Biblical Clichés: How Many Do We Really Say?


Earlier this week, I was at the fabulous establishment of Wal-Mart running around  like a chicken with its head cut off looking for something to give my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. I was with my sorority little sister who said, “Big, it is the blind leading the blind. It’s not like I know what to get either.” That’s when it hit me. We say so many clichés that come from the Bible. I called my grandmother and my mom as soon as I started to write this. These are things they told me they say or I have heard them say on a regular basis. Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother falls out; so, I’m sure I have been guilty of saying quite a few of these.


1.) “The blind leading the blind”

This cliché  means that uninformed people are in charge of other uniformed people. It comes from Matthew 15:13-14 . This is a metaphor that Jesus uses to explain how the Pharisees and Scribes were leading the masses when the people in charge  were no more knowledgeable  than the people they were teaching.

2.) “Apple of my eye”

This cliché refers to something /someone that one cherishes above everything else. This phrase can be found in four places in the Bible: Deuteronomy 32:10; Psalms 17:8-9;  Proverbs 7:2; and Zechariah 2:8. Normally, you hear this when someone is in a relationship and he says that his significant other is the apple of his eye. However, when this phrase is used in the context of the Bible, it is used in relationship to the laws of Yahweh.

3.) “Good Samaritan” 

Growing up in church, I have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan all of my life. This story can be found in Luke. Anytime you do something nice for a stranger, you are more likely than not called a “good Samaritan.” Most people I know are aware of this biblical connection.

eye for an eye

4.) “Eye for and eye” and “A tooth for a tooth”

Most people use this cliché for justifying revenge. It is the idea that for every wrong thing you have done, the same thing should happen to you. This phrase comes from the Torah (the law). Later, in the New Testament, Jesus says instead of “eye for an eye…tooth for a tooth”, to turn the other cheek. To me. this was the phrase used before the word “karma” became popular.

5.) “Spare the rod, spoil the child”

My parents have said this more times than I can count. I thought they used this saying to justify punishing my bad behavior. However, it came from the Bible. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” So, according to the Bible, my parents must have loved me a whole lot.

6.) “You reap what you sow.”

This phrase comes from the book of Galatians. It means whatever you do, it will have consequences whether they are good or bad. This is my grandmother’s favorite phrase to use whenever I complain about studying 24/7. Whatever you reap (good grades), you sowed (studying).

Am I my brother's keeper?

7.) “Am I his/her keeper?”

I have been guilty of saying this cliché many times. When someone ask me where my best friend is, my instant reply is “what do I look like, her keeper?” This comes from Genesis. Cain replies to Yahweh with this question when Yahweh questions where Abel is.

8.) “Do as I say, not as I do.” 

If I had a dollar for everytime my mother has said this to me, I could pay off my student loans. This has its roots in Matthew 23:2-3. It states, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”  Jesus is condemning the Pharisees and scribes for not doing what they preach (#9), and tells the crowds to not pay attention to the actions of the Pharisees and scribes.

9.) “Practice what you preach”

This comes from the same verse as above. I touched on it in #8. In today’s society, this phrase is normally uttered when someone calls you a hypocrite.

10.) “Like leading a lamb to the slaughter”

This is the phrase my grandmother uses when I am getting myself in to a situation that is going to turn out badly. This cliché comes from Jeremiah and Isaiah.


11.) “Money is the root of all evil.”

This is probably the most misquoted phrase I know. This cliché comes from 1 Timothy 6:10. It states, “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.”

12.) “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

If you had told me that this cliché came from the Bible, I would call you a liar. I would be wrong. This saying comes from Matthew 16:2-3. It says, “He answered them,“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’” This is one of the things I claim this as an “Universal Truth”. Who knew that its roots were from the Bible?

13.) ” The writing is on the wall.”

Until I read Daniel last semester, I thought this cliché was derived from Shakespeare. Not quite. In Daniel 5, there was a feast that was held by King Belshazzar.  At the feast, a disembodied hand appeared and wrote the words ” Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”. This phrase is used when something is obvious. It is normally used in a negative connotation.

sheep's clothing

14.) “Wolf in sheep’s clothing”

This comes from Matthew 7:15. This is used as a warning against false prophets. It means that someone is acting a certain way to take advantage of someone else or a specific situation.

15.) “Turn the other cheek.”

This is the opposite of #4. Jesus says to turn the other cheek when someone hits you instead of hitting them back. This is found in Matthew 5:39. This is the justification of most nonviolent movements.


While some of these are not word for word quotes of the Bible, the basis of the clichés are. I feel like a lot of these are said in the South more than anywhere else. My best friend from Chicago claims to have only said three of these in her whole life. I really enjoyed finding where a lot of clichés came from. I was unaware that most of these came from the Bible at all.  Why did these clichés survive the generations? Did the Bible become so ingrained in our culture that even the clichés we use come from it?

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