Many people don’t realize it, but there are many English idioms that come from the Bible – most from the King James Version of 1611 (and thereafter), and some from even before that. Because Bible reading used to be much more prevalent in society at large, these phrases became commonplace in English.
I’m going to be talking about one of them on Sunday. It comes from Proverbs 25.22, cited later by the apostle Paul in Romans 12.20. It’s the idea of doing good to your enemies being like heaping burning coals on their heads, in the context of leaving revenge to God. (In the Old Testament, the idea of burning coals is an image for the judgment of God.)
Just for fun, I took to social media the other day to ask people what their favourite English idiom with biblical roots might be. Here’s a sampling of the answers I got:
- “The writing is on the wall” – from the book of Daniel
- “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” – from Jesus in Matthew
- “Scapegoat” – from Leviticus (this one dates back to the time of William Tyndale’s translation in the 1500s!)
- “Eat, drink and be merry” – from Ecclesiastes
- “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – from Genesis
- “A drop in the bucket” – from Isaiah
- “A fool and his money are soon parted” – from Proverbs
To be sure, there is a move afoot to expunge the Bible from culture. But that’s next to impossible to do; because the Bible has had so much influence on culture, literature, art, and virtually every other aspect of society, it would take far more effort than most people are willing to put forth to remove the Bible from our culture entirely.
It’s one thing, though, to have a Bible-laced vocabulary of idioms; it’s another thing to have the Bible ingrained in us in such a way that we live its principles and follow God’s ways as we live in relationship with him. That has much more potential to change the world!
“I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119.11, NLT).
Encouragement From the Word will return on November 27.