Not everyone reads the Bible. Still, most people use dozens of words and expressions that come directly from that book.
Let’s look at a few well-used nouns:
A jezebel is an immoral woman. This word is from the Old Testament where Jezebel is married to Ahab, King of Israel. Evil in every way, she worships a false god, Baal, and even persuades Ahab and his people to do likewise (Kings 16:29-31).
The prophet, Elijah, enlists the Lord to help defeat Baal at Mount Carmel. Jezebel then plots to kill the prophet. Instead, Jezebel herself dies after being thrown from a window.
Jezebel entered English vocabulary in 1558 and quickly became synonymous with a loose, scheming woman. We use it today with no capital “j.”
Jezebel is but one example of the many English nouns lifted from Holy Scripture. Judas is another.
In fact, Judas is often the answer to crossword clues seeking a 5-letter alternative to “betrayer.”
Judas was the apostle who betrayed Jesus. His name has meant “traitor” ever since 1453.
Interestingly, a tree of the genus Cercise (the Redbud) is called the Judas tree because of the long-held belief that a remorseful Judas hanged himself from such a tree.
As well, a judas kiss is a display of false affection that usually ends in treachery.
A jeremiah is a pessimist with nothing good to say about anything. He foresees doom and gloom around every corner. A jeremiad is a long, drawn-out complaint.
Both words entered English from French, but both are ultimately from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah. In the Bible, Jeremiah preaches against idolatry, immorality and false prophets. His own prophecies relate to judgement and damnation. Because of his negative pronouncements, Jeremiah is called, “The Prophet of Doom.”
We often hear of a doubting Thomas. Such a person usually believes nothing without demonstrated proof.
The expression, first recorded in 1883, alludes to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe Christ had risen until he personally saw and touched His wounds. Thomas declared, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of his nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
Skeptics of all kinds are now described as doubting Thomases.
Potter’s Field is from Matthew 27:7 where it’s described as “the place to bury strangers in.” As used in modern English, potter’s field refers to that part of a cemetery where indigents and unknowns are buried.
A Jonah is a harbinger of ill-fortune. The Biblical Jonah is a Hebrew prophet held responsible for a vicious storm that wrecks the ship he travels on. Apparently, Jonah precipitates this disaster through disobedience to God. Thrown overboard, Jonah is swallowed by a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17). The Bible never calls this fish a whale.
In 1897, Rudyard Kipling wrote, in Captains Courageous, “A Jonah’s anything that spoils the luck.” Kipling wasn’t the first to say that. A jonah, representing misfortune, was found in English as early as 1612.