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. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  2. Michael

    Well the rapture on 21st may 2011 did not happen, obviously God must have cancelled it!

    Maybe the next Rapture will take some of this deadwood off this planet.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  3. Cheney

    Your article is not very good. Scripture is any writing. Ditka wasn't wrong.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • MM

      That's just asinine. Scripture has a very specific meaning in this article's case, one that is well-understood by most people. If you don't understand that, maybe you should refrain from commenting further.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Elvedina

      I want so badly to be his fan. I want so badly to enjoy reading Malay vlneos like I used to as a child. Books by Rubaidin Siwar, Jalil Rahman, Khadijah Hashim and so many more used to be my companion. My Malay was good! I could write well!And now *cries*I could put up with the slow pace but the wordiness with no pay off? The unnecessary preachiness? The disappointing characterisation?I am not that willing.

      March 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  4. Jim

    So people are getting together and assembling text to suit what they already believe and what best serves their everyday lives?

    Yes, just as the bile foretold 2 Timothy 4:3 "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their OWN DESIRES, because they have itchy ears, (or as some bibles say "want to have their ears tickled') they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn away for truth." ( preachers preach what people want to hear not what the bible teaches)

    June 6, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  5. Brenda

    It's really funny that most of the people agreeing with this article probably never read the Bible because a lot of the things mentioned not being in the Bible are in the Bible.Matthew 12:40 actually says whale. Proverbs 13:24 is paraphrased actually says He that spareth his rod hateth his child. (disipline is okay) and mbane18 can you prove Mary wasn't a virgin, Jesus was her first born and yes she did have other children after him.The Bible says so. The Bible speaks of being caught up with Jesus in the clouds 1 thess 4:17 and that is the "rapture" christians referr to. End of days exact words may not be there but the concept as found in Matt. 13:40 is.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  6. Mark

    The Bible never says "Apple" in the garden of Eden, yet when talking about Satan the article fails to clear up the part about the apple.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  7. Gawd

    The next person to post a butterfly video is going straight to Heck. I'm not kidding.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  8. Darren

    Read Proverbs 23:13-14. Spare the rod; spoil the child is a paraphrase. The Bible does say to discipline your children and it even mentions "rod." Do your research before you write an article about something you know nothing about.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • erik


      June 6, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Jake

      They did mention this in the article, and they did say that it is a paraphrase. The author's point is that many people think that this phrase literally exists in the Bible. It doesn't.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Tony

      Maybe you should read the entire post before commenting on something that you know nothing about.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Alex

      "Withhold not correction from the child: for [if] thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell." King James Bible
      I found the word "rod" in the bible.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Sausage Mahoney

      Maybe you need to do your research and actually read the article... it says that it is a paraphrase and gives the verse you just mentioned.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  9. paxman2

    The Bible is 'inspired' writings, telling of the person of Jesus and what he taught. Yes, every quote might not be word for word, but I think you get the overall message of what He was trying to tell us about God and the kingdom of heaven.
    And the RC church doesn't claim that everything in the Bible is literally true like the flood or the story of Adam and Eve and we don't deny evolution, it allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, all guided by the hand of God, but that the soul did not 'evolve' but was an specific act of God's creation. And even Darwin said in his writings “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” Do you honestly think just random mutations starting from single cell organisms mutated into all the exquisite living creatures that exist today? The complexity of a bird’s wing just happened randomly from bat-like or pterodactyl creatures gradually mutating hairs into feathers – with no intelligent ‘force’ directing them? All just random. I don’t think so.

    And yes, many so called Catholics, Christians and all other religions are not practicing what they preach and that really hurts religion. As Mahatma Gandhi said "If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today." Jesus had his strongest words against the scribes and the pharisees. The church has done many wrong things and had many bad leaders over the years, but that doesn't invalidate the teachings of JC or the sacraments. There are many misconceptions about what the RC church teaches. The RC church believes in evolution, that anyone of any faith (or no faith) can go to heaven, even if they commit suicide, only God knows the state of a person's mind and soul when they die and only God can judge. Canonization does not PUT saints in heaven, it just a process where they recognize a person's life as saintly and so the church believes they are in heaven. For other religions that claim you must believe in JC before you die to get in, as the Bible says 'even the devil believes', and also 'faith without works is dead'. So you can't just proclaim faith with your lips and then know you are saved. Also in the Bible JC explicitly describes the final judgment, "when I was hungry..." He never says in that judgment "because you believed in me". Believing is tough for highly rational people. Look at the apostle Thomas, he knew JC personally, he had the personal testimony of the other apostles, and still he didn't believe. So as long as non-believers are good and truly giving people, I'm sure they'll get in. I only try to convince you of what I know because it makes life so much more worthwhile and beautiful. I can be at peace when there is death and destruction in this temporary home because I know there is a permanent one of much greater beauty. I can be at peace when a loved one dies because I know there is more to this life than what we see.

