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. Trent

    I think this article is using phantom passages...where does it say in the Bible the serpent tempts Eve to pick the apple? Most versions I have read say fruit...

    June 6, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  2. Faith

    CNN really knows how to stir the pot, I’m amazed almost 5,000 people have responded to such a foolish article, If you’re interested in what the Bible teaches read it on your own, don’t waste your time reading these foolish response. If you read the Bible with an open mind the Holy Spirit will touch you.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      It is more likely that a priest will touch you.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Ryan

      If the bible is read from cover to cover with an open mind, people will see what hokum it is and that it should all be left behind with Zeus, Apollo and Aman Ra.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • GreenieInPA

      Dang, Jackdaw you beat me to it.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  3. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Texan86

      NO NO NO! LOL

      June 6, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • GreenieInPA

      The only think missing was the insecticide and the butterfly turning to dust.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  4. Francisco

    You are an idiot.
    Those are sayings people say as wise little quotes, it has nothing to do with the bible.
    I HATE idiots like you that even have the right to have a keyboard.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Martin

      Did religion teach you to hate like that?

      June 6, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Eric

      Most hate has it's basis in religious teachings as those teachings are used to justify the atrocities that we commit against our fellow man.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Ren

      Typical believer... so full of HATE.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Leen

      Oh how I love the beach too, Nina! I love the sounds of the ocean as the waves roll in and break along the shore line. It is udnoerfwl to hear that you and your family hada great time there. You will have to share your pictures with me soon!

      March 4, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  5. blah9999

    wow..... Just because you put it into different words with the same meaning doesn't mean it's "not in the bible." You don't have to quote the bible word for word to get it's meaning across.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • tommas

      Which meaning: that slavery is ok, women are subhuman, women must marry their rapist! shall I go on because there is plenty more

      June 6, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Eric

      yes it does actually. If you change the words, you change the meaning. It is called paraphrasing. The problem with paraphrasing is that it also brings the quote out of context of the surrounding passages, which can have a profound effect of its meaning.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Ren

      You believers are funny, well stupid really. So many interpretations for the "word of god", which should be extremely clear cut. Durp!

      June 6, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  6. John Gravel

    this article is incorrect in its initial assertions - "Spare the Road and Spoil the Child" is a reasonable paraphrase of Proverbs 13:24 - Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Martin

      Except for when Lot gives his daughter up for a good raping by the mob. That is perfectly cool.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  7. Someone

    First, I'd like to compliment the bulk of the postings here – we are actually have an intelligent discourse on the topic. However, I should like to note one thing – Genesis is Old Testament, Revelations is New Testament – so basically, it is someone's interpretation of events that is spaced out by a few thousand years or so. So, basically, in the last book of the New Testament, it is written that – by the way, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the First book of the Old testament/Torah, happens to be Satan. Sorry, I have to give the article author credit on this one –

    June 6, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  8. Kenrick Benjamin

    People usually don't read the bible and comprehend for themselves. For example Jesus Christ Being God Himself. The Bible specifically tells you that" God send his only begotten son so that who so ever believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life", not that God came himself. The reason why Jesus Christ is a God is Because he is the Son of Jehovah God and not Jehovah God. That is why he states that no one comes to the father but by through me. Jesus Christ is Not Jehovah God or the Bible would have read I Jehovah God came myself so that who so ever believe in me should not perish but have everlasting life, and that's not what it said.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • mrsmoothalways

      I'll agree

      June 6, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Kenrick Benjamin

      Little reminder the reason why he is a God is because he is the Begotten Son of God same blood line so to speak. Begotten for the record means to Father.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • childoftheking

      Technically, there is only one God. He is comprised of three parts. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus is God and not by lineage. They are three in one.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  9. mrsmoothalways

    "Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden right? Nope. That's one of many phantom passages that people think are in the Bible". I don't belive this is true, rather this is what someone says when writing a article, and trying to get responses. Most people I have spoken to about the bible, understand that a serpent is mentioned in Genesis.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  10. Phil

    “'Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,'” says Kevin Dunn...."
    A serpent that is TALKING and telling Eve to eat from a tree God put off-limits. How is that "nothing but a serpent"? Also, it was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil she and Adam ate from, not the Tree of Life. It's hard to argue that we haven't been been figuratively eating from that tree ever since.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  11. fundies

    If the Bible is truly the word of God, why does it suffer so many interpretations? I assume the word of God would be more compelling and unquestionably clear.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • boka

      It's not the word of anything. It's just a bunch of privileged white males scribblings. If women, blacks and gays wrote this garbage it would be a lot different.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  12. VecDaddy

    I am LOL'ing reading these comments. An article about misquotes and misinterpretaion being defiled due to misquotes and misinterpretation! Here's the kicker, everyone: you are right and everyone else is wrong. It's true,... I think it's in the Bible somwehere. 😉

