Glossary Home Idioms

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The phrase ‘Wolf in sheep’s clothing’ is a Biblical idiom that is used to describe the difference between what something or someone looks like and what or who they really are.

The idiom dates back to the New Testament and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. It’s since been popularized and can be found in a wide variety of sources. In fact, the phrase is so common that it’s generally considered to be cliché. This means that most writers are going to stay away from using a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and turn instead or a novel description of the same scenario.

Wolf in sheep's clothing



Meaning of Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is used to describe a person, event, or object that’s different from what it initially seemed. When it is first encountered, it seems innocent, nonviolent, and peaceful, like a sheep. But, under closer investigation, it becomes clear that it’s far more dangerous. It might use this guise as a way of drawing someone close and then attacking, like a wolf.

When to Use “Wolf in sheep’s clothing?’

It’s possible to use “wolf in sheep’s clothing” in a wide variety of circumstances. The idiom can describe something that’s physically dangerous, but it might also refer to something that’s spiritually or emotionally dangerous. For example, a friend might warn another friend off of a perceptive partner, saying that they’re a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and aren’t what they seem. Or, another might use the same phrase humorously to describe a meal that seems healthy but has many hidden calories. The original source, with the Bible, has inspired countless examples in which the “wolf” is a temptation of some sort that’s disguised as a good deed.

Example Sentences With Wolf in sheep’s clothing

  • I wouldn’t trust him if I were you. He seems like a wolf in sheep’s clothing to me.
  • Are you sure about that? You don’t think that might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
  • If you look closely at the menu and nutritional facts, you’ll notice right away that most of these meals are like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
  • My mom always taught me not to trust anything that seems too good to be true. It’s likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing.


Wolf in sheep’s clothing Quotes

There are many different ways that one might use the phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The first example comes from writer Richard Dawkins. When speaking about the papacy, he said:

Pope Francis seems to be a much nicer man than Pope Benedict, but I’m not sure that his views on things that really matter are all that different. Whereas Benedict was perhaps a wolf in wolf’s clothing, Francis is perhaps a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

This quote, which might be controversial to some, expresses Dawkins’ opinion in regard to the nature of Pope Francis’ policies in Rome and how he differs or doesn’t, from Pope Benedict.

The next quote comes from Trenton Lee Stewart and can be found in his novel The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. It reads:

I hope you haven’t given up on the S.Q.’s of the world, Reynie. As you see, there are a great many sheep in wolves’ clothing. If not for S.Q.’s good nature, we’d never have escaped.

Here, the speaker is using the phrase “sheep in wolves clothing” rather than “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” By turning the phrase around, the writer is able to suggest something different. Now, the threat is lessened. It only appears to be dangerous on the outside. The next quote comes from Billy Graham, who was a famed American evangelist and prominent figure in the Christian community. It reads:

I am convinced that hundreds of religious leaders throughout the world today are servants not of God, but of the Antichrist. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing; they are tares instead of wheat.

The use of the phrase in this quote relates back to its initial use within the Bible. Graham suggests that the religious leaders around the world are false prophets.

In ‘Feeding the Beasts, Abigail George uses the following quote:

I used to like wolves; they always arrived so

Punctually in sheep’s clothing at the mortuary

To be prepared for burial by my father who

Showered his wrath on my mother with blows

From his fists at night; this warrior, this Lord

This excerpt from a longer poem explores a speaker’s personal understanding of the men and women who visited the mortuary and her parents’ roles.

Why Do Writers Use “Wolf in sheep’s clothing?”

Writers use the phrase for the same reasons and in the same ways that it’s used by everyday people in conversations. It could be used in a conversation between two characters who are discussing the nature of someone new they’ve met or a program they’re thinking about participating in. Usually, it appears as a warning from one character to another, suggesting that they’re better off staying away from a particular choice. It’s also possible to imagine the writer using this phrase in their narrator’s inner thoughts. Consider, for example, a situation in which the narrator is trying to decide whether to meet someone they know very little about. They could use an example of foreshadowing, suggesting that something is going to go wrong.

Origins of Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing” originated from the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The quote reads:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

The line suggests that if one waits and takes the time to analyze “false prophets,” they’ll soon learn that they are in “sheep’s clothing.” They’re using this image as a way to get close to “you” and then take advantage. In this example, the text refers to a spiritual danger rather than a physical one. If one is drawn in by false prophets, they’re going to risk their spiritual salvation.

The phrase has become quite popular, with a new Latin proverb emerging based on the Biblical original. It reads, “Pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina” or “Under a sheep’s skin often hides a wolfish mind.”

The popularity of the idiom has since resulted in its being counted among Aesops’s Fables, despite the fact that there is no record of a fable with that exact theme.

FAQs

How to detect a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

To detect a wolf in sheep’s clothing, one has to take their time before diving into a situation or committing to another person. Make sure to follow up on any suspicions you might have. Your instincts are going to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong.

What’s another way to say ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing?’

A “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is also an imposter, fraud, mountebank, and pretender.

What verse from the Bible is “Wolf in sheep’s clothing” in?

The quote: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” can be found in Matthew 7:15 in the King James Version of the New Testament.

What does a sheep symbolize?

A sheep symbolizes innocence and peace. They’re a common symbol throughout the Bible, connected directly to Christ. They are usually related to characters who are humble, content, and loyal.

What does a wolf symbolize?

A wolf symbolizes thirst for power, wickedness, and violence in some sources. In others, the wolf symbolizes energy, loyalty, and guardianship.


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