Ever wondered where some of our popular expressions come from? Often an eloquent and original phrase which becomes part of common vernacular language finds its origins in literature.
One of the most common sources for such phrases or idioms is the Bible. Having about 775,000 words, there is plenty of material there to mine for literary gems, and having been translated into 5,000 or more languages, it’s not surprising that some popular phrases used have become popular expressions. Here are a few of them, with thanks to The Phrase Finder:
“For everything there is a season”
Meaning: There is an appropriate time for everything to happen
Origin: This phrase from Ecclesiastes 3: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The passage, which continues “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” and so on in that way, was also the basis for the popular 60′s song by The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn”
“Drop in the bucket”
Meaning: Something is only a very small portion of the whole
Origin: Isaiah 40:15 reads: “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.” The same chapter contains the famous phrase “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”
“The money is the root of all evil”
Meaning: Literally interpreted.
Origin: An accurate translation of the quote is “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) It suggests that there is nothing intrinsically evil about money itself, but rather it is the love of money that will lead to much evil.
“The handwriting on the wall”
Meaning: Danger or trouble is immanent
Origin: The king of Babylon, Belshazzar, ignoring previous warnings, took and worshiped idols. Then: “Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace.” (Daniel 5:5) This writing ended up being a warning of Belshazzar’s doom. The phrase ended up being used to refer to warnings about impending doom.
“By the skin of your teeth”
Meaning: Barely getting by; narrowly reaching a goal
Origin: In discussions with his friends after his downfall, Job remarks “I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth.” This is a literal translation of the Hebrew; Job was referring to how he had escaped with his life and little else.
Meaning: A person who does a good deed or shows kind compassion in a time of need
Origin: The origin of this short phrase is a famous parable Jesus told when asked “Who is my neighbor?”: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
“Can a leopard change its spots?”
Meaning: Can a person can truly change his or her nature?
Origin: In Jeremiah 13, the prophet Jeremiah rhetorically asks whether a person can change his or her own skin, or a leopard can change its own spots. The assumed answer is no; we are unable to change such things by ourselves. However, making real change in our lives is not hopeless when we are willing to admit we can’t make change on our own strength alone. If you’ve been wanting to make changes in your life lately but haven’t been having success, or just need a patient listener to talk with, consider contacting an online mentor to talk. It’s a free and confidential service by email.
If you’re interested in checking out the Bible a little more, there is an introductory guide called “A Guided Tour: Reading through the Bible ” available on our website.