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The Bible has been the most influential text in all of Western culture. It's difficult to understand medieval or early modern or much of modern literature without knowing it...

Prof. Barbara Newman, Northwestern University
from 2006 Bible Literary project


It's not that it's impossible to read some writers without a Biblical background, but that you would miss a whole dimension to their work.

Prof. Steven Goldsmith, University of California at Berkeley
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


I can only say that if a student doesn't know any Bible literature, he or she will simply not understand whole elements of Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth

Prof. Robert Kiely, Harvard University
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


...there is truth in the remark. "without Tyndale[Bible translator], no Shakespeare"...

Prof. David Daniell, University College London
from The Bible in English


You can't really study Western literature intelligently or coherently without starting with the Bible.

Prof. Gerald L. Bruns, University of Notre Dame
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


...a familiar understanding of Christian doctrine in historical perspective thus contributes to a fuller appreciation of Shakespeare's art, but Shakespeare's art

Prof. Roland M. Frye
from Shakespeare and the Christian Doctrine


In English tradition and also for an American tradition begun by Puritan writers, a knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is even more crucial than classical references.

Prof. Ulrich Knoefplmacher, Princeton University
from 2006 Bible Literary Project


There is no book more important for our culture than the Bible, and it is fundametal to the study of English literature and language.

Prof. David Jasper and Prof. Stephen Prickett
from the Bible and literature

Idioms F to H – 日本語

1. Faith moves mountains (Matthew 17:20)


Picture description: Faith 信仰

Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)



If you would move mountains to do something, you would make any effort to achieve your aim. When people say that faith can move mountains, they mean that it can achieve a lot.


Origin and Application:

In the Book of Matthew is a story about disciples failing to drive out a demon from a boy. When asked about why they failed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”


(Please start your translation after each item.


1. Please use 新改訳 as the Japanese Bible reference and names;

2. Please refer to the website (http://selbl.org/) for translation of picture descriptions if necessary;

3. No need to translate picture copyrights, e.g. V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers.

Thank you very much!)

2. Fall by the wayside (Matthew 13:3-8 KJV)


Picture description: Parable of the sower 種まきの例え

Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: ” (Matthew 13:3-4 KJV)



When you fall by the wayside, you give up a task, or cease to be important. For example, a politician who falls by the wayside has become irrelevant to the agenda of his party.


Origin and Application:

Jesus liked to speak in parables, a way of teaching common among the Jews and Arabians in those times. By using parables, spiritual teachings can be better understood in everyday language by the audiences. In the above parable, Jesus likened his teachings to seeds. Some people took them to heart and accepted God, but some simply ignored them, as if they were falling by the way side, or edge of the road where there are stones and grit, but not fertile soil.



At first he did well, but after a few setbacks he fell by the wayside.


3. Fall from grace (Genesis 3 / Galatians 5:4)


Picture description: Adam and Eve アダムとエバ

Picture copyright: Cranach d. Ä., Lucas/ public domain

Bible Verse:

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)



The phrase is now used to describe a person of a high standing who suddenly lost his or her position.


Origin and Application:

Fall from grace, or the Fall, is associated with the incident when both Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. From then onwards, men had to work hard for a living and women to suffer from the pain of childbirth.

But the exact phrase originates from the New Testament where Paul the apostle reminds new Christian converts in Galatia (i.e. present-day Turkey) that if they seek to justify themselves by observing the law, they have fallen away from the grace of God. (Galatians 5:4). In Christianity, grace is not to be earned by our works, but is freely given by God. To “earn” grace by observing the law simply means neglecting God’s grace upon us.




The senior officer at our company fell from grace when he was found having disclosed trade secrets to competitors.


4. Feet of clay (Daniel 2:33)


Picture description: Daniel interprets the king’s dream


Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“…its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.” (Daniel 2:33)

“Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom” (Daniel 2:34)




Those who have feet of clay have flaws that make them seem more human and like normal people.


