I still remember a few years back, slogging my way through the archaic Hebrew of the book of Job when I was suddenly “tickled pink” to find the phrase “I escaped by the skin of my teeth.” I had known it as a common English expression but had no idea it came from the Bible! [ואתמלטה בעור שיני]
How many other phrases are there like that – which became an inseparable part of day-to-day language; but whose fountain, spring and “head-waters” are in the Hebrew scriptures? After some research, here are my favorites along with several of their Hebrew originals *commonly spoken in Israel today:
A drop in the bucket – Isaiah 40:15
Am I my brother’s keeper – Genesis 4:9 השומר אחי אנוכי
An eye for an eye – Exodus 21:24 עין תחת עין
Apple of his eye – Deuteronomy 32:10
At their whit’s end – Psalm 107:27
By the skin of my teeth – Job 19:20
By the sweat of your brow – Genesis 3:19 בזעת אפיך תאכל לחמך
Can a leopard change its spots – Jeremiah 13:23
Den of thieves – Jeremiah 7:11
Eat drink and be merry – Ecclesiastes 8:15
Fell flat on his face – Numbers 22:31
Heart’s desire – Psalm 20:4
How the mighty have fallen – 2 Samuel 1:19 איך נפלו גיבורים
Nothing but skin and bones – Job 19:20
Old as the hills – Job 15:7
Out of the mouth of babes – Psalms 8:2
Passing on the mantle – 2 Kings 2:8
Pride goes before a fall – Proverbs 16:18
Root of the matter – Job 19:28
See eye to eye – Isaiah 52:8
Set your house in order – Isaiah 38:1
Stumbling block – Leviticus 19:14
The writing was on the wall – Daniel 5:5
There is nothing new under the sun – Ecclesiastes 1:9 אין כל חדש תחת השמש
To everything there is a season – Ecclesiastes 3:1
Two are better than one – Ecclesiastes 4:9 טובים השניים מן האחד
White as snow – Exodus 4:6
Wise in his own eyes – Proverbs 26:12
Woe is me – 2 Samuel 1:26
You put the words in my mouth – 2 Samuel 14:3
You’re the man – 2 Samuel 12:7
Hebrew, English and German languages have been vitally influenced by the bible. It is in many ways the root book of these tongues (and probably a few others as well). In Hebrew it is obvious that the Tenach is the oldest and the most central Hebrew text. In English it comes through the centrality of the King James translation and its use in churches and homes for centuries. In German, likewise, Luther’s translation of the bible served to set a new standard unifying German dialects.
Please add one of YOUR favorite Bible-based phrases in the comments section below !
* Ironically, many of the above are not even common phrases in modern Hebrew, their source language – whereas they are common in English by way of Bible translations!
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