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. meai

    This guy is a coach not a bible scholar. If someone misquotes or tries to rephrase Shakespeare does that mean he should go back to school and memorize it before he tries to use it in his speech? If this guy was trying to use a bible verse randomly and use it to comfort himself regarding his loss of the game how is that such a bad thing to do? Evil hates God. Atheist hate the truth. Darkness hates the light. If there is a hint of it they all jump to destroy what is good, what is truthful and the light. God will bring us all to our knees and we will then see the truth and choose to follow Christ or not.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Amused

      You are wrong! Atheists revere the truth most of all! That is what makes them atheists!

      June 6, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  2. Jason M

    The saying "God helps those who help themselves" is quite obviously not from the bible. Aside from proverbs the bible is not a listing of commandments or sayings it is a series of stories. As to its truth... I think the saying is very true and is in the spirit of Christianity. Our religion is all about teaching people to fish not just giving them fish for a day. In the case of leaving part of your harvest for the poor, notice how you first have to perform the harvest, IE helping yourself. Those that help themselves are the ones who are able to help others. Also note how the harvest for the poor is left in the field and not harvest and delivered directly to the poor. This forces them to harvest it themselves, in the process they learn a trade that could employ them in the future. On the surface this passage seems to advocate handouts, but it actually advocates a vocational education through charity program.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  3. James Black


    June 6, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  4. Splat

    Happy A., most likely you have spent a lot of time reading the bible....not to believe but to dispute. Your study was tainted from the start. Happy A., meet Romans 1:22

    June 6, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Texan86

      And those who studied for believe and not dispute were tainted from the start

      June 6, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  5. Mike

    "Spare the rod, spoil the child” IS in the Bible....and here it's taken out of context.....It explains in the Bible if you spare the child a butt whoopin when he needs it he will grow up an evil and disrespectful little runt.

    It also explains people who BEAT their kids are evil too you only touch them up when they need it and you don't beat them you grab a "switch" off a tree and use that.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  6. 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! Enoch and Elijah did not die but ascended to heaven but they were way before Christ.

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

      Actually, John the Beloved did not taste death until he saw Jesus return on the Island of Patmos. That was how he was able to pen the book of Revelations.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Texan86

      The problem is that Christ was clearly talking about the second coming. Not the vision of it.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  7. CalifGina

    I like the article because it is always good to be reminded how important it is to be accurate and know your sources. But I think the author is a bit pompous in presentation. Many people know these "pop cultural" sayings aren't actually in the bible word for word, but most (thou not all) are biblically sound. There is a difference between someone saying something is biblical vs actually quoting content. It is true to say "spare the rod...(etc) – that's from the bible" because it is. That's different then saying or writing "spare the rod verse & chapter (yada yada yada.)" The author is kind of guilty of what he is attempting to demonstrate in this case, because actually it is in the bible – perhaps thru parable and symbolism but not the literal word for word.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • goz

      That is to say, before you and the other sons/daughters of Abraham (Muslims, Christians, Jews) bring the Apocalypse on all of us.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • well

      The best part is that the quote attributed to Ben Franklin was, in fact quoted by Ben Franklin and was someone else entirely. So yes, getting your sources correct is very important. Especially when pointing our others failures to do so.....

      June 6, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  8. Dave From Philly

    Why do non believers spend so much time reading articles about GOD, Jesus, Faith and the Bible?

    June 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • USN Atheist

      Perhaps to understand the people who do not question what is in the bible.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Robert and Gwenda Rice

      Why do so many non-believers read the bible and koran? To remind the believers that what they think is truth isn't so clear.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • goz

      We wish to convert you to rational thought, the same way evangelicals try to convert us to irrational ideas.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Dave From Philly

      You cannot be a believer if you do not have questions (even the 12 plus had questions). That is why the Bible is the most read book. I have read the Bible a lot in my years and continue to read b/c someitmes things are not revealed at first read. The Pilgrims came to this land for a reason, to be free to worship without being judged.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  9. Rob

    How is the Bible's condemnation of an idolatrous chic culture in ancient times applicable to modern LGBT people?

    Maybe you can explian what you mean? How are mondern LGBT people different from Roman, Greek LGBT people? It would seem that LGBT people have been around for quite some time. How are they different? Are modern LGBT people more informed than ancient LGBT people?

    June 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  10. Janice

    Revelation 12:9 identifies the serpent in the Garden of Eden as Satan, so that part of the story is actually true. The fruit was picked from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of life as this article said. Of course we don't know what kind of fruit it was.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  11. AllEyesOnHim

    After spending the last 3yrs going to church...I have been amazed at how many "Christians" don't actually read their Bibles! I started going to church in the first place to be around others who also studied the Word. After a little over a year at one church, I was kicked out when I pointed out that the preacher was preaching things that were not Biblical... Sad. God is reaching His people on the streets...

    June 6, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  12. RichWa

    And those with the worst religious knowledge; Protestants and Catholics.
    And those with the best religious knowledge: we atheists.


    June 6, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  13. krow101

    Too bad the guys who made up all that bible BS weren't nicer people.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  14. well

    The argument between Atheists and Theists is quite amusing. Atheists claim only to give weight to ideas supported by evidence, while the Theist claims to be supported by faith. Yet the notion that there is no God is clearly a statement of faith, unsupported by any scientific evidence. In fact a brief study of modern cosmology and quantum physics yields quite a bit of evidence for the POSSIBI|LITY of God.
    So ,while the argument rages on, at least the Theist is intellectually honest with himself and others.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • ikillstupid

      Don't be spouting off no Quantum Physics new age mumbo jumbo... you people are snake oil salesmen who take the good work of theoretical physicists and try to repackage it as some kind of religious thing. There are tons of quantum physics experts if not most that think people liike you are the bane of their existence

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

      Not quite. Both the hardline atheists and fundamentalist Christians in this thread are acting like small children.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • MM

      Uh ... no. It's not a matter of "faith" in the sense that you seem to think - there is no evidence for God, so no reason to believe in such a being. That is the atheist position. That you seem to think that atheists believe in something is probably you just projecting your mindset onto others.

      Atheism is to religion what bald is to hair color. Something for you to think about before passing judgment on atheists.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • RichWa

      First, it is impossible to prove the negative which is why one proves the positive. You can disprove that my little pink rhino friend does not exist nor can you disprove that the god Zeus does not exist ergo according to your logic you must believe in both.

      Second, there is zero evidence that a god - regardless of which - exists. Yes we have an immense amount of knowledge yet to learn but attributing our lack of understanding of a phenomena to magic is absurd. As we don't understand gravity does that mean we give thanks to Venus for giving it to us? What would someone living the 1500's think of a smart phone - would they pray and sacrifice to it?

      The notion that there is no God is clearly not a statement of faith, it simply a statement that there is absolutely no evidence of the existence of a god - and that's after thousands of years of humans trying to prove that there is one!

      June 6, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Jason

      There is no evidence for the existence of a god. Therefore it is not an act of faith to believe that there is no god.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • well

      Actually, even the most passing examination of modern cosmology will show that there are basically three possible causes for a life supporting universe. One, that our universe exists against all (many, many billions to one) odds supporting life. Two, that there are an infinite number of universes, of which ours is one of the very few able to support life. Or three, that there was/is a creative force behind our universe. There is ZERO evidence of any of these three being the case. In fact, all three seem highly unlikely, yet one must be the case.

      Anyone, who picks one and says that they believe it to be the case based upon reason, is lying, either to themselves or to their audience. I will submit to you that I do not know which is the case, and only point out the basic dishonesty, or lack of intellectual sophistication on the part of most atheists who claim "There is no proof of God, so there is no God."

      June 6, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • well

      As for silly, small minded notions like "there is no evidence, therefore no reason to believe", there is no evidence to the contrary, therefore no reason to believe the contrary. The best any intellectually honest person can get to is Agnostic. Look into cosmology a little. The more one learns, as the great Fred Hoyle (former atheist) the more one finds that the universe seems almost to perfectly designed for life. It was Hoyle who coined the term "Big Bang" to mock the theory as having theistic implications. However the more he suddied the math behind certain complex stellar carbon cycles, (required for life) the more he found the apparent fingerprints of a creative force.
      But then, most atheists are just like any other fundimentalist faith based group. They read liturature (if they even bother) that supports their faith based belief systems and ignore all others.

