The Most Popular Phrases from the King James Bible

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  • In the early 15th century, against all odds, a committee wrote a great work of literature.

    King James I of England, Scotland, and Ireland convened a council of Biblical scholars and translators to issue a new version of the Bible for the Church of England, which had recently split from the Roman Catholic Church.

    Though this was not the first attempt to translate Christian scripture from the original Greek and Hebrew, this was the edition that ended up having the most far-reaching effects on the English-speaking world.

    This translation, which we know now as the King James Version of the Bible, would come to be a definitive work of English literature—so much so that, while the English language of four hundred years ago is hard to recognize, the phrases and idioms these translators used have endured to this day.

    Whether you’re religious, spiritual, or secular, the effect the King James Version has had on the English language is undeniable. Here are just a few of the most popular phrases from the King James Bible that we continue to use in our day-to-day speech.

    “All these things must come to pass”

    You may recognize All Things Must Pass as the title of George Harrison’s first album after leaving the Beatles, but this phrase has its root in the King James Version of the Bible, outlining a series of events that will take place.

    Somewhat separately, “come to pass” has common use as a particularly weighty alternative to “happen.”

    “The writing’s on the wall”

    When you can read the writing on the wall, it means you know something is inevitable—and whatever it is isn’t good. This goes back to the Book of Daniel, who was the only person able to decode the mysterious and prophetic handwriting that appeared on the wall at King Belshazzar’s feast. As you may have guessed, the feast did not end well for the king.

    “Apple of my eye”

    This beautiful term of endearment occurs in the translation of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Old Testament. “Apple” was an early term for the pupil, the most important part of the eye. To be cherished as such was high praise.

    “The race is not to the swift”

    From Ecclesiastes comes this admission that we don’t live in a pure meritocracy after all: so much of life is a matter of timing and chance. You may use this phrase when you find yourself a victim of bad luck.

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    “There’s no new thing under the sun”

    Also written in Ecclesiastes is this classic declaration of “been there, done that.” This phrase poetically laments that everything that can be done has been done before and that everything that has happened will happen again.

    It has become one of the most popular phrases from the King James Bible among people who are feeling particularly world-weary.

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