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Phrases and Expressions that originated in the Bible

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English phrases and sayings that derive from the Bible

King James Version The King James Version of the Bible has been enormously influential in the development of the English language. It ranks with the complete works of Shakespeare and the Oxford English Dictionary as one of the cornerstones of the recorded language. After Shakespeare, the King James, or Authorized, Version of the Bible is the most common source of phrases in English. The King James in question was James I of England and James VI of Scotland. He didn't write the text of course, he merely authorized it, hence the name by which the book is best known in the UK (King James Version, or KJV, being more commonly used in the USA).

The King James Version was translated by 47 biblical scholars, working in six committees. It was first printed in 1611 and was by no means the earliest English translation of the Bible. It was pre-dated by several other partial or complete translations, notably John Wyclif's translation in 1382 and William Tyndale's in 1528, the latter forming the basis of a large proportion of the KJV.

What raises this version above other versions of the Bible in terms of its linguistic impact is the fact that the language used has persisted into the present day. Many of the phrases included are still commonplace. Here are some of the many phrases that originated in the Bible (most, but not all, from the King James Version). And, as so many religious expressions are also proverbs, here's an list of biblical proverbs.

A list of 122 everyday phrases that have a biblical origin

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

A broken heart

KJV, Psalms 34:18 - The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

A cross to bear

KJV, Luke 14:27 - And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

A drop in the bucket

A fly in the ointment

A graven image

KJV, Deuteronomy 5:8 - Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth.

A house divided against itself cannot stand

A labour of love

A law unto themselves

KJV, Romans 2:14 - For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.

A leopard cannot change its spots

A man after his own heart

A multitude of sins

A nest of vipers

A peace offering

KJV, Leviticus 3:6 - And if his offering for a sacrifice of peace offering unto the LORD be of the flock; male or female, he shall offer it without blemish.

A sign of the times

KJV, Matthew 16:3 - And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

A soft answer turns away wrath

KJV, Proverbs 15:1 - A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

A thorn in the flesh

A two-edged sword

KJV, Proverbs 5:4 - But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.

A voice crying in the wilderness

KJV, John 1:23 - He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

A wolf in sheep's clothing

All things must pass

All things to all men

Am I my brother's keeper?

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

As old as Methuselah

As old as the hills

As white as snow

As you sow so shall you reap

Ashes to ashes dust to dust

At his wits end

Baptism of fire

KJV, Matthew 3:11 - I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.

Be fruitful and multiply

KJV, Genesis 1:22 - And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

Beat swords into ploughshares

Bite the dust

Blessed are the peacemakers

Born again

KJV, John 3:3 - Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Breath of life

KJV, Genesis 2:7 - And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

By the skin of your teeth

By the sweat of your brow

KJV, Genesis 3:19 - In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Can a leopard change its spots?

Cast bread upon the waters

KJV, Ecclesiastes 11:1 - Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

Cast the first stone

Charity begins at home

Coat of many colours

Don't cast your pearls before swine

Dust to dust

KJV, Genesis 3:19 - In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Eat drink and be merry

Eye to eye

KJV, Isaiah 52:8 - Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.

Faith will move mountains

Fall from grace

Fat of the land

KJV, Genesis 45:18 - And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.

Feet of clay

KJV, Daniel 2: 31-33 - His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.

Fight the good fight

Fire and brimstone

KJV, Genesis 19: 24-26 - Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.

Flesh and blood

For everything there is a season

Forbidden fruit

Forgive them for they know not what they do

From strength to strength

Get thee behind me Satan

Gird your loins

KJV, 1 Kings 18:46 And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Give up the ghost

Go the extra mile

KJV, Matthew 5:41 - And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

Good Samaritan

Harden your heart

KJV, Exodus 4:21 - And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword

KJV, Matthew 26:52 - Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

Heart's desire

KJV, Psalms 21:2 - Thou hast given him his heart's desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah.

Holier than thou

KJV, Isaiah 65:5 - Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.

How are the mighty fallen

In the beginning was the word

In the twinkling of an eye

It's better to give than to receive

Labour of love

Lamb to the slaughter

Land of Nod

Law unto themselves

KJV, Romans 2:14 - For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone

Let not the sun go down on your wrath

Let there be light

Letter of the law

KJV, 2 Corinthians 3:6 - Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

Living off the fat of the land

Love of money is the root of all evil

Love thy neighbour as thyself

Man does not live by bread alone

Manna from Heaven

KJV, Exodus 16:15 - And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.

Many are called but few are chosen

My cup runneth over

My heart's desire

KJV, Psalms 21:2 - Thou hast given him his heart's desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah.

No rest for the wicked

Nothing new under the sun

KJV, Ecclesiastes 1:9 - The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

O ye, of little faith

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings

Patience of Job

KJV, James 5:11 - Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

Peace offering

KJV, Leviticus 3:6 - And if his offering for a sacrifice of peace offering unto the LORD be of the flock; male or female, he shall offer it without blemish.

Pearls before swine

Physician heal thyself

Pride goes before a fall

KJV, Proverbs 16:18 - Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Put words in one's mouth

KJV, II Samuel 14:3 - And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth.

Put your house in order

KJV, II Kings 20:1 - In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

Red sky at night; shepherds' delight

Reap the whirlwind

KJV, Hosea 8:7 - For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.

Scapegoat

See eye to eye

KJV, Isaiah 52:8 - Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.

Set your teeth on edge

KJV, Jeremiah 31:30 - But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Sign of the times

KJV, Matthew 16:3 - And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

Skin of your teeth

Soft answer turns away wrath

KJV, Proverbs 15:1 - A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

Sour grapes

KJV, Jeremiah 31:30 - But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Spare the rod and spoil the child

Strait and narrow

Sufficient unto the day

KJV, Matthew 6:34 - Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Sweat of your brow

KJV, Genesis 3:19 - In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Swords into ploughshares

Tender mercies

KJV, Psalms 25:6 - Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.

The apple of his eye

The blind leading the blind

The bread of life

The breath of life

KJV, Genesis 2:7 - And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

The ends of the earth

The fat of the land

KJV, Genesis 45:18 - And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.

The fly in the ointment

The fruits of your loins

The land of Nod

The letter of the law

KJV, 2 Corinthians 3:6 - Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

The love of money is the root of all evil

The patience of Job

KJV, James 5:11 - Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

The powers that be

The root of the matter

The salt of the earth

The skin of your teeth

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak

The strait and narrow

The sweat of your brow

KJV, Genesis 3:19 - In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

The wages of sin is death

The way of all flesh

KJV, Genesis 6:12 - And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.

The wisdom of Solomon

KJV, Luke 11:31 - The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

The writing is on the wall

There's nothing new under the sun

KJV, Ecclesiastes 1:9 - The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Thorn in the flesh

Thou shalt not kill

Three score and ten

To everything there is a season

Wash your hands of the matter

KJV, Matthew 27:24 - When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

Way of all flesh

KJV, Genesis 6:12 - And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.

What God has joined together let no man put asunder

Weighed in the balance

KJV, Job 31:6 - Let me be weighed in an even balance that God may know mine integrity.

White as snow

Wheels within wheels

KJV, Ezekiel 1:16 - The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.

Wisdom of Solomon

KJV, Luke 11:31 - The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

Woe is me

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Writing is on the wall

You reap what you sow