Printed from the Blue Letter Bible
Sayings Not Found in Scripture
We often get questions by people asking us to locate various sayings in the Bible which do not exist. Many sayings have developed throughout the years by a variety of means. Scripture supports the purposes of some of the sayings while contradicting others.
Moderation in all things
The phrase, “Moderation in all things,” is common extrapolation of Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean (as presented in his Nicomachean Ethics). His ethic works around finding the mean, or middle ground, between excess and deficiency. An example of this would be his presentation of courage being the happy medium between the extreme of rash action and the deficiency of cowardice, in respect to a person’s possible action in the face of danger.
It should be noted that Aristotle’s ethic is often misundertood by its summary: moderation in all things. It is frequently reasoned by those unfamiliar with context that the common phrase means that a person should approach all things (whether healthy or unhealthy) with moderation; therefore, reasoning that a moderate amount of a bad thing can be indulged is not uncommon to find. This is an inaccurate representation of the perspective summarized in the popular phrase.
But what about Scripture? Though there is no direct quotation matching the proverb, Paul does use a similar idea in his description of the successful athlete:
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25).
While Paul could be making reference to an Aristotalean sort of ethic of moderation here, it is more likely that the phrase translated here as “temperate in all things” should be better rendered as “wholly self-controlled” or “entirely self-disciplined.” Several alternative translations favour this reading of the text. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon notes that Paul is presenting the figure of an athlete who trains himself, taking charge of his body, abstaining from “unwholesome foods, wine, and sexual indulgence” that he might perform at the peak of his potential prowess.
Return to Top
Once saved, always saved
First of all, slogans like “Once Saved, Always Saved” are always regrettable because they polarize an issue, causing them to be touted or denounced vehemently not on the basis of truth as truth is, but only as it is represented in the stark world of sloganeering.
Take for instance, the present slogan—Once Saved, Always Saved. This is based upon the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but skews the doctrine by only representing a portion of its teaching. In fact, the slogan doesn't give us enough information to properly judge its merits. As well, the slogan is tautological in its simplicity, so that in being inherently true on its face, it is unable to say anything of value. One might as well say, “Once one has eternal life, he shall always have eternal life.” This is obvious by the very definition of eternal life; and so, the slogan teaches us nothing of value. It is likely that this slogan (like most slogans) was created for a very particular purpose, but has long since (again, like most slogans) outgrown that purpose.
Instead, let’s look at the doctrine to which the slogan makes reference.
When we speak of the perseverance of the saints, we are, in the first place, speaking not of any power within the grasp or intention of men who believe but rather of the strength of God’s own redemptive and recreative work. Because men are saved by grace and not works, the sinful works of men are no great obstacle if God wishes to recreate a man into the image of his Son. The effect of Christ’s blood in redemption is complete. So powerful is the blood of Christ that all sins of those that God ordains it to cover are washed in their entirety. As well, when God deems to recreate a man in the image of Christ, he begins the creative work and is faithful to complete it in his time despite the work’s potential inclinations to the opposite.
When we speak of perseverance, we are really speaking of God’s faithfulness rather than man’s. As well, we are not speaking of any statement or decision a man could make. Part of the flaw in the slogan’s respect is the preponderance of the contemporary understanding of being “saved.” While salvation is a very biblical notion and Scripture does point out that man must be saved, believers too often view this as an effect of a profession of faith rather than the result of God’s work of grace. The distinction is palpable. Obviously, anyone can make a profession of faith and live for a time with external evidence of the work of redemption in their lives and yet still be without the work of grace. Though, we might refer to them in our ignorance as the saved, they are anything but. Their profession and life are counterfeits of the life of the honestly saved. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints declares that those who are of this kind were never recipients of the persevering work of God’s grace, were not sealed by the Holy Spirit, and did not receive at anytime the cleansing, redemptive, and recreative work of Christ.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints maintains that those who overcome the world—those who abide in Christ—until they die and are taken up to heaven are the saved. They are the ones who persevere. Any who do not persevere simply were not saved for they did not experience the saving grace of God, were not conformed to the image of Christ, and were not forgiven of their sins. Therefore, it stands to reason that they as well never possessed eternal life—for eternal life is eternal.
The plain fact is that Scripture encourages believers to work in righteousness as they reflect the glory of their Lord. And Scripture offers security for those who have this work of grace alive in them. Those who claim belief but do not live righteously are persuaded to fear for their place and are invited to pursue God with all their hearts, minds, and souls that they might rest in the security of God’s grace.
