Bible begets time-tested expressions

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While reading the newspaper recently, I came across this headline: "Good Samaritan saves lost ring from dump." A few hours later, I read a movie review that said "the prodigal son finds himself forced to choose between crime or justice."

"Good Samaritan" and "prodigal son" are both expressions from the Bible. A good Samaritan helps another unselfishly, and a prodigal son comes crawling home after wasting his life.

These sayings grew from specific episodes to generalities that, obviously, we find useful today. Wondering how many other modern terms originated in the Bible, I surfed our newspaper archives.

An ancient expression, biblically, is one that I found in a letter to the editor: "We cannot be our brother's keeper even though hundreds of thousands of Iraqis will be slaughtered if we leave."

The writer lifted that phrase from Genesis. Cain killed his brother, and when God inquired as to Abel's whereabouts, Cain replied: "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?"

(That reminds me of a turnabout I heard in high school: A gorilla at the zoo, thumbing through Darwin's Origin of Species, pauses long enough to ask: "Am I my keeper's brother?")

I found an article in which our reporter pointed out that arts organizations operate on a "skin-of-teeth mode, even in the best of times." That comes from Job, in which the long-suffering title character moans, "I am escaped with the skin of my teeth."

A festival last year was so entertaining that a participant said: "You don't ever have to leave -- you can eat, drink and be merry all day long." That oft-quoted line appears in a couple of biblical books. In Luke, a foolish man reasons that he can party because he has laid away worldly wealth. As it turns out, he quickly finds that you can't take it with you.

Earlier this year, the coach of the Augusta Lynx told why he became a coach: "I saw the handwriting on the wall, that I was never going to make it to the NHL as a player." That's from the book of Daniel, when blasphemous King Belshazzar sees a hand appear out of the air at a feast and write four ominous, prophetic words on the wall.

A Harlem woman, when interviewed at Thanksgiving one year, cited among her blessings "seven precious grandchildren, who are the apple of my eye ..." Three times in the Old Testament can be found "the apple of the eye."

In a news story last March, a woman whose husband had been killed in Iraq lambasted the people running the war: "The blind-leading-the-blind system isn't working out." In Matthew, Jesus teaches: "Let them alone; they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditches."

Another Associated Press article quoted an Iraqi national guardsman who was warned by militants to resign or be killed. Seeing the writing on the wall, he hung signs in his hometown market that said: "I wash my hands of the Iraqi National Guard." Pontius Pilate is remembered for washing his hands to show the mob that he wasn't responsible for the death of an innocent man.

Finally, someone who wrote a letter to the editor was put off by weather reports that gave differing forecasts. He suggested we remember the old saying: "Red sky in morning, sailor's warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight." He might not have known he was quoting the Gospels, in which Jesus rebuked those who asked for a sign from heaven:

"(Jesus) answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring."

The Bible contains the origins for so many more phrases we still write today: "You're with us or you're against us," "a den of thieves," "an eye for an eye," "a drop in the bucket," "a thorn in my side," "wolves in sheep's clothing," "sweating blood," "salt of the earth," "pride goeth before a fall," "a little wine for the stomach," "keep the faith," "a fly in the ointment" and so on.

Land o' Goshen!

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or

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