Thursday, April 12, 2012

Top 15 Phrases Not Found in the Bible

These quotes are either frequently misquoted from the Bible or not there at all. I also have some things that are frequently thought to be in the Bible, but are not. I have tried to provide a origin of each, if I could find one. I have avoided doctrinal items (both valid and invalid ones) not found in the Bible, because that list would be never-ending.

Top 15 Phrases & Sayings Not Found in the Bible

15 - The Three Wisemen
They Bible calls them Magi, not "Wisemen", though the two are synonymous in common parlance. The Magi are found only in Matthew 2 and no number is given to them (three comes from the number of gifts given).

14 - "Moderation in all things"
This idea behind this phrase originates from Aristotle's ethics and the direct quote comes from Rome, several hundred years before Christ. Two different Romans are generally given credit - one named Terence and the other Petronius.

13 - "The Lord (or God) works in mysterious ways"
Comes from a Hymn ("God Moves in a Mysterious Way") by William Cowper, who lived in the 18th century.

12 - "The eye is a window to the soul"
Matthew 6:22 says "The lamp of the body is the eye", but there is no reference saying it is a window to the soul. There is no consensus as to the origin of this phrase. Some attribute it to a proverb of varying origin and others to several writers including Shakespeare and Milton.

11 - The Apple in the Garden of Eden.
There was fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2, 3), but we do not know what kind of fruit is was. The apple grew out of Christian tradition and may have been a result of artists trying to depict The Fall. It might also have come from the Latin word for evil ("malum" = evil / "malus" = apple). Some say it was likely a pomegranate. But, we do not know.

10 - "The lion will lay down with the lamb"
A very common misquote of Scripture. Isaiah 11:6 reads "Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them."

9 - "A fool and his money are soon parted"
Not even close to a Biblical reference - this comes from Thomas Tusser who wrote it in 1573 in in Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie.

8 - "This too shall pass"
The origin of this phrase isn't even Christian. It comes from a Persian Sufi (Muslim) poets some time in the middle ages.

7 - The Seven Deadly Sins
The list of the 7 deadly sins = wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. The first evidence of the list is from a monk in the 4th century. The list was then altered slightly by Pope Gregory I in 590. It was then popularized by Dante in his Divine Comedy.

6 - "Money is the root of all evil"
1 Timothy 6:10 says "For the love of money is the root of all evils". It is the love of money that causes the problem, not the money itself. Money doesn't have a moral value all to itself, it is what we do with it that makes the action good, neutral, or evil.

5 - "Pride comes before the fall"
Proverbs 16:18 says "Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
The origin of the misquote is unknown, but The Beatles' song "I'm a Loser" has the line in it.

4 - "Charity begins at home"
Generally credited to Terence, the Roman comic writer. It is sometimes also attributed to Sir Thomas Browne who wrote the phrase in 1642.

3 - "To thine ownself be true"
Comes from Hamlet by Shakespeare. In a bit of context the quote reads, ”This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Not bad advice, but not from the Bible.

2 - "Cleanliness is next to godliness"
While there are many references in the Mosaic law to cleanliness (esp. in Leviticus), there is none that we can ascribe to this quote. Some say it comes from a 2nd century Rabbi. We know the first English version comes from Francis Bacon. He wrote the following in Advancement of Learning, "Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God." John Wesley then changed it to the phrase we use today.

1 - "God helps those who help themselves"
This very common phrase comes from Algernon Sydney, who wrote it in an article titled Discourses Concerning Government. It was then popularized by Ben Franklin in 1757 in Poor Richard's Almanac. In many ways this phrase is wrong, because God helps (saves) those who can NOT help themselves (sinners). Though we must agree to allow Him to help us. An earlier form of the phrase may have come from "God loves to help him who strives to help himself" by Aeschylus (6th C BC).

Do you have any others?


Christina said...

Wait... so people actually thought "To thine ownself be true" was from the Bible? That's kind of upsetting.

Tim H. said...

My favorite thing the Bible doesn't say...

"Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "Oh, he was just speaking symbolically! This is easy to accept!!!" (John 6:60)


Mazza said...

This one fascinated my mother-in-law, who is Lutheran:
"For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever."

She was shocked that it is the Catholic version of the Our Father which actually follows the text of the Bible (Matthew 6; Luke 11) without the "ornamental" doxology.

Connie said...

I have been following your blog for a few weeks now and am thoroughly enjoying your insights. Regarding #1, I recently reviewed some Aesop's Fables to use for homeschooling, and found the moral of "Hercules and the Wagoner" stated as, "The gods help those who help themselves." I can't remember the edition I was using at the time. The Dover Thrift edition I was able to put my hands on says, "If you want help from others, you must be willing to help yourself." I'm not sure if the first version was an example of revisionism based on Ben Franklin, or if that is really where the saying originated.

Joe said...

salvation is by faith alone

once saved, always saved

Taylor Marshall said...

Well done! Thank you.

Taylor Marshall

Jim said...

"God helps those who help themselves" is likely derived from a much older source: One of Aesop's fables tells us that "the gods help them who help themselves," according to the following page:

Mary said...

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

mullyqueenbee said...

"the road to hell is paved with good intentions"

A-Riv said...

"thou who cureth can maketh ill"

Colin Kerr said...

Brilliant. Especially #s 1 &2.

Tim A. Troutman said...

You are justified by faith alone.

Patm said...

Also: "Incarnation" and "Trinity."

Bego said...

Thanks for this interesting read! We used it on our podcast, Catholic Weekend, and will link to it in our show notes. It was a really neat post!

We enjoyed your take and the historical connections.

cporter_48 said...

Mazza: The "Ornamental doxology" is not orginal to Lutheran use of the Our Father. Luther's catechisms (sans "helpful" revisions) include the prayer without the doxology.

Jerry said...

Re: #15

Actually, in the original Aramaic version of Matthew, it's the 3 Wise Guys, and the gifts they give the baby Jesus "fell off the back of a camel, if you know what I mean..."

John V said...

Re: #6

According to Rev. Ike, it's the lack of money that's the root of all evil.

Joe said...

Not that it matters (much), but something very like "This too shall pass" is found in Christian Anglo-Saxon poetry. The refrain of "Deor" runs "Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg."

Literally, "that passed, so may this." It's not much of a leap to "this too shall pass."

John C. Hathaway said...

I always thought "pride comes before a fall" is from Aristotelian criticism, if not from _De Poetica_ itself.

One of my favorites is "all men are created equal." I do a lesson on critical reading in my writing classes where I dissect the Gettysburg Address and show how Lincoln crafted it. I like asking them "Where does that quote come from?" And they invariably will say, "The Bible?" "If anything," I reply, "The Bible says the opposite."

marycatelli said...

OTOH, "piety begins at home" is from the Bible, and the context is clearly one of charity: It is the injunction that a widow's relatives should provide for her, so that the Church can spends its resources on those widows who have no relatives.

William said...

Just a comment on "once saved always saved" since all things, save God, have an opposite does this mean that 'Once damned always damned' is also true. This would nullify our Lords death and resurrection.
Also on being justified by faith alone please read Revelations 14:13 'I heard a voice from heaven say,"Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes" said the Spirit, "let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them."

preacherman said...


"A penny saved is a penny earned."
"Idle hands are the Devil's workshop."