The Importance of Understanding Idioms

Idiom: “a language, dialect, or style of speaking peculiar to a people.”

Idioms are expressions, or sayings, used and shared by a particular group of people. For example, idioms common to Americans would be “pulling your leg,” “kicked the bucket,” “wet blanket,” “cough it up,” or “jumped the gun” to name just a few. These are all common expressions Americans both use and understand, and for the most part, are unique to them. If you traveled to another English-speaking nation and used these expressions, they most likely wouldn’t understand what you were saying. If you wanted to communicate with the people of that nation, it wouldn’t be enough just to know English. You would also have to know the unique set of idioms that belong to that culture.

To demonstrate the importance of idioms in language, let’s do an experiment. Imagine a couple thousand years from now, an archeologist at an archeological dig discovered an ancient writing that came from a nation once known as the USA. They translated the text and discovered it was a letter of a gossipy nature written by a woman to a friend.

OMG, I really put my foot in my mouth today. I told John how I thought he and his girlfriend, Daisy, were a slamming couple. John just turned red and admitted, “Daisy kicked me to the curb last week.” He blew my mind! Daisy told him she needed to jump start her life and couldn’t do it with him always smothering her. He seemed pretty broken up about it, but I told him there were lots of other fish in the sea. It’s so sad. I know he would have bent over backwards for Daisy. I told him that maybe it’s for the best cuz Daisy kind of drove me up the wall with all her nattering. You know what John said? “Yeah, but she was really PHAT.” LOL!

The archeologist is familiar with the language but not the culture, making him unfamiliar with its idioms. Unfortunately, the text is filled with idioms, making it nearly impossible for him to fully understand what is being said. Did the author really put her foot in her mouth? Imagine how difficult it would be to understand the text without the meaning for the expressions “kicked to the curb,” “blew my mind,” or “jump start her life,” or “smothering,” “other fish in the sea,” “bent over backwards,” “drove me up the wall.” The acronyms OMG, PHAT, and LOL would make it nearly impossible to understand.

When it comes to idioms, you can’t apply a literal meaning to the words. As an example, let’s use the idiom “slamming couple” and try to interpret it using a literal approach. It would probably sound like this. “The ancient American word slam means ‘to dash, strike, knock, thrust, throw, slap down, or to criticize harshly; attack verbally.’ So to be a slamming couple, it must mean they hit each other or maybe criticized each other. Or perhaps it means that as a couple, they hit and/or verbally attacked other people.”

You can quickly see how the interpretation would go awry when using a literal approach. This is the sort of problem Bible study students encounter when they run into idioms in the Bible. Without the understanding of the idioms being used, the text cannot be fully understood. The result will be an incorrect interpretation of that scripture. For that reason, it’s good to study some of the idioms used in end time prophetic words.

In this study, we’ll look at the idiom “the shame of thy nakedness.”

We see this phrase “the shame of thy nakedness” in the book of Revelation in one of the messages to the seven churches. The messages to the seven churches start out with the apostle John saying he heard a voice from behind him saying, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea” (Rev. 2:10–11). These seven churches were all located in Asia Minor, which is present-day Turkey. Jesus had a message for each of these seven churches. It is in the message to the church in Laodicea where we see the phrase “the shame of thy nakedness.”

The message to the Laodicean church is in Revelation 3:14–18: “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”

Jesus described the Laodicean church as being lukewarm. His criticism of them was harsh. In their eyes, they thought they were all right. They said they were rich and in need of nothing. But Jesus said they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind… and naked. Naked? Why would He call them naked? After calling them naked, He then told them to buy clothing so that others would not see “the shame of thy nakedness.” Certainly, Jesus didn’t mean they weren’t wearing any clothing, literally walking around naked. You can tell by the context of this passage of scripture that He was referring to their spiritual condition. He was using the words nakedness and shame to describe their spiritually backslidden condition.