Origin and Application:

Daniel was a prophet whose flair for interpreting signs and dreams made him well-known in the government of Babylon. There was a time when King Nebuchadnezzar dreamt of a statue with a head of gold and feet of partly clay and partly iron. Daniel interpreted the feet of clay and iron as a symbol for the coming of a kingdom which would be partly strong as iron and partly weak as clay. As history had proved, the feet and toes signified the Roman Empire, which was later divided into ten states. Some were strong as iron, but others were weak as clay.


5. Fight the good fight (2 Timothy 4:6-7)


Bible Verse:

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”



“Fight the good fight” has become a metaphor for struggling against the odds regardless of the outcome.


Origin and Application:

For the past thirty years, Paul the apostle had travelled across Asia and Europe to spread the gospel. He likened his life as a preacher as warfare and a race. Looking back, he had fought the good fight in this spiritual warfare, and had stood firm in defending his faith.

“Fight the good fight” has become a metaphor for struggling against the odds regardless of the outcome. Whether one wins or loses, he has still fought the good fight. It has become a common expression used by politicians in the U.S., including former president George Bush who lost the presidential campaign in 1992.




You need to know how to fight a good fight in your career.


6. First fruits (Numbers 18:13)


Picture description: First fruits


Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“All the land’s first fruits that they bring to the Lord will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.”(Numbers 18:13)



Early achievements.


Origin and Application:

First fruits are the earliest products from harvest to be given to God as an offering in ancient times. Offering first fruits to God shows their piety. God promised Aaron, a prophet contemporary to Moses, that “All the land’s first fruits that they bring to the Lord will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.”

Today, first fruits came to mean early achievements of an event or a business.




Although the MTR Corp (0066) still relies on property income to sustain its bottom line, it has tasted the first fruits of the rail merger while trying to export decades of railway operation experience, particularly to the mainland. – The Standard, 17 March 2008

MTR社(0066)はその最低線を支えるために不動産収入に頼っているものの、特に中国に10年の鉄道操業経験技術を輸出し、鉄道合併の初なりとなっている。(The Standard、2008.3.17より)

7. Fly in the ointment (Ecclesiastes 10:1)


Bible Verse:

“As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”



It is a small problem that upsets a plan or scheme, or stops something from being perfect.


Origin and Application:

When there is a fly inside a bottle of perfume, it spoils or prevents complete enjoyment of its otherwise pleasant scent.



His jumpy career history turned out to be the fly in the ointment when he applied for a job.


8. Forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:16)


Picture description: Forbidden Fruit


Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)



When we say that someone has eaten a forbidden fruit, it is generally referred to the taste of something tempting but immoral. Sometimes, it refers to the first taste of sex.


Origin and Application:

What is a forbidden fruit? In the beginning of creation, God asked Adam not to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:17) Adam and his wife Eve did not take heed, and after the first bite, their knowledge began and realized that they were naked. They felt ashamed of their exposure and since then, human beings made coverings for themselves.

The forbidden fruit has been described as an apple in a lot of paintings and literary works since the late Middle Ages. In Paradise Lost, John Milton writes, “Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably…It was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world”. But according to the bible, the type of fruit is not specifically spelt out.



9. Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8)


Picture description: Adam and Eve driven out of Eden Garden


Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers


Garden of Eden has been used by various authors as an image of love


Origin and Application:

Garden of Eden has been used by various authors as an image of love, including William Blake who wrote a poem The Garden of Love. Eden was associated with love as it was where Adam and Eve were created and united, becoming “one bone one flesh”. It is the place where Adam and Eve began to be aware of the awkwardness of being naked after they took the first bite of the forbidden fruit, which may be the reason why the Garden of Eden, carries sexual connotations.

エデンの園は愛のイメージとして、詩「The Garden of Love」の作家WilliamBlakeなど、多くの作家が用いている。アダムとエバが創造され結び合い「一つの骨、一つの肉」となった所として、エデンの園は愛と強く関係している。アダムとエバが禁断の実を食べ裸であることを恥ずかしいと気づいた場所であり、それがエデンの園が性的意味を暗示している理由となっている。

10. Gird your loins (Exodus 12:11)


Bible Verse:

“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”(Exodus 12:11)



Prepare yourself for a task. Get prepared.


