by William J. Stewart
As noted in a recent sermon on Biblical illiteracy, people in general do not know the Bible very well, which is unfortunate, for it is the word of life. We need to present ourselves as diligent students of the Bible, for our soul is at stake.
Oddly enough, many folks quote the Bible without even knowing it. Several common phrases people say actually come from the Bible. Did you know the Bible said it first?
“…escaped by the skin of my teeth.”
If someone narrowly escape a disaster or death, they might say “I escaped by the skin of my teeth.” Job had a lot of disaster in a very short time, so much so that it was a wonder to him that he was still alive. That is why he said, “I have escaped by the skin of my teeth” (Job 19:20).
“…out of the mouth of babes.”
Sometimes children say things beyond their age, wise observations that surprise the adults around them. When such occurs, someone might remark, “out of the mouth of babes.” The phrase comes from Psalm 8:2 and was quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16 about children in the temple who acknowledged Him as the Son of David.
“Pride goes before a fall.”
When someone is overconfident, they might be told “pride goes before a fall.” It serves as a warning, arrogance is often rewarded with failure. The phrase comes from Proverbs 16:18, which reads, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
“A fly in the ointment.”
This phrase is descriptive of an irritation or annoyance that spoils the value or enjoyment of something. The phrase comes from Ecclesiastes 10:1, “Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment…”
“A drop in the bucket.”
Something small or insignificant compared to something of greater magnitude. Isaiah wrote, “…the nations are as a drop in a bucket and are counted as the small dust on the scales..” (40:15).
“A leopard cannot change his spots.”
One will not / cannot change their essential nature. Rebuking the people of Judah for their wickedness, Jeremiah said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
“Go the extra mile.”
When someone goes beyond what is necessary or makes a special effort in doing something, it is said they have gone the extra mile. Jesus said, “…whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41).
“The blind leading the blind.”
Used to describe a situation where someone seeks guidance from another who has no clue. Jesus said, “…if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14).
“A little birdie told me.”
This expression is used to conceal the source of information which had been shared, often information that you didn’t want shared. It is not word-for-word, but it seems related to Ecclesiastes 10:20, “Do not curse the king, even in your thought; do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; for a bird of the air may carry your voice, and a bird in flight may tell the matter.”
“How the mighty have fallen.”
If someone powerful suffers a tremendous loss or reduction in their influence, especially under scandalous or unseemly circumstances, an observer might comment, “how the mighty have fallen.” The phrase comes from 2 Samuel 1:19 (cf. v 25, 27), part of a song written by David to commemorate and mourn the death of King Saul and his son, Jonathan.
In our common vernacular, a scapegoat is “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency” (Oxford Dictionary). The word is from Leviticus 16. On the day of atonement, two goats would be selected; one would be offered to God as a sacrifice, while the other was sent out into the wilderness, symbolizing the sins of the people being carried away. This latter goat was the scapegoat.
“The twinkling of an eye.”
This is used to speak of something that happens quickly. It comes from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:52, where he spoke of the immediate changing of those who are alive at the coming of Christ from physical to spiritual bodies.
There are several more examples we could look at, but the above sufficiently demonstrates that the Bible has had a great influence in our culture and particularly on our speech. Sadly, the nature of the influence has predominantly been a matter of witty expressions, wise idioms, and such. Far too many approach the “eleventh hour” (Matthew 20:6, 9) standing idle, and are happy to remain that way. May God’s word not be the source of a few ditties we say from time to time, but the source of eternal life to us. His word needs to permeate our hearts, His commandments must be the focus of our lives. The “strait and narrow” (Matthew 7:14, KJV) had better mean more to us than living a decent, moral life. As important as decency and morality are, they alone do not lead to life. To follow the “strait and narrow,” we need to be diligent students and adherents of God’s word.