I just heard someone refer to the Bible as "the Old Book" (capitalization mine). I've only heard "the Good Book" before. Is this also a standard idiom? Google Ngrams doesn't have any results for "the old book," only "old book," but they also don't have any results for "good book says" and I'm quite confident that "as the Good Book says" is a thing.

EDIT: H/t to @Shosht, who pointed out that I shouldn't be using quotation marks in my NGrams search. Without them, it turns out that as the old book says (uncapitalized) and as the good book says (with various capitalizations) are both used, but the good version is much more common.

The fact the old book only appears in lowercase makes me doubt that it's referring to the Bible.

  • You could further refine the Google search for << "in the Old Book" -pagan -secret -shop >>; quite a few of the first listed of the remaining 500 000 hits seem relevant. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 16:03
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    I've never heard this, and I have a good memory for idiom!
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 19:54
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    I've never heard that expression for the Bible. Did the person put the emphasis on "old" or on "book" (the OLD book vs the old BOOK)? If it was the latter, maybe it was similar to using "the old ____" as in "let's see what the old Google machine turns up" or "let's see what the old .25-06 Remington can do."
    – Shosht
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 23:28
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    @MissMonicaE, I see why your ngram searches came up short. Don't use quotation marks! (And remember to check the "case-insensitive" box to the right of the search box, unless you do want whether you have capitalized your search request terms to be considered in the search.)
    – Shosht
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 22:07
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    @choster Different kinds of Christians have different shorthands, though, like some tend to say "Two Kings" and some tend to say "Second Kings." I'm Catholic FWIW, but I didn't notice this in my inter-Christian Bible study either. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


I have never heard this usage myself, but as @choster says in the comments, it has been/is used by some to refer to the Old Testament of the Bible, as opposed to the New Testament.

It seems to be an infrequently used idiom with that meaning in print and general broadcasting (for example, in news and politics broadcasting), to the extent that may be gauged by searches of general English-language corpora. Perhaps higher usage would be found in specialized searches of Christian religious broadcasting and writings.

(I am new to searching using the online gateways at corpus.byu.edu. Perhaps someone else with more experience can confirm my findings?)

searching for "THE OLD BOOK" finds:

British National Corpus - 3 total hits; 2 of those completely irrelevant
1 identified use is in:

all over the country clergymen continued to conduct services based substantially on the old Book of Common Prayer.

(Note that "the old Book of Common Prayer" kept turning up in all of the searches I ran of the various corpora.)

Corpus of Historical American English - 46 hits, some duplicates

only 6 uses seem to be relevant:

Bad as the old book of Genesis is said to be, it is certainly better than the new.

^ 1867, in Atlantic Monthly

It shows what is needed for a city man or woman to support a family on the proceeds of a little bit of land; it shows how in truth, as the old Book prophesied, the earth brings forth abundantly after its kind to satisfy the desire of every living thing.

^ 1907, Three Acres and Liberty, by Bolton Hall

Ruth's story is one of the most beautiful ones to be found in the Old Book.

^ 1915, Good Cheer Stories Every Child Should Know by Chelsea Curtis Fraser

" All flesh is grass, " says the old Book.

^ 1922, The Last Harvest by John Burroughs

The old Book says that a quick boy defeated a giant of a man.

^ 1999, The Queen's Two Bodies: The Double life of Elizabeth the First by Jeanne Murray Walker

The shelter was called the House of Ruth, which made me feel right at home since I know that Ruth was someone in the Old Book. We didn't read the Old Book, just the New, but still, I felt right at home with folks who were in it.

^ 2002, The Book of Fred by Abby Bardi

Corpus of Contemporary American English - 22 hits, some duplicates;

only 1 relevant hit, and it is the same as one that was found in the search of the Corpus of Historical American English (The Book of Fred)

NOW Corpus (News on the Web) - 77 hits; only 6 of them relevant, more or less

example from American political activist and documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore:

My own spiritual beliefs do not allow for capital punishment, and I was raised in the state (Michigan) that in the 1840s was the first government in the English-speaking world to outlaw it. So, I'm just not inclined that way. I don't believe in " an eye for an eye. " I know the old book said that, but I like its sequel better (a rare case in which the sequel -- like Godfather II, Star Trek II, Terminator II -- is better than the original). If you don't believe the way I believe (it's also the official position of the Catholic Church, for whatever that's worth these days), then that's your right, and I understand.

^ Some Final Thoughts on the Death of Osama bin Laden by Michael Moore http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/some-final-thoughts-on-th_1_b_861071.html

another example, from Nigeria

What God has joined let no man put asunder, the Old Book says.

^ in Najia News, 17 September 2017

Interestingly, of these uses listed here, only a handful unambiguously refer to the Old Testament. The rest could just as easily refer to the Bible (meaning the Old Testament and the New Testament together) as a whole.

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