Thinking Christian

CNN's Belief Blog tackled the issue of "phantom scriptures" - phrases wrongly attributed to the Bible - this week, sparking more than 6,000 comments and counting.

These phantom scriptures include sayings such as "This, too, shall pass" and "God helps those who help themselves."

The latter is actually a quote from Benjamin Franklin, while the origin of "This, too, shall pass" may be found in the peculiarities of the King James translation.

"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,'" Bruce Welles, director of the ancient studies program at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, told CNN.

The blog piece, called "Actually, that's not in the Bible," suggests phantom scriptures have become so widespread because of the rising level of biblical ignorance among adults.

"(Christians) have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in, but they ignore the vast majority of the text," said Rabbi Rami Shapiro, a Bible professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich., sometimes quotes 2 Hesitations 4:3, "There are no internal combustion engines in heaven," to his classes.

"I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse," he told CNN. "Only a few catch on."

Whatever the exact cause of biblical ignorance - it could be as simple as Christians not reading the Bible - I think it's safe to say we have a problem on our hands.

Phantom scriptures also occur when confusion exists about the origin of certain phrases and concepts, such as "God works in mysterious ways" and "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."

The first saying comes from a 19th-century hymn by William Cowper, while the "cleanliness" phrase is actually attributed to John Wesley, the 18th-century evangelist.

"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," said Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.

Here's a phantom scripture that I'm guilty of using: "Pride goes before a fall." But the real verse, Proverbs 16:18, actually reads: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."

As for another potential cause of phantom scriptures, Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College, suggests the vast number of different Bible translations has made it difficult to sift the correct quotations from the incorrect.

"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," Jacobsen said.

Whatever the exact cause of phantom scriptures, Christians can fight biblical illiteracy by constantly immersing themselves in the Bible, which is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

That passage, an excerpt from 2 Timothy 3, is, I assure you, not a phantom scripture.


Note: This is my last day at The Sentinel. I am resigning to pursue a longtime dream of writing freelance full-time, but "Thinking Christian" will continue to appear on Fridays.


Sentinel copy editor Jennifer Autry grew up in an Evangelical Free church and attends a Southern Baptist church. She welcomes comments at jkautry@gmail.com.

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