    June 6, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  13. boka

    Ahhhh, the book of make believe. The people that read this garbage are the people that refuse to live in reality.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Mykal Trav

      Cornered the market on truth and reality, have you buddy? I read somewhere that pride goes before a fall (...or something...). If you call it all nonsense than you necessarily express a surety that your own interpretations of external stimuli are the only ones that are true. The only substantive difference that I've seem between atheists and those of faith is that those of faith will admit TO faith, atheists will never call their beliefs such, though faith it is, as they can offer just about as much proof as any other.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • childoftheking

      I bet you read Moby Dick, Treasure Island, or other fantasy story. I bet you watched Star Wars or Star Trek, too. They're more fake than anything in the Bible, yet I'm sure you at one time or another considered the plausibility of them. What's written in the Bible is God Breathed Truth. It is only because you're veiled eyes cannot see the truth that you deem it garbage and myth.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  14. Nacho1

    The word of God is definitely clear.....................the 4 cornerstones of your life should be....Faith.........Hope........Charity.....and Love..............that is all he asks.....................the rest is up to us............

    June 6, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Mike

      Can you give us a passage reference....
      I know 1 Cor 13 has Faith, Hope and Charity(Love) because Charity in the old English does not mean donation. I fear you are repeating a virtue

      June 6, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • sandy

      amen to that my friend!!!!!!!!!

      June 6, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  15. tammyammy

    Uh, this article assumes that most people believe that these sayings are biblical. I always looked at them as sayings and never once thought they were in the bible. Just like all of the other American idioms we have. Some of them are loose translations of biblical scriptures...This article stinks. And of course the serpent is Satan, who else is it? And the bible does say that Jonah was in the belly of the whale for 3 days just like Jesus went to Hell for 3 days to pay for our sins. It depends on the translation you read whether its called a whale or a great fish. This blogger is the one who needs to read the Bible. But I suspect it's just another person trying to discredit the Bible and Christians. Frankly if you're just focused on whether it was an apple Eve ate or if a whale can really swallow a person whole, you have totally missed the point! I know that in the past 3 years having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ has totally transformed my life, my marriage, and my children, THAT is the point and all that matters.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Alyssa

      I credit you for your transformation and positive change in your life. I am, however, reluctant to believe that it is due to anything other than positive thinking and reinforcement. And perhaps some good luck. God did love you before you acquired this "personal relationship" with him? He was waiting to bestow his gifts until you showed the proper amount of reverence? Sounds like a vain god.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • tiredoflies

      Nowhere in the Bible does it state Jesus went to Hell. Hell is not a place we travel to. It is a state of being eternally separated from God. Check your teachings before you lead others astray.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  16. Carl

    Ah the bible . . . that wonderful little book of fairy tales that weak men wage war over

    June 6, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Ren


      June 6, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Chad

      What is it that you have against the Bible? Have you read the book? It speaks of tremendous hope for us but also is clear there is only one way to heaven. Jesus Christ. You are right...weak men and women read it because I know I can't live life without my Savior Jesus!

      If you haven't read it you should and if you have read it again...it will change your life.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Ren

      Chad... Read it, SIX times, from cover to cover. It's full of contradictions and lies. Have YOU read it? Doesn't sound like it.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Jim

      "Book of Fairytales"? Oh, I forgot. Intellectualsts think that if they "downplay" the impact the Bible has had on millions, oh I'm sorry, hundreds of millions of people throughout history, then they will get others to think that it's "just a book of fairytales." Someone must of gotten spared the rod.... 🙂

      June 6, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  17. fundies

    If the Bible is truly the word of God, why does it yield so many interpretations? I would think the word of God would be more compelling and unquestionably clear.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Alyssa

      Why so god can weed out the true believers from the fake, of course. /sarcasm

      June 6, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Ren

      Maybe god is a woman... if you don't know she's just not going to tell you... lol ... Sorry ladies, too many of you have told me that hahaha!

      June 6, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  18. mrsmoothalways

    Just trying to be funny, but serious, the bible explains to us later in the scriptures that the serpent and devil is Satan, and there are many scipture quotes that are mentioned here.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  19. hahalolol

    actually satan was mentioned in the Book of Enoch which didn't ever find its way to bible. However satan was one of the "fallen angels" and he was senteced to live "just" 500 years. I think there's alot man made stuff in the bible but so is in the torah or quran.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Alyssa

      I think the bible is a handful of historical facts mixed in with a heavy helping of propaganda and drivel. It's a device written by men to control behavior. It's that simple.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  20. Maureen

    John Blake, can it be that you are fumbling a tad as well??
    ".... biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people ....".
    How can ignorance REACH people? Ignorance is per se INACTIVE. You REMAIN ignorant by shunning education; you can't BECOME ignorant.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Trolololol

      You ma'am, are an idiot.

      June 6, 2011 at 9:37 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.