Origin and Application:

To gird your loins means tying the loose ends of your lower garment so as to get ready to move. It is an action common for the Israelites and especially soldiers in the Roman era. It is first mentioned in the Book of Exodus. During the Passover, God would strike down every firstborn man and animal in Egypt so as to bring judgment to Egypt for the hardship they created for Israelites. So God instructed the Israelites to tuck their cloak into the belt and eat quickly to get ready to move. The same phrase appears later in Ephesians 6:14 in a figurative sense. Paul asked the disciples to gird their loins so as to get prepared against all schemes of the devil.



The athletes are girding their loins for the race next month.


11. Go from strength to strength (Psalms 84:7)


Picture description: Pilgrims 巡礼者

Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” (Psalms 84:7)



To go or progress from strength to strength is to increase in strength


Origin and Application:

This psalm is believed to be written by David, King of Israel as a psalm for the pilgrims. As the pilgrims pressed toward the temple of God, their strength increased until they reach the holy city.



Businesses at our company have gone from strength to strength.


12. Go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41)


Bible Verse:

“if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthews 5:41).



To go the extra mile means to work harder than is necessary.


Origin and Application:

Nowadays we often come across this catchphrase “go the extra mile” in commercial advertisements which carry the promise to serve customers better. This phrase is in fact derived from Jesus’ famous sermon on Mount Beatitudes “if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthews 5:41). In the original verse, it carries a sacrificial sense – that is, to love your enemies and walk an extra mile when they force you to walk one mile.

The notion of sacrifice implied in this phrase is somewhat toned down nowadays when used in the commercial context. To go the extra mile means to work harder than is necessary to serve your clients. Another idiom from the same sermon but which still retains the sacrificial meaning to this day is “turn the other cheek”.


13. Golden Rule (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31)


Picture description: God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.


Picture copyright: Cook Communications Ministries

Bible Verse:

The Lord said to Moses, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)


So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)


Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)



The most essential or fundamental rule.


Origin and Application:

The golden rule is the most essential or fundamental rule associated with something. In the Bible, it refers to the principal rule “love your neighbour as yourself”.

There are similar sayings in other schools of thoughts regarding this ethnic of reciprocity. For example, Confucius said “do not do to others what you do not want others do to you”, which was considered the First Rule of behavior towards all by all.


14. Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25)


Picture description: Good samaritan 良きサマリヤ人

Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:25)



A good Samaritan is someone who offers help to those in need.


Origin and Application:

Where is Samaria? It is a district in Palestine north of Jerusalem. The Jews despised the Samaritans who were not of pure Jewish blood. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told a story of a Jew who, after being robbed by thieves, received genuine help from a good Samaritan rather than from those Jews who should have cared for him, amongst them a priest and a Levite, from the well respected tribe of Levi.

A good Samaritan is someone who offers help to those in need. A namesake charity body, the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, was set up in 1960 to offer hotline services to those who are distressed. Many countries have “Good Samaritan Acts” which allow doctors to treat people outside hospital in an emergency situation (e.g. in an aeroplane) without running the risk of being sued for mistakes.

サマリヤとはどこか?イスラエルの北、パレスチナの地方のことである。ユダヤ人は純粋なユダの血統ではないサマリヤ人を嫌っていた。ルカの福音書の中で、イエスは、盗賊に襲われ、本来なら彼を介抱してあげるべき同族のユダヤ人よりもサマリヤ人から真の助けを得たユダヤ人の話をしている。その介抱してあげなかったユダヤ人の中には、祭司や尊敬されていたレビ人もいた。良きサマリヤ人は、困っている人に助けを差し出す人のことである。その名前にちなんだ慈善団体、the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kongは、1960年に設立された。困っている人を対象にホットラインを提供している。多くの国が、”Good Samaritan Acts”といって、医者が医療ミスで訴えられるリスクなく、病院以外の緊急の場で(例えば飛行機の中で)治療することを認めている。

15. Goodbye


Origin and Application:

This common expression did not originate from the Bible, nonetheless its origin is related to God. It originally meant “God be with you” or, in an earlier form, “God be wy ye”. The religiousness of this daily blessing is substantially toned down by replacing the first word “God” with “good”, as in the case of good day.

