What does “by and by” mean?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The idiomatic phrase is found four times in the Authorized Version:

  • Matthew 13:21: “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”
  • Mark 6:25: “And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.”
  • Luke 17:7: “But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?”
  • Luke 21:9: “But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.”

One rewarding way to define King James Bible words is to search for and study parallel passages. For example, the cross-reference to Matthew 13:21 (above) is Mark 4:17: “And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.” Based on this verse, what do you suppose “by and by” would mean in Matthew 13:21? Obviously, the expression is interchangeable with “immediately.”

As for Luke 21:9, its companion is Matthew 24:6: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” Whereas Luke has “by and by,” Matthew reads “yet.” Therefore, to be “not by and by” is to be “not yet,” and both would be “not as soon as the present.” A delay or pause is implied here.

Here is the Bible student’s approach: we study the Bible and look for answers as we think about what we are reading. The lazy man’s approach, however, is to whine and complain about “difficult and archaic words.” No thinking whatsoever is required in the latter case, which makes it all the more popular and all the more profitless as well.

Also see:
» What is “leasing” in the King James Bible?
» What is a “charger?”
» Is “corn” a mistake in the King James Bible?
» Is the King James word “borrow” a mistranslation in Exodus 3:22?
» What does “untoward” mean?