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25 Religion Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Lightning is an act of God.  An act of God?  It's an idiomatic expression!

Lightning is an act of God. An act of God? It's an idiomatic expression!

Idioms or idiomatic expressions are groups of words with special meanings that are different from the meanings of their individual words.

They are usually confusing for English as a Second Language or ESL learners because their meanings are based on the culture of native English speakers.

Below are 25 examples of religion idioms to help out ESL learners in their study of idioms.

1. A Blessing in Disguise

Something awful that somehow leads to something wonderful is said to be a blessing in disguise.


Her being fired from that company was a blessing in disguise. She became self-employed and now has several sources of income.

2. A Mecca for Someone/Something

A place is a Mecca for someone/something if it is often visited by people with common interests.


Israel is a Mecca for history enthusiasts and religious people. The place is filled with ancient and sacred places.

3. An Act of God

An event is an act of God if it is not caused by humans and cannot be stopped by humans.


That earthquake was an act of God. It was impossible for us to predict it or be ready for it.

4. Baptism by Fire

Baptism by fire is an idiom that refers to a difficult experience that a person, who is new to a group, has to go through.


The new recruit had a baptism by fire. On his first day at the office, his boss ordered him to work overtime.

5. Bear/Carry One’s Cross

To bear/carry one’s cross is to carry on with life despite going through much difficulty.


Mimi’s in a tough situation but she knows that she has to bear her cross until her troubles are gone.

6. Crux of the Matter

A topic is the crux of the matter if it is the main problem in a broad issue.

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To keep the meeting short, the chairperson immediately tackled the crux of the matter.

7. Devil-May-Care Attitude

A devil-may-care attitude is a way of behaving and thinking that is at ease, sometimes too at ease.


She used to have a devil-may-care attitude until she realized that she only has one life and would want to make the most of it.

8. An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is an idiomatic expression that means a person must be punished by the same bad thing he or she did to another person.


The townspeople want an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They want the accused to be killed because he is suspected of killing one of their neighbors.

9. Fall from Grace

A person who falls from grace goes from being popular to being unpopular because of his or her wrong actions.


The politician had a remarkable fall from grace after his extramarital affairs went public. From being the most popular presidential candidate a week ago, he is now the most hated.

10. Gospel Truth

Something is gospel truth if it is believed to be absolutely real and right.


Many people have now accepted human evolution as gospel truth.

11. Have a Close Call

To have a close call means to narrowly dodge a sure and serious danger.


Firefighters had a close call when they were able to run out of the burning building seconds before it fell apart.

12. Holier-than-Thou

Holier-than-thou is an idiom that can be used to describe a person who is self-righteous and thinks that he or she is absolutely moral.


Mommy has a holier-than-thou attitude and is convinced that she is right all the time.

13. In Limbo

A person is in limbo if he or she is in a situation that is uncertain, making him or her fearful.


He has been in limbo over his health tests. He fears that he might be carrying the virus.

Baptism by fire?  Well, it's another idiom!

Baptism by fire? Well, it's another idiom!

14. In One’s Sunday Best

Somebody is in one’s Sunday best if he or she is remarkably well-dressed or seems to be wearing clothes that are apt for going to church.


Sophia was in her Sunday best when she went to the party.

15. In Seventh Heaven

The idiom in seventh heaven means “in a blissful state of mind or ideal situation.”


Mira was in seventh heaven when she won the lottery!

16. Let the Dead Bury the Dead

Let the dead bury the dead is an idiom that means the same as let bygones be bygones. Both these idioms mean “to forget about past conflicts and forgive people who caused us pain.”


She counseled her brother to let the dead bury the dead and start reconciling with his best friend.

17. Money is the Root of All Evil

People say that money is the root of all evil because they think that many conflicts are caused by fights over money.


Surely, money is the root of all evil. The two former best friends are now archenemies after fighting over money.

18. Raise Hell with Someone

To raise hell with someone is to behave very badly with another person.


The immigrant raised hell with her company when she was suddenly sacked for wearing her religious headdress at the office.

19. Sacred Cow

A sacred cow is a very special person or thing that many people do not want to be criticized.


The king is a sacred cow for these people. Anyone caught saying bad things about the king or his family is jailed without trial.

20. Salt of the Earth

Salt of the earth refers to people who are humble, clean-living, and moral.


The villagers are the salt of the earth. They work hard, say their prayers, and help one another.

21. Scare the Hell out of Someone

To scare the hell out of someone is to seriously frighten someone.


That doll scared the hell out of me! It suddenly talked!

22. Separation of Church and State

The separation of church and state refers to a provision in a constitution that says that the powers of the church should not overlap with those of the government.


There is a separation of church and state so bishops and cardinals should not interfere with the passage of laws.

23. Speak of the Devil

To speak of the devil is to talk about a person at the same time that the person walks into a room.


Speaking of the devil, Josh is now here.

24. Through Hell and High Water

Through hell and high water is an idiom that means to suffer from many kinds of troubles.


She has been through hell and high water in building her now successful business.

25. To Hell and Gone

To hell and gone is an idiomatic expression that can mean “completely lost.”


All his efforts is to hell and gone. Now he is broke and feels empty.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved


Virginia Kearney from United States on August 17, 2012:

Great list! I really like the way you clearly and simply explain it but also offer an example of how it is used.

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