Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone – Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The idiomatic phrase “man cannot live by bread alone” isn’t a saying you hear all the time, but it’s definitely worth talking about. Understanding the origins behind phrases like this helps us maintain proper usage and also broadens our vocabulary. So, let’s take a look at this odd saying.

Meaning of “Man Cannot Live on Bread Alone”

Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone Origin Meaning

“Man cannot live on bread alone” is one of many variants of the proverbial phrase that simply means people need more than just physical sustenance to survive and thrive.

In this context, the word bread can represent anything from food or material possessions. But the phrase also implies that we, as people, also need intellectual, emotional and sometimes spiritual nourishment to live a good life worth living. Basically, it means we need more than just material things in order to enjoy life.

Is It Man Cannot Live on Bread Alone or Shall Not?

The original phrase, as it’s found in the Bible, is “Man shall not live by bread alone.” But it’s sometimes colloquially expressed as “Man cannot live on bread alone.”

Don’t worry, both versions hold the exact same meaning, and you can use them interchangeably, but I’ll go as far as to say the original biblical version (shall not) might be more appropriate for religious contexts.

Side note: There are several variations of the phrase that have been used over the years, all of which hold the same meaning. 

  • Man does not live by bread alone.
  • Man cannot live on bread alone.
  • Man shall not live by bread alone.
  • Man doesn’t live by bread alone.
  • Man cannot live by bread alone.

Origin of Man Cannot Live on Bread Alone

The phrase as we know it today, “man cannot live on bread alone,” has its roots in the Bible, specifically in the book of Deuteronomy 8:3 and the book of Matthew 4:4. But that’s no surprise there, right? The expression has a biblical aura about it.

In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy), it is part of a longer passage where people are reminded that their survival doesn’t just depend on physical sustenance but also on obeying God’s commandments.

In the New Testament (Matthew), the phrase is quoted by Jesus himself during his temptation in the wilderness. When Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

You tell ’em, Jesus!

Synonyms for the Phrase

If you don’t feel that a biblical reference fits within the context you’re dealing with, try any one of these phrases instead.

  • Life is more than just material needs.
  • Spiritual nourishment is essential.
  • People need more than just physical sustenance.
  • There’s more to life than material things.

Man Cannot Live on Bread Alone Examples in a Sentence

Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone Origin Meaning 1
  • I love that our community center offers art classes and workshops, recognizing that man cannot live on bread alone; we need to nourish our creative sides.
  • Even though Dan had a well-paying office job, he felt unfulfilled and started painting in his free time, proving that man does not live by bread alone.
  • After volunteering at the local shelter, I discovered that man shall not live by bread alone; helping others gives us a sense of purpose.
  • The importance of a good education paired with emotional and personal development is rooted in the idea that man doesn’t live by bread alone.
  • I really needed that retreat. It focused on meditation and self-reflection and showed me that we cannot live by bread alone and needs spiritual nourishment.

Bread and Butter

Old proverbs like this are a good reminder that morals and beliefs are important, and the best ones stand the test of time. While it doesn’t have a literal context to it, the phrase still gets the message across that we need more than just a capitalist existence.

Enjoyed reading about this proverb? Check out some others we covered: