genesis

beginning; origin; source
—The short story she wrote became the genesis for a later novel.

The first book in the Bible is named “Genesis.” It begins with the words

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! (Genesis 1:1-3)

The word genesis comes from a Greek word meaning “beginning, source, or generation.” It was first used as the title of the Bible’s first book when the Old Testament was translated into Latin. (The Bible is divided into two main sections, the Old and New Testaments, with testament meaning “covenant” or “agreement.”)

The first chapter of Genesis tells about God’s creation, including plants, animals, and, finally, the first man and woman:

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:27,28)

Be fruitful and multiply is a well-known phrase that simply means “to have children or offspring.”

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breath of life

mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
—The lifeguard saved the boy by giving him the breath of life.

Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is the act of blowing air into the mouth of a person who has stopped breathing in order to revive him. It is called the “breath of life,” in reference to God’s creation of the first man:

The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

This man was named Adam, and God followed this by creating the first woman, named Eve. God said,

It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him [make him an help meet for him]. (Genesis 2:18)

In the King James Bible, Eve is called a “help meet for” Adam. Here, meet has the older meaning of “suitable.” But over time, help meet came to be treated together as a noun, with mate, another term for a spouse, later replacing meet. Today, helpmate means “a helper, companion, or spouse.”

You might hear someone say, “I don’t know him from Adam.” To not know someone from Adam means “to be unable to recognize a person or to think of someone as a complete stranger.” This is because if you can’t even tell whether or not someone is Adam, then you don’t know that person at all.

 

forbidden fruit 

something that becomes more appealing because it is immoral or not permitted
—Laura knew that dating a coworker was not allowed, but that meant that Alan was forbidden fruit and she wanted to be with him even more.

Eve joined Adam in the special garden God had made:

The Lord God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.) . . .

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden [garden of Eden] to care for it and to maintain it. Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:8,9,15-17)

The Garden of Eden was a wonderful place, a paradise. Today, a beautiful, unspoiled, peaceful place or situation is called “Edenic.”

The phrase forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest means that “when a person knows he should not do something, he wants to do it even more.”

In the Book of Proverbs we read about “wisdom” and “folly,” which are like two women who call out to those who pass by. Folly is a foolish woman who sits in her doorway, trying to lure people into her home, saying,

Stolen waters are sweet,
and food obtained in secret is pleasant! (Proverbs 9:17)

The forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate is often thought to have been an apple (though the Bible doesn’t say what kind of fruit it was). There is a story—not from the Bible—that says that the piece of fruit Adam ate got stuck as he swallowed it. Therefore, the bump on a person’s throat—it sticks out farther on men—is called an Adam’s apple.

 

fig leaf

something used in an attempt, often inadequate, to hide embarrassment or shame
—The pitcher lost the game, 10-3, but his home run in the ninth inning provided him a fig leaf of sorts.

Adam and Eve were not able to continue their Edenic lives forever. Satan came in the form of a serpent and tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. She ate it, and gave some to Adam, who ate it also. They then became aware of good and evil, losing their innocence:

When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:6,7)

Following this disobedience, Adam and Eve tried to hide their nakedness by making clothing from fig leaves, and then they tried to hid from God. But God knew what they had done. Because of their sin, he expelled them from the Garden of Eden forever.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

I’m not responsible for someone else
—When I asked Roger if he knew why his roommate was late to class, he answered, “Don’t ask me. Am I my brother’s keeper?” 

After leaving the Garden of Eden, Eve gave birth to two sons, named Cain and Abel. One day the brothers presented offerings to God. While God accepted Abel’s offering, he did not accept Cain’s. Cain then became angry and violent:

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian? [Am I my brother’s keeper?]” But the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

. . . .

So Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:8-12,16)

When Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he already believed he was not responsible for Abel. This is how the phrase is most often used now, along with simply saying, “I am not my brother’s keeper.”

To raise Cain means “to cause a disturbance” or “to lose one’s temper,” as if the person has called up the spirit of Cain.

Jonathan Swift was the first to use “Land of Nod” in print as a pun for “sleep”—for nodding one’s head while falling asleep or “nodding off”—in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation  (1738). In the Genesis story, Nod is a Hebrew word meaning “wandering.”

olive branch

a sign of peace
—Their fighting has continued for years, without anyone willing to offer the other side an olive branch.

