37 Common English Sayings (From the Bible)

The Bible has influenced and transformed many lives, leaving a mark forever on the lives of millions.  The cultural influence of the Bible even impacted even the English language, specifically with the King James Version.
The King James Version of the Bible has a special history because it was a common English version that was popular for many centuries, spanning from when it was first printed in 1611 to still being used extensively up through the 2oth Century.
The following common English phrases find their origins in Scripture, mostly from the King James Version.

Bite the Dust from Psalms 72:9, “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.” (KJV)

The Blind Leading the Blind Matthew 15:13-14, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

By the Skin of Your Teeth from Job 19:20.  The Geneva Bible translated the Hebrew Literally which read, “I have escaped with the skin of my teeth.”

Broken Heart from Psalms 34:18, ” The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (KJV).

Can a Leopard Change his spots?from Jeremiah 13:23 (KJV), “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”

Cast the First Stone from John 8:7, “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Drop in a Bucket from Isaiah 40:15 declaring God’s sovereignty and power over the nations, “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he takes up the isles as fine dust” (ESV).

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry from Ecclesiastes 8:15, “because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.”

Eye for Eye, Tooth for tooth from Matthew 5:38, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

Fall From Grace from Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

Fly in the Ointment from Ecclesiastes 10:1 (KJV), “”Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.””

For Everything there is a Season from Ecclesiastes 3.  Ecclesiastes 3 is also the motivation for the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds.

Forbidden Fruit from Genesis 3:3 when Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”

Go the extra mile from Matthew 5:41 that says, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (KJV).

Good Samaritan from Luke 10:30-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword from Matthew 26:52, “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

How the Mighty have Fallen from 1 Samuel 1:19, “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!”

Let there Be Light from Genesis 1’s creation account.

The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil from 1 Timothy 6:10 and is actually usually misquoted.  Here is the ESV translation, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Nothing but skin and bones from Job 19:19-20, “All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me. I am nothing but skin and bones.”

The Powers that Be from Romans 13:11 (KJV), “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

Pride comes before a fall from Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (KJV)

Put words in one’s mouth from 2 Samuel 14:3, “And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth.”

Rise and shine is from Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.”

The Root of the Matter from Job 19:28 (KJV), “But ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the Root of the matter is found in me?”

Scapegoat from the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 16:9-10 specifically) where a goat is chosen by lot to be sent into the desert to make atonement for sin.

See eye to eye from Isaiah 52:8 (KJV), “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.”

Sign of the times from Matthew 16:3 (KJV), “And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”

Straight and Narrowfrom Matthew 7:14, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Twinkling of an Eye from 1 Corinthians 15:52, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

There’s nothing new under the sun from the book of Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes 1:9 (KJV)  says, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Wash your hands of the matter from Matthew 27:24 (KJV), “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.”

Weighed in the balance from Job 31:6, “Let me be weighed in an even balance that God may know mine integrity.”

What God has joined together let no man put asunder from Matthew 19:6 in Miles Covedale’s translation of the Bible which says, “Now are they not twayne then, but one flesh. Let not man therfore put a sunder, yt which God hath coupled together.”

Wit’s End from Psalm 107:27 (KJV), “They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.”  And the Psalm does not refer to the Whit’s End with the Imagination Station.

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing from Matthew 7:15 (KJV), “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

Writings on the Wall from Daniel 5.  “The writing is on the wall” is now a popular idiom for “something bad is about to happen”.

Your turn: Which phrases surprised you the most?  Leave a Comment Below.


unlocking the bible subscribe to email

Kevin Halloran is a Christian, blogger, and coffee aficionado. He serves with Leadership Resources International, training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

Date Posted: Mar 23rd, 2012

  • Kristi Mulheim

    I was wondering if “Holy Cow” would be on the list…coming from the “golden calf” in the Bible. I’m not sure if that is where the saying came from, so I’ll have to research that! This was an interesting list–thank you, UTB!  Sincerely, Kristi Mulheim 🙂

  • Asherreuben

    Pretty cool list. Thanks for great info. God bless you.

  • Pingback: » Places To Donate Blood in Arlington, TexasPlaces To Donate Blood()

  • Damaris

    Wit’s End, never heard of it but then I come from another country. Love this list though. God Bless

  • Pingback: Timeline of Church History's Most Important Events | Kevin Halloran()

  • Robert Kapu’ka

    That’s really great! so impressive!

  • Scott Layel

    “Knees knocking” is from Daniel 5:6

    • robert jones

      To shake together with fright. When a person shake with fright he or she is nervous on account of being scared.

  • Scott Layel

    Great. Enjoyed . That’s a lot of hard work and research. Kudos!

    • robert jones

      That’s not hard work

  • Karen C Hogrefe

    This is just what I’ve been looking for as material for my next speech at my local Greater Greenwood Toastmasters club. Thanks for all the research! How about “from the horse’s mouth”? (Balaam’s donkey – Numbers 22:28-30)

  • Mike Porro

    You forgot “for Petes sake” St Peter

  • Michael

    The truth shall set you free. Often used and frequently misunderstood phrase from the bible. And, “flesh and bone”, “apple of my/his eye” and “a man after my own heart”.

  • Anne

    This is very helpful. We are using idioms form the Bible with our ESL students who are visiting professors and grad students from China. They want to improve English and learn American culture. English Biblical idioms is a fantastic tool for both. Thanks Kevin! God bless you.

  • chris

    ‘skin and bones’ is Job X, 11 (not 19-20)(= skin of teeth).

  • Gordon

    A little birdie told me.
    From Ecclesiastes 10:20
    “for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which has wings shall tell the matter.

  • Jim Camomile

    Great List!
    We will use this with our English Club for International Students at U Texas. THANKS

  • Curt

    This is interesting fun and faith filled. How about ” gird your loins” , Beauty is Fleeting, Last will be first and first will be last,

  • DixieLynn

    “Orange sky at night, sailors delight; orange sky in morning, sailor’s take warning.”
    Matthew 16:2-3

  • Jon Winkler

    You quote “Eye for Eye, Tooth for tooth from Matthew 5:38, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”” But Matthew is only quoting Exodus. The more correct attribution is Exodus 21:23-24.