The Bible on our Lips

WE USE PHRASES from the Bible, especially the King James Version, more often than we imagine. Princeton Seminary scholar Bruce Metzger creatively shows us one way the Bible has subtly influenced Western culture:

A person may be said to behave like the great I Am (Exod. 3:14), or to have “the mark of Cain” (Gen. 4:15). People are tempted to eat forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:1 7), desire the fleshpots of Egypt (Exod. 16:3), and give up something worth having for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:29—34).

Yet “one does not live by bread alone” (Deut. 8:3), and finally each must go the way of all flesh (cf. Gen. 6:12; Josh. 23:14) and return to the dust (Gen. 3:19). For the moment, those who find themselves “at their wits’ end” (Ps. 107:27) may still escape by the skin of their teeth (Job 19:20), but others find themselves in the position of a scapegoat (Lev. 16.8—10). Nevertheless, “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1).

Unfortunately, a leopard cannot change its spots (jer. 13:23). The wicked sow the wind and reap the whirlwind (Hos. 8:7), and because they ignore the writing on the wall (Dan. 5:24), they are fated to “lick the dust” (Ps. 72:9). Inevitably “pride goeth . . . before a fall” (Prov. 16:18), and anything that hinders success is a fly in the ointment (Eccles. 10:1). The wise know that “you can’t take it with you” (cf Eccles. 5:15), and that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).

From Jesus and Paul

Who has not known a “good Samaritan” (Lu 10:30—37), a person who will “go a second mile (Matt. 5:41)? These individuals “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) and often “turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:38). Some seek “pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46), while others, like the Prodigal Son waste their money “in riotous living” (Luke 15:13; one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). “A house divided against itself will not stand” (Mark 3:25 can “the blind lead the blind” (Matt. 15:14). It is less to “cast pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6).

In antiquity a “talent” was a unit of weight or money, but because of Jesus’ Parable of the Tal( (Matt. 25:14—30), the word has come to mean natural endowment or ability. To disregard these abilities is to hide one’s light under a bushel (Matt. 5:15) Even those who have never opened a Bible reccnize the Golden Rule of doing to others as we have them do to us (Matt. 7:12).

Finally, expressions from the letters of Paul: “ letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6);” love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10) “to see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12); or thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7).

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #43 in 1994]

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