In light of the admonition to confess sin found in 1 John 1:9 for faithful and just forgiveness, the question is often asked whether a true believer, unconfessed, might not be in danger of perdition. Yet, while confession of sin before God is integral to the obedient Christian life and no true Christian will go for too long in aggressive rebellion against the confession of sin, believers are always going some duration without confessing their sin. Even if it is only the time period between the sin and one’s immediate regret for and confession of that sin, there is still a period of unconfessed sin. We do not believe that this unconfessed sin can keep the true child of God from receiving that which God has claimed is his inheritance and has sealed in him with the Holy Spirit. We do believe that unconfessed sin will forge a breach in one’s earthly experience of the joys of heavenly life, but not that unconfessed sin can mar the surpassing grace of God. If this were so then every believer would be in danger of perdition at the time of his death for even as Christians, we recognize that we sin constantly in thought and deed.
Return to Top
Better to cast your seed…
A commonly referenced proverb to highlight the evils of masturbation frequently mistaken as a biblical admonition is typically phrased as, “It is better to cast your seed in the belly of a whore than to spill it on the ground.” The fact is, though, this is not anything to be found in the pages of Scripture. We get this question fairly often and have been trying to track down the origin of the saying, but alas, with no luck. While not certain of the phrase’s exact origin, it does seem to be a false extrapolation of Genesis 38 and the story of Onan, Tamar, and Judah.
According to Ancient Near Eastern culture, it would have been the responsibility of Onan to impregnate his dead brother’s wife that his brother’s line might continue. Selfishly, Onan did not wish any of his offspring to bear any name other than his own; and so while he did, in fact, take up the responsibility of sexual relations with his brother’s wife, he would not ejaculate inside her but instead practiced the withdrawal method of birth control. God punished Onan for his wickedness and greed by putting him to death (and not, as is popularly believed, for masturbating). The rest of the narrative features the wife, Tamar, posing as a prostitute and seducing Onan’s father, Judah. By him, she conceives and bears a son from whom Christ would descend. And God does not strike Judah or punish him in any way in the narrative.
So it appears that some cynic had taken the veneer of the tale and crafted a wry commentary that has come to be known as actual Scripture (unfortunately). In the end, the admonition is far from biblical and has nothing to do with masturbation.
Return to Top
Spare the rod, spoil the child
Despite popular opinion, the famous saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. The saying, however, should not be considered invalid as there are verses that promote a similar concept.
He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.
Do not hold back discipline from the child,
Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
You shall strike him with the rod
And rescue his soul from Sheol.
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
Return to Top
To thine ownself be true
When prompting people to follow their conscience on matters, the oft-touted “To thine own self be true” is occasionally cited as a Biblical recommendation. In truth, this saying originates in the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet. Polonius, the older counselor of Prince Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius, is in the midst of dispensing advice to his son Laertes (who was about to leave Denmark and return to France) when he speaks forth the famous line: “This above all things: to thine own self be true” (Hamlet, 3.1.81). Among his platitudes, he also says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” (3.1.78) — another saying occasionally mistaken for Scripture.
But really how good is Polonius’s advice? Scripturally, we can only trust our conscience to guide us as far as it is being informed by the Spirit of God. Men, of their natural selves, are entirely corrupted; and so, to hold true to themselves would be to choose poorly indeed. Rather, we should seek God in prayer and ask Him to guide us in the paths of righteousness (cf. Psalm 23:3).
Return to Top
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
The biblical parallel to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is found in the following verse: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them (Matthew 7:12; cf. Luke 6:31). The phrase, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” also bears a close relation to the saying and is found throughout Scripture (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8; Luke 10:27). James even refers to “love thy neighbor as thyself” as being “the royal law” because it is the embodiment of all the laws dealing with human relationships.
While many will happily point out that the New International Version translates the Lucan passage as “Do to others as you would have them do to you”—which is nearly identical to the standard, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. However, as close as this phrasing is, we cannot point to the NIV for the phrase’s origin. The NIV was first published in 1973, well after the phrase came to popularity. Further, as the NIV is founded on a translation framework known as dynamic equivalancy (in which passages are translated in a so-called thought-for-thought manner rather than by a more literal guideline), it seems apparent that they translated the passage in order to reflect the well-known phrase.
Further research indicates that the phrase’s earliest known origin comes from a Roman Catholic catechism from 1583 (which reprints an earlier of the same from 1567). The particulars of the phrase may in fact date further back even than this, as the idea of an ethic of reciprocity has been common throughout the world even into ancient histories (we find evidence even in the ancient Greeks).
So, in the end, while the saying does not appear in its common form in any of the more literal translations of Scripture, its sentiment is certainly biblical.
Return to Top
God helps those who help themselves
The saying “God helps those who help themselves” comes to us by various roots and across millennia. One of its earliest known expressions is from the Aesopian fable, “Hercules and the Wagoneer.” Here is the text of that brief fable:
A WAGGONER was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Waggoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. “O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress,” quoth he. But Hercules appeared to him, and said:
“Tut, man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel.
THE GODS HELP THEM THAT HELP THEMSELVES.”
