Since the Bible is literally the oldest printed book around, it makes a lot of sense that certain colloquial phrases and figures of speech would come from it. No, the Bible is not the oldest book around, but it is the oldest book ever in print — it was the first book to come hot off Johann Gutenberg’s moveable-print printing press in 1455. Over the past 564 years, we’ve picked up a lot of interesting phrases from the Good Book, and a few might just surprise you.
The phrase “by the skin of my teeth” comes from the Book of Job, when Job recounts the suffering of his starvation. Biblical scholars are divided on the meaning of this phrase. Some say that he means he survived just by the skin of his teeth (that is to say, just barely), while others say that it refers to the way Satan kept Job’s mouth, teeth, and tongue healthy in spite of his other ailments, in order to encourage him to blaspheme against God.
Abraham Lincoln, in his famous presidential nomination election speech, declared that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was referring to the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions of the government, correctly predicting the future of the country, when the Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy, eventually leading to the Civil War. The phrase comes from the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus preaches unity to a group of Pharisees causing trouble among the different peoples.
When the phrase “a drop in the bucket” is used to describe something small or insignificant, some might be surprised to learn that it actually comes from Isaiah 40:15, 17, as part of some comforting words to the Israelites. By the sixth century B.C., they had been conquered over and over again, and were definitely feeling the struggles that come from repeated conquerings. Isaiah reminds them that the power of these conquering nations are like a drop in the bucket compared to the power of God, whose power nothing or no one can limit.
Even the word “scapegoat” comes from the Bible! One of the procedures named in the Book of Leviticus for the Jewish Day of Atonement requires that two goats be identified for ritualistic practice. The first would be sacrificed, and the second would be symbolically loaded with all the wrongdoings of the community and be driven out into the wilderness — the scapegoat. Once, a particularly happy-go-lucky scapegoat wandered back into town after being driven out (a terrible omen), so the chief priests had to modify the tradition to include a steep plunge over a cliff for the poor goat.
One of the coolest things about the Bible is all of the different ways it can be read — from a theological perspective, a historical perspective, a social perspective; there are so many ways to look at the text critically. The more I read, research, and learn for this series, the more I think that we need to create another perspective: “the oddities” perspective, a reading of the Bible simply emphasizing all the wild and awesome things about it.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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