Misquoted Verses: The Bible Doesn’t Say That

eve_appleIf it sounds proverbial or has a “thee” or “thou” thrown in to somewhat resemble King James English, people will often mistake the quote for being directly from the bible.  But some of the most popular “verses” to quote appear nowhere in the text and were actually coined  by people like Benjamin Franklin and William Shakespeare.   

So, be careful when you’re quoting the bible, yourself.  And if someone is quoting it to you (no matter how old the language sounds), ask them where exactly it is in the bible.  Chances are pretty good, a lot of the quotes won’t be anywhere within the bible and others will be butchered versions of the original text.

Mistold Stories from the Bible:

1. Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple.

Genesis mentions a “serpent,” not Satan (Genesis 3:1). And it doesn’t specify what kind of fruit it was (Genesis 3:2), so it just as easily could’ve been a pear or a pineapple for all we know.

2. Three wise men visited baby Jesus on Christmas.

This shows up in movies and tons of Christmas cards every December.  But the account of the wise men doesn’t say how many of them there actually were (Mathew 2:11), and the date of the event isn’t stated.  And the wise men’s visit actually was after the shepherds had celebrated Jesus’ birthday, so your Christmas nativity scene most likely isn’t accurate.

3. Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

The bible doesn’t specify what exactly swallowed Jonah, just that it was a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17).

Completely Fictitious Bible Verses:

1. “God helps those who help themselves.”

This popular little number, although heavily quoted, appears nowhere within the pages of the bible. And, in fact, it preaches a message completely contrary to the compassionate, sacrificial charity that is encouraged in the bible.  The author of this quote is actually founding forefather, Benjamin Franklin. He’s also cited as having said, “Beer is proof that god loves us.”  He many not have been a theological scholar, but he was very quotable nonetheless.

2. “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

Although I’m all for personal hygiene, this fictitious verse isn’t found anywhere in the bible.  According to John Blake’s article, “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.”

3. “Moderation in all things.”

Although it’s not a bad idea to try to use a little moderation when it comes to your time on Facebook and how many chocolate chip cooks you devour, this isn’t anywhere in the bible.

4. “God moves in mysterious ways.”

He very well might, but this is still not anywhere in the bible.  According to John Blake, it’s actually a “paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (‘God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform’).”

5. “To thine own self be true.”

This saying comes from William Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet, not the bible.  Although, because of the King James-y sound of Shakespeare’s writings, confusing the two is actually quite a common mishap. 

6. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

This is not in the bible and neither is the concept.  In fact, the bible is full of stories of people being dealt out way more than they could handle.  I suspect this saying might be a result of warping 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

But the point of what Paul is saying in the verse is that whatever he was dealing with was way too much for him to handle.  He was weak.  He couldn’t do it on his own.  So, telling people who are experiencing hard times that they’re experiencing crap because they’re “strong” and “can handle” it is baloney.  Even the apostle Paul experienced more than he could handle.   

7. “You’re to be in the world, but not of the world.”

Although this concept of being apart of the world but yet still different is a theme in the New Testament, this isn’t a verse.  The closest thing to it is Romans 12:2a: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed in the renewing or your mind.”

8. “This, too, shall pass.”

This is a fictive verse.  It’s found nowhere in the bible.  Although, I have had many people quote it to me as a “biblical promise.”

9. “The eye is the window to the soul.”

The Bible doesn’t say that the eye is the window to the soul, but it does mention the eye being the lamp of the body (Mathew 6:22; Luke 11:34).

Misquoted Bible Verses:

1. “Money is the root of all evil.”

This supposed citation is a completely butchered version of 1 Timothy 6:10a: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It’s the “love of money” that’s the issue, not money itself. And this love of money can lead to “all kinds of evil,” not all evil. It makes a difference.

2. “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” or “Spare the rod, suffer the child.”

I’ve even heard a pastor use these. But both of these inaccurate citations are pretty botched versions of Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” The focus of the verse is that loving parents discipline their children. It’s from the book of Proverbs, so it’s a general truism and not a command.

3. “And the lion shall lie down with the lamb.”

Despite all the peaceful paintings of lions and lambs taking naps together, this actually isn’t found in the bible. It’s a misquotation of Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with a goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.”

4. “I am the way, the truth, and the light.”

This is a inaccurate citation of John 14:6: “Jesus answers, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.”

5. “Pride Comes before a fall.”

It’s close, but not quite. The actual verse is Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”


9 thoughts on “Misquoted Verses: The Bible Doesn’t Say That

  1. Amen Sister!! Although I use ‘ This too shall pass” I never say it is from the Bible..but my Dad loved the quote! Agree, look up the verses for oneself to make sure when using Quotes… and Use the accurate verses of the Word!! Love, carla

    • I agree, Carla. Looking up verses would make a huge difference if someone didn’t know if something was a verse or not. And with resources online now, it’s even easier to look things like that up.

  2. RE: Fictitious #6,

    I think the likely root of what you are calling fictitious is actually 1 Corinthians 10:13, and I would class that as a loose paraphrase, or perhaps, a stretch, but not fictitious.

    1 Corinthians 10:13
    No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

    I would say that “God will never give you more than you can handle.” is a pretty reasonable paraphrase of the verse, IF the context is a person under stress and temptation, and yes, with the proper understanding of the meaning of “Strength” or “Ability to bear.”

    • Yes, you’re most likely right about where they’re getting the idea. 🙂

      Perhaps that one needed a bit more clarification because the context does make a big difference. The context I’ve had people quote this at me (doesn’t mean there aren’t other situations) have always been things like a death in the family. Something tragic and unforeseen, but nothing related to temptation (struggling with sin). While, yes, God was there for me, he didn’t allow my family member to die because I was strong; it really didn’t have anything to do with my strength one way or the other. Even being used in the proper context, though, it isn’t an actual word-for-word verse as is which was what I was focusing on with this post. The idea of being “in the world but not of the world” is a real concept in the bible, too, and the phrase actually sums it up quite nicely, but it’s still not a direct quote.

      And, yes, you’re quite right. When paraphrasing something like 1Corinthians 10:13, context is key. 🙂

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  4. One I hear misquoted quite often is “to be absent from the body IS to be present with the Lord”. It’s a misquote of 2 Cor 5:8 (We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.)

    I may be “willing” to be absent from my apartment and present with my grandson, but that doesn’t meant that when I am absent from my apartment that I AM present with my grandson.

    There are LOTS of doctrines built upon misquotes.

    Thanks for the blog Crunchy! 🙂

  5. Fictitious #7 is in reference to John 15:19 – “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As is it, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (NIV84). You are correct, the phrasing is not exact, but the concept is derived from this verse (and surrounding verses).

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