Aesop lived from about 620–564 BC. A more contemporary provenance and one which matches the common wording identically comes to us by way of Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1736). Franklin himself was a deist and so he believed that God did not play an active role in men’s lives. In his point of view if man was not able to help himself, then man was hopeless.
The Bible teaches something entirely different than the above saying, because God makes special provision to help the helpless.
Romans 5:6, 8
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But he who walks wisely will be delivered.
Thus says the LORD,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the LORD.
Return to Top
Money is the root of all evil
This expression stems from the biblical phrase that says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). There is a big difference between the two statements. Money is neutral and can be used either for the good or for the bad. Money of itself is not evil, yet the love of it is the root of all kinds evil.
Return to Top
Cleanliness is next to godliness
The book of Leviticus frequently deals with the issue of cleanliness and impurity so that the Children of Israel would be clean as a sign of separation from the surrounding nations. Yet in the New Testament, cleanliness finds mention in relation to the cleansing of the believer’s life.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
2 Corinthians 7:1
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
Return to Top
This too shall pass
Trials and difficult circumstances are difficult to bear and one comfort that many have come to share with friends assailed by trouble is the saying: “This too shall pass.” Though the possible origins of this saying are too many and varied to review in depth, one early reference comes from the Old English poem, Deor (c. a.d. 10th century).
In the poem, the ex-minstrel Deor laments recently losing his position of poet to the king. In his lament, he compares himself to a number of heroes from Anglo-Saxon folklore who experiences some trouble or other, always ending with the saying that Deor was hopeful would apply as well to his own present difficulty: “Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!”—which paraphrases as something like “that was overcome, this may also be” or “that passed, so too may this.”
An adequate question for the believer to ask, though, is how biblical is the comfort found in the reminder that “This too shall pass.” Really we should be focusing on the promise of what awaits us who believe. Romans 5 reminds the believer that suffering produces hope for the kingdom of God; if we simply take heart in the temporary end of a given earthly trial, we are finding comfort in the wrong thing.
Return to Top
God works in mysterious ways
Though uncertain in origin and certainly not found in Scripture (the phrase may originate from William Cowper’s hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”), that God does work in ways curious and beyond the measure of our limited experience and conception is obvious. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that: The secret things belong to the Lord our God. The final chapters of Job present God’s reprimand of Job wherein He asks how Job could possibly understand or judge the reasons for God’s actions (Job being so far removed from God in power, wisdom, and longevity).
And perhaps the biggest mystery is revealed us in Romans 8:28. And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Though we may not understand the purpose of our circumstances in God’s plan, we are assured that every detail will work for the benefit of the Redeemed.
Return to Top
The eye is the window to the soul
The Bible does not speak of the eye being a window to the soul, yet it does represent the eye as being a lamp of the body.
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.
The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness.
Return to Top
The lion shall lay down with the lamb
This is a popularly misquoted passage from Scripture. From filtering into pop culture to influencing Christian kitsch, the image of a lamb sweetly nestled into the side of a powerful lion is one that resonates. We are often asked from where comes this image.
The image has developed from a different juxtaposition of animals in a couple verses from the writings of Isaiah. In these verses, both lions and lambs appear but are paired with other animals.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
As you can see, the lamb is both times paired with the wolf and the lion is paired with a beast of burden (once with calves and another with the ox). Still, the meaning behind the imagery is not really done damage by switching the juxtaposition to include lions and lambs. One can see with little trouble how the image became as widely popular as it has. Not only is the image made more dramatic by replacing the wolf with the lion, but there is already some precedent for the comparison if one considers the lion/lamb imagery keyed in Revelation 5.
Return to Top
Pride comes before the fall
It is uncertain when or why Proverbs 16:18 was altered for popular consumption, but the original rendition states that pride ends in destruction.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Return to Top
The Three Wisemen
During the advent season it is quite common to hear people tell the story of the three wise men, who, following the Star of Bethlehem, traveled from Babylonia on camels to present gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. This story, however, has just as much mythology as biblical truth.
The Gospel of Matthew is the only place in Scripture that refers to these magi. The text is as follows:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
Matthew 2:1-12, 16 esv
First of all, Scripture does not designate the number of magi. Traditionally there were only three because that is the number of gifts—gold and frankincense and myrrh—presented to the Christ Child. Really there could have been any number of magi visiting Christ.
A famous hymn often sung during the advent season is “We Three Kings” by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1857). The first stanza goes as follows:
We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
Though this well-cherished song refers to the three “kings” there is no evidence which supports that these magi were in fact kings. These magi were wise men who were probably experts in astrology and oneirocriticism (interpretation of dreams), such as the wise men described in Daniel 2. Of twenty translations surveyed, thirteen referred to the magi as “wise men”(asv, cev, Douay-Rheims, esv, hcsb, kjv, ncv, net, njb, nkjv, nlt, nrsv, and rsv), five called them “magi” or “mages” (Darby, nasb, niv, tniv, and ylt), J.B. Phillips names them “astrologers,” and the Message, “a band of scholars.”
