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25 Religion Idioms Explained to ESL Learners

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Kerlyn is a Filipina writer who has studied English. She wants to share her insights with new learners.

Read on to learn 25 English religious idioms. These idioms about religion will help ESL students better understand conversational English.

Read on to learn 25 English religious idioms. These idioms about religion will help ESL students better understand conversational English.

What Is an Idiom?

Idioms or idiomatic expressions are groups of words with special meanings that are different from the meanings of their individual words. Due to this, the meanings of idioms are far removed from their literal definitions.

They are usually confusing for English as a Second Language (ESL) students because their meanings aren't literal and are based on the culture of native English speakers. To make things more complicated for ESL learners, idioms are very common in the English language. It is said that there are more or less 25,000 idioms in English.

Below are 25 examples of religious and spiritual idioms to help ESL learners in their studies and continued grasp of the English language.

25 Idioms About Religion


1. A blessing in disguise

6. Cold day in hell

11. Heaven knows

16. Let the dead bury the dead

21. Scare the hell out of someone

2. A mecca for someone or something

7. Devil-may-care attitude

12. Holier-than-thou

17. Money is the root of all evil

22. Separation of church and state

3. An act of god

8. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

13. In limbo

18. Raise hell with someone

23. Speak of the devil

4. Baptism by fire

9. Fall from grace

14. In one's Sunday best

19. Sacred cow

24. Through hell and high water

5. Carry or bear one's cross

10. Gosepl truth

15. In seventh heaven

20. Salt of the Earth

25. To hell and gone

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 or Something

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


Rome 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 or properly prepare for.

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 begin managing a gigantic project.

5. Carry or Bear One’s Cross

To carry or bear one’s cross is to carry on with life despite going through many difficulties.

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

6. Cold Day in Hell

A cold day in hell refers to an event that someone thinks will absolutely never happen.


Sammy's been in trouble all his life. It will be a cold day in hell when he straightens out.

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 decided 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 they 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 or honorable to being unpopular or dishonorable because of their wrong actions.


The politician had a remarkable fall from grace after his extramarital affairs went public. After being the most popular presidential candidate only 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. Heaven Knows

Heaven knows is an idiom someone uses to emphasize that they either don't know or are surprised by something. It can also be used to emphasize a statement's basic truth.


Heaven knows how long the executive meeting will take.

James really needs to take a vacation. Heaven knows how hard he's been working.

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 they are absolutely moral.


My mother 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 they are in a situation that is uncertain, making them fearful.


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

14. In One’s Sunday Best

Somebody is in one’s Sunday best if they are remarkably well-dressed or seem 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. It is implied that, in this way, we can move on to a better future.


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 a big argument 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 him 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.


Speak of the devil—Josh just walked in.

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 are to hell and gone; he is broke and feels empty.

English Idioms From the Bible

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 kerlynb


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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