, or whatever his name is .

    June 6, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Kevin

      Except that the Bible is what he follows so that would be kind of sacrilegious on his part.

      June 6, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • MikinAZ

      "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

      June 6, 2011 at 3:53 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.