As far as I know "fire and brimstone" is an idiomatic expression of signs of God's wrath in the Hebrew Bible. Is the phrase commonly used by Americans or it is only used in Bible?

  • 5
    BTW, "native americans" doesn't mean the same thing as "native speakers of American English". Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 0:13
  • 2
    @ShreevatsaR: …nor even the same as “people born in America”.
    – PLL
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 1:14
  • I don't believe anyone said anything about native Americans, with a capital A at all.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 15:37
  • fire and brimstone is not at all "American". It is merely a Biblical phrase and much associated with all aspects of the Protestant Reformation.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 15:40

6 Answers 6


I've seen "fire and brimstone" used to describe a certain style of preaching popular in 19th century America. Modernly, if the usage wasn't specifically historical, I would interpret it negatively – preaching (or more broadly, oration) that is loud and high in predictions of doom and gloom, but low in actual content.

  • 2
    It's good to note that its use isn't limited to religious situations. "The teacher gave a fire-and-brimstone talk to the mischievous boys."
    – user502
    Commented Feb 10, 2011 at 23:38
  • 2
    @jjackson: I’d tend to think of the religious style as being its main meaning, and other uses as an extension of that. If someone says “the teacher gave a fire-and-brimstone talk…”, this does (for me) conjure up a conscious comparison to a preacher, but doesn’t go on to the next stage and conjure up images of the apocalypse.
    – PLL
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 1:09
  • 3
    more specifically than doom and gloom, I’d think of fire-and-brimstone oratory as full of moral injunctions backed up with invocations (even threats) of danger. If Paul Krugman explains why the economy is inevitably going down the toilet, that’s doom and gloom. If he tells us that we must invest with responsible banks, or else we will all be responsible for the coming famines — that’s fire and brimstone!
    – PLL
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 1:13
  • fire and brimstone is a very old phrase and is not specifically American at all. It is associated with a style of preaching, of course, but trying googling Protestant Reformation and fire and brimstone.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 15:41

I'd say that it is a fairly common expression. The Corpus of Contemporary American English returns 77 hits from the last 20 years, including uses by ABC's Nightline, CNN, USAToday, NPR, Forbes, and many others.

As Martha says, its original context is primarily religious, but it's often used for any sort of alarmist speechmongering.

  • what do you mean by saying "alarmist speechmongering"?
    – Manoochehr
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 13:17
  • Any sort of "If we don't act NOW and change our ways, the world/the country/some institution will be irreparably harmed" harangue designed to inspire fear and provoke an immediate emotional response (especially a donation to the cause).
    – Hellion
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 13:42

Gen 19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

This is the passage I think the comment comes from. God sent two angels to check out how wicked the cities where. The citizens of the city tried to gang rape the angels, and it's implied that they attempted this with every traveler who passed through the city. God found this so offensive the only option was to more or less nuke the entire city.

So the idea behind the phrase "fire and brimstone" is that something is so offensive that destroying it is the only alternative.

This phrase also is applied to certain preaching styles that attempt to use God's judgement to scare people into repentance. For a perfect example for a "fire and brimstone" sermon see "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards (AD 1739). It's probably one of the best known sermons of this type.

The style is also known in some parts (northern mid-west of the US is where I've heard it) as "Hell-fire and brimstone"

  • 1
    Interesting side note about Jonathan Edwards "fire and brimstone" preaching. While his content matter was exceedingly strong, by all accounts his delivery was monotoned, and he would even admonish worshippers who were having emotional responses to his message - the exact opposite of what one normally pictures in the stereotypical "fire and brimstone" delivery. Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 20:30

It is commonly used by Americans. It generally refers to a style of Christianity, whether by general practice or specifically as a style of sermon. It is generally used as a pejorative.

You might hear it like this:

Kim and I have been trying out a new church, but last week's worship was really full of fire and brimstone.

  • 1
    I think whether or not it is pejorative is rather subjective. New school "happy-clappy" Christians would use it as a pejorative, but old school fundamentalists would use it approvingly.
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 17:45
  • 1
    Yeah, prolly so. I guess I'm closer to the "happy-clappy" side of Christianity :). Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 18:54

Here is an academic paper that looks at this question. The term is from the Bible. The fact is that Catholics prior to the Reformation did not "read" the Bible much. However, it was the subject of formal debate among scholars:

"The fire of hell belonged, in a distinction well understood by both Protestant and Catholic interpreters, to the torments of the senses, the poena sensus, rather than to the spiritual or psychological torment of being deprived of the sight of God, the poena damni. But the precise nature of this fire had long been a source of puzzlement in Christian thought."

"That hell was a place of fire seemed on the surface easily the most uncontentious of theological commonplaces. The Bible abounded with references to ‘the fire that shall never be quenched’, and to tormenting ‘with fire and brimstone’."

In the US, there was, and still is, a proliferation of Evangelicism and fundamentalism, "movements" within Christianity that tend to favor Bible reading and citation and be "into" literalism, of which, fire and brimstone is part. There is also a particular style of preaching known as "fire and brimstone" preaching, where the believers are repeatedly pounded with the idea of hell if they do not do a series of things. Most importantly, recognize Christ as their savior. In fact, all Christian believers believe that but not all Christian sects demand people actually say it or demonstrate it.

That said, early newcomers to the New World would have been familiar with the term.

The term fire and brimstone is in no way exclusively heard in North American though it is probably heard more in the US due to the ever increasing (it would seem) numbers of fundamentalists one sees.

hell fire and brimstone and the Reformation


Hellfire and brimstone preaching is used to scare people into accepting a form of religion based on fear of punishment, this is nothing but bondage to religious traditions and terror. God says in Romans 2:4 says "or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" It's God's grace and love that frees us from bondage and death not our fear of that death.

  • But what about the actual question, do Americans use it?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 15:31
  • 1
    This doesn't really seem to answer what was asked in the question, and appears to be mostly tangential opinion and interpretation.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 3:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.