3

How did the phrase "the powers that be" come about, is it an archaic verb tense of "being"?

4

It seems the phrase comes from the King James Bible:

Romans 13:1 (King James Version): 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.

"That be" means simply "that exist."

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  • I might just add that it is an example of the formulaic subjunctive. – Barrie England Oct 4 '11 at 12:20
  • That is, its use today is the formulaic subjunctive, not that its original use in the KJV was. – Colin Fine Oct 4 '11 at 13:07
  • Yes, and I suppose something similar could be said of all formulaic subjunctives. – Barrie England Oct 4 '11 at 14:41
  • @BarrieEngland: Actually, it doesn't seem to have originated as a subjunctive use: english.stackexchange.com/a/297574/77227 – herisson Sep 29 '17 at 13:40

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