The Bible contributed a number of sayings and terms to the English language, once it had been translated from Latin, so that more people could understand it. Despite today’s increasingly secular society, many of these contributions have stuck with us and are still used, though some are misquoted or have had their origins obscured.
Though there are many, I’ve chosen a few that are more common, and a few that are some of my favourites, to make up just 10:
1. A leopard cannot change its spots
The original is found in the Book of Jeremiah: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (13:23, KJV).
The meaning behind this phrase is that one cannot change their nature, or what they truly are.
2. Money is the root of all evil
This a fairly common saying, but it is actually a misquote.
The actual saying is: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (Timothy 6:10, KJV).
Therefore money itself is not the root of evil. Its people’s desire or love of money, that is.
3. A house divided against itself cannot stand
Meaning unity is what keeps things together, this phrase is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who used it in his acceptance speech of the Republican nomination in 1858. In this case Lincoln, was referring to the issue of slavery, which was dividing the country, and led to the Civil War (Reader’s Digest).
However, Lincoln likely picked up this idea from a statement made by Jesus, in Matthew’s version of the Gospel : “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (12:25, KJV).
4. Forbidden Fruit
The term Forbidden Fruit is used to refer to something that though off limits, or immoral, is extremely tempting. Its origin comes from what is known as the fall, which is found in the Book of Genesis.
In the Book of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve, that they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (2:16-2:17, KJV).
Adam and Eve, of course, end up being tempted by the serpent, and give in, eating the forbidden fruit.
5. How the mighty have fallen
This phrase is sometimes used in reference to the disgrace or the downfall of prominent public figures or the wealthy and powerful. It comes from the 2nd Book of Samuel, where in it refers to the fall of Israel in battle against the Philistines: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!” (1:19, KJV)
6. Writings on the wall
The phrase writings on the wall is usually used to describe the fact that something is clearly not going to turn out well, or is ill omened. The term comes from the Book of Daniel, from a scene in which the Babylonian king, Belshazzar, is having a feast and makes the poor decision to have the holy vessels of the temple of the God of Israel brought to him, so that he can drink out of them. This of course makes God angry, so he decides to send the king a message, by having a ghostly hand, write a message on the wall.
Belshazzar, of course can’t read it, because it is in Hebrew, so he sends for Daniel, who explains that God has found the king unworthy and has decided to give away his kingdom. Later that evening, the Persians invade and kill Belshazzar, ending his reign. You can check out a dramatized version of this event, as portrayed in the movie the Book of Daniel, in the clip below.
The term scapegoat, is used to refer to someone who is unfairly blamed for something. It comes from a ceremony that used to take place every year, since the return of the Israelites from Egypt, up until the destruction of the 2nd temple. This ceremony is described in Leviticus. In this ceremony two goats would be chosen. One would be sacrificed in the temple, to God. The other goat would have the sins of the people placed upon it. Thus it was called the scapegoat. The scapegoat, would then be driven out of the city of Jerusalem, and off of a cliff to ensure that it could not return, as this was seen as a bad omen (Readers Digest).
8. Apple of my eye
This is considered a term of endearment, and is often used to describe a cherished person, usually a child. In Zachariah, Israel is described as the apple of God’s eye: “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (2:8, KJV).
9. The blind leading the blind
This phrase is often used to describe someone who is unknowledgeable or misinformed, following the lead of someone who is no more knowledgeable or informed than they are. Thus the blind is leading the blind.
It originates in Matthew: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (15:14, KJV).
Therefore as one would expect, the end result isn’t going to be good.
10. Good Samaritan
The term Good Samaritan is often used to describe a person who goes out of their way to assist someone else. This phrase originates from Jesus’ parable in Luke 10:30-37 (KJV). Often called the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story is centered on a man who is beaten and robbed, and left to die.
In the parable a priest, and a Levite, both pass by, seeing the suffering man but do not help him. After this, however, a Samaritan finds him and treats his wounds, before transporting him to a nearby inn to care for him. Upon leaving, the Samaritan gives the innkeeper money to care for the injured man, and promises to pay for any additional costs upon his return.
Talk about going out of your way to help someone.
There are many more than the 10 terms and phrases I have chosen to share with you. If you’re interested, here are a few additional places that you can find terms and phrases that came from the Bible: