"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 15, 2014
The Bard of the Bible
by Kathryn Grant

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
“Discretion is the better part of valor”
“To be or not to be”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”
“To thine own self be true”

Four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, his words live on in our culture, even though we don’t always recognize the source. His memorable phrases and colorful comparisons still describe life aptly today.

If there’s anyone in the Bible who could be compared to the Bard, it’s Isaiah. Both have a remarkable mastery of language, and both have reputations (whether fair or not) for being somewhat difficult to understand.

But there’s another commonality. Like Shakespeare, Isaiah wrote words that have made their way into everyday language, often without our realizing their source.

For generations, Christians have been comforted by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

But often we don’t realize that Paul is quoting Isaiah! “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” (Isaiah 64:4.)

Another phrase we use frequently, especially when speaking of gaining spiritual knowledge, is “line upon line, precept upon precept” (see, for example, 2 Nephi 28:30 and D&C 98:12). Once again, we find the earliest recorded use of this metaphor in Isaiah: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” (Isaiah 28:10.)

Isaiah is also the earliest known source of the beautiful millennial vision that has inspired artists, poets, and saints through the centuries: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6.)

And it was Isaiah who reminded us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8–9) and that we are clay in the hands of the potter (Isaiah 64:8). The admonition to strengthen our stakes (D&C 82:14) also alludes to Isaiah (Isaiah 54:2).

These are just a few examples of words from Isaiah that have become ingrained in our everyday language. It’s not a stretch to call Isaiah the Bard of the Bible. We owe him more than we may realize.

If you’re interested in learning more about Isaiah, check out BYU TV’s Insights into Isaiah.


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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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