    Please give me your explanation of this 18 minute old news report from 1987. http://vimeo.com/21856704 It shows unbiased opinions both for and against Medjugorje. I posted before a link to vimeo video 10286499 and someone said there's no sound (which is true) so maybe there was an audible signal so the children would synchronize their looking up. Well, there's a crowd of hundreds of people all around them, don't you think they would have heard the signal.

    Jesus loves you even if you don't believe in Him. In Medjugorje there's been a lot of evidence that Jesus exist and is who He said He was. What is your theory to explain what’s going on for the past 30 years in Medjugore? Starting in June of 1981 6 kids, ages 10 to 15 dropping to their knees at the same time, focusing on the same spot (even though they have side –blinders on), bright flashing lights and hot skin probes not showing up on their EEGs, all raising their heads simultaneously when she leaves. Being arrested by the communist police and threatened with jail and torture and refusing to change their testimony. And now 30 years later, still going to church daily, praying many hours every day, all sticking to their ‘story’ while raising families. Six pathological liars? I guess the proof will be if they die without the signs happening that they say will happen in their lifetimes. Search vimeo for Mirjana or Medjugorje. Look how young Jakov is in this 1984 video, how they all raise their eyes at the same time. They've done this in front of crowds of hundreds of people. Search u-tube videos of Mirjana. Please reply with your explanation. She says in one of her videos that Our Blessed Mother doesn't refer to atheist as non-believers but as ‘those who do not yet know the love of God’, so at least there’s hope in the way she puts it, sounds like you'll eventually come around. But she also says you'll regret waiting until the great sign, don't let your hearts become too hardened. Keep an open mind and look into it. Also, how do you explain similarities and out of body experiences in people who have had NDEs? I almost drowned as a teenager and I know what I experienced wasn't just my brain failing from lack of oxygen. I’ll keep praying for you.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • richunix

      Unable to reapeat and when questioned UNWILLING to say how...try agsin

      June 6, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      "The Bible is 'inspired' writings, telling of the person of Jesus and what he taught."
      -- You failed to define what you mean by the term "inspired". That would be critical to anyone taking your (very long) post seriously.
      "telling of the person of Jesus and what he taught."
      -- That implies there is interpretation of the events involved here, and you fail to mention why any one interpretation would be more valid than another.
      "Yes, every quote might not be word for word,"
      -- That's a stunning admission. Either THOSE words are "inspired" or not, how do you know which ones are the "inspired" ones, and the "non-inspired" ones. If they are "inspired" why wouldn't they be capable of all being "word for word" ?
      "but I think you get the overall message of what He was trying to tell us about God and the kingdom of heaven."
      -- No I don't. It's more "interpretation". And there are countless interpretations, and you have provided no criteria for making a judgement between them.
      "And even Darwin said in his writings “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”
      -- 1. So you agree Darwin IS an authority, as you appeal to him.
      2. That ""Intelligent Design" argument which appeals to, among many other things, the many structures and functions of an eye, has been "debunked" by many, among those, see : http://discussions.godandscience.org/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=979.
      3. Just because you, (and indeed Charles Darwin ), can't see, in a few seconds observation period, how the very very, many generations long, (ie millions of years) process, in which optic cells develop the capacity to become sensitive to photons, etc., played out, (which HAS been simulated in multiple super computer simulations to take about an average of a minimum of 40 generations), in your very short observation period, doesn't mean it's logical to project or conclude that the only option for explanation would be a deity.
      Gotta run, maybe I'll take on the rest later. 😈

      June 6, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  10. Rob

    "People use the bible/religion as a security blanket so that they don’t have to be critically thinkers. They dont really care what that blanket looks like on the outside"

    Internet posters make generalizations about people they don't even know. I would assume this makes them feel inteligent or superior in some way. However, not knowing them myself would leave me no basis to know their true intensions.