この誰もが知っている表現は、聖書が起源ではないが、にもかかわらず、その起源は神に関係している。もともとは、「神があなたとともにいますように」、もっと古く言うと、「God be wy ye」である。この日々の祝福の中の意味は、「Good day」のように「God」が「Good」に変わることによって、本質が色あせてしまった。

16. Grind the faces of the poor into dust (Isaiah 3:14-15)


Picture description: Vision of Isaiah イザヤの先見

Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.”



To grind the faces of the poor into dust is to ill treat the poor.


Origin and Application:

In the time when Isaiah became a prophet in the Old Testament, the leaders were ill-treating the poor in Judah, South of Jerusalem. It is against this background that God cried out against the elders and leaders.


17. Heap coals of fire on his head (Proverbs 25:22)


Bible Verses:

“In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:22)


“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20)



This idiom refers to the situation when you act friendly towards an enemy.


Origin and Application:

This phrase first appears in Proverbs which is later quoted by Paul the apostle in the Book of Romans. Paul asks us to love our enemy and overcome evil with good. In this way, we are heaping coals on his head.

There are several interpretations regarding the origin of this idiom. Some argue that the origin comes from an ancient tradition in Egypt, where criminals repented for their sins by heaping coals on their heads.

Others argue that the ancient nomadic people relied on fire for their work. If coals are extinguished in the morning, people are forced to beg for coals from their neighbours to keep them warm. Ancient people carry a bowlful of coal on the top of their head, hence the saying, “heaping coals on their heads”.




18. Help mate (Genesis 2:18)


Picture description: Eve エバ

Picture copyright: Public domain

Bible Verse:

“And the LORD God said, [It is] not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18 KJV)

“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” (New English Translation)

“And the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.”(New Living Translation)



A helpmate is more aptly interpreted as someone valuable and indispensible.


Origin and Application:

The word “helpmate” is probably derived from the above biblical verse. Eve was created to be Adam’s helpful companion because God found that Adam was alone. Some English Bible versions translated the Hebrew word עֵזֶר (‘ezer) as “helper”, some, “companion”. This is because the Hebrew word has several connotations. A literal translation for that Hebrew verse is “a helper against him”. The Hebrew word does not necessarily suggest a subordinate role, but in English “helper” does have this meaning. In the present day context, a helpmate is more aptly interpreted as someone valuable and indispensible.

「助け手」という言葉は、この聖書の箇所からのものであろう。エバは、神がアダムが一人でいたのを見て、共にいて助けるために造られた。いくつかの英語の聖書の訳では、ヘブルの言葉עֵזֶר (‘ezer)を「助け手」と訳し、また他は、「伴侶」と訳している。これはヘブルの言葉は暗示的意味を持っているからである。ヘブル語の文字とおりの訳は、「彼にとっての助け手」である。ヘブル語は従属的役割の意味はないが、英語の「助け手」は、その意味が含まれる。今日では、助け手は文脈からいって、重要でなくてなならない人と解釈する。

19. Hide one’s light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15)


Picture description: Lamp 明かり

Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers

Bible Verse:

“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15)



To hide one’s light under a bushel came to mean to be modest about one’s talents.


Origin and Application:

In the above quotation, Jesus asked his disciples to be light of the world, to shine by their good works in the community, but not to hide their gifts from God.



Don’t be shy, your light should not be hidden under a bushel.


20. How are the mighty fallen (2 Samuel 1:19)


Picture description: Saul was killed サウルが殺された。

Picture copyright: V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers


This expression is used when we gloat over, or quite pleased to see the fall of someone famous or important.


Origin and Application:

“How have the mighty fallen!” Cried David, the great King of Israel as he mourned over the death of his predecessor, King Saul, and his son Jonathon who was a very dear friend of David. Saul was anointed by the Lord as King of Israel, but he gradually deviated from God’s path. More than once, because of his jealousy he tried to kill David. In the end, he died together with his three sons in a battle with the Philistines.



Jane: One of the directors of our company was forced to resign after he had been charged by the police.

Tina: How are the mighty fallen!



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