Famous Sayings and Phrases from the Bible, Part 2

The following is continued from last week's commentary, and taken from the book "1001 Surprising Things you Should Know About The Bible" by Jerry MacGregor and Marie Prys:

" 21. "The apple of my eye" is a phrase first created in Deuteronomy 32:10 to describe God's perspective of Israel. The Hebrew words literally mean "center" or "pupil" of the eye, but in the poetic sense they refer to someone or something highly valued by another. The poet David asks God in Psalm 17:8, "Keep me as the apple of Your eye."

22. "Scapegoat." On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would lay his hands on one goat, symbolically transferring the sins of the people onto it. However, instead of being killed, the goat was driven into the wilderness as a symbol of the sins being "gone." The goat, which took the blame for the sins of others, was known as the "scapegoat."

23. "Spare the rod and spoil the child." This bit of homily wisdom (generally quoted by senior citizens when somebody else's kids are acting up) is based on the wisdom of King Solomon, who says in Proverbs 13:24 that a parent "who spares the rod hates his son."

24. "Pride goes before a fall," one of the most commonly quoted phrases in American history, where the words of King Solomon in Proverbs 16:18, referring to the fact that a prideful attitude can blind us and lead us into trouble.

25. "A fly in the ointment" is a phrase commonly used to describe something that has gone wrong with a system or procedure. It comes from Ecclesiastes 10:1, which states that "dead flies spoil the perfumer's ointment."

26. "Woe is me!" This phrase, once common in nineteenth-century literature, was first used in Isaiah 6:5 when the prophet came face-to-face with God. It also appears in the Book of Jeremiah as an expression of sorrow.

27. "A drop in the bucket." Generally used to refer to ďa small amount" or "a meaningless portion," the words are lifted in their entirety from Isaiah 40:15, in which we are told that to the Lord "the nations are a drop in the bucket."

28. "Holier than thou." These words, which in our modern culture are generally used to describe a self-righteous person, were used in the same sense by the Lord in Isaiah 65:5 to criticize those who felt themselves better than others.

29. "Like a lamb to slaughter" were words first used in Isaiah 53:7 to describe the coming Messiah's willingness to accept His fate. It's now generally used in reference to an innocent victim or someone who is bound to lose in his or her circumstances.

30. "The skin of our teeth." Generally used to mean"just barely," the imagery comes from Job 19:20. The phrase was popularized when made the title of a wildly successful play by American playwright Thornton Wilder.

31. "Can a leopard change its spots?" This rhetorical question, which suggests people cannot change what they are inherently, was coined by the prophet Jeremiah in 13:23 of his book.

32. "Feet of clay," an expression which has come to mean a personal flaw in an individual, was first used by the prophet Daniel when describing the statue he had seen in King Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The feet of the statue were made of clay mixed with iron - a weak base for such a big, heavy monument.

33. "The handwriting on the wall" is a phrase that comes from Daniel chapter 5. The carnal King Belshazzar had seen a hand appear and write a mysterious message. Calling upon Daniel to interpret the message, the king learned that God had weighed Belshazzar on an eternal scale and found him wanting. His kingdom was to be taken away that very night - leading to our use of the phrase as "something inevitable that we can all see happening."

34. "We reap what we sow." Generally accepted as cultural wisdom that means "you get what you earn," the phrase is lifted from Paul's letter to the Galatians in chapter 6, verse 7.

35. "The powers that be," a phrase first created by Bible translator William Tyndale, is usually used to refer to "the government" or "those in charge." It means those in positions of authority are there by God's choice and therefore exist only because He wishes them to. The phrase was used by the apostle Paul in Roman's 13:1 when, as the King James Version reads, he noted, "the powers that be are ordained by God."

36. "A thorn in the side." The apostle Paul first used this phrase in 2 Corinthians 12:7 to describe some sort of physical ailment. Though he pleaded with God to take it away, the problem continued, thus keeping Paul humble. We still use the phrase to refer to an ongoing problem.

37. "Money is the root of all evil." This popular phrase is actually a bit of a mistranslation from 1 Timothy 6:10. The actual words of Paul stated that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (emphasis added). Still the fact remains that lusting after money can get us into all sorts of trouble.

38. "Nothing new under the sun." This statement by Solomon demonstrates the author's realization that despite temporary changes from one day to the next, there is nothing truly new or unexpected under the rising and falling of the sun each day. The phrase comes from Ecclesiastes 1:9.

39. "The fat of the land." Pharaoh spoke these words to Joseph in Genesis 45:18. Joseph was to pass them on in turn to his brothers, who were hungry and in need of a place to live due to the famine affecting the land of Israel. The Egyptian king promised Joseph the best land of Egypt and that he and his brothers would be well provided for and able to eat "the fat of the land."

40. "All things to all men." Paul speaking in 1 Corinthians 9:22 of how he had become all things to everyone in order to win some to Christ. The phrase now is often seen as a "sell-out" point, as it is difficult to be everything to everyone and keep sight of one's own welfare. "

By George Konig

See a list of all of our commentaries