    As to the comment about Zeus, Christ was a real person.
    If you have studied the bible, prayed, sought out God and still believe it is all Myth. You would be speaking from an informed position. Is that the case, or is just a general comment on something you don't agree with?

    June 6, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • erik

      Wrong, try again!

      June 6, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • blazzzzzzzzzzzzed

      i love christians

      June 6, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  11. mbane18

    And my post was once again deleted by the CNN sensors...

    June 6, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  12. erik

    Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:1-6

    June 6, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • richunix

      I'm the way......richard 1:1 (prove me wrong!)

      June 6, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  13. Ryan

    You're right Nacho1. If everyone would have just forgot about religion, the world could be a better place. No more relgious wars/conflicts. World Trade Centre would still be standing.

    "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
    Steven Weinberg

    June 6, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Nacho1

      Thank you Ryan..........................

      June 6, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • erik

      People are evil period and not because of religion, it is the wicked heart of man and that is why these physical bodies of ours have to die.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  14. Texan86

    Christ was wrong. "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16: 28. The key is the verse before, "For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done." Matthew 16: 27. He is obviously talking about the second coming. Father's glory, angels, rewarding of deeds... Judgement day! Well it never came. And for those who will say he meant 'spiritual death' ... it's clear he meant physical death, no twisting of the words!

    June 6, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • erik

      You are another clueless unbeliever. Judgement has not come yet but it will. Oh wait let me guess you were listening to those so called Christian fanatics who claimed they knew when judgement day would occur when the Holy Bible clearly states that NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR, try again. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God which means the more you get into the Bible and the truth if it the more your faith will be increased because God will manifest things to you. How can I be so sure? because I have experienced the supernatural acts of God that I am sure many of you non Christians wouldn't believe. I found my self as a young man who is the son of a pastor with doubts and asked myself am I just a believer because I was raised this way? Well I prayed to God and he showed me rather swiftly that this thing aint no joke!

      June 6, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Texan86

      Dont fight with me, fight with the scriptures. Its clear what is being said and it is wrong!

      June 6, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Texan1

      Actually, there are historical accounts of two men in that day who did not die, but rather ascended into the heavens.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Texan86

      Interesting... Who?

      June 6, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Texan86

      As far as I know only Enoch and Elijah ascended to heaven. Even the Apostle John said that the other Apostles were wrong that he would never die.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Texan86

      And Enoch and Elijah were not from that day. They were from waaaay before Christ.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Kirtikumar

      Haven't found my cuppa yet. My wife has been pushing Faisal Tehrani's stuff one me but I haven't read any yet, tuhgoh the one that takes place in the future sounds interesting (what's it called, Kombat?)

      March 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  15. Sean

    Was this before or after Phil Collins left Genesis?

    June 6, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  16. Protestant

    One person to interpret the Bible and tell everyone what it means? Egads, man, I can think of only one word: Control. If you want to know what it says, read it for yourself.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Free

      As opposed to the lack of control we now have with every protestant being their own interpreter? The weird and damaging theologies of people like Camping and Phelps could only have happened with this sort of gonzo approach to scripture. Isn't there something to be said for deferring to actual experts instead of going with "what the Spirit tells me it means"?

      June 6, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  17. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  18. Brett

    So people are getting together and assembling text to suit what they already believe and what best serves their everyday lives? Sounds really familiar...where did I hear that before? Oh yeah, Bible "Scholars" who assembled the bible from a mass of texts. Oh, but they only assembled the "Divine Inspired texts" so its okay! Ridiculous!

    June 6, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Jim

      So people are getting together and assembling text to suit what they already believe and what best serves their everyday lives?

      Yes, just as the bile foretold 2 Timothy 4:3 "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their OWN DESIRES, because they have itchy ears, (or as some bibles say "want to have their ears tickled') they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn away for truth." ( preachers preach what people want to hear not what the bible teaches)

      June 6, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  19. Jim

    The bible clearly identifies the serpent in the garden of Eden. Revelation 20: 2 (New King James) He laid hold of the dragon, THAT SERPENT OF OLD, (some bibles render "original serpent") WHO IS THE DEVIL AND SATAN, and bound him for a thousand years.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  20. erik

    Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: John 11:25

    June 6, 2011 at 9:54 am |
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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.