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I've often heard the phrase "Cleanliness is next to godliness" used but as far as I know, while there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the notion, in spite of mentioning God the phrase doesn't have a Biblical basis. Where did the phrase come from and does it have its roots in Christianity or somewhere else?

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    Some say that the first English appearance is from Francis Bacon, but that the first time this concept was recorded was in ancient Hebrew times. Either way, Christianity doesn't seem to be involved. – Daniel Oct 4 '11 at 13:42
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about culture, not use of English – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '16 at 12:35
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    @FumbleFingers Much of the use of English is rooted in culture - British culture, American culture, street culture, Shakespeare, political correctness, religious culture, anti-religious culture, etc. – Lawrence Feb 17 '16 at 15:24
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John Wesley in one of his sermons indicated that the proverb was already well known in the form we use today. Wrote Wesley: 'Slovenliness is no part of religion.'Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.

(from PhraseFinder, which has a useful entry too long to quote)

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    could you add the reference where you found it? – warren Oct 4 '11 at 13:48
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    @warren I did. Tim, you should add links to any online source you quote, if only to better the answer. – Daniel Oct 4 '11 at 14:22
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    Brewer confirms the Wesley attribution, but also mentions 'Matthew Henry and others. The origin is said to be found in the writings of Phinehas ben Yair, an ancient rabbi.' I see that Phrase Finder also mentions the rabbi. – Barrie England Oct 4 '11 at 14:32
  • Additional sources to corroborate and flesh out PhraseFinder. – John Y Dec 11 '18 at 19:47
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It was my understanding that the adage "cleanliness is next to Godliness" had nothing to do with piety. It was explained to me that the expression began during the time of the black plague in mid-14th century, and was an expression listing what should be a person's priorities. Godliness should be at the top of a person's priorities, closely followed by cleanliness. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Nostradamus coined the phrase.

  • It would surprise me if Nostradamus (1503 - 1566) coined a 14th century phrase. – Hugo Dec 4 '11 at 11:04
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    @Hugo: I am not sure what PMM's intention was, but he didn't say "if Nostradamus had coined the phrase." So, if Nostradamus did indeed coin it, then it would just be 16th, rather than mid-14th. No need for PMM to be not surprised. – Kris Dec 4 '11 at 12:29

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