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
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 13:42
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about culture, not use of English Commented Feb 17, 2016 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
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


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
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 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
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 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. Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 14:32
  • Additional sources to corroborate and flesh out PhraseFinder.
    – John Y
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 19:47

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
    Commented Dec 4, 2011 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
    Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 12:29

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