Saturday, April 22, 2006

Cultural Literacy and the Bible - Part 2

Cultural Literacy and The Bible -- part 2

This is a continuation of the article-in-progress that I posted Monday. If you need explanation, scroll down and read the introduction there. Can you give the meaning and Biblical reference for each of the common-use expressions in red? Answers follow. (Hint: four of these are from Jesus' words in The Sermon on the Mount.

1. Frank is such a doubting Thomas.

2. Believe me, these folks are the salt of the Earth.

3. My parents have gone the second mile for me.

4. Be careful. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing.

5. You are just casting your pearls before swine.

6. Bonus: The new thrill ride at Six Flags over Georgia is called "Goliath."


1. A “doubting Thomas” is someone who demands evidence to be convinced of anything. Thomas was the disciple who at first doubted the resurrection of Jesus and then believed. Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared alive after his Resurrection, and he rejected their story. He insisted that he would not believe until he had seen Jesus with his own eyes and touched Jesus’ wounds with his own hands. A week later, Jesus appeared again when Thomas was with the group; he invited Thomas to touch his wounds and believe. Thomas then confessed his faith, saying, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus replied, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

2. In popular usage, “salt of the Earth” means a person of admirable character. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his disciples, “If the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” Jesus implies that if his followers lose their dedication to the Gospel, no one else can give it to them.

3. Figuratively, to "go the second mile" is to do more than what is needed. An adaptation of a commandment of Jesus, again from the Sermon on the Mount. “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (two).

4. "Wolves in sheep's clothing" is a metaphor for people who are not what they seem or people who would intentionally lead you in the wrong direction. The phrase is adapted from words of Jesus, again in the Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

5. Generally, to “cast pearls before swine” is to share something of value with those who will not appreciate it. An adaptation of a saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The entire passage reads, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” The meaning of the passage is disputed, but seems generally to be that the followers of Jesus should pass his message on to those most likely to accept it.

6. Bonus: Goliath was the giant (in the Old Testament) who was killed by the shepherd boy, David. Goliath is often used nowadays as an adjective to mean huge or as a noun to emphasize the hugeness of something or somebody.

Thanks largely to: The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil. Copyright © 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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