While the Bible is still the best selling book of all time, it is also one of the most misquoted. With all the societal changes over the past few decades, more and more Americans are unfamiliar with what is in the Bible, and don’t know even basic details of its stories.
For example, nowhere in the Bible does it say a whale swallowed Jonah, the Old Testament prophet. The often misquoted passage tells us that Jonah was indeed swallowed, but by a “big fish.” Since a whale is a mammal, I’m not convinced that was the creature that had the man for lunch.
Also, there is no place in the New Testament which informs us that three wise men visited baby Jesus. While we are told magi from the East followed a star and worshiped the infant Jesus, we are not given a specific number. This misunderstanding probably arose from the fact that 3 gifts given by the magi are mentioned in the gospels. Since these gifts were quite valuable, it well could have been a large group of men giving them.
More specific problems arise when we look at some quotes which most people believe originated in the Bible. Listed below are 5 quotes many people mistakenly believe are from scripture:
The lion shall lie down with the lamb
This quote is thought to refer to the millennial rule of Jesus when he returns to earth to restore the original order of creation. At that time, the Bible foretells that he will sit on the throne in Jerusalem and peace will reign throughout the earth.
The picture of a fierce lion lying, like a contented kitten, with his paws around an adorable, fluffy little lamb is certainly a powerful image. It is a symbol of peace in the animal kingdom when predator and prey can live together in harmony. We love to think of it – but it’s not a picture drawn from the Bible.
The image probably developed from a variety of similar verses relating to animals in the book of Isaiah. In several of those verses lions and lambs are mentioned, but they are paired with other animals. For example, Isaiah 11:6 speaks of several animals co-existing: a wolf and a lamb, a leopard and a young goat, and a calf and a lion.
Isaiah 65:25 tells us: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
As you can tell from this verse, though, the meaning behind the imagery of these animals calmly sharing a bed is correct, even if the specific animals in this quote are not mentioned. It’s easy to see how the words caught on, even though they were not a direct quote from scripture.
Furthermore, since Jesus himself is often called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Lamb of God,” the combination seems appropriate for an image of the end times.
The Seven Deadly Sins
This quote has been around for a long time, and does have a general basis in scripture. It was made more widely known when the concept became the basis of the plot for a 1995 film called “Se7en.” The list of seven deadly sins includes:
Though each of the 7 is a sin condemned in the Bible, nowhere in scripture are they found in this specific grouping. The concept apparently originated in medieval times and was perpetuated by the writings of noted theologians like Thomas Aquinas and popular writers like Geoffery Chaucer and John Milton.
Probably the closest list of seven “sins” in the Bible is found in Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”
However, there is no evidence in scripture that any sin is worse than any other, nor are any more “deadly” in the sense of being unforgivable. The Bible clearly states that the sacrifice of Jesus paid the penalty for all sin!
This, too, shall pass
While it is probably true that most everything will eventually “pass,” this quote is not found anywhere in the Bible. Rather, it is a bit of folk wisdom wrongly attributed to Scripture. Perhaps the most famous person to misquote its origin was football great Mike Ditka.
This quote is basically a proverb teaching that all things which happen in life, whether positive or negative, are temporary. The phrase apparently came from the writings of medieval Persian poets, and is often associated with a story about a great king humbled by a ring inscribed with those simple words.
Jewish folklore often associates the phrase with Solomon’s wisdom writings, though it does not appear in his Biblical books. The verse was made popular in the early 19th century when it was included in a collection of short stories by English poet Edward Fitzgerald. Abraham Lincoln is said to have used it in a speech made before he became president.
The Bible consistently reminds us that earthly treasures and pleasures are fleeting and not at all comparable to the eternal riches found in a relationship with God. But the emphasis is not on taking comfort from the knowledge that the problem is transitory. Rather, we are told to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
A fool and his money are soon parted
Again, this quote is not from the Bible, but is taken from a poem, “Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry,” by Thomas Tusser. Apparently Tusser was a farmer as well as a poet, and he wrote this long poem, with rhyming couplets, to capture the essence of a year lived in the country. The poem was printed in 1557 and was frequently reprinted after that.
Many people wrongly attribute the saying to P.T. Barnum, who was famous for quoting it, but it was used long before he used it. The closest the Bible comes to this idea is probably Proverbs 17:16: “Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?”
God works in mysterious ways…
In the course of my research I came across one which I actually always thought was a Bible quote. Even after decades of teaching the Bible, I was mistaken.
This quote is actually from a 19th century hymn written by William Cowper. The first two lines of the hymn are: “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” It is not a direct biblical quote, but it does seem to be a true statement, based on other passages found in the Bible.
For example, Isaiah 55:8-9 (King James Version) tells us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Many verses speak of godly things as being unknown or “mysteries.” Passages like Ecclesiastes 1:5, Jeremiah 33:3 (“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”) and Mark 4:11, 12 all speak of God explaining to His people the meaning of his words and actions. In fact, one of the main purposes of the New Testament is to reveal much of the “mystery” of God’s previous revelation.
Sometimes misquoted sayings are just different ways of stating biblical truth, but others are dangerously wrong concepts. The best way to determine if a quote is actually from the Bible is to read the Bible!
Bible verses taken from the New International Version