February 10, 2019
Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.
This is an odd parable, but one I first heard of while watching a 1999 film starring Devon Sawa. (Anyone who has watched the live-action film “Casper” or “Little Giants” should know who he is.) However, I heard another version of this parable in that movie.
In fact, there are multiple versions of this saying:
- Idle hands are the devil’s playground.
- Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.
- Idle hands are the devil’s tools.
- Idle hands are the devil’s workshop
- The devil makes work for idle hands (to do).
What Does ‘Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Playthings’ Mean?
The parable, no matter which version is in use, means that someone who has nothing to do is likely to do evil. When someone is idle, they have nothing to do, they lack focus, and they don’t have a specific purpose or goal in mind. It is thus easy to become distracted and waste time instead of using that time for something worthwhile (like helping others). People must spend their free time wisely, less they get into trouble.
More often than not, children and teenagers are told this, but it applies to anyone who has some free time.
What Is the Origin of This Parable?
The proverb is often attributed to the Bible, specifically Proverbs 16:27, but there is no such thing found in most translations. This might be due to a misreading and/or influenced by “Protestant theological assumptions.”
Now, while the statement cannot be found verbatim in the Bible, the sentiment has its roots in Scripture. From two of the sources I consulted, there two especially pertinent passages from the New Testament, 2 Thessalonians 3:11 and 1 Timothy 5:13, which both made mention of busybodies.
2 Thessalonians 3:11
For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
1 Timothy 5:13
And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
According to an entry at Wiktionary, the parable as we know it might have originated with The Living Bible (1971), which has these words:
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece.
The phrase as we know it may have come from St. Jerome, who wrote this in the 4th century:
Fac et aliguid operis, ut semper te dialous inveniat occupatum.
That translates to “Engage in some occupation, so that the devil may always find you busy.” Geoffrey Chaucer later repeated this in Melibeus (circa 1405):
Dooth somme goode dedes, that the deuel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat vnocupied.
This translates to: “Do some good deeds, so that the devil, which is our enemy, won’t find you unoccupied” (Martin).
What’s the Name of the Movie I Mentioned at the Top of This Post?
The movie was simply titled, “Idle Hands.” was a 1999 horror-comedy starring Devon Sawa as Anton Tobias, a teenage stoner and slacker whose right hand was possessed. That possessed hand commits a series of murders and after Anton realizes that, he struggles to put a stop to it. The movie was made on a $25 million but it only pulled in $4 million in theaters, making it a box-office bomb. It later because a cult favorite.
This is the trailer for Idle Hands, the 1999 horror-comedy starring Devon Sawa. In one moment in this trailer, you can hear Anton (the character played by Sawa) say, “Idle hands are the devil’s playpen.”
“1 TIMOTHY CHAPTER 5 KJV.” King James Bible Online. Web. Retrieved 10 February 2019. <https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1-Timothy-Chapter-5/>.
“2 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 3 KJV.” King James Bible Online. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2019. <https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/2-Thessalonians-Chapter-3/>.
Chery, Fritz. “Idle Hands Are The Devil’s Workshop.” Bible Reasons. 2 Feb 2017. Web. Retrieved 10 February 2019. <https://biblereasons.com/idle-hands-are-the-devils-workshop/>.
“THE DEVIL FINDS WORK FOR IDLE HANDS | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge English Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2019. <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/devil-finds-work-for-idle-hands>.
“idle hands are the devil’s tools.” The Idioms. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2019. <https://www.theidioms.com/idle-hands-are-the-devils-tools/>.
“Is ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop’ a biblical statement?” GotQuestions.org. Got Questions Ministries. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2019. <https://www.gotquestions.org/idle-hands-devils-workshop.html>.
Martin, Gary. “The devil makes work for idle hands to do.” The Phrase Finder. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2019. <https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-devil-makes-work-for-idle-hands.html>.
Umbrella Entertainment. “Idle Hands – Trailer (HD).” YouTube. 1 May 2017. Video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcVrp–9UUc>.
Various Authors. “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Wiktionary. Last Updated 4 Feb 2019. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2019. <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/idle_hands_are_the_devil%27s_workshop>.
Various Authors. “Idle Hands.” Wikipedia. Last Updated 4 Feb 2019. Web. Retrieved 10 Feb 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idle_Hands>.