Question: "What are the most common things people think are in the Bible that are not actually in the Bible?"
Answer: In Psalm 119:16, David promises God, "I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word." In Deuteronomy 11:18-19, God exhorts the Israelites, "You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up." As believers, we know we are to study the Bible, memorize it, and obey it. But does the Bible say what we think it says? The truth is, there are several phrases that sound like they come from the Bible, but do not.
"God helps those who help themselves."
The earliest recording of this saying is actually from Aesop's fable "Hercules and the Waggoner." A man's wagon got stuck in a muddy road, and he prayed for Hercules to help. Hercules appeared and said, "Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel." The moral given was "The gods help them that help themselves." Aesop was a Greek writer who lived from 620 to 564 BC, but obviously did not contribute to the Bible. As a biblical truism, the proverb has mixed results. We can do nothing to help when it comes to salvation; salvation is through Christ alone. In the work of sanctification—becoming more spiritually mature—we are to join in the work. 1 Peter 1:14-15 says, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior."
"Cleanliness is next to godliness."
Despite the strict rules given to the Israelites about uncleanness as a metaphor for sinfulness and ceremonial washing required by the priests (see: Exodus, Leviticus), this phrase is not in the Bible. It originated as an ancient Babylonian and Hebrew proverb, but became very popular during the Victorian era after being revived by Sir Francis Bacon and John Wesley. Is the proverb true beyond the metaphor? A new study shows that people are generally fairer and more generous when in a clean-smelling environment. But Jesus also exhorts us to worry more about the sin in our hearts than the dirt on our hands (Matthew 15:16–20).
"In the last days, you will not be able to know the seasons except by the changing of the leaves."
Even a thorough Google search will not reveal the origin of this saying, but it is not found in the Bible. Matthew 24:32-33 uses the budding of leaves heralding the coming of summer as a metaphor for the signs that Christ will return. But nowhere does the Bible mention that seasons will be so altered that only the changing leaves will identify them.
"It is better to cast your seed in the belly of a whore than to spill it out on the ground."
This verse is usually used to justify fornication or adultery over masturbation. It is one more misinterpretation of the story of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10. Onan's brother died, and Onan had the responsibility of marrying his brother's wife to provide an heir. Instead, Onan "wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother." This passage isn't even about masturbation; God struck Onan down because he selfishly refused to provide an heir for his brother's inheritance. In addition, the proverb is inaccurate. In no way would the Bible encourage the use of anyone other than a spouse for sexual gratification. Instead, we are called to not allow physical appetites to control us (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
"Hate the sin, love the sinner."
Although this is a biblical-sounding admonition, it is not directly from the Bible. It’s actually a loose quote of something Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1929, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” Augustine expressed a similar thought back in AD 424: “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The biblical principle backing this up is found in Jude 1:22–23. We are to hate sin—even our own. And we are to show love to other people. The “hating sin” part is coming under fire today as more and more people define themselves by their sin and resent the guidelines God has given us in His Word.
"Money is the root of all evil."
This is a common misconception with an easy fix. 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says, "For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…" Money is not good or bad, and being wealthy is not a sin; Job was wealthy and described as a man who was "blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil" (Job 1:1). Loving money, which in the Greek is "avarice" and implies an emotional affection, is the root of all sorts of evil as the desire to accumulate wealth is placed above God and others.
"This too shall pass."
This is actually a misinterpretation of a line from "The Lament of Deor," an Old English poem. Deor has been replaced as his lord's poet, and calls to mind several other Germanic mythological figures who went through troubled times. Each refrain ends with, "that passed away, so may this." Several verses in the Bible remind us that our lives and, indeed, heaven and earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35). But while we can find comfort knowing that our earthly sorrows are temporary, we're still called to rejoice in our trials, knowing that they will lead to endurance and sanctification (James 1:2-4).
"The lion shall lay down with the lamb."
Although Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God (Revelation 5), this phrase does not appear in the Bible. Isaiah 11:6 says, "And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them." Similarly, Isaiah 65:25 reads, "The wolf and the lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw like an ox…" The sentiment reads true, however—hunter and prey will be reconciled and live in peace in the eternal kingdom.
God left us the Bible as a written testimony of His Word. His truth is found in the Bible. Some sayings are simple rewordings of biblical truth, but others are dangerous heresy. Despite how clever or even edifying a quote may be, if it isn't in the Bible, we have no guarantee that it is the Word of God. And the only way we'll know is if we read the Bible.