Why did Jesus use the metaphor of nakedness and shame to describe someone’s backslidden condition? Where does this expression come from? This isn’t the only time this phrasing appears in the Bible. It appears several times in both the Old and New Testaments. You see this phrasing when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and found the Israelites worshiping the golden calf: “And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies)” (Exo. 32:25).

We see it again in 2nd Chronicles chapter 28 where it talks about how the wickedness of King Ahaz brought the entire kingdom of Judah into sin against God. For that reason, God allowed the nations around Judah to come against them. Verse 19 says, “For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel; for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the Lord.” King Ahaz caused Judah to be naked!

Lamentations 1:8 says, “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness….” Here we see this same phraseology of nakedness linked with falling out of relationship with God.

Another example is in Revelation 16:15 when the sixth bowl judgment is poured out. Jesus issued a warning to the inhabitants of the earth saying, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.”

There are other verses of scripture that use this same idiom regarding nakedness. In every instance, it’s clear that it’s being used to describe a state of separation from God, a state of iniquity. But, again, why use the words nakedness and shame to describe sin and separation from God? What is the origin of this metaphor?

To establish the correlation between sin and nakedness, you must apply the rule of Bible interpretation called the “rule of first mention.” The first time you see something mentioned in Scripture, you will find its fundamental, inherent meaning to be present in subsequent like mentions in scripture. In other words, you have to go back to when nakedness and shame were first recorded in order to understand its meaning.

The first time we see nakedness and shame mentioned in scripture is with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis chapter two, we read how God created Adam and Eve and both of them were naked and were not ashamed: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Then in the next chapter, it changes. It says they were naked but now they were ashamed! What happened? What happened is that sin happened. They disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Let’s read about the results of eating the forbidden fruit: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (Gen. 3:7–11).

In chapter two, they were naked but they didn’t realize they were naked. Then in chapter three, they were still naked but this time they could see they were naked. What made the difference in chapters two and three?

The reason they were not aware of their nakedness in chapter two is because they were clothed with the glory of God. Psalms 8:5 talks about how God had created mankind and clothed him in glory: “For thou … hast crowned him with glory and honour.” The word “crowned” is the Hebrew word atar and it means “to be surrounded.” Adam and Eve were surrounded with glory. Throughout the Word of God, the glory of God is frequently described as a cloud. Adam and Eve were literally clothed with the cloud of glory. There are other instances where you see beings from heaven clothed with His glory. For instance, in Revelation chapter 10, an angel that appeared to John was also clothed with glory. John described the angel saying, “I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud…” (Rev. 10:1). In this same way, Adam and Eve were also clothed with a cloud of glory. That’s why they didn’t realize they were naked.

When they sinned against God, they fell out of relationship with Him; as a result, they fell from glory. They were no longer crowned, or surrounded, with glory. The glory cloud left and that’s why they could see they were naked. They immediately felt a sense of shame. Their response was to cover themselves with fig leaves and hide from God in the trees.

Consequently, whenever you see the idiom “the shame of your nakedness” or any of its derivations, you know it is hearkening back to when Adam and Eve sinned against God, resulting in the glory lifting, leaving them naked for all to see. They fell out of right standing with God; it was their great shame. As you can see, understanding the origin of this idiom helps us to grasp its full meaning.

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5 thoughts on “The Importance of Understanding Idioms

  1. Thanks Karen,
    Now I can study end times everyday. I thought this first entry was a good start for me. I was thinking about how often we see phases unfamiliar to us and we just jump over them. I’m looking forward to reading this. It’s even more cool for me because I know you!


    1. Terry,
      Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m excited to finally be able to share the things I’ve learned over the years. It’s all been study, study, study. I have three more blogs coming up about more idioms. I hope you enjoy them.


    1. John Worre! Oh my goodness! So wonderful to hear from you. How did you know about my blog? I’m so excited that you signed up on my mailing list. I have over two months of blogs written already. Your sister, Kathy, is in two of them. I think she’d get a kick out of them. Good to hear from you!


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