The saying by and by is found in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. This phrase was originally used by Geoffrey Chaucer and came to its modern definition by the 16th century. It became popularized in Shakespeare’s works, the King James Bible, and many other well-known texts of that era. By and by is an adverbial phrase that means “after a while” or “soon.”
By and by is used in the gospels of the KJV Bible translation. In Mark 6:25, Herodias demands for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. The KJV translates Herodias’s words as, “I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.” Modern translations exchange “by and by” for “right now” and “at once.” The point is that Herodias wanted her request fulfilled soon.
The KJV translation of the Parable of the Sower also uses the phrase by and by in describing the seed that falls to the road. Since this seed has no roots, it “dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” Modern translations convey that, since the seeds do not have roots, “when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
The phrase also appears in describing the signs of the end times in Luke 21. In verse 9, we read, “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.” Wars, earthquakes, persecution, famines, and catastrophic events are indeed signs that the end of time will come, but not right away. Instead of fearing, believers are called to “stand firm” (Luke 21:19). Our faith in Christ allows us to stand firm (Hebrews 6:19). As Peter instructed, we are to be alert, sober-minded, prayerful, and loving of others (1 Peter 4:7–8).
For Christians, the by and by end of time is sweet, as the well-known hymn so calls it. Written by Sanford Fillmore Bennett in 1868, the words of the hymn “In the Sweet By and By” sum up the joy and encouragement that the future by and by time brings for believers:
There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.
We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed;
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.