The Bible has had such an influence on human history and culture that many iconic and well-known Bible passages have appeared countless times in fiction, media, household sayings, slogans, and more. It should be no surprise that there are many myths and misconceptions about the Bible after centuries of human beings repeating stories without context and without proper knowledge of the Scripture. Here are 7 well-known tropes you may have seen about the Bible and the truth behind them:

1. Jonah and the Whale

This may be the most common of all misconceptions about a Bible story – that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The Hebrew term used in Jonah 2:1 translates to dag gadol, or “great fish,” not specifically “whale.” It’s entirely possible that, since no term to specify whales from fish existed in this context, that it merely meant sea creature. Either way, there are records in history of whales and fish swallowing men, so the literal reading of this passage is entirely plausible.

While this is a very well-known myth in pop culture, it’s not very important to the story of Jonah. The message for the prophet was the same whether he was inside a mammal or a man-eating shark!

2. Satan Wields a Pitchfork

The image of Satan ruling Hell with a pitchfork is present in many art forms – from classical paintings to Saturday morning cartoons.

The origin of this imagery comes from several sources, but not really from the Bible. One of the earliest instances was at the Irish monastery of Monasterboice in a famous piece of stonework. Historians argue about the exact reasons this idea became prevalent, but it was likely a combination of the fact that Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, was often depicted with a trident/bident, and the fact that medieval peasants would have been familiar with pitchforks for the purposes of sermons and depictions by clergy.

In truth, Lucifer is described as beautiful in Ezekiel 28, so he likely never appeared as the ugly, horned, goat-like figure often seen in media.

3. All Angels Have Wings

In pop culture, it’s just as common to see inaccurate imagery of angels as it is to see inaccurate imagery of Satan. One particular trope is the beautiful humanoid figure, often pale and blond, with wings, white robes, and a golden harp. One of the most famous instances of this imagery comes from Michelangelo’s statue of an angel, but such artwork was prevalent even before his time in the 13th century and can be found throughout Europe.

From the Bible’s descriptions of angels, this is most certainly not what all angels look like, if any. Many of the angels described in the Bible are not winged at all, and some of them are not even humanoid. Hebrews 13:2 says that we may encounter angels unawares at any time, suggesting they may blend in with regular people. In Genesis 19, angels were mistaken for men, and they blinded and cursed the men of Sodom for unwanted sexual advances! There are several other instances where angels are mistaken for men, but none where they appear as women.

Elsewhere, in Revelation 4:8, angels are described as creatures with six wings, covered in eyes. Ezekiel 1:16-18 mentions angels with eyes all around, described as wheels for God’s throne. Cherubim, often depicted as winged babies in classical art, have four faces and four wings (Ezekiel 10:14).

4. Money is the Root of All Evil

Many people believe that the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. This phrase is often used to point to the fact that riches are inherently evil or corrupting. However, this is what the apostle Paul actually says to Timothy: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Underline the first five words, “For the LOVE of money…” Of course, that is a much different meaning from the misquoted saying. Paul is giving a warning about greed and the pursuit of wealth, not about the inherent evil in money. Money, like many other things, is a tool used in human civilization and is neither evil nor good. It can certainly be misused and people often behave in evil ways in order to obtain it, but just the same, money can be used to help the needy, spread the gospel, and influence the world in a positive way.

In the context of 1 Timothy, Paul is primarily directing the young minister to avoid the trap of using his position for personal gain. He is also warning his young protégé about the dangers of greed. The apostle points to examples of false teachers tickling the ears of their congregations and scamming the people out of their money.

5. Eve Ate an Apple

Yet again, much of our imagery for the story of Adam and Eve in the modern day comes from medieval art. The forbidden fruit is often depicted as a shiny red apple offered by a serpent. Many people now know that the fruit was not likely a literal apple, but did you know where this image comes from?

It’s simply a funny coincidence that the Latin word for apple is “malum,” which also happens to be a Latin homonym for “evil”! When Scripture was translated into Latin (and read exclusively in Latin for many centuries), it’s very plausible that teachers would conflate the two ideas, whether intentionally or by mistake.

One other theory is that scholars confused the Latin word “pom,” which meant fruit, for the French “pomme,” which originally served as a general term for fruit but later came to mean just “apple.”

As languages shift and change over hundreds of years, these small instances of confusion can have huge consequences for our understanding of certain translated passages. While this particular mix-up isn’t very important to the message, much like Jonah’s whale vs. fish, it’s always important to study the original source and understand it as much as possible!

6. Thou Shalt Not Kill

“Thou Shalt Not Kill” is perhaps the most famous of the Ten Commandments, and yet it’s a mistranslation of the original Hebrew – which actually says “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” There’s a major difference between the two, as I spoke about in my most recent blog. That difference between murder and justified killing is part of a longstanding debate about Christianity and pacifism. As we established in that post, neither the Old nor New Testament commands us to be completely pacifist in the modern ideological sense.

One interesting point to note, as poet A.H. Clough cleverly highlights, is that this misinterpretation can lead to many other issues. In his satirical poem “The Latest Decalogue,” Clough puts it this way:

“Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive.”

7. Noah Took Two of Each Animal on the Ark

Noah’s Ark is another well-known Bible story, and like Jonah and the whale and Eve and the apple, imagery can be found in every Sunday school and classical illustration imaginable. Children are often taught that Noah took two of every animal onto the ark so that they would each have a mate and repopulate the earth, but this actually isn’t true. He actually took two of every unclean animal, but seven of every clean animal (Genesis 7:2-3). As there are more clean animals than unclean, this means he took many more animals than most people believe!

Want to learn more about angels, Satan, and the afterlife? Check out ISOW’s course bundle of Angels and Demonology or Dr. Bryan Cutshall’s course on The Theology of Heaven and Hell. You can also learn about more of the Bible’s iconic imagery in ISOW’s Types and Shadows of Scripture course. Visit to get started on an affordable online biblical education today!