Adam and Eve’s family increased, and over they years, as the number of people grew, their sins also increased. Because of the wickedness of mankind, God decided to flood the earth and destroy all people—except for the righteous man Noah, and his family. God told Noah to build an ark, in which God put pairs of very kind of animal so that they, too, would survive the flood. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, with the water covering the earth for 150 days. When the water began to recede, the ark rested on a mountain, and Noah sent out a dove to see if it could find a place to land. It did not, and returned to him. Then after seven days, he released the dove again:

When the dove returned to him in the evening, there was a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak! Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth. (Genesis 8:11)

The flood was over, and those in the ark soon were able to return to dry ground. This is where we get the symbol of a dove carrying an olive branch as a sign of peace. Today, we call a person who supports peace a dove (or peace dove“), while a hawk (or “war hawk”) is someone who pushes for war.

nimrod

idiot, fool
—He couldn’t even find his way home from the bus station. What a nimrod!

Noah had three sons named Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The Bible contains lists of their descendants, including Cush, a son of Ham:

Cush was the father of Nimrod; he began to be a valiant warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. (That is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.”)

In English, nimrod first meant “hunter,” but now most people don’t remember its positive meaning and it is more often used as an insult.

babel; Tower of Babel

a confused mixture of voices, noises, ideas, etc.; a place of noise and confusion ; a place where many languages are spoken
—I could not understand anything in the babel of voices at the market.

After the flood, God again told the people to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth.” But as the world’s population grew again, all the people spoke the same language and wanted to stay in one area. They said to each other,

Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth. (Genesis 11:4)

God was not happy with their pride and disobedience. He said,

“If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why its name was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the entire world, and from there the Lord scattered them across the face of the entire earth. (Genesis 11:6-9)

The city name Babel is similar to the Hebrew word for confused.

patience of Job

being able to withstand extreme suffering without complaining
—How can you stand in line for so long and still be smiling? You must have the patience of Job.

Like Noah, Job was called a “blameless” man. But Satan told God that Job was good only because he enjoyed God’s blessings. Remove your protection, and Job will curse you, Satan told God. God allowed Satan to test Job with many disasters, but Job refused to curse the Lord:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety. (Job 1:21,22)

While the Book of Job is in the Old Testament, the phrase patience of Job comes from the King James translation of the New Testament, where James writes about the example of Job:

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name. Think of how we regard as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance [the patience of Job] and you have seen the Lord’s purpose, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10,11)

During Job’s trials, some of his friends came to talk to him, but instead of giving him comfort, they tried to convince him that God was punishing him for some sin. Therefore, such people, whose words actually do more harm than good, are called “Job’s comforters.” When Job defended himself, one of the friends argued with him, saying,

Were you the first man ever born?
Were you brought forth before the hills?
Do you listen in on God’s secret council?
Do you limit wisdom to yourself?
What do you know that we don’t know?
What do you understand that we don’t understand? (Job 15:7-9)

This is probably where we get the phrase as old as the hills, meaning, of course, “very old.” Another phrase with the same meaning is as old as Methuselah. In Genesis, the genealogy from Adam to Noah lists many people who lived to great ages, but Methuselah’s life was the longest:

The entire lifetime of Methuselah was 969 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:27)

 

by the skin of one’s teeth; by the skin of the teeth

just barely
—Because Tom left work late, he caught the last bus only by the skin of his teeth.

Job lost everything he had and was so near death he said,

My bones stick to my skin and my flesh;
I have escaped alive with only the skin of my teeth. (Job 19:20)

The skin of one’s teeth originally referred to the gums surrounding the teeth. While this certainly is not much skin, many people think of the modern skin of one’s teeth as meaning “the skin on the teeth, which is no skin at all.” The more common usage of the phrase (using by rather than with), shifts the meaning more towards escaping harm by the smallest of margins.

Later, Job responded to the men who thought they knew the cause of his suffering, calling it “the root of the matter.” He warned them to be careful about God’s judgment in their own lives:

If you say, “How we will pursue him,
since the root of the trouble [root of the matter] is found in him!”
Fear the sword yourselves,
for wrath brings the punishment by the sword,
so that you may know
that there is judgment.” (Job 19:28,29)

Today, root of the matter means “the main part or cause of something.”