powers that be

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See also: powers-that-be


Alternative forms[edit]


After Romans 13:1 in the Tyndale Bible (1526: “Let every soul submit himself unto the authority of the higher powers. There is no power but of God. The powers that be, are ordained of God.”) and the King James Version (1611: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: The powers that be are ordained of God.”).

This “be” was not an English subjunctive but translated the Ancient Greek αἱ οὖσαι ἐξουσίαι (hai oûsai exousíai, the existing authorities, literally those being authorities) using the now-archaic alternative third-person plural indicative form, equivalent to the modern “are”.


powers that be (plural only)

  1. (idiomatic) The holders of power or the authorities in a given situation, especially if seen as being faceless or unreasonably bureaucratic.
    • 1857, Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, ch. 2,
      It appeared as though the hospital at Barchester would fall into abeyance, unless the powers that be should take some steps towards putting it once more into working order.

Derived terms[edit]