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In idiomatic English, "the powers that be" (sometimes initialized as TPTB) is a phrase used to refer to those individuals or groups who collectively hold authority over a particular domain. The word "be" is an old form of the third-person plural of the verb "to be"; the indicative equivalent, "the powers that are", is less commonly used. "The powers that were" (TPTW) is also another derivation that is used.
The phrase first appeared in the Tyndale Bible, William Tyndale's 1526 translation of the New Testament, as: "Let every soul submit himself unto the authority of the higher powers. There is no power but of God. The powers that be, are ordained of God". In the 1611 King James Version it became, "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." (rom 13:1), whence it eventually passed into popular language.
"The powers that be" can refer to a variety of entities that depend on the domain, including