      June 6, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • CalifGina

      MM – no the Atheist believes there is not a god, without any proof that there isn't. They are no better than the theists in this case, but the theists at least acknowledge the faith requirement while the atheist basks in his arrogance. The agnostic is more respectable, he neither believes nor disbelieves citing no proof one way or another, that is pure logic.

      June 6, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  15. Pharsalus

    I'm afraid Mr. Blake incorrectly assumes that many people believe the above mentioned sayings to actually be scripture. Being from the deep South, such quips are common in every day speech, yet I would be hard pressed to think of anyone in my acquaintance who actually believes they can be found in the bible. There are a great many things that people misinterpret about the bible, mostly out of their own volition. We needn't fabricate a straw man to make our points, Mr. Blake.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  16. Aaron

    The Serpent did tempt Eve in the Garden of Eden, in the bible. Genesis 3:1-6. 1 Now the serpent Rev. 12.9 ; 20.2 was more subtile than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
    2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
    3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
    4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
    5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
    6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • goz

      You are a good example of the problem. Read the article again:

      “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.

      Humans make this stuff as we go along.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Jerome

      "The Serpent" is not Satan. As the article explains, the confusion is that Satan tempted Eve–and the Bible never says this.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Courtney

      The article said that SATAN did not tempt Eve in the garden of eden. The inaccuracy is with the serpant/satan not where the temptation took place. The bible never says Satan was in the garden, only a snake.

      June 6, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • svscnn

      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.

      Perfect example of misinterpreting something that wasn't even in the article.


      June 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  17. Marty

    "He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24)

    June 6, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  18. Steve

    Mr. Blake,

    Matthew 12:40
    King James Version (KJV)

    40For 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

    Proverbs 23:13
    King James Version (KJV)

    13Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

    Not a truthful editorial


    June 6, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Rocky

      Very well put. The idiots that put this together are the classic form of misquoting fools. They desire to discredit Christian faith and beliefs and "professing themselves as wise they have become fools" Romans 1. incidentally, the whole of Romans 1 would be a good place for them if they truly desire context.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • goz

      Okay. I'll take your word for it rather than biblical historians who make it their lives work to understand the books.

      If CNN reported today that somebody in the mideast talked to a burning bush and then gave them a stone tablet with laws on it, would you believe it? It another report said that a guy was making fish appear in a basket, would you believe that? Assuming your answer is no, then why do you believe this nonsense from the ancient past?

      June 6, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • MM

      Your reading comprehension seems to be off. That the idea might appear in the Bible doesn't mean that the passage itself does. It is still a misquote, even if the general idea is somewhat on target.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  19. Karl

    This book has caused more death, destruction and enslavement than any other in history. It's constantly used by the powerful to justify their actions, see George Bush... Burn the bible and save mankind

    June 6, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • 900rr

      Right on !

      June 6, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • well

      Mao's little Red book
      Mein Kamf
      The Communist Manifesto

      All have caused more death. Just facts.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  20. John Richardson

    It's amazing that so many Christians seem to be defending the practice of making up verses. Some have even said that Ditka got it basically right, if not quite the right wording. Got WHAT right? "All things must pass" is something BUDDHA said. You fools don't even KNOW your own supposedly sacred texts and presume to declare it the literal word of god? Such buffoonery would be funny if it weren't so appalling.

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

      Forgive me if this has been covered in prior comments, but I believe Ditka is taking his quote from an ancient Jewish folk tale regarding King Solomon. Solomon asks one of his scribes to craft him a sentence that will bring him comfort in tough times but remind him to be humble in times of abundance. The scribe gives him a ring inscribed with the words "this too shall pass." Solomon weeps.

      It's a beautiful tale, one my favorites. But it's not from the Bible or Buddha. It's most likely adapted from the poets of ancient Persia.

      The Bible is full of wisdom, folly, beauty and absurdity, just like the men who concocted it.

      June 6, 2011 at 10:39 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.