The Indelible Legacy

The King James Version of the Bible has been enormously influential in the development of the English language. It ranks with the complete works of Shakespeare and the Oxford English Dictionary as one of the cornerstones of the recorded language. What raises the King James Version above other versions of the Bible in terms of linguistic impact is the fact that the language used has persisted into the present day; many of its words and phrases are still common-place. Below are but a few of these timeless expressions:

A broken heart and a contrite spirit: The world is full of broken hearts brought about by such causes as ill health, bereavement, financial ruin, romantic disappointments and many other causes including the realization of sin accompanied by deep regret. David in Psalm 34:18 observes: The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. The word contrite carries the meaning: "deep and sincere sorrow for wrong doing with an intention to amend, arising from love of God and consideration of his goodness."

A drop in the bucket: This expression is often used in reference to something that is inadequate, i.e., "his contribution to this cause is nothing more than a drop in the bucket." Biblically speaking, the Lord, through the words of Isaiah 40:15, compares His might and majesty to the insignificance of man. Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.

Can the leopard change his spots? Jeremiah 13:23 states, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. For instance, a person proven to be notoriously untrustworthy cannot be depended upon or given responsibility.

A soft answer turneth away wrath: Proverbs 15:1 states, A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. It is always advisable to take a diplomatic approach in a delicate situation, especially where the parties concerned are of an explosive temperament.

At their wit's end: Using the analogy of seafaring men who find themselves in the midst of a terrible storm from which they despair to escape, Psalm 107:23-30 describes such a hopeless situation of desperate men who know not what to do: 23They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; 24These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. 25For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. 26They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. 27They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. 28Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. 29He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. 30Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them to their desired haven.

In the twinkling of an eye: ...as in, "The magician made the rabbit disappear in the twinkling of an eye," meaning instantly. We find this expression attributed to the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:51-52 where it is stated: Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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.

The skin of my teeth: This expression is used to relate to a narrow escape from impending disaster. Job, finding himself in a very frightful condition, exclaimed in chapter 19:19-20, All my inward friends abhor me: and they whom I loved are turned against me. My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.

The Land of Nod: Genesis 4:16 states: And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. This expression appears in popular literature (Jonathan Swift, Herman Melville, and perhaps best known through Eugene Field's "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" and Robert Louis Stevenson's poem "The Land of Nod"). In its popular use it is said of someone - often of children - who are "nodding off" or sleeping: " Oh they're in the land of Nod." It is used to describe the "place" we go when we "sleep" because of the noticeable relationship between nodding and falling asleep. Once "the land of Nod" became a cliché for "sleep," many do not recognize its origin as a biblical reference.

No rest for the wicked: This expression is not biblical, although often used by persons under the impression that they are quoting the Bible when they complain about some difficult or enduring task (especially when they are already tired). The phrase is confused with a passage found in Isaiah 57:20-21: But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. The meaning is the same as in the popular phrase but the word is "peace" not "rest."

The Good Samaritan: When someone renders assistance to another person in need, he is often referred to as "a good Samaritan." The origin of the expression "good Samaritan" is biblical, taken from a parable of Jesus (Luke 10:30-37), but the term itself is not there. The purpose of the parable was to define who would be one's neighbor that was to be loved as oneself. The account involves an injured Jew and a Samaritan traveler. It was said that "the Jews," on account of religious differences, "had no dealings with the Samaritans." Nevertheless, the Samaritan helped the Jew to the providing of first aid, medical expenses and accommodations. In like manner, we are told by Paul in Galatians 6:10, As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. The lesson - be a good Samaritan!

E. R. Evans, Burlington, ON