Another possible misnomer is that the wise men were present at the birth of Christ (or shortly thereafter), presenting gifts to the Christ Child in the manger. The evangelist Luke tells us that shepherds visited the Christ Child in the manger (Luk 2:8-20), but there is no mention of the magi at this point. In fact it seems that the magi could have arrived sometime later according to Matthew’s account. Matthew 2:11 states that they entered a house (Gk. oikia) which is distinct from a manger (Gk. phatnê). Matthew 2:16 makes reference to Herod confiscating life from all the male children in and around Bethlehem “according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” Therefore the magi may have arrived circa two years after Christ’s birth, despite the traditional timing of twelve days later (January 6th is date that the magi arrived, however, this is working from the false premise that Christ was born on December 25th).
Some accounts of the “three” wise men are accompanied with their names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The earliest reference to these names is from Excerpta Latina Barbari, which is a Latin translation of an early sixth century Greek manuscript. The names seem to be purely tradition as they do not have an early witness.
Something else to consider is the origin of the wise men. Some have attributed it to Babylonia or simply Persia based on the term magi, yet Matthew leaves it ambiguous by stating that they came “from the east.”
As a note of interest, Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, records several portents or omens that foretold the war with Rome and the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70.
Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. (Josephus, War 289)
This event would have occurred in a.d. 66, and it is possible that Josephus merely included this incident from the prior account of the star at Christ’s birth in order to strengthen his pro-Roman argument.
When all is said and done, the only impeccable information which we can obtain regarding the magi is the very words of Scripture.
Return to Top
The Sinner’s Prayer
Though not quite a saying in itself, we hear tell of the Sinner’s Prayer enough that it’s easy to see why some may have come to believe it of canonical origin—and why they want to know the exact wording as found in Scripture for the lauded prayer.
The fact is, there is neither any specific formula found in Scripture for a Sinner’s Prayer nor is there any biblical example of such a prayer being recommended in the salvation experience.The modern usage of the Sinner’s Prayer originates in the 19th Century and was popularized by the experience-oriented evangelistic style of Charles Finney. As Scripture presents it, men should repent, believe, and be baptized. There is no mention of altar calls or sinner’s prayers or requesting for Christ to enter one’s heart.
That said, we shouldn't go as far as some and claim the Sinner’s Prayer to be a bad thing. So long as it is accompanied by belief and repentance, we should consider the Sinner’s Prayer as simply an initial instance that honest and vital, confessional aspect of a new believer’s growing relationship with the Lord he now serves (cf. Romans 10:9-10).
Though, as has been stated, there is no biblical formula for the Sinner’s Prayer, here is a typical example of such a prayer:
Dear Jesus: Thank You for the sacrifice You made for me. Please forgive me for all of my past sins. I repent of these actions, and with Your help, I will change and not repeat them again. I know I am not worthy; but, I willingly accept You as my Lord and my Savior, and I thank You for Your blessings over my family and me.
Return to Top
Wedding vows are not actually anything ever presented in Scripture, but the vows typical to Christian weddings are derived from the roles and responsibilities that Scripture places upon the husband and his wife.
Typically, the man’s vows will reflect his responsibility as the head and covering over the woman—his responsibility to love her unflinchingly to the degree that Christ loves his own bride, the church. Also emphasized is his responsibility to protect, provide for, care for, and tend to his wife and her needs (physical, emotional, and spiritual). Further, there is generally focus on his responsibility to lead her and his family in the path and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Accordingly, the woman’s vows will reflect her responsibility as her husband’s helper—her responsibility to respond to her husband’s lead with love, charity, and strength of character. Also emphasized is her responsibility to meet her husbands needs according to her abilities, willingly helping him to fulfill his role in God’s creation. As well, there is often focus on her responsibility to nurture her husband’s faith, even as he nurtures her own.
The majority of these principles can be gleaned from Paul’s treatment of the married couple’s responsibilities toward each other under Christ in Ephesians 5:22ff. For actual wedding vows, one may refer to one’s denominational Book of Church Order—as these often have examples of wedding ceremonies (including vows).
Return to Top
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Seven Deadly Sins, having come under recent scrutiny at the hands of the 1995 film, Se7en are:
They are, though certainly sins that Scripture condemns, not to be found in Scripture in any such grouping. The seven sins originated in the writings of medieval theologues and have been remarked upon by such noted personages as Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Geoffery Chaucer, and John Milton.
Also of interest is a Scriptural list that bears at least some similarity to the historical list of seven. Proverbs 6:16-19 reveals:
These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.
Now while these are clearly sins despised by the Lord, none of these are able to keep one from salvation if he will only repent and believe.
Return to Top
Items of Interest: