The original meaning of "Day of reckoning" refers to:

the Last Judgment of God in Christian and Islamic belief during which everyone after death is called to account for their actions committed in life. (Wikipedia)

the expression is metaphorically more commonly used in reference to:

a day or time in the future when people will be forced to deal with an unpleasant situation which they have avoided until now, as in "The day of reckoning is coming for the water company directors". (Collins)

Etymonline says that the expression is from the 17th century:

Day of reckoning, attested from c. 1600.

It appears that the expression was probably coined in King James Bible even though English versions of the Bible had been written well before the 17th century.


Can anyone confirm the religious origin of the expression, given that "reckoning" had been used from the 14th with reference to accounts and obligations?

Or was it originally a layman's expression and later adopted by religious preachers?

3 Answers 3


The first attestation the OED has is ca. 1387.

T. Wimbledon Serm: Þe day of streyt rekenyng shal come, þat is þe day of doom.

This pretty clearly refers to the Last Judgment. And they don't have a citation that clearly does not refer to the Last Judgment until 1792 (although for some earlier ones, it's not entirely clear whether or not they refer to the Last Judgment).


It might be hard to determine if "day of reckoning" was originally a secular expression, but reckoning is a secular concept. The biblical reckoning is itself a metaphor, relying on people being familiar with contractual obligations and deadlines. Meriam Webster is nicely succinct in describing reckoning as "settling accounts".

And that is indeed how it's used biblically; 2 Kings 22:7 is one of the few instances in the King James of the phrase reckoning. Even though it's commenting on a religious project, it's referring to a financial accounting. It points out that the tradesmen in charge of a temple restoration project were trusted to the extent that "there was no reckoning made with them of the money that was delivered into their hand".

Matthew 25:19 is one place that many English bibles render the original languages as 'reckon'. In this parable a wealthy man has entrusted wealth to some servants, then after some time a reckoning occurs, each one presents both the financial results and the narrative account of what actions they took. The response of the wealthy man shows that in his view this was really a test of how they could be trusted with responsibility.

Other parables of Jesus don't necessarily get translated with the word reckoning, but thematically speak of a 'day of reckoning' when a persons debts or positions of responsibility are examined by a higher authority. If the reckoning is favorable even great debts are forgiven (Matthew 18:23-27), or if the reckoning is unfavorable then punishment is carried out (Matthew 18:28-34 which describes a 2nd reckoning called upon the same individual), and application is made to the listeners to be aware that they will be called to account for their actions (Matthew 18:35).

Other scriptures use the same metaphor which may or may not be rendered as reckoning in English. For example some more modern translations use the phrase 'day(s) of reckoning' at Isaiah 10:3, Jeremiah 10:15 Hosea 9:7. While more archaic translations say "a day of visitation". Considering that the visitor is there to review accounts and render a judgement, it's not surprising that 'day of reckoning' is more colloquially popular than 'day of visitation' for encapsulating that concept.


The word 'reckoning' occurs twice in the Old Testament of the KJV where the concept is first introduced in the bible as a secular matter involving property and not, yet, as a matter of the Day of Judgment.

But the word 'reckon' does occur in such a context in Jesus' parable of the talents, where he describes a time when servants must give an account of how they have spent their time and to what profit, in Matthew 25:19. And there, the Day of Judgment is definitely in view.

The Wycliffe Version (1388) uses the word :

'the Lord of those servants came and reckoned with them'

William Tyndale uses it in his 1534 version :

'the Lord of those servants came and reckoned with them'

and the KJV (1611) follows with :

'and the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them'

The word 'reckon' is also used in another of Jesus' parables, a matter of merciless behaviour after a servant has, himself received forgiveness. Matthew 18:24.

  • Interesting, so the expression "Day of reckoning" is not present in King James Bible?
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 15:03
  • @Josh Not that I can find and not that I remember.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 15:04

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