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Home Columns Lesli's This & That Common Sayings Have Biblical Origins

Common Sayings Have Biblical Origins

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Lesli NolenBy Lesli Nolen
October 2009

I was listening to Christian radio broadcaster K-Love the other day and they were talking about the different sayings or phrases we use today and the origins of them. Many of the phrases we have heard all our lives are actually from the Bible. I was amazed to find out just how many there were. I can’t post all my findings but here are a few I’d like to share.

All things must pass.
Meaning: Nothing lasts forever.
Origin: From the Bible, Matthew 24:6-8 (King James Version):
“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
“All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
George Harrison used the phrase for the title of his successful 1970 triple album. The graphics from the subsequent CD release convey the phrase’s meaning.


By the skin of your(my, his, her) teeth.
Meaning: Narrowly; barely. Usually used in regard to a narrow escape from a disaster.
Origin: The phrase first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, 1560, in Job 19:20, which provides a literal translation of the original Hebrew:
“My bone clings to my skin and to my flesh. And I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.”

Holy BibleCan a leopard change its spots? (A leopard can’t change its spots.)
Meaning: Proverbial question, querying the ability of any person or creature to change its innate being.
Origin: From the Bible, Jeremiah 13:23 (King James Version):
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”

Eat drink and be merry.
Origin: From the Bible, Ecclesiastes 8:15 (King James Version):
“To eat, and to drink, and to be merry.”

Fight the good fight

Meaning: An evangelical call to believe in and spread the Christian faith.
Origin: The words are from the Bible, Timothy 6.12 (King James Version):
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

Flesh and blood.
Meaning: One’s flesh and blood may refer to one’s family, or may denote all mankind. It is also used to denote the living material of which people are composed. Mortal.
Origin: The earliest usage of this phrase relates to the general ‘mankind’ usage. This comes from an Old English translation of the Bible—the Ags. Gospel, Matthew 16:17, circa 1000: “Hit ye ne onwreah flaesc ne blod.”
The later King James version lists this passage as:
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

It’s better to give than to receive.
Meaning: Literal meaning.
Origin: From the Bible, Acts 20:35 (King James Version):
“I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Apple of his eye.The apple of my (his, her) eye.
Meaning: Originally meaning the central aperture of the eye. Figuratively it is something, or more usually someone, cherished above others.
Origin: The phrase is exceedingly old and first appears in Old English in a work attributed to King Aelfred (the Great) of Wessex, AD 885, entitled Gregory’s Pastoral Care. The earliest recorded use in modern English is in Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality, 1816:
“Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye.” It also appears in the Bible, Deuteronomy 32:10 (King James Version)
“He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.”
The blind leading the blind.
Meaning: Uninformed and incompetent people leading others who are similarly incapable.
Origin: This appears in the Bible, Matthew 15:14 (King James Version):
“Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

To cast the first stone. (Who will cast the first stone?)
Meaning: Be the first to attack a sinner.
Origin: From the Bible, John 8:7 (King James